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John André. A rendering of his capture at Tarrytown, New York. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2395).

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André, John (02 May 1750–02 October 1780), British officer and spy, was born in London, England, the son of Anthony André, a merchant, and Marie Louise Girardot. His early schooling was with a tutor, the Reverend Thomas Newcomb, and he may have attended St. Paul’s School. In his teens André studied mathematics and military drawing at the University of Geneva, giving vent to his romantic temperament by dreaming of a military career. He was rudely brought back to reality by his merchant father when he was called home to work in the countinghouse before he completed a degree. Despising the family business, he nevertheless labored at it manfully for a number of years. After his father died on 14 April 1769, he felt a particular obligation as the eldest son to continue the business, even though his father had left him financially independent, with a small fortune of £5,000. In the summer of 1769 he joined a Lichfield literary group presided over by Anna Seward, a poet. The group included a young lady named Honora Sneyd, for whom he developed a passion. They became engaged and courted for a year and a half before she suddenly rejected him for another man at a Christmas party in 1770. Shattered by this betrayal, André revived his earlier ambition to become a soldier and in early 1771 bought a second lieutenant’s commission in the 23d Regiment, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Later he purchased a first lieutenancy in the same regiment....

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Benedict Arnold. Engraving from a painting by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-GW-617).

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Arnold, Benedict (14 January 1741–14 June 1801), revolutionary war general and traitor, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Benedict Arnold III, a merchant, and Hannah Waterman King. Of his mother’s eleven children, only he and a younger sister survived. At age eleven he was sent away to grammar school, but he left two years later when his alcoholic father lost the family’s fortune. Apprenticed to his mother’s cousin, an apothecary in Norwich, he volunteered in three campaigns (1757–1759) of the French and Indian War, deserting finally to be with his dying mother. His father died soon after, leaving little except debts, but his generous master paid the debts and set Arnold up in business when he decided to move to New Haven in 1762....

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Bancroft, Edward (09 January 1744–08 September 1821), physician, scientist, and spy, was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Bancroft and Mary Ely, farmers. The elder Bancroft died in 1746 of an epileptic attack suffered in a pigpen, two months before the birth of his younger son, Daniel. His widow married David Bull of Westfield in 1751, and the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where Bull operated the Bunch of Grapes tavern. Edward Bancroft was taught for a time by the recent Yale graduate ...

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Bayard, Nicholas (1644–1711?), merchant, was born probably in Alphen, near Utrecht, in the Netherlands, the son of Samuel Bayard, a and Anna Stuyvesant. Bayard was the nephew of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Netherland. His mother Anna, Stuyvesant’s sister, with her four children, accompanied the Stuyvesants to New Amsterdam in 1647. Educated by his mother in English, French, and Dutch, he began a long and lucrative political career with a post as English clerk in Stuyvesant’s government. He also held posts under the English administration that commenced in 1664 and during the second brief Dutch occupation in 1673....

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Charles E. Bedaux. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107447).

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Bedaux, Charles Eugene (10 October 1886–18 February 1944), scientific manager, entrepreneur, and fascist collaborator, was born in Charenton-le-Pont, France, a suburb of Paris, the son of Charles Emile Bedaux, a railroad engineer, and Marie Eulalie, a dressmaker. Bedaux spent his first twenty years on the streets of Paris, doing odd jobs and usually avoiding school. He attended the Lycée Louis LeGrand in Paris but did not receive a regular degree. In 1906 he left Paris to seek his fortune across the Atlantic. In the United States Bedaux worked as a dishwasher, an insurance salesman, and a sandhog with the crews building the Hudson River tunnels. He also had a stint at the New Jersey Worsted Mills in Hoboken. He became a naturalized citizen in 1908....

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Billy (fl. 1781), a mulatto slave, also known as Will or William, was the subject of an alleged treason case during the American Revolution. The case is more significant for what it says about the ambivalence toward slavery of Thomas Jefferson and other Virginians than for the light it sheds on the life of Billy, or Will. Ironically, in 1710, another slave named Will had a brief flirtation with history. This earlier Will was freed for “his fidelity … in discovering a conspiracy of diverse negros … for levying war” in Virginia....

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John Wilkes Booth. Picture featured on a wanted poster immediately following the Lincoln assassination. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-5341).

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Booth, John Wilkes (10 May 1838–26 April 1865), actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was born near Bel Air in Harford County, Maryland, the son of Junius Brutus Booth, an actor, and Mary Ann Holmes. His grandfather, Richard Booth, named him after John Wilkes, the British reformer. As a child Booth dabbled in acting, as did some of his brothers and several neighborhood boys, both at the Booth country home, “Tudor Hall,” and at their town house in Baltimore. Booth’s father actively discouraged his children from entering the theatrical profession, but he toured extensively and died on the road when John was only fourteen....

