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Abbott, Horace (29 July 1806–08 August 1887), manufacturer, was born in Sudbury, Massachusetts, the son of Alpheus Abbott and Lydia Fay, farmers. His father died when Abbott was quite young, leaving the family in poverty. With little opportunity for formal education, Abbott was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Westborough, Massachusetts, in 1822. After completing his five-year term, he spent the following two years as a journeyman blacksmith. Abbott then returned to Westborough and set up his own blacksmith shop. In 1830 he married Charlotte Hapgood; they would have seven children. He remained in Westborough until 1836....

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Abraham (fl. 1826–1845), "Prophet", also known as “Prophet,” was a runaway slave who became a prominent leader among the Seminoles. Nothing is known about his parents or childhood. Fleeing his master, Abraham escaped south into Florida where he was adopted into the Seminole tribe. He enjoyed considerable status among the Seminoles, accompanying a tribal delegation to Washington, D.C., in 1826 and becoming an influential counselor to Micanopy, a leading Seminole headman. The Seminole, or Florida Indians, once were a part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation that had been driven out of Georgia by the early English colonists, and the Oconee and Yamasee tribes that had been driven out of the Carolinas following the Yamasee uprising of 1715. They had first settled among the Lower Creeks in the Florida Panhandle and created a haven for runaway slaves. In fact, ...

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Acheson, Edward Goodrich (09 March 1856–06 July 1931), inventor and industrialist, was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, the son of William Acheson, a merchant and ironworks manager, and Sarah Diana Ruple. Acheson attended the Bellefonte Academy in Centre County, Pennsylvania, for three years, concentrating his studies on surveying. In 1872, at the age of sixteen, his formal education was brought to an abrupt end by a combination of that year’s financial panic and his father’s declining health. Acheson went to work as a timekeeper at Monticello Furnace, an ironworks operated by his father, where he developed his first invention, a drilling machine for coal mining. This yielded him his first patent, at age seventeen, but the device was awkward to use and by no means a commercial success....

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Adams, Thomas, Jr. (11 April 1846–04 August 1926), manufacturer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Thomas Adams, a photographer and entrepreneur, and Martha Dunbar. His father, a commercial photographer who served in that capacity with the Union army during the Civil War, engaged in several small businesses after hostilities ended. When in 1866 a friend sent young Thomas a sample of chicle, a reddish-brown gum that coagulated from the sap of the Central American sapodilla tree ( ...

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Addicks, John Edward O’Sullivan (21 November 1841–07 August 1919), promoter and aspiring politician, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Edward Addicks, a politician and civil servant, and Margaretta McLeod. Addicks’s father achieved local political prominence and arranged for his son to take a job at age fifteen as a runner for a local dry goods business. Four years later Addicks took a job with a flour company and, upon reaching his twenty-first birthday, became a full partner in the business. Like many Quaker City merchants, Addicks speculated in local real estate in the booming port town, avoided service in the Civil War, and achieved a modicum of prosperity in the postwar period. He became overextended, as he would be most of his career, however, and went broke in the 1873 depression....

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Adler, Polly (16 April 1900?–09 June 1962), prostitution madam and author, was born Pearl Adler in Yanow, Russia, the daughter of Morris Adler, a tailor, and Gertrude Koval (called “Isidore” and “Sarah” in her autobiography). Later in life Adler also used several aliases, including Joan Martin and Pearl Davis. When Adler was twelve, her family arranged for her to be tutored by the local rabbi in the hope that she would receive a scholarship to study at a Gymnasium in Pinsk. A year later, before learning the results of the scholarship competition, Adler’s father sent his daughter to live in the United States. Traveling alone, thirteen-year-old Adler arrived in New York in December 1913....

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Agassiz, Alexander (17 December 1835–27 March 1910), marine biologist, oceanographer, and industrial entrepreneur, was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the son of Louis Agassiz, a zoologist, and Cécile Braun. Agassiz came to the United States in 1849, following the death of his mother in Germany. The domestic life of his parents had been marred by difficulties, and Alex moved to Massachusetts to join his father, who had become a professor of zoology and geology at Harvard University after a distinguished career in Europe. The American experience came at a difficult stage in Alex Agassiz’s adolescence. He hardly knew his father, who had spent much time away from home on scientific projects....

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Ainslie, Hew (05 April 1792–11 March 1878), poet and construction consultant, was born at Bargeny Mains, Ayrshire, Scotland, the son of George Ainslie, an employee of some consequence on the estate of Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton. Ainslie paid warm homage to his mother, whose name is not known, in his writings. Originally educated by a hired “dominie” at home, wirehaired Ainslie eventually moved on to the Ballantrae parish school and finally to Ayr Academy, where he completed his formal schooling at the age of fourteen. Certainly as important as his organized education was his home background colored by his father’s pride in the family’s past (the model of Sir Walter Scott’s “Bride of Lammermoor” was one of several notable ancestors) and his mother’s “teeming repertory” of Scottish songs and lore. Another influence was his father’s small personal library containing the writings of Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, Robert Burns, and other Scottish classics....

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Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (24 December 1853–1890?), author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in ...

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Alexander, Mary Spratt Provoost (17 April 1693–18 April 1760), merchant, was born in New York City, the daughter of John Spratt, a Scottish immigrant merchant and alderman in New York, and Maria DePeyster, an heiress of a prominent Dutch family of goldsmiths, merchants, and politicians. After John Spratt died in 1697, Maria Spratt married David Provoost, a merchant and smuggler. Alexander and her siblings lived with their maternal grandmother after their mother died in 1700. In 1711 she married Samuel Provoost, an importer and a younger brother of David Provoost, her mother’s husband. The couple had three children. Alexander invested much of her inheritance in her husband’s enterprises and acted as his business partner....