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Bollan, William (1710?–1782), colonial agent and lawyer, was born in England and emigrated from there to America while a teenager. He pursued a legal career by studying as an apprentice under the tutelage of Massachusetts attorney Robert Auchmuty. Little is known of Bollan’s early life and career. However, by 1733 he had begun to gain prominence as an attorney, as evidenced by his acquisition of Harvard College and Boston’s Anglican parish, King’s Chapel, as clients. Bollan was an Anglican, which placed him in a religious minority in Congregational-dominated Boston. By the mid-1730s he had begun to venture into land speculation in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island....

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Carter, Landon (18 August 1710–22 December 1778), patriot and diarist, was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, the son of Robert “King” Carter, a planter-merchant member of the King’s Council, and Elizabeth Landon. The young Landon was sent to England for schooling when aged nine. Showing special promise as a scholar, he continued there for seven years before returning to Virginia in 1726, where he enrolled at the College of William and Mary in 1727 before settling to learn the tobacco planter and consignment business as assistant and companion to his aged father. In 1732 Carter’s father died, and Carter received a large inheritance. That year he married Elizabeth Wormeley. After Elizabeth’s death in 1740, he married Maria Byrd in 1742, and they had one child. Following Maria’s death in 1744, he married Elizabeth Beale in 1746; they had three children before she died around 1755. In all he had eight children. Carter was a widower for a long period at the end of his life, the years of his diary keeping. The three marriages brought substantial increases in property holding....

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John Dickinson. Engraving by B. L. Prevost, 1781. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-26777).

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Dickinson, John (08 November 1732–14 February 1808), statesman and political pamphleteer, was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of Samuel Dickinson, a plantation owner and merchant, and his second wife, Mary Cadwalader. Owners of extensive properties in Delaware as well as Maryland, the family moved in John’s youth to Kent, near Dover, Delaware. He was tutored at home until the age of eighteen when he began the study of law in the office of John Moland. Three years later he left for London for further legal training at the Middle Temple, the Inns of Court, and Westminster. After completing his studies in 1757, he returned to Philadelphia to open a law office. His extensive knowledge of legal history and precedent as well as his skills in writing and presentation soon earned him an outstanding reputation....

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Downer, Silas (16 July 1729–15 December 1785), scrivener and lawyer, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Downer and Phebe Bishop, farmers. The family soon moved to Sunderland, Massachusetts. Downer entered Harvard in 1747 and was ranked twenty-eighth in a class of thirty. Since Harvard students were then ranked according to their family’s social standing, Downer’s low ranking indicates his relatively humble origins. As an undergraduate, he won Brattle and Hollis scholarships. After receiving an M.A. in 1750, he moved to Rhode Island, settled in Providence, and became a scrivener. He married Sarah Kelton in 1758; within a decade the couple had five children....

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Draper, Richard (24 February 1727–05 June 1774), Massachusetts Loyalist, printer, and publisher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Draper, the publisher of the Boston News-Letter, and Deborah Green. His mother came from a family of official printers in Connecticut going back six generations to ...

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Benjamin Franklin. From a nineteenth-century engraving. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90398).

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Franklin, Benjamin (06 January 1706–17 April 1790), natural philosopher and writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, opposite the Congregational Old South Church, where the Reverend Samuel Willard baptized him the same day. The youngest son and fifteenth child of Josiah Franklin, a tallow chandler and soap maker who emigrated from England in 1683 to practice his Puritan faith, Benjamin had eleven living brothers and sisters. Five were Josiah’s children by his first wife, Anne Child, and six were by his second wife, Abiah Folger, Benjamin’s mother. Two sisters were born later....

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Hale, Nathan (06 June 1755–22 September 1776), martyr of the American Revolution, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, the son of Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, successful farmers. A sickly infant, he barely survived his first year, but as he grew he became an outdoorsman and a powerful athlete. He enjoyed reading, and his father decided to prepare him for the ministry, first by hiring Rev. Joseph Huntington to tutor him and then by sending him in 1769 to Yale College. At Yale he was widely admired by his teachers and fellow students. Dr. ...

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Home, Archibald (1705?– April 1744), secretary of the colony of New Jersey and poet, was born in Berwick, Scotland, the son of Sir John Home, the baronet of Berwick. His mother’s name is not known. Privately educated in Scotland, Home briefly resided in Glasgow before seeking his fortune in New York in 1733. He quickly established himself as the premier wit of the New York City taverns. In hopes of gaining a place in the local government, he plied his pen for Governor ...

