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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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Clark, Daniel (1766–13 August 1813), merchant, diplomat, and territorial delegate, was born in Sligo, Ireland. Although his parents’ names are unknown, his family’s wealth and connections were sufficient to provide him with an education at Eton and other English schools. Declining fortunes in Ireland prompted the Clarks in 1785 or 1786 to emigrate to America, where they settled in Germantown, outside of Philadelphia....

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Coleman, William Tell (29 February 1824–22 November 1893), merchant and vigilante, was born near Cynthiana, Kentucky, the son of Napoleon Bonaparte Coleman, a civil engineer and lawyer (mother’s name unknown). Both his parents had died by the time the boy was nine, and an aunt mothered him and his three siblings on their maternal grandfather John Chinn’s plantation in Kentucky. At fifteen Coleman was given a job on a railroad survey in Illinois by his uncle Marcus Chinn, but when the state’s program for railroads collapsed the next year, he went to St. Louis where he worked in an insurance and later a lumber company. At the age of eighteen, he entered St. Louis University and completed the four-year legal course in two, but overstudy had brought on the symptoms of tuberculosis. After regaining his health in Florida, he became the overseer of a plantation at West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for his uncle, Whig ex-congressman Thomas W. Chinn. He soon left Louisiana, however, for St. Louis, and his former employers in the lumber company sent him to Wisconsin to look after their timber tracts and sawmills....

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Findlay, James (12 October 1770–28 December 1835), congressman, lawyer, and merchant, was born in Mercersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Findlay and Jane Smith. Little is known about Findlay’s early life, including his father’s occupation. Apparently, he grew up in comfortable circumstances and had some formal education. But when his father suffered a major financial setback, probably as the result of a fire, James and his two older brothers had to fend for themselves. Like many other young Americans in postrevolutionary America, Findlay decided to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. In 1793 he and his wife, Jane Irwin, moved to Virginia and then to Kentucky, before finally settling in Cincinnati....

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Button Gwinnett. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111795).

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Gwinnett, Button (bap. 10 April 1735), merchant and political leader, was born in Gloucester, England, the son of the Reverend Samuel Gwinnett and Anne Emes. Gwinnett left England as a young man and for a number of years after arriving in America was a merchant in the colonial trade. In April 1757 he married Ann Bourne, with whom he had three children. His business activities took him from Newfoundland to Jamaica, and at times brought him into conflict with other merchants and with legal authorities. Never very successful, he moved to Savannah in 1765 and opened a store. When that venture failed, he bought (on credit) St. Catherines Island, off the coast of Georgia to the south of Savannah, and attempted to become a planter. Though his planting activities were also unsuccessful, he did make a name for himself in local politics....

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Herrman, Augustine (1605?–1686?), merchant, attorney, ambassador, and mapmaker, was born in Prague, Bohemia, thought to be the son of Ephraim Augustin Herrman, a shopkeeper and city councilman, and Beatrix Redel, but possibly the son of Abraham Herrman, a Hussite minister in Mseno who was exiled to Zittau in Saxony because he was not Roman Catholic, and eventually settled in Amsterdam (wife’s name unknown)....

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Langdon, Woodbury (1739–13 January 1805), merchant and judge, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of John Langdon and Mary Hall, successful farmers. Langdon attended the local Latin grammar school and as a young man went to work for Henry Sherburne, one of the leading Piscataqua merchants. He rose quickly to become a ship captain and then Sherburne’s partner in business. In 1765 he married his partner’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Sarah Sherburne. The couple had nine children. Langdon was building ships as well as trading and had become the fifth highest taxpayer in a community filled with wealthy merchants. He also was involved in imperial politics as an ally of Peter Livius, a recent arrival from England eager to replace Governor ...

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Henry Laurens. Reproduction of a painting by John Singleton Copley, 1781. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-CP-213).

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Laurens, Henry (24 February 1724–08 December 1792), planter-merchant and revolutionary war statesman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of John Laurens, a saddler, and Esther Grasset. The Laurens family had fled La Rochelle, France, as Huguenot refugees in 1682. After stops in London, Ireland, and New York, they settled in Charleston about 1715. Laurens received in his own words “the best education” that the provincial community could offer. In 1744 he sailed for London to serve a three-year clerkship in James Crokatt’s counting house. Laurens married Eleanor Ball in 1750. They had twelve children, but only four survived childhood. ...

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Nolte, Vincent Otto (21 November 1779?–19 August 1856), merchant, was born in Livorno, Italy, the son of John Henry Nolte, a merchant. Little is known of his mother. He was educated privately in Germany and at age sixteen was apprenticed to the Livorno mercantile house of Otto Frank, managed by his uncle. There he rejected his uncle’s authority, spent much of his time in idle pursuits, and as a result soon found himself back in Hamburg working in his father’s countinghouse. As he explains in his memoir, ...

