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Byrd, William (1652–04 December 1704), Virginia colonial officer and planter, was born in London, England, the son of John Bird, a goldsmith, and Grace Stegge. Because his father was a member of a powerful labor guild, Byrd (who later changed the spelling of his name, probably because it sounded more “elegant”) grew up aspiring to a comfortable but lower-middle-class position in caste-bound London. However, when he was eighteen he received a letter from his uncle, Thomas Stegge, a plantation owner in Virginia, asking Byrd to join him and become his heir. Accepting the opportunity to secure position and wealth as a landed gentleman in the new world, Byrd sailed to Virginia in the autumn of 1670 and joined his kinsman on his plantation of 1,800 acres near the fall line of the James River. A year later Stegge died, and Byrd inherited his entire estate. In that same year Byrd accompanied a party that crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and explored the western wilderness. Quickly, the young man proved himself an able husbandman, caring for his tobacco plantations and improving the Indian trade that his uncle had begun. Soon he was recognized throughout the colony as a rising man of property and influence. In fact, he was typical of that group of Virginia leaders that arrived in the colony in the last half of the seventeenth century and established powerful families that would dominate Virginia in the next century. Needing a wife with experience in managing slaves and handling the domestic duties of a plantation, he married Mary Horsmanden, a well-connected widow, in 1673. They had five children before her death in 1699....

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Cabell, William (13 March 1730–23 March 1798), revolutionary political figure, antifederalist, and tobacco planter, was born in the James River valley, north of Richmond, Virginia, the son of William Cabell and Elizabeth Burks. His father was a surgeon of the Royal Navy, who was born in Wiltshire, England, migrated to Virginia in the early 1720s, and married into a wealthy planter family in 1726. As his family grew, Cabell’s father took up extensive lands in the upper James River valley. As a leading planter on a frontier, he served as vestryman, deputy sheriff, justice of the peace, and militia officer, as well as practicing medicine....

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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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Colden, Cadwallader, II (26 May 1722–18 February 1797), farmer, public official, and Loyalist, was born in New York City, the son of Cadwallader Colden, a physician, scientist, and colonial official, and Alice Christie. In 1727 the family moved to the Ulster County, New York, estate of “Coldengham,” where Colden received an informal education from his mother. He also learned surveying, which enabled him to serve later as deputy to his father, the surveyor general of the colony. But Cadwallader neither showed the intellectual brilliance that distinguished his father and younger siblings David and ...

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Dummer, William (1677–10 October 1761), politician, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, and farmer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jeremiah Dummer, a silversmith, and Anna (or Hannah) Atwater. Born to wealthy parents, he was part of Boston’s Puritan elite. On 20 April 1714, he married Catherine Dudley, the daughter of Governor ...

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Fendall, Josias (1620?–14 May 1688), planter and fourth proprietary governor of Maryland, immigrated to the colony by 1655, when he was described as a gentleman and a militia officer. Nothing further is known of his origins. Although himself a Protestant, Fendall supported the authority of ...

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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 ...

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Harrison, Benjamin (1726?–24 April 1791), Virginia planter, legislator, governor, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born at the family seat, “Berkeley,” Charles City County, Virginia, the son of Benjamin Harrison and Anne Carter, daughter of Robert “King” Carter, one of the largest landowners in the colony. The Harrisons were among the early settlers in Virginia, and Benjamin “the Signer” was the fifth of that name in a direct line of descent. His father and grandfather had been prominent in the affairs of colonial government. His son, ...

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Izard, Ralph (23 January 1742–30 May 1804), planter and politician, was born near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Izard, a planter, and Margaret Johnson. His great-grandfather (also Ralph Izard) had emigrated from England in 1682, acquired land, and gained prominence in provincial politics. By the mid-eighteenth century, when the family properties in Berkeley County, South Carolina, descended to Izard’s parents, the family had maintained a strong position in the Carolina house of assembly and in the Anglican vestry....

