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John André. A rendering of his capture at Tarrytown, New York. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2395).

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André, John (02 May 1750–02 October 1780), British officer and spy, was born in London, England, the son of Anthony André, a merchant, and Marie Louise Girardot. His early schooling was with a tutor, the Reverend Thomas Newcomb, and he may have attended St. Paul’s School. In his teens André studied mathematics and military drawing at the University of Geneva, giving vent to his romantic temperament by dreaming of a military career. He was rudely brought back to reality by his merchant father when he was called home to work in the countinghouse before he completed a degree. Despising the family business, he nevertheless labored at it manfully for a number of years. After his father died on 14 April 1769, he felt a particular obligation as the eldest son to continue the business, even though his father had left him financially independent, with a small fortune of £5,000. In the summer of 1769 he joined a Lichfield literary group presided over by Anna Seward, a poet. The group included a young lady named Honora Sneyd, for whom he developed a passion. They became engaged and courted for a year and a half before she suddenly rejected him for another man at a Christmas party in 1770. Shattered by this betrayal, André revived his earlier ambition to become a soldier and in early 1771 bought a second lieutenant’s commission in the 23d Regiment, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Later he purchased a first lieutenancy in the same regiment....

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Benedict Arnold. Engraving from a painting by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-GW-617).

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Arnold, Benedict (14 January 1741–14 June 1801), revolutionary war general and traitor, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Benedict Arnold III, a merchant, and Hannah Waterman King. Of his mother’s eleven children, only he and a younger sister survived. At age eleven he was sent away to grammar school, but he left two years later when his alcoholic father lost the family’s fortune. Apprenticed to his mother’s cousin, an apothecary in Norwich, he volunteered in three campaigns (1757–1759) of the French and Indian War, deserting finally to be with his dying mother. His father died soon after, leaving little except debts, but his generous master paid the debts and set Arnold up in business when he decided to move to New Haven in 1762....

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Bancroft, Edward (09 January 1744–08 September 1821), physician, scientist, and spy, was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Bancroft and Mary Ely, farmers. The elder Bancroft died in 1746 of an epileptic attack suffered in a pigpen, two months before the birth of his younger son, Daniel. His widow married David Bull of Westfield in 1751, and the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Bull operated the Bunch of Grapes tavern. Edward Bancroft was taught for a time by the recent Yale graduate ...

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Bayard, Nicholas (1644–1711?), merchant, was born probably in Alphen, near Utrecht, in the Netherlands, the son of Samuel Bayard, a and Anna Stuyvesant. Bayard was the nephew of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Netherland. His mother Anna, Stuyvesant’s sister, with her four children, accompanied the Stuyvesants to New Amsterdam in 1647. Educated by his mother in English, French, and Dutch, he began a long and lucrative political career with a post as English clerk in Stuyvesant’s government. He also held posts under the English administration that commenced in 1664 and during the second brief Dutch occupation in 1673....

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Charles E. Bedaux. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107447).

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Bedaux, Charles Eugene (10 October 1886–18 February 1944), scientific manager, entrepreneur, and fascist collaborator, was born in Charenton-le-Pont, France, a suburb of Paris, the son of Charles Emile Bedaux, a railroad engineer, and Marie Eulalie, a dressmaker. Bedaux spent his first twenty years on the streets of Paris, doing odd jobs and usually avoiding school. He attended the Lycée Louis LeGrand in Paris but did not receive a regular degree. In 1906 he left Paris to seek his fortune across the Atlantic. In the United States Bedaux worked as a dishwasher, an insurance salesman, and a sandhog with the crews building the Hudson River tunnels. He also had a stint at the New Jersey Worsted Mills in Hoboken. He became a naturalized citizen in 1908....

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Elizabeth Bentley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109688).

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Bentley, Elizabeth Terrill (01 January 1908–03 December 1963), Communist party activist and government witness, was born in New Milford, Connecticut, the daughter of Charles Prentiss Bentley, a newspaper editor and department store manager, and Mary Burrill, a schoolteacher. After growing up in small towns in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, Bentley enrolled in Vassar College and in 1930 received an undergraduate degree in English. While at Vassar, she became involved in a variety of Socialist causes but did not demonstrate any interest in more radical left-wing ideas. For two years following graduation, she taught languages at the Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, but left in 1932 for Columbia University, where she earned her M.A. in Italian in 1935. While working on her graduate degree, she accepted a fellowship that took her to the University of Florence for the 1933–1934 academic year....