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Bresci, Gaetano (11 November 1869–22 May 1901), silk weaver and regicide, was born in Coiano, Italy, the son of Gaspero Bresci, a peasant/artisan, and Maddalena Godi. At age eleven Bresci was apprenticed to learn the art of silk weaving; he later attended a Sunday school to acquire a specialized trade. While still a youth, Gaetano participated in an anarchist group. First arrested for disturbing the peace in 1892, he was subsequently confined to the penal island of Lampedusa for more than a year for his role in organizing a strike. Now identified as a “dangerous anarchist,” Bresci had difficulty securing employment....

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Browne, John Ross (11 February 1821–08 December 1875), writer, world traveler, and government agent, was born in Beggars Bush, near Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Egerton Browne and Elana Buck. His father was a refugee from British rule. As the editor of three publications, Thomas Browne satirized British tithing measures and earned the enmity of the Crown, a fine, and a jail sentence for “seditious libel.”...

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Burke, Michael (08 June 1918–05 February 1987), intelligence operative and sports executive, was born in Enfield, Connecticut, the son of Patrick Burke, an attorney, and Mary Fleming. After Patrick Burke graduated from the Yale University Law School, the family moved to County Galway, Ireland, where they lived from 1918 to 1925. Each side of the family claimed ancestry as far back as the Norman invasion of 1169....

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Childs, Morris (10 June 1902–02 June 1991), Communist official and American intelligence double agent, was born Moishe Chilovsky in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Joseph Chilovsky, a cobbler, and Anna Chilovsky. Joseph Chilovsky, a Jew, fled Tsarist oppression, arriving in America in 1910; he sent for the rest of his family late the next year. (In 1926 the spelling of their name was Americanized, and Morris became a naturalized citizen the following year.) In 1916 Morris went to work as an apprentice in his father's business; then he became a milkman. In 1919 he joined the Communist party in Chicago. Twice arrested for participating in street demonstrations, he soon became a protégé of future party leader ...

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Church, Benjamin (24 August 1734– January 1778?), physician, poet, and traitor, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of Benjamin Church, a vendue master, and Hannah Dyer. By 1740 the family had moved to Boston, and in 1750 young Benjamin entered Harvard College. It was at Harvard that Church first developed his writing skills, sharpening his talents through biting satires on his classmates and the professors. After graduating in 1754, Church studied medicine and for several months in 1757 served as surgeon aboard the Massachusetts snow-of-war, the ...

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Cvetic, Matthew C. (04 March 1909–26 July 1962), anti-Communist and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "confidential informant", anti-Communist and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “confidential informant,” was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Frank Cvetic and Barbara (maiden name unknown), who had emigrated from a Slovenian village in 1890. His father, after some travail, earned a comfortable living as a small businessman; his ventures included renting out a former hotel and running gas stations. Cvetic graduated from St. Mary’s parochial school, spent two years at St. Vincent’s College Preparatory School, and in 1927 completed a two-year course of study at Curry Business College in Pittsburgh. During the early 1930s he rounded out his education with mail-order courses in penology from the Seattle-based International School of Criminology....

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Czolgosz, Leon F. (1873–29 October 1901), assassin of President William McKinley, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Paul Czolgosz, a menial laborer. His mother’s name is unknown. His parents emigrated from southern Poland to the United States just prior to Leon’s birth. As a boy Czolgosz shined shoes and sold newspapers. In 1880 the family moved to Rogers City in northern Michigan, but after five months they settled in the Polish community in Posen. Czolgosz intermittently attended public and Catholic parochial schools and developed a lifelong interest in reading, chiefly Polish magazines. In 1885 his mother died in childbirth. That year the family moved to Alpena, near Detroit, and in 1889 to Natrona, a predominantly Polish community near Pittsburgh. There Leon worked in the searing heat of a glass factory, earning seventy-five cents a day. In 1892 the family moved to Cleveland, where he found a job tending machinery at the Newberg Wire Mills. He was a steady and quiet worker who managed to save $400, which he contributed to a family fund to buy a farm. On one occasion the wire spool snapped, slashing and scarring his face....

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Denys de la Ronde, Louis (02 August 1675–25 March 1741), French military officer, explorer, and spy, was born in Quebec City, Canada, the son of Pierre Denys de la Ronde, a landowner and merchant (the Crown had given the aristocracy in Canada permission to engage in trade), and Catherine Leneuf de la Potherie. He entered naval service in 1687 as a midshipman in France. During the war of 1689–1697 he served in exiled British king James II’s expedition to Ireland, then off the coast of England, and finally on several voyages to New France and along the coast of New England. Captured at sea in 1695, he was soon released in an exchange of prisoners of war. He served in ...

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Digges, Thomas Attwood (04 July 1742–06 December 1821), gentleman, confidential agent, ne'er-do-well, and novelist, gentleman, confidential agent, ne’er-do-well, and novelist, was born in Warburton, Maryland, the son of William Digges and Ann Attwood, the owners of “Warburton Manor.” Digges was sent abroad to be educated. Family tradition holds that he attended Oxford University, but his Catholic faith and the absence of his name in university records make this unlikely. In 1767, after being disowned by his family for reasons that are not known, Digges purportedly went to live in Portugal, where he stayed until 1773 or 1774. In a subsequent letter to ...