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Alexander, Mary Spratt Provoost (17 April 1693–18 April 1760), merchant, was born in New York City, the daughter of John Spratt, a Scottish immigrant merchant and alderman in New York, and Maria DePeyster, an heiress of a prominent Dutch family of goldsmiths, merchants, and politicians. After John Spratt died in 1697, Maria Spratt married David Provoost, a merchant and smuggler. Alexander and her siblings lived with their maternal grandmother after their mother died in 1700. In 1711 she married Samuel Provoost, an importer and a younger brother of David Provoost, her mother’s husband. The couple had three children. Alexander invested much of her inheritance in her husband’s enterprises and acted as his business partner....

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Allen, James (25 December 1697–07 January 1755), merchant and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jeremiah Allen, the longtime treasurer of the province, and Mary Caball. Ranked fifth by social status in a class of seventeen at Harvard College, he graduated in 1717. Allen then entered his father’s merchant business, importing dry goods from England and exchanging New England fish for West India sugar. In 1725 he married Martha Fitch, daughter of Colonel Thomas Fitch. They had no children. Allen belonged to Boston’s Congregational West Church but was not a bigot: he contributed £20 to the Anglican King’s Chapel for the purchase of bells....

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Allerton, Isaac (1586– February 1659), merchant in the early years of the Plymouth colony, . Little is known of Allerton’s early life, and nothing is known regarding his education and religious orientation. He was a tailor in London at the time that he moved to Leiden, Holland, in 1608. When the Separatist congregation of John Robinson arrived in 1609 Allerton joined the church. In 1611 he married a fellow member, Mary Norris. In 1614 he became a citizen of the Dutch city....

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Alsop, Richard (23 January 1761–20 August 1815), poet and businessman, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Richard Alsop, Sr., a merchant, and Mary Wright Alsop. When Alsop was fifteen, his father died, leaving his wife, Mary, a strict Episcopalian, in comfortable circumstances but with eight children. Alsop was a precocious reader and enjoyed impersonating heroes of Homer's ...

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Alvarez, Manuel (1794–05 July 1856), merchant and U.S. consul, was born in Abelgas, León, Spain, the son of Don José Alvarez and Doña María Antonia Arias. Alvarez spent his childhood in his native village in the Cantabrian Mountains. Under the care of his parents, he became proficient in both French and Spanish. As a youth he wanted to become a writer. An avid reader, he was familiar with the writings of Thomas Carlyle, Sir Walter Raleigh, and ...

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Aspinwall, William Henry (16 December 1807–18 January 1875), merchant, was born in New York City, the son of John Aspinwall, an importer of dry goods and a commission and Susan Howland. A member of a prominent family with strong ties to the sea, Aspinwall was schooled in New York City, where he gained fluency in Spanish and French. In 1830 he married Anna Lloyd Breck, with whom he had four children....

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Bache, Richard (?1737–29 July 1811), merchant and revolutionary leader, was born in Settle in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, the son of William Bache, a tax collector in Settle, and Mary Blyckenden. With encouragement from his father, Richard, at a young age, pursued a career in business and evidently worked in several British counting houses....

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Bache, Theophylact (17 January 1735–30 October 1807), merchant, was born in Settle, Yorkshire, England, the son of William Bache, a tax collector, and Mary Blyckenden. In 1751 he arrived in New York City, where he was taken under the wing of Paul Richard, a successful merchant and former mayor, whose wife was a Bache relative. Upon Richard’s death five years later, Bache inherited £300, became executor of the estate, and continued the business. His younger brother ...

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Banning, Phineas (19 August 1830–08 March 1885), southern California pioneer, was born at Oak Farm near Wilmington, Delaware, the ninth of the eleven children of John Alford Banning, a Princeton graduate, shipbuilder, and farmer, and his wife, Elizabeth Lowber Banning. Phineas is said to have left school at thirteen and walked from Wilmington to Philadelphia, where he worked at first in the law office of one of his brothers and later in the wholesale trade....

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Bates, Joshua (10 October 1788–24 September 1864), merchant and banker, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Colonel Joshua Bates and Tizrah Pratt. Bates’s father served as an officer during the Revolution. Joshua suffered from ill health as a child. He was educated by a private tutor and at the public school. When he was fifteen his father apprenticed him in the counting house of William R. Gray, the son of ...

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Bayard, John Bubenheim (11 August 1738–07 January 1807), merchant and statesman, was born at Bohemia Manor, Maryland, the son of James Bayard, a merchant and planter, and Mary Asheton. He and his twin brother James Asheton Bayard were educated first by Samuel Finley...