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Hopkinson, Francis (02 October 1737–09 May 1791), author, composer, and judge, was born in Philadelphia, the son of Thomas Hopkinson, a lawyer and Pennsylvania councillor, and Mary Johnson. Hopkinson’s father emigrated from England in 1731. Hopkinson matriculated in the first class of the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) in 1751; he graduated in 1757 and, with other members of his class, received an M.A. degree three years later....

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Kennedy, Archibald (1685–14 June 1763), New York colonial official and pamphleteer, was born in Craigoch, Ayrshire, Scotland, the son of Alexander Kennedy, a justice of the peace. His mother’s name is unknown. He was a descendant of a younger branch of the earldom of Cassilis (the first earl was David Kennedy, 1509). Nothing is known of Kennedy’s early life. He probably arrived in America in the entourage of a fellow Scotsman from Ayrshire, Governor ...

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Knox, William (1732–25 August 1810), Anglo-American government official and pamphleteer, was born at Monaghan, Ireland, the son of Thomas Knox, a physician, and Nicola King. Although William’s paternal family was descended from Scots Presbyterian settlers in northern Ireland, his father converted to the Anglican Church of Ireland. Consequently, William spent his childhood and early manhood within the privileged ranks of the Anglo-Irish establishment. His mature personality—as well as his ideas about secular and religious affairs—were heavily influenced by the Anglicized form of Calvinism that Thomas Knox, by example as well as instruction, systematically impressed upon his son. After receiving his early education in the local Anglican schools of Monaghan, William attended Trinity College, Dublin. Here in the Irish capital he also served his political apprenticeship under the tutelage of Sir Richard Cox, a prominent leader of the Irish parliamentary opposition during the Anglo-Irish political crisis of 1753–1756....

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Lafayette, James (1748–09 August 1830), patriot spy, also known to history as James Armistead, was born in slavery; little is recorded of his parentage or early life except that he belonged to William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. In the summer of 1781 James was attending his master while Armistead worked as a commissary in Richmond, supplying patriot forces under the command of the ...

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Livingston, William ( November 1723–25 July 1790), colonial politician, governor of New Jersey, and political satirist, was born in Albany, New York, the son of Philip Livingston, the second lord of Livingston Manor, and Catherine Van Brugh. As the scion of an elite New York clan, he headed the family faction that successfully challenged the rival De Lancey family for dominance in the colony. Rarely holding public office himself, Livingston nevertheless masterminded his faction’s protracted battles with the De Lanceys. His success rested in part on his abilities with the pen. He wrote on the model provided by the English Whig pamphleteers, and his essays in the ...

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Marshall, Christopher (06 November 1709–04 May 1797), pharmacist and revolutionary leader, was born in Dublin, Ireland. His parents’ names are unknown. He received a classical education in England and developed an interest in chemistry. Marshall, a Quaker, married Sarah Thompson in 1735; they had three sons. His second marriage to Abigail, a Philadelphia Quaker, ended with her death in 1782. After moving to Philadelphia in 1727, Marshall started a pharmaceutical company. He was a religious man and in 1758 served as one of Philadelphia’s overseers of the poor....

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Mein, John (1732–1810), bookseller, printer, and Loyalist publisher, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of John Mein, a burgess and guildsman of Edinburgh and a slater by trade. His mother’s name is unknown. John, Jr., was also enrolled as a burgess and guildsman in December 1760. Little is known about Mein apart from his role in supporting British policy during the revolutionary crisis. He emigrated to Boston in November 1764 and set up the first of his three shops in company with ...

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Odell, Jonathan (25 September 1737–25 November 1818), Anglican clergyman, Loyalist, and poet, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of John Odell, a skilled carpenter, and Temperance Dickinson, the daughter of President Jonathan Dickinson of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). Odell’s father provided in his will for a college education for his son. After graduating from the College of New Jersey in 1754, Odell conducted the college’s grammar school, receiving in payment two-thirds of the school’s proceeds. In 1756 he studied medicine and then joined a regiment of the British army, serving in the West Indies as an army surgeon. He received his A.M. from the College of New Jersey in 1757. During this period he decided to seek ordination as an Anglican clergyman, in spite of his family’s historic ties to the Congregationalist church. While in England studying for the ministry, he taught at James Elphinston’s Academy in Kensington and published his first poems. He met ...

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Thomas Paine. Reproduction of an engraving by W. Sharpe, 1793, after a painting by George Romney. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2542).

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Paine, Thomas (29 January 1737–08 June 1809), author of political pamphlets of the Age of Revolution, was born Thomas Pain in Thetford, England, the son of Joseph Pain, a Quaker corset maker, and Frances Cocke, an Anglican. Enrolled by his parents in 1743 at the Thetford Grammar School, Paine left school seven years later to begin an apprenticeship in his father’s shop. In 1756 he ran away to enlist on the privateer ...