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Billy (fl. 1781), a mulatto slave, also known as Will or William, was the subject of an alleged treason case during the American Revolution. The case is more significant for what it says about the ambivalence toward slavery of Thomas Jefferson and other Virginians than for the light it sheds on the life of Billy, or Will. Ironically, in 1710, another slave named Will had a brief flirtation with history. This earlier Will was freed for “his fidelity … in discovering a conspiracy of diverse negros … for levying war” in Virginia....

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John Wilkes Booth. Picture featured on a wanted poster immediately following the Lincoln assassination. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-5341).

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Booth, John Wilkes (10 May 1838–26 April 1865), actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was born near Bel Air in Harford County, Maryland, the son of Junius Brutus Booth, an actor, and Mary Ann Holmes. His grandfather, Richard Booth, named him after John Wilkes, the British reformer. As a child Booth dabbled in acting, as did some of his brothers and several neighborhood boys, both at the Booth country home, “Tudor Hall,” and at their town house in Baltimore. Booth’s father actively discouraged his children from entering the theatrical profession, but he toured extensively and died on the road when John was only fourteen....

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Belle Boyd. Albumen silver print, c. 1864, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Boyd, Belle (09 May 1844–11 June 1900), Confederate spy, was born in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), the daughter of Reed Boyd, a store owner and manager of a farm, and Mary Rebecca Glenn. Both parents were from prominent Virginia families, and young Belle (christened Isabelle) was educated at Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore. When the Civil War broke out, she returned to her home and began raising funds for the Confederate army....

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Bresci, Gaetano (11 November 1869–22 May 1901), silk weaver and regicide, was born in Coiano, Italy, the son of Gaspero Bresci, a peasant/artisan, and Maddalena Godi. At age eleven Bresci was apprenticed to learn the art of silk weaving; he later attended a Sunday school to acquire a specialized trade. While still a youth, Gaetano participated in an anarchist group. First arrested for disturbing the peace in 1892, he was subsequently confined to the penal island of Lampedusa for more than a year for his role in organizing a strike. Now identified as a “dangerous anarchist,” Bresci had difficulty securing employment....

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Browne, John Ross (11 February 1821–08 December 1875), writer, world traveler, and government agent, was born in Beggars Bush, near Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Egerton Browne and Elana Buck. His father was a refugee from British rule. As the editor of three publications, Thomas Browne satirized British tithing measures and earned the enmity of the Crown, a fine, and a jail sentence for “seditious libel.”...

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Burke, Michael (08 June 1918–05 February 1987), intelligence operative and sports executive, was born in Enfield, Connecticut, the son of Patrick Burke, an attorney, and Mary Fleming. After Patrick Burke graduated from the Yale University Law School, the family moved to County Galway, Ireland, where they lived from 1918 to 1925. Each side of the family claimed ancestry as far back as the Norman invasion of 1169....

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Childs, Morris (10 June 1902–02 June 1991), Communist official and American intelligence double agent, was born Moishe Chilovsky in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Joseph Chilovsky, a cobbler, and Anna Chilovsky. Joseph Chilovsky, a Jew, fled Tsarist oppression, arriving in America in 1910; he sent for the rest of his family late the next year. (In 1926 the spelling of their name was Americanized, and Morris became a naturalized citizen the following year.) In 1916 Morris went to work as an apprentice in his father's business; then he became a milkman. In 1919 he joined the Communist party in Chicago. Twice arrested for participating in street demonstrations, he soon became a protégé of future party leader ...

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Church, Benjamin (24 August 1734– January 1778?), physician, poet, and traitor, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of Benjamin Church, a vendue master, and Hannah Dyer. By 1740 the family had moved to Boston, and in 1750 young Benjamin entered Harvard College. It was at Harvard that Church first developed his writing skills, sharpening his talents through biting satires on his classmates and the professors. After graduating in 1754, Church studied medicine and for several months in 1757 served as surgeon aboard the Massachusetts snow-of-war, the ...