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Oliver, Peter (17 March 1713–12 October 1791), colonial merchant, iron manufacturer, and jurist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Daniel Oliver, a merchant, and Elizabeth Belcher, daughter of Governor Jonathan Belcher. Disciplined twice at Harvard, first for the theft of a goose and later a turkey, he graduated at the head of his class in 1730, a recognition of his social lineage. In 1733 he received an M.A. by arguing against the proposition that tautology is an ornament of oratory. In the same year he married Mary Clark, daughter of another prominent Boston merchant, Richard Clark. The couple joined Old South Church, where Oliver had inherited his father’s rented pew. They had six children who survived infancy....

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Phillips, John (27 December 1719–21 April 1795), merchant-banker, judge, and school benefactor, was born in Andover, Massachusetts, the son of the Reverend Samuel Phillips and Hannah White. His father, who had graduated from Harvard in 1708, prepared him for the college, which he entered when he was only eleven years old, in 1731. As an undergraduate, John was awarded the William Browne and the Hollis scholarships, received the Hopkins Prize for outstanding scholarly achievement, and was selected to deliver an oration at his class of 1735 commencement. After graduation, Phillips taught school in Andover and took the M.A. degree at Harvard in 1738....

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Pynchon, William (26 December 1590–29 October 1662), fur trader, magistrate, and founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, was born at Springfield, in Essex, England, the son of John Pynchon and Frances Brett, wealthy gentry. William was educated to read and write Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and served as a warden of Christ Church from 1620 to 1624. Like many members of his class, he supported the Puritans. In 1629 Pynchon invested £25 in the Massachusetts Bay Company and the following year accompanied Governor ...

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Rice, William Marsh (14 March 1816–23 September 1900), merchant and founder of Rice University, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of David Rice, the inspector of the watershops at the Springfield Armory, and Patty Hall. Although he later financed several relatives’ educations, Rice left school at fifteen to work as a clerk in a grocery store. By the time he was twenty-one he bought a store near the watershops and in less than two years cleared $2,000 in his first business venture. Despite two serious setbacks, his business success was to continue for more than sixty years....

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Rowe, John (1715–17 February 1787), merchant, smuggler, and political trimmer during the American Revolution, was born in Exeter, England, the son of Joseph Rowe and Mary Hawker (occupations unknown). He took up residence in Boston, Massachusetts, by 1736 and remained there throughout his life. In 1743 he married Hannah Speakman, the twin sister of the first wife of the wealthy Cambridge merchant and future Loyalist Ralph Inman; they had no children. His wife’s family had helped to found Trinity Church, Boston’s second Anglican parish, and Rowe served on its vestry from 1761 until his death. These family associations may have helped to moderate Rowe’s initial vigorous support of the patriot cause....

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Saffin, John (22 November 1626–18 July 1710), jurist and merchant, was born in Exeter, Devonshire, England, the son of Simon Saffin and Grace Garrett. While Saffin’s later public life is well documented, other details are vague and incomplete. Around 1634 the family immigrated to Scituate, Massachusetts, where Saffin became a student at ...

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Sewall, Samuel (28 March 1652–01 January 1730), colonial merchant, judge, and philanthropist, was born at Bishop Stoke, Hampshire, England, the son of Henry Sewall, a pastor, and Jane Dummer. Sewall’s father had immigrated to Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1634, and although he was admitted to freemanship in 1637, he returned to England in 1646 and subsequently took the pulpit of North Baddesley. The family returned to Massachusetts in 1659....

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Shippen, Edward (1639– August 1712), merchant, religious martyr, and political leader, was born in Yorkshire, England, the son of William Shippen, a prominent landholder, and Mary Nunnes (or Nuns). Although his older brother earned degrees at Oxford and became an Anglican clergyman, Edward in 1668 emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, a wilderness town of about 3,500. In 1671 he married Elizabeth Lybrand; they had eight children during their seventeen years together. Not long after he joined an artillery company, Shippen converted to his wife’s faith and became a member of the Society of Friends....

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Smith, Melancton (07 May 1744–29 July 1798), merchant, lawyer, and political leader, was born in Jamaica, Long Island (now Queens County, N.Y., and the Borough of Queens, New York City), the son of Samuel Smith and Elizabeth Bayles, farmers. Schooled at home, at an early age he became a store clerk in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York, then the most rapidly expanding region of the state. By the 1770s, known for his seriousness and wide reading, he had become a prosperous merchant and owner of many properties throughout the county (which included today’s Putnam County)....