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Alden, Priscilla Mullins (1602–1684), one of the first settlers of Plymouth Colony, was born the daughter of William Mullins, a shoemaker, and Mary (maiden name unknown). She was probably born in Dorking, Surrey, England, though there is no record of her birth. Her father’s life is not well documented, but he may be the William Mollines who was brought before the Privy Council in April 1616. If so, his Puritan faith might have been the reason that he and his family joined the Separatists on their ...

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Alger, William Rounseville (28 December 1822–07 February 1905), author and religious leader, was born in Freetown, Massachusetts, the son of Catherine Sampson Rounseville and Nahum Alger, a teacher. Apprenticed at seven to a New Hampshire farmer, Alger worked at a variety of menial jobs during his hardscrabble boyhood. He earned a ministerial diploma from the Harvard Divinity School in 1847 and became pastor of All Souls’ Unitarian Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The same year, he married Ann Langdon Lodge; they had seven children. In 1855 Alger moved to the Bulfinch Street Church in Boston, where he gained a reputation as an orator. The next year, he published ...

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Barney, Natalie Clifford (31 October 1876–02 February 1972), writer and salon hostess, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Albert Clifford Barney, a railroad car heir, and Alice Pike, a painter and philanthropist. Her childhood was spent in wealthy circles in Cincinnati and later in Washington, D.C., and Bar Harbor, Maine. She was educated at home by a French governess and in France at Les Ruches in Fontainebleau. By the turn of the century, she had decided to remain in Paris and write in French....

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Clara Barrus. At Woodchuck Lodge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103953).

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Barrus, Clara (08 August 1864–04 April 1931), physician and author, was born in Port Byron, New York, the daughter of John William Barrus, a traveling salesman, and Sarah Randall, a schoolteacher. She began her education at the Port Byron Academy, where three years before her graduation she decided to become a physician. She felt women physicians were scarce and were needed to “treat modest girls who refused treatment from a man” ( ...

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Bishop, John Peale (21 May 1891–04 April 1944), writer, was born in Charles Town, West Virginia, the son of Jonathan Peale Bishop, a physician and druggist, and Margaret Miller Cochran. His grandfather, a Yale graduate, had moved south from New York after the Civil War. Bishop considered himself a southerner, but he nevertheless maintained a high regard for his northern roots. When Bishop was ten his father died, and his mother remarried in 1906. His mother and stepfather moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, and Bishop entered Washington County High School. His health had not been robust during childhood, and in his senior year he had trouble with his eyesight; he was not able to attend school from 1910 to 1913. During these years his mother and sister read aloud to him, and he developed a fondness for poetry. Bishop published a poem, “To a Woodland Pool,” in ...

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Calamity Jane Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95040).

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Calamity Jane (01 May 1852–01 August 1903), legendary western woman, was born Martha Cannary in Princeton, Missouri, the daughter of Robert Cannary (also spelled Canary). Her mother’s identity is unknown. In 1865, enticed by news from the Montana gold fields, her father moved the family to Virginia City, Montana. After her mother died in 1866, the family settled in Salt Lake City. Following her father’s death in 1867, an adolescent but determined Calamity Jane traveled to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. From there she embarked upon the transient existence that would characterize her life in the West, especially in the Black Hills mining camps of South Dakota and Wyoming....

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Cassady, Neal (08 February 1926–04 February 1968), laborer and source of inspiration to two American subcultures, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Neal Cassady, Sr., a barber, and Maude Scheuer Daly. At the time of his birth, Cassady’s father was moving the family from Des Moines, Iowa, to Hollywood. The family later completed its move to California and opened a barbershop. His alcoholic father struggled in the new environment, however, and the sale of the shop and a relocation to Denver, Colorado, in 1928 did not improve the family fortunes. During the depression, the business failed completely....

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Buffalo Bill Cody. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111880).

