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Bedford, Gunning, Jr. (1747–30 March 1812), revolutionary statesman, signer of the U.S. Constitution, and federal district judge, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Gunning Bedford and Susannah Jacquett. His upper-middle-class father was associated with the Philadelphia Carpenter’s Company, a labor combination of master workers. Bedford referred to himself as Gunning Bedford, Jr., probably to avoid being confused with his notable cousin and contemporary, Colonel ...

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Benson, Egbert (21 June 1746–24 August 1833), jurist and founding father, was born in New York City, the son of Robert Benson and Catherine Van Borsum. After graduating from King’s College (now Columbia) in 1765, Benson served his legal clerkship in the New York City office of the revolutionary leader ...

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Bulloch, Archibald (1730–1777), lawyer and revolutionary war leader, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of James Bulloch, a clergyman, member of the South Carolina Assembly, merchant, and Colleton County planter, and Jean Stobo. Although little is known about his early years, it is believed that he received a liberal education and studied law. Prior to his move to Georgia in 1758, he was admitted to the bar and acquired a rice plantation near Purrysburg on the Savannah River. In 1764 he married Mary De Veaux; they had four children. President ...

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Burnet, William (02 December 1730–07 October 1791), physician, judge, and member of the Continental Congress, was born in Lyon’s Farms, a town located between Newark and Elizabethtown, New Jersey, the son of Ichabod Burnet, a physician who emigrated from Scotland, and Hannah (maiden name unknown). He was educated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) when it was located in Newark under Rev. ...

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Dana, Francis (13 June 1743–25 April 1811), public official, diplomat, and jurist, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Dana, a lawyer, and Lydia Trowbridge. Francis entered Harvard College in 1758 and graduated in 1762. He received an M.A. from Harvard in 1765 at the same time that he was studying law in Cambridge with his uncle Edward Trowbridge. Dana was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1767 and became successful in his practice. In 1773 he married Elizabeth Ellery, daughter of ...

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Dyer, Eliphalet (14 September 1721–13 May 1807), politician and jurist, was born in Windham, Connecticut, the son of Thomas Dyer, a politician and farmer, and Lydia Backus. Because of the deepening land shortage in colonial Connecticut, Dyer trained for a professional career rather than enter into farming, and he graduated from Yale College in 1740. As law schools were nonexistent in colonial New England, Dyer entered an apprenticeship to train for the law; in 1746 he was admitted as a Connecticut lawyer. In 1747, following the traditional pattern for young attorneys in eighteen-century Connecticut to enhance their careers by seeking several public offices, Dyer was elected as one of Windham’s two deputies to the Connecticut General Assembly. Serving in the colony’s lower house of the legislature until 1762, he was then elected to the Governor’s Council, where he served continuously until 1784. Dyer’s election to the council, which served as the upper legislative body, signaled his arrival in the front ranks of Connecticut political life at the age of 41....

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Few, William (08 June 1748–16 July 1828), lawyer, politician, and banker, was born near Baltimore, Maryland, the son of William Few, a failed tobacco planter turned frontier farmer, and Mary Wheeler. Few’s family moved in 1758 to North Carolina, where young William received little formal schooling but enough skills and enough love for reading that the future Founding Father was able to educate himself. In the early 1770s, the Few family joined the Regulator movement, rural westerners’ sometimes violent opposition to unrepresentative coastal political control. The family lost one of William’s brothers, the family farm, and the family fortune in the struggle for more local autonomy. The Fews then moved to Georgia, leaving William behind to settle the family’s affairs, to farm, and to teach himself law....

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Gibbons, William (1750?–27 September 1800), lawyer and politician, was born at Bear Bluff, South Carolina, the son of Joseph Gibbons, a successful rice planter, and Hannah Martin. Young Gibbons read law in Charleston and began his legal practice in Savannah before the Revolution. Georgians, slow to join the revolutionary movement, were split between Whigs and Loyalists, a division reflected in Gibbons’s family. William was an ardent Whig, whereas his brother ...

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Patrick Henry. Etching by Albert Rosenthal, 1888. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102566).

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Henry, Patrick (29 May 1736–06 June 1799), revolutionary statesman, orator, and lawyer, was born at Studley, Hanover County, Virginia, the son of John Henry, a Scottish-born and prosperous planter, and Sarah Winston Syme, a young widow, also from a family of substantial means. Often mistakenly thought to have been of more humble origins, Patrick Henry was, by birth and estate, a member of the gentry of the colony, if not of the highest rank. After attending a local school for a few years, he received the remainder of his formal education from his father, who had attended King’s College, University of Aberdeen....

