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Brown, Thomas (27 May 1750–03 August 1825), revolutionary war soldier and superintendent of the Southern Indian Department, was born in Whitby, England, the son of Jonas Brown, a shipowner and alum manufacturer, and Margaret Jackson. Captain Cook, the celebrated explorer, was a near neighbor during Thomas Brown’s youth. After several voyages to America on his father’s ships, Brown decided to seek his fortune on Georgia’s newly ceded lands above Augusta in 1773. With the financial support of his father, Brown recruited seventy-four indentured servants in Yorkshire and in the Orkney Islands and sailed for Georgia in August 1774. A second contingent of the same number followed a year later....

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Butler, Richard (01 April 1743–04 November 1791), soldier and government official, was born in St. Bridget’s Parish, Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Butler, the younger son of a baron, and Eleanor Parker. In 1748 the family immigrated to Pennsylvania and subsequently farmed in Cumberland County. During ...

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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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Thomas Loraine McKenney. Oil on canvas, 1856, by Charles Loring Elliott. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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McKenney, Thomas Loraine (21 March 1785–20 February 1859), government official, was born in Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the son of William McKenney, a merchant, and Anne Barber, both staunch Quakers. He attended Washington College in Chestertown and at age twenty-one married Editha Gleaves, by whom he fathered two children, a daughter, Maria, who died in infancy, and a son, William. In 1809 McKenney moved his family to Georgetown in the District of Columbia, where he operated a dry goods store. After serving briefly in the local militia during the War of 1812, he resumed his mercantile activities until President ...

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Mitchell, David Dawson (31 July 1806–31 May 1861), fur trader and government American Indian agent, was born in Louisa County, Virginia. Nothing is known about his parents. Mitchell’s youth remains wrapped in mystery. He arrived in St. Louis as a young man and quickly became involved in the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Employed by the American Fur Company as early as 1828, he was assigned first to the Ioway country and then to the Upper Missouri River, where he displayed considerable skill in dealing with the Blackfoot and Assiniboine Indians. During the period between 1828 and 1838 he headed several trading outfits and built Fort McKenzie in Montana in spite of American Indian objections to the construction at the mouth of the Marias River. Noted for a cool head in stressful situations, Mitchell managed to keep tensions from reaching a boiling point, especially over the issue of which native groups might be favored in trade. ...

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Palmer, Joel (04 October 1810–09 June 1881), Oregon territory superintendent of Indian affairs, was born in Elizabethtown, Canada, the son of Ephraim Palmer, a farmer, and Anna Phelps, ninth-generation Americans who left Canada during the War of 1812 and settled in Lowville, New York. His Quaker parents bound him out when he was twelve to a Quaker family in Jefferson, New York. There he attended school for three months, his only formal education....

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Parker, Ely Samuel (1828–30 August 1895), U.S. commissioner of Indian affairs, was born on the Tonawanda Reservation in New York State, the son of Seneca chief William Parker and Elizabeth Johnson. (His first name was pronounced “ee-lee.”) One of only a few formally educated Tonawanda Senecas, Parker served as an interpreter and tribal representative from age fourteen. He entered Cayuga Academy at Aurora, New York, in October 1845, to prepare for college; he left early in 1846 to accompany tribal leaders to Washington, D.C., for meetings with the president and other officials, one of many such trips he made on the tribe’s behalf during a lengthy but ultimately successful fight to retain their reservation....

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Rice, Henry Mower (29 November 1816–15 January 1894), Indian trader and commissioner, Minnesota territorial delegate, and U.S. senator, was born in Waitsfield, Vermont, the son of Edmund Rice and Ellen Durkee. After his father died in 1828, Rice lived with the family of Justus Burdick. He completed an academy education and studied law in Rutland, Vermont, before moving to Michigan with the Burdick family in 1835. He worked as a chainman in the surveying of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and for Kalamazoo merchants until 1839. That year he traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was hired by Kenneth MacKenzie, a prominent commission and forwarding merchant and fur trader, who sent him to Fort Snelling, in present-day Minnesota, to assist the post sutler. The next year he was appointed sutler at the newly created Fort Atkinson near the Winnebago reservation in northeastern Iowa. In 1842 he moved to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, to join Hercules L. Dousman, a longtime partner in the Western Outfit of the American Fur Company, in trade with the Winnebago and Ojibwa of the upper Mississippi region. Five years later he was sent to Mendota near Fort Snelling as an agent of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company (see ...

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Stokes, Montfort (12 March 1762–04 November 1842), U.S. senator, North Carolina governor, and Indian commissioner, was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, the son of David Stokes, a planter, magistrate, and vestryman, and Sarah Montfort of Halifax County, North Carolina, the scion of a prominent, wealthy family. Little is known of Stokes’s early life, but he claimed to have sailed as a boy on a merchantman out of Edenton and to have served in the Continental navy under Commodore ...

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Stuart, John (25 September 1718–21 March 1779), British Indian superintendent for the southern district of North America from 1761 to 1779, was born in Inverness, Scotland, the son of John Stuart, a merchant and former magistrate of Inverness (1713–1715), and Christian MacLeod. Educated in the Inverness grammar school, Stuart spent some time in London then gained employment working in Spain, probably at a trading house that did business both in London and Spain. After his return to England he secured a clerk’s job in the Royal Navy and then served as a ship’s purser. Like many other Scots, however, he saw greater economic promise in North America than in Scotland or at sea....

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Wraxall, Peter (?–11 July 1759), secretary of Indian affairs, was born in Bristol, England, the son of John Wraxall, a merchant. His mother’s name is not known. No record of his early formal education has been found. Although the Wraxall family were prominent members of the local community, the economic fluctuations pertaining to merchant endeavors encouraged young Peter to leave the area in the hopes of achieving a greater degree of personal success and prosperity. He apparently resided in the Netherlands for a time, where he became familiar with the Dutch language. He next visited Jamaica and finally settled in the royal province of New York....