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Cody, William Frederick (26 February 1846–10 January 1917), frontiersman and entertainer, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born in Scott County, Iowa, the son of Isaac Cody and Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock. Cody’s father managed several farms and operated a state business in Iowa. In 1854 the family moved to the Salt Creek Valley in Kansas, where Cody’s father received a government contract to provide hay to Fort Leavenworth. After his father died in 1857, Cody went to work as an ox-team driver for fifty cents a day. Shortly thereafter, the firm of Majors and Russell hired him as an express boy. Cody attended school periodically, although his formal education ended in 1859 when he joined a party heading to Denver to search for gold. He prospected for two months without any luck. He arrived back in Kansas in March 1860 after a trapping expedition. He rode for a time for the Pony Express during its short lifetime (Apr. 1860–Nov. 1861). After the start of the Civil War he joined a group of antislavery guerrillas based in Kansas. Later the Ninth Kansas Volunteers hired him as a scout and guide. On 16 February 1864 Cody enlisted into Company F of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He saw quite a bit of action in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas during his one year and seven months of duty. He was mustered out of the army as a private on 29 September 1865....

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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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Falkner, William Clark (06 July 1825–06 November 1889), writer and great-grandfather of novelist William Faulkner, writer and great-grandfather of novelist William Faulkner, was born in Knox County, Tennessee, the son of Joseph Falkner, an immigrant from Scotland, and Caroline Word. Joseph and Caroline Falkner had just embarked on a move from Haywood County, North Carolina, to St. Genevieve, Missouri, when Caroline gave birth to William Clark in Knox County. Once Caroline had recovered, the Falkners settled in St. Genevieve. Joseph’s occupation there is unknown....

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Frietschie, Barbara Hauer (03 December 1766–18 December 1862), the inspiration for John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Barbara Frietchie", the inspiration for John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Barbara Frietchie,” was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Johann Niklaus Hauer, a hatter, and Catherine Zeiler (or Ziegler). Barbara Hauer’s parents were both German immigrants, arriving in the American colonies in the middle of the eighteenth century. When Barbara was a child, the Hauer family moved from Lancaster to Frederick, Maryland, where Johann Hauer established his haberdashery. In Frederick, Barbara Hauer met and married John Casper Frietschie, a glover whose father had been hanged for his involvement with a Tory plot in the American Revolution. In stark contrast to her father-in-law’s disloyalty, Barbara Frietschie gained a reputation for exuberant patriotism. It was the legend of her patriotic defiance of Confederate troops that caught the attention of Whittier and became the subject of his 1863 poem published in the ...

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Gardiner, Sir Christopher (1596– February 1662), early settler of Massachusetts, was born in England, the son of Christopher Gardyner and Judith Sackville, members of the English gentry. The family was related to Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who persecuted Protestants at the behest of Queen Mary (1553–1558). Christopher Gardiner entered Cambridge University in 1613 but abandoned the school by the next year. He then pursued a legal education at the Inner Temple. Abandoning that potential career as well, in 1615 he received official permission to travel in Europe. After Gardiner’s return to England, he married Elizabeth Onslow about the year 1620; they had three children....

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Gein, Edward (27 August 1906–26 July 1984), basis for Alfred Hitchcock's classic terror film Psycho, whose ghoulish crimes became the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic terror film Psycho, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the son of George Gein and Augusta Loehrke, farmers. In 1913 the family (which also included Gein’s older brother, Henry) moved to a small dairy farm near Camp Douglas, forty miles east of La Crosse. Less than one year later, they relocated again—this time permanently—to a 195-acre farm six miles west of Plainfield, a remote, tiny village in the south central part of the state....

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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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Josiah Henson. Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1877. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-31848).

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Henson, Josiah (15 June 1789–05 May 1883), escaped slave and preacher, was born in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm owned by Francis Newman. As a child, Henson frequently saw his parents abused and severely beaten. On one occasion, as a punishment for defending his wife, Henson’s father was sentenced to a physical mutilation that left him permanently scarred. Although he was raised without religion, Henson was immediately converted to Christianity after his first exposure to it at a revivalist camp meeting. As a young boy, he was sold to Isaac Riley....

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Hiawatha (fourteenth century–?), Onondaga warrior and orator, was spokesman for Deganawidah in the campaign for the formation of the League of the Hau-De-No-Sau-Nee, or People of the Longhouse. In the absence of contemporary sources, our current information is based on oral traditions handed down by the elders, some of which were recorded and published only in the late nineteenth century. Oral tradition is transmitted through storytelling, ritual reenactments, and sacred symbols carved on wooden sticks or embroidered on wampum belts. The so-called myths are of historical importance because they reflect the traditional values of the past and are called on to resolve present issues....