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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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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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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 ...