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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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Biddle, Clement (10 May 1740–14 July 1814), merchant and army officer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Biddle, a shipping merchant, and Sarah Owen. Biddle’s great-grandfather, who came to America in 1681, was one of the proprietors of West New Jersey. Biddle’s father moved from Mount Hope, New Jersey, to Philadelphia in 1730. Except for some interruption from his army service, Clement Biddle was a lifelong merchant whose family eventually achieved great prominence in Philadelphia. He formed a partnership early in life with his father called John & Clement Biddle. On 6 June 1764 Biddle married Mary Richardson, daughter of Francis Richardson of Chester, Pennsylvania. They had one child, Frances, who died in infancy; Biddle became a widower in 1773. On 18 August 1774 he took as his second wife Rebekah Cornell, daughter of Gideon Cornell, who at the time of his death in 1765 was lieutenant governor and chief justice of Rhode Island. Rebekah lived until 18 November 1831, having borne thirteen children, two of whom died in infancy. Nine children married into prominent families, as did their successors, and this Biddle branch became one of Philadelphia’s most powerful and wealthy families. Clement Biddle’s sister, Ann, married General ...

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Bingham, William (08 April 1752–07 February 1804), businessman and public official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Bingham, a saddler and merchant, and Mary “Molly” Stamper. Bingham graduated cum laude from the College of Philadelphia in 1768. Sometime after the death of his father in 1769, he served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia merchant ...

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Bowdoin, James (22 September 1752–11 October 1811), merchant and diplomat, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, son of James Bowdoin, a merchant and Massachusetts governor, and Elizabeth Erving. After early schooling at Boston Latin School, he attended Harvard College, from which he received his degree in absentia in 1771, having gone to England in 1770 for health reasons. In England he studied at Christ Church, Oxford University, and subsequently traveled on the Continent until his return home in late 1775....

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Bowen, Henry Chandler (11 September 1813–24 February 1896), editor-publisher and merchant, was born in Woodstock, Connecticut, the son of George Bowen, a store and tavern keeper, and Lydia Wolcott Eaton. He received his formal education at schools in Woodstock and nearby Dudley, Massachusetts, and worked for four years in his father’s store. At age twenty he went to New York and became a clerk in the firm of ...

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Brooks, Peter Chardon (11 January 1767–01 January 1849), merchant, was born in North Yarmouth, Maine, the son of Congregationalist minister Edward Brooks and Abigail Brown. Brooks began his accumulation of wealth in 1789 when he presented himself in Boston for a mercantile apprenticeship. The colonies had only separated from England a dozen years earlier, France was in revolution, Europe was at war with itself, ports were closed, and the absence of an effective government under the Articles of Confederation had left American commerce in chaos, to be preyed upon by all belligerents. The high risks of the period made the writing of maritime insurance a profitable, if risky, endeavor. Brooks, operating from a Boston pub, established himself as agent for the Boston insurers, of whom there were only two or three, earning commissions by matching buyer and seller and taking occasional forays into trade....

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Brown, Alexander (17 November 1764–04 April 1834), founder of an Anglo-American mercantile and financial services firm, was born in Ballymena, Ireland, the son of William Brown and Margaretta Davison. As a young adult he moved to Belfast, where he became involved in the linen trade, reportedly working as an auctioneer on occasion. His brother Stewart left for Baltimore in the mid-1790s, and Alexander followed in 1800. He had married Grace Davison in 1783, and after his arrival in Baltimore he opened a shop that featured linen goods supplied primarily by his in-laws and business associates in Ireland. The mercantile business prospered, and Brown soon widened the scope of his activities. He typified the all-purpose merchant of the early national era (c. 1790–1820), dabbling in various goods and services, including insurance and shipping. When his second son, ...

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Brown, John (27 January 1736–20 September 1803), merchant and congressman, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of James Brown, a merchant and shipowner, and Hope Power. The Brown family was long dominant in the mercantile life of Rhode Island, and during the Revolution Brown and his brothers ...

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Brown, Joseph (03 December 1733–03 December 1785), businessman and scientist, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of James Brown, a merchant and West Indies trader, and Hope Power. Little is known about Joseph Brown’s upbringing, except that his father died when he was five; his education was limited; and his scientific bent may have been encouraged by his brother-in-law, John Vanderlight, who had a medical degree from the University of Leiden, offered anatomy lessons, and was the principal pharmacist in Providence. In 1759 Brown married Elizabeth Power, a cousin. The couple had five children. Brown worked first as an assistant and then as a partner in the family firm run by his uncle, Obadiah Brown. When his uncle died in 1762, Brown and his brothers— ...