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John Sloss Hobart. Reproduction of a painting by James Sharples . Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110560).

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Hobart, John Sloss (06 May 1738–04 February 1805), revolutionary committeeman and justice of the New York state supreme court, was born in Fairfield, Connecticut, the son of Rev. Noah Hobart and Ellen Sloss. After graduation from Yale College (1757) he resided in New York City. There he married Mary Greenill (Grinnell) (d. 1803) in 1764 and moved to the manor of “Eaton’s Neck,” Long Island, which he had inherited from his mother’s family. In 1765 Hobart was a member of the Sons of Liberty in Huntington, Suffolk County, and served as justice of the peace. In 1774 he was a member of the town and county committees of correspondence. He served in the four New York provincial congresses from May 1775 through May 1777. Hobart was an active participant in the last congress, called the “Convention,” served on several of its committees, and contributed proposals to the state constitution. In April 1777 he was one of six committeemen assigned to prepare a draft of the document. He also was a member of the state council of safety. In May 1777, even though he admitted “not having been educated in the profession of the law,” Hobart was appointed one of two associate justices of the state supreme court, serving with ...

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Houstoun, John (1750?–20 July 1796), lawyer, soldier, and politician, was born in St. George’s Parish, Georgia, the son of Sir Patrick Houstoun, a baronet, registrar of grants and receiver of quit rents for the colony, and Priscilla Dunbar. He studied law in Charleston and practiced in Savannah, where he early became involved in the protests against Great Britain prior to the Revolution and was probably a member of the Sons of Liberty. In 1775 he married Hannah Bryan, the daughter of Jonathan Bryan, a prominent planter, a former member of the governor’s council, and one of the leaders of Georgia’s Whig movement; they apparently had no children. In July 1774 he joined ...

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Johnson, William Samuel (07 October 1727–14 November 1819), lawyer and politician, was born in Stratford, Connecticut, the son of the Reverend Samuel Johnson, an Anglican clergyman, and Charity Floyd Nicholl, the widow of a wealthy Long Island lawyer. With a younger brother and three stepsiblings from his mother’s first marriage, Johnson grew up in a convivial, intellectually stimulating home made comfortable by his mother’s inherited wealth. His father’s success in making Anglicanism a respectable alternative to Congregationalism fostered amicable relations between Anglican and Puritan acquaintances. A philosopher as well as a churchman, Samuel Johnson taught—in opposition to Puritan childrearing practice—“indulgence” to children’s “intellectual curiosity, … candor, patience, and care” in moral and intellectual training. The recipient of this kind of nurture, William Samuel was also shaped by Connecticut’s culture of “steady habits” and by Anglican decorum....

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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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Livingston, Robert Robert ( August 1718–09 December 1775), landowner, attorney, and politician, was born in New York, the only son and heir of Robert Livingston and Margaret Howarden. His father, a younger son of manor lord Robert Livingston, was given a portion of land, called “Clermont,” at the southern end of Livingston Manor. In 1742 Livingston married Margaret Beekman, the heir of Colonel ...

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Lowell, John (17 June 1743–06 May 1802), politician and judge, was born in Newbury, Massachusetts, the son of the Reverend John Lowell, a Congregational minister, and Sarah Champney. After graduating from Harvard College in 1760, he studied law with Oxenbridge Thacher of Boston and was admitted to the bar in 1763. After his marriage in 1767 to Sarah Higginson, daughter of Stephen Higginson of Salem and his wife Elizabeth Cabot, Lowell returned to his native parish, which had separated in 1764 to become the town of Newburyport. There his legal practice flourished, he became active in town affairs as a selectman, committeeman, and justice of the peace, and he built a large mansion, which ...

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Pendleton, Edmund (09 September 1721–26 October 1803), lawyer, jurist, and revolutionary political leader, was born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of Henry Pendleton and Mary Taylor, farmers. Edmund’s father died four months before his birth. After two years of formal schooling, Pendleton at the age of fourteen entered an apprenticeship to Benjamin Robinson, clerk of the Caroline County court. As a student under Robinson’s tutelage, Pendleton received the fundamental education of a public official and attorney, preparing legal documents and observing the operations of the court system. As a law student, Pendleton paid less attention to the principles of jurisprudence and more to the tactics of debate and practical pleading. These skills were to serve him well. ...

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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-CC-42-6).