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Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Lithograph on paper, 1832, by Albert Newsam. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Carroll of Carrollton, Charles (19 September 1737–14 November 1832), planter, businessman, investor, and the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the last of the signers to die, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis, a planter, and his common-law wife, Elizabeth Brooke. An only child, Carroll was sent at the age of ten to the Jesuit college of St. Omers, in French Flanders, where Maryland’s Catholic gentry sent their sons because the colony’s laws, which denied “papists” the right to vote, hold office, practice law, and worship publicly, also forbade them to maintain religious schools. Young Carroll studied abroad for sixteen years, ending with a thesis in philosophy at the college of Louis le Grand in Paris in 1757. After reading civil law in Bourges and Paris, he moved to London in September 1759 to pursue the common law at the Inns of Court. However, his antipathy for the discipline, which he regarded as “founded upon and still subsisting by villainy,” became so intense that he ultimately defied his father’s intention that he formally enter the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court. Finding the paternal insistence on his acquiring the social graces more to his liking, he became adept at dancing, drawing, and fencing and mastered Italian, bookkeeping, and surveying, practical skills the elder Carroll deemed essential for success as a landowner and man of business....

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Carter, Robert (1663–04 August 1732), merchant-planter and public official, was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, the son of John Carter, a wealthy merchant-planter and attorney, and Sarah Ludlow. John Carter died in 1669 leaving Robert 1,000 acres and one-third of his personal estate. He also provided that an indentured servant be “bought for him … to teach him his books either in English or Latine according to his capacity.” Later, probably around 1672, he was sent to London by his elder brother John where he spent six years receiving a grammar school education. In London Robert lived with Arthur Bailey, a prosperous merchant, from whom he must have learned about the intricacies of the tobacco trade. Little else is known about his early years, but in 1688 he married Judith Armistead, with whom he had five children. In 1701 he married Elizabeth Landon Willis; this union produced an additional ten children. Five sons and five daughters lived to maturity, and all the sons received an English education. The death of his brother John in 1690, followed shortly by the death of his daughter and half brother, resulted in Carter inheriting the bulk of a large estate that included more than 9,000 acres of land and 115 slaves. Carter, already a man of substance, quickly added to his wealth through planting and mercantile activity, including a significant involvement in the slave trade. He also began to acquire large amounts of land, a process that was aided by the two terms he served as agent (1702–1712, 1719–1732) for the Fairfax family, the proprietors of the Northern Neck. The Northern Neck was that vast area of land between the Rappahannock and the Potomac rivers, stretching to the headwaters of the latter. At Carter’s death it was reported that he left 300,000 acres of land, 1,000 slaves, and £10,000 in cash, and it appears that this estimate was not far off the mark....

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George Clymer. Engraving by James Barton Longacre. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111789).

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Gaspare J. Saladino

Clymer, George (16 March 1739–23 January 1813), merchant, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Christopher Clymer, a sea captain and an Episcopalian, and Deborah Fitzwater, a disowned Quaker. Clymer’s parents died by 1746, and he was raised by his maternal aunt Hannah Coleman and her husband William, a wealthy Quaker merchant and Proprietary party leader. The Proprietary party was aligned with the Penn family (proprietors of Pennsylvania) against the Quaker party, which sought to turn Pennsylvania into a royal colony. By the late 1750s Clymer himself had become a merchant. In 1765 Clymer, an Episcopalian, married Elizabeth Meredith, the daughter of the Quaker merchant Reese Meredith; like Clymer’s mother, she was disowned for marrying a non-Quaker. Five of their eight children attained maturity. Following his uncle William Coleman’s death in 1769, Clymer inherited £6,000. Three years later Clymer entered into partnership with his father-in-law and his brother-in-law ...

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Cutt, John (1625–05 April 1681), merchant and colonial administrator, was born in England, the son of Richard Cutt, a Welsh merchant who moved his family to Bristol in Gloucestershire and then sat as a member of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliament in 1654. His mother’s name is unknown. Almost nothing is known of his early years in England, but like nearly all members of his generation he was certainly influenced by the struggle between King Charles and his Parliaments and the English Civil War (1642–1645)....

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Cutts, Samuel (08 December 1726–29 May 1801), merchant and revolutionary activist, was born probably in Kittery, Maine, the son of Major Richard Cutt, a merchant, and Eunice Curtis. The fourth of ten children, he was of the first generation to change the spelling of the family name from Cutt to Cutts. His great-grandfather was Robert Cutt, who with two brothers had come, in the 1640s to the Piscataqua River region of northern New England where they soon became one of the dominant mercantile and landholding families. One of Robert’s brothers, ...

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De Berdt, Dennys (1694–11 April 1770), merchant and colonial agent, was born in London, England, the son of John De Berdt, a trader. Particulars regarding his mother have not survived. Following in his father’s footsteps, De Berdt became a merchant in London, quickly establishing an interest in foreign trade. By 1748 he was deeply involved in the North American trade, and two decades later he admitted still having £50,000 “locked up in America” (Reed Collection). He was long associated with the firm of Wright, Burkitt & Sayre....

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De Peyster, Abraham (08 July 1657–02 August 1728), colonial government official and merchant, was born in New Amsterdam, the son of Johannes De Peyster and Cornelia Lubbertse. His father, having settled in New Amsterdam in the early 1650s, created a thriving mercantile business that his son further developed by the early 1680s. While De Peyster began to rise in rank in the militia, he was also called upon in 1684 to become the city assessor and the following year became an alderman. While on a visit to Holland in 1684, De Peyster met and married a cousin, Catherine De Peyster. They had five children that survived to maturity. The province came to depend on De Peyster to supply local officials with monetary loans or food supplies for the militia. His continued inability to speak English did not deter local government agencies from calling on him for assistance whenever necessary....

