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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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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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Galt, John (02 May 1779–11 April 1839), author, lobbyist, and businessman, was born in Irvine, Scotland, the son of John Galt, a shipmaster and trader, and Jean Thomson. Galt left school to begin a career as a merchant at about age sixteen (one of his schoolmates was ...

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Glass, Hugh (?–1833), fur trapper., was a Few facts are known for certain about his early life. His place of birth is unknown. According to the historian and novelist James Hall, who published an account of Glass in Port Folio (Mar. 1825), Glass was of Irish ancestry. The fine literary quality of the only known communication from his pen, written in 1823, permits the conclusion that he was reasonably well educated. His early years have become the stuff of legend. According to reminiscences of a fellow fur trapper named ...

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Green, Joseph (1706–11 December 1780), poet and merchant, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Green and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Information about his parents’ employment could not be obtained. He was educated at the South Grammar School and entered Harvard College in 1722, graduating in 1726. Few details of his life have been preserved, but it is known that he was part of the prosperous Boston merchant class and was said to own the largest private library in New England. He was also a pew-holder in the First Church of Boston, a man of Loyalist political sympathies, and a noted wit. He married Elizabeth (maiden name unknown) after 1742, but there is no evidence of their having any children....

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Hammett, Samuel Adams (04 February 1816–24 December 1865), merchant and writer, was born probably in Connecticut or New York, though the precise location remains uncertain, the son of Augustus J. Hammett, a merchant, and Mary Wright. In the fall of 1832 Hammett entered the newly formed University of the City of New York. His father’s declining health and business demanded much of Hammett’s time, however, and he discontinued his studies in 1835. Hammett soon left for the Southwest and arrived in present-day Texas toward the end of the year. He lived there for over a decade, as it won independence, established a republic, and eventually became a state. Hammett probably engaged in a variety of business activities during this time, most possibly land speculation or traveling sales. Either would have given him ample opportunity to observe the area’s people and customs, a background he drew on for later writings. Hammett joined other businessmen and set up general stores in Galveston and Houston during 1846. Following severe financial difficulties just a year later, he closed the last shop and returned to the East....

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Harmon, Daniel Williams (19 February 1778–23 April 1843), fur trader and diarist, was born in Bennington, Vermont, the son of Daniel Harmon and Lucretia Dewey, innkeepers, whose roots in New England reached back more than a century and a half. Harmon’s parents were pious stalwarts of the Congregational church. During the revolutionary war, his father fought with the victorious Americans at the Battle of Bennington. Later, the family moved to Vergennes. What turned Harmon north into British territory is uncertain, but tales of Canadian travelers, parental restrictions, and wanderlust probably helped. In 1799 or early 1800 he journeyed to Montreal and entered the fur trade with the North West Company. Leaving Lachine (Montreal Island) for the West on 29 April 1800, he began a remarkable diary of life in the North American wilderness....

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Joseph Heco. As pictured in Hutching's California Magazine, c. 1856–1860. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93843).

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Heco, Joseph (1837–1897), government interpreter, merchant, and publisher, was born Hamada Hikozō in the village of Komiya, near Kobe, Japan, on the eastern shore of the Inland Sea, the second son of a well-to-do farmer. After his father’s death his mother remarried, to a sea captain who adopted him. While on what should have been a brief internal voyage in late 1850, his ship was blown into the Pacific. He and sixteen other persons, after drifting for fifty-two days, were picked up by a U.S. ship that landed at San Francisco in February 1851. The American authorities, planning for Commodore ...

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King, Charles (16 March 1789–27 September 1867), editor, merchant, and college president, was born in New York, New York, the son of Rufus King, a diplomat, and Mary Alsop. His father, having succeeded Thomas Pinckney as minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James, moved with his family to London, England, in 1796. After a few years at a local school, Charles and his older brother John Alsop King were sent in December 1799 to Harrow, a private secondary school in Middlesex, where they had Lord Byron and Robert Peel as classmates. Leaving Harrow in December 1804, King and his brother then attended a branch of the École Polytechnique in Paris, France, for a few months, after which Charles King took a clerking position with Hope & Company, a banking firm in Amsterdam, the Netherlands....

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Larpenteur, Charles (08 May 1807–15 November 1872), fur trader and writer, was born five miles from Fontainebleau, France. His father, a Bonapartist, settled in the United States in 1818 and engaged in farming near Baltimore; he may have been one of the two Lewis Larpenteurs listed in the 1840 federal census for Maryland. Charles apparently received only a limited education. He went west when he was twenty-one. At St. Louis he worked as an overseer for retired Indian agent ...

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Leonard, Zenas (19 March 1809–14 July 1857), trapper, was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, the son of Abraham Leonard and Elizabeth Armstrong, farmers. Leonard’s formal education was limited to grade school, and by the time he was twenty-one, he had rejected life as a farmer and set out for Pittsburgh to work in his uncle’s store. Eager for adventure, Leonard quickly moved on to St. Louis, then the center of the western fur trade, and eventually signed on as clerk for the trading company of Gantt and Blackwell....

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Sewall, Samuel (28 March 1652–01 January 1730), colonial merchant, judge, and philanthropist, was born at Bishop Stoke, Hampshire, England, the son of Henry Sewall, a pastor, and Jane Dummer. Sewall’s father had immigrated to Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1634, and although he was admitted to freemanship in 1637, he returned to England in 1646 and subsequently took the pulpit of North Baddesley. The family returned to Massachusetts in 1659....

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Steendam, Jacob (1616–1672), merchant and poet, is believed to have been born in Enkhuizen, Holland, though his parentage is unknown. Much about his life is obscure. He grew up in Amsterdam and was a member of the Dutch Reformed church. In 1638 he was a member of the Segbloem, an institute of rhetoric, at Zegwaard, and much of his poetry reveals the influence of rhetorical training....

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Steere, Richard (1643–20 June 1721), colonial merchant and religious poet, was born in Chertsey, England, the son of Richard Steere, a leather worker, and Annis Springall. Educated in Latin and literature at the Free Grammar School at Kingston-upon-Thames, he was apprenticed in 1658 as a cordwainer in the city of London. Granted the freedom of the Company of Cordwainers in 1666, he seems to have engaged in foreign trade with Barbados and the Americas as early as this period. In London, Steere became a member of the General Baptists, a group persecuted after the Restoration....