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Jenifer, Daniel of St. Thomas (1723–16 November 1790), planter, merchant, and political leader of the American revolutionary era, was born in Charles County, Maryland, the son of Daniel Jenifer, a chirurgeon, and Elizabeth Mason. A fourth-generation native known to his contemporaries as “the Major,” Jenifer inherited 504 acres of land in Charles County on his father’s death circa 1729, and by 1766 he had purchased at least 2,000 acres more. He resided at “Retreat,” his Charles County home near Port Tobacco, for many years, but by 1766 he was living in Maryland’s capital, Annapolis. During the next two decades he purchased more than 3,000 acres in Anne Arundel County, including “Stepney,” an 800-acre plantation near South River, just outside Annapolis, where he lived from about 1784 until his death. In addition to his activities as a planter, Jenifer was a partner in the mercantile firm of Jenifer and Hooe and owner of the ship ...

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Jones, Allen (24 December 1739–14 November 1807), planter, revolutionary patriot, and Federalist, was born in Surry County, Virginia, the son of Robert “Robin” Jones, a planter, and Sarah Cobb. The family moved to Northampton County, North Carolina, in the early 1750s. There, Robin Jones served as Lord Granville’s land agent and as the Crown-appointed attorney general for North Carolina, posts that enabled him to become one of the largest landowners in the Roanoke River valley. He sent his sons to England’s Eton College, his alma mater, to be educated. The dates of their attendance are uncertain. Both were destined to become aristocratic planters, revolutionary leaders, members of the Continental Congress, and important state officials....

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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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Mason, George (1725–07 October 1792), planter and revolutionary statesman, the son of George Mason (c. 1629–c. 1686), a planter, and Ann Thomson. He was probably born at Dogue’s Neck (now called Mason Neck) in the northern part of Stafford County, Virginia, now Fairfax County. Both his namesake father and grandfather had been important planters and sometimes controversial public men in the Potomac River Valley. His mother was the daughter of Stevens Thomson, an English barrister who served as attorney general of Virginia from 1703 until his death early in 1713. Mason’s father drowned in an accident in 1735, leaving his strong-willed and self-reliant mother to manage the large estate. George Mason remained in Virginia for a private education, which he obtained in part in the library of his guardian, the noted legal scholar ...

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Mercer, John Francis (17 May 1759–30 August 1821), planter and officeholder, was born at “Marlborough Point,” Stafford County, Virginia, the son of John Mercer, a lawyer and wealthy landowner, and Ann Roy. John Francis Mercer graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1775. In February 1776 he enlisted in the Third Virginia Regiment. Despite his youth—he was not yet seventeen—his family’s social status enabled him to secure a commission as a first lieutenant. In a little more than a year Mercer achieved the rank of captain. He was wounded in September 1777 at Brandywine. In June 1778 he was commissioned a major and became an aide-de-camp to General ...

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Morgan, Sir Henry (1635–25 August 1688), buccaneer, planter, and lieutenant governor, was born in Llanrhymny, Wales, the son of Robert Morgan. His mother’s name is not known. Little is known of Morgan’s years in Wales. In a letter that he wrote to the Lords of Trade in 1680, Morgan said of his education that he “left the schools to [ ...

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Nelson, Thomas (26 December 1738–04 January 1789), merchant-planter and public official, was born in Yorktown, Virginia, the son of William Nelson (1711–1772), a prosperous merchant-planter, and Elizabeth Burwell. Educated first at home and then at a private school in Gloucester County, Nelson was sent to England in 1753. There, under the care of London merchant Edward Hunt, he attended grammar school at Hackney, near London, followed by three years at Christ College, Cambridge. Returning home in 1761, he married Lucy Grymes the following year. The union produced thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to maturity....

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Page, John (17 April 1743–11 October 1808), planter, revolutionary leader, and governor of Virginia, was born at “Rosewell” plantation, Gloucester County, Virginia, the son of Mann Page II and Alice Grymes, planters. Page’s grandmother, Judith Carter Page, gave him intellectual guidance during his childhood. In 1752 Page attended Abingdon Parish glebe school but disliked the teacher, William Yates. For the next four years Page studied with a tutor, William Price, whom he credited with teaching him the ideas of classical republicanism and the Whig political principles of the seventeenth-century English revolutions. Page attended the College of William and Mary from 1757 to 1763. There he formed a lifelong friendship with ...