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Block, Adriaen (1610–1624), Dutch mariner, explorer, and trader, was most likely born in Holland, but nothing is now known of his place of birth, parents, early education, or marital status. It is thought that he studied law but soon felt eager to go to sea. His opportunity came after ...

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Cabot, John (1450?–1498?), navigator and explorer, may have been born in Genoa, Italy. His parents are unknown. In 1498 the Spanish ambassador in London referred to him as “another Genoese like Colon (Columbus),” and most scholars accept Genoa as John Cabot’s place of birth, although no documents have been found to confirm this. Records in Venetian archives, however, document the granting of citizenship in that republic to John Cabot sometime during the period between 9 November 1471 and 28 July 1473. The 28 March 1476 senatorial confirmation of the grant mentions that he had been a resident of Venice for fifteen years. In the letters patent from England’s King Henry VII granting him permission “to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea,” Cabot is identified as a citizen of Venice. Like his contemporary ...

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Du Chaillu, Paul Belloni (31 July 1835?–30 April 1903), explorer and author, was the son of Charles Alexis Du Chaillu, a Frenchman representing a Parisian firm trading in Gabon, on the west coast of central Africa. His mother, not identifiable by name, may have been an Italian, a Creole, or a mulatto. The possibility that Du Chaillu was illegitimate or that his mother was of mixed parentage could account for his never mentioning her in his writings. His date of birth is not known for certain; although 31 July 1835 is commonly accepted, it has also been published that he was born in 1831 and in 1838. His place of birth is also uncertain; various authorities say New Orleans, Paris, and the Indian Ocean island of Réunion (called Bourbon before the revolution of 1848). Du Chaillu’s father was in France in the 1830s, during which time Du Chaillu was very likely with him and began his schooling there. His father returned to Gabon in the 1840s, and Du Chaillu was there with him again around 1848, attending Protestant and Catholic mission schools there. By the age of fifteen, he was clerking for the local colonial administration. During his early years in Gabon, he hunted, roamed the interior, traded with natives, and picked up the rudiments of several local languages....

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Hudson, Henry (?–23 June 1611), English navigator and explorer, was evidently a Londoner by birth and was probably trained in the service of the Muscovy Company, but his early life has not been documented. He is known to have married Katherine (maiden name unknown) and to have had three sons: Oliver, who was of marriageable age by 1608, Richard, and John. His career can be followed only from 19 April 1607 to 23 June 1611, shortly after which he died at sea in Hudson Bay. The Muscovy Company, seeking a route to Asia, sent him on the earliest known polar expedition to investigate the possibility of open water between Spitzbergen (Svalbard), recently explored by the Dutch, and the northern shore of Greenland. Leaving the Thames on 1 May 1607, he sailed successfully north until he reached his remarkable estimated latitude of 81° 23′ (actual 80° 23′) by 15 August before being turned back by ice. He investigated the western shores of Spitzbergen and Bear Island and on the return was the first Englishman to discover what was to be Jan Mayen Island. He reached the Thames on 15 September after a successful pioneer exploration of these northern waters....

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Reynolds, Jeremiah N. (1799?–25 August 1858), explorer and writer, was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. His parents’ names are unknown. He, his mother, and his stepfather, Job Jefferis, moved to Clinton County, Ohio, in 1808. Here Reynolds spent time in the forests, dressing as a woodsman and learning the value of self-reliance. Reynolds attended subscription schools and eventually became a teacher. In 1819 he enrolled at Ohio University, left to pursue a teaching position, returned, and left again. He then made arrangements to continue his uncompleted studies with his mentor, Francis Glass....

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Stefansson, Vilhjalmur (03 November 1879–26 August 1962), Arctic explorer, writer, and lecturer, was born in Arnes, Manitoba, Canada, the son of Johann Stefansson and Ingibjorg Johannesdottir, Icelanders who had arrived in Canada in 1877. In 1881 the family moved to North Dakota, where Vilhjalmur attended school and eventually the University of North Dakota, the University of Iowa (B.A. 1903), and Harvard, where he entered the divinity school before transferring to anthropology. In 1906 he left school without graduating to join the Anglo-American Polar Expedition as ethnologist. After failing to rendezvous with other expedition members, who had been shipwrecked, Stefansson wintered among the Eskimos of Tuktoyyaktut, adapting to the Eskimo way of life and learning their language....

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Vilhjalmur Stefansson, c. 1939–1941. Photograph by Louis Fabian Bachrach. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116932).