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Derby, Elias Hasket (16 August 1739–08 September 1799), merchant, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Captain Richard Derby, an established ship master and merchant, and Mary Hodges, a merchant’s daughter. His father’s rise as a prominent general merchant was instrumental in lofting Derby to the position of one of the wealthiest and most successful merchants of his age. As an apprentice in his father’s counting-house, young Derby assisted in the management of a burgeoning shipping business through the 1750s and 1760s. He became adept at keeping the firm’s books and coordinating the flow of New England fish, lumber, and produce, West Indies sugar and molasses, and Southern tobacco and naval stores. As his aging father gradually withdrew from the business, the younger Derby assumed full control of counting-house operations, introducing new practices to adapt to the increasing complexity of the Atlantic trade. In 1761 he married Elizabeth Crowninshield; they had seven children....

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Dickson, Robert (1765–20 June 1823), fur trader and British Indian Department officer, was born in Dumfries, Scotland, the son of John Dickson, a merchant. His mother’s name is unknown. Robert Dickson emigrated to the United States in 1785–1786, soon after the American Revolution and was first employed at Oswego (N.Y.), where “he began his apprenticeship, which induced him to adopt the fur trade as a life-long occupation” (Cruikshank [1931], p. 88). Within a few months, Dickson was removed to the Niagara area, where his duties included selling and shipping goods to the fur-trade posts and managing accounts. As he was closely connected with some of the most respected and influential Loyalist families along the Niagara, Dickson enjoyed preferential treatment in both the choice and flexibility of his work. As a result of this good fortune, Dickson took the opportunity to leave the drab routine of his work at Niagara and in July 1786 was pleased to be transferred to the “Island of Michilimackinac” (MacKinac Island, Mich.) in order “to learn the art and mystery of commerce” (Cartwright papers, 10 July 1786)....

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Duer, William (18 March 1743–07 May 1799), businessman and politician, was born in Devonshire, England, the son of John Duer, a wealthy squire, and Frances Frye. After graduating from Eton, Duer joined the British army and traveled to India, where he later served as secretary to Lord Clive, governor-general of the East India Company. Duer soon fell ill, however, and returned to England. His father’s subsequent death left him in possession of a large inheritance, which included an estate in the West Indies. By 1768 Duer was actively managing his estate and trading with prominent businessmen in New York, including ...

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Eaton, Theophilus (1590–08 January 1658), merchant and colonial governor, was born in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire, England, the son of the Reverend Richard Eaton, vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). The Reverend Eaton intended his son for the ministry; however, as an adolescent Theophilus found commerce more appealing and in about 1604 began a seven-year London apprenticeship in the wool trade. Following his training Eaton joined the Eastland Company, which was chartered by Elizabeth I in 1579 and granted a virtual monopoly on commerce in the Baltic. Eaton’s business successes assisted him in becoming Eastland’s deputy governor and in receiving a commission as a commercial agent between Denmark’s Christian IV and England’s James I after the onset of the Thirty Years’ War....

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Ellery, William (22 December 1727–15 February 1820), merchant and politician, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of William Ellery, a merchant, and Elizabeth Almy. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1747. While attending college he met and married Ann Remington. After college Ellery returned with his wife to Newport and with little enthusiasm established himself as a merchant....

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Gadsden, Christopher (16 February 1724–28 August 1805), merchant and patriot, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Thomas Gadsden, the British collector of customs in that port, and his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of indentured servants whose names are unknown. Between the ages of eight and sixteen, young Christopher, nicknamed “Kittie,” lived with relatives in England and went to school there. He returned to British North America in 1740, passed five years in a mercantile apprenticeship in Philadelphia, and from 1745 to 1746 served during King George’s War as a purser on the British man-of-war ...

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Gorham, Nathaniel ( May 1738–11 June 1796), merchant and politician, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Gorham, a packet boat operator, and Mary Soley. The oldest of five children, Gorham was apprenticed at age fifteen to Nathaniel Coffin, a New London, Connecticut, merchant. He completed the terms of his apprenticeship in six years and returned to Charlestown in 1759. Gorham opened his own merchant house that same year and began to prosper during the later stages of the French and Indian War (1756–1763). He married Rebecca Call in 1763 and was the father of nine children....

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Graham, Joseph (13 October 1759–12 November 1836), revolutionary soldier, political leader, and iron entrepreneur, was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of James Graham and Mary McConnell Barber, farmers. Graham’s father rented the land he farmed. Upon his death in 1763, his mother joined the great Scotch-Irish migration to the South, moving her family to the Carolina back country via Charleston, South Carolina. Eventually the widow Graham and her five children—three sons and two daughters—settled in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where in 1771 she purchased a 200-acre farm near Charlotte....

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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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Habersham, James ( June 1715?–28 August 1775), planter-merchant in colonial Georgia, royal councilor, and acting governor, was born in Beverly, Yorkshire, England, the son of James Habersham, a dyer and innkeeper, and Elizabeth Sission. His mother died when he was seven; subsequently his father apprenticed him to his uncle, Joseph Habersham, a London merchant. From him he mastered the import trade in hides, indigo, and sugar. By the age of twenty-one he had assumed charge of two sugar-refining houses connected with his uncle’s interests. In 1736 Habersham came under the religious influence of ...