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John Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13002 DLC).

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Adams, John (19 October 1735–04 July 1826), second president of the United States, diplomat, and political theorist, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1691–1760), a shoemaker, selectman, and deacon, and Susanna Boylston. He claimed as a young man to have indulged in “a constant dissipation among amusements,” such as swimming, fishing, and especially shooting, and wished to be a farmer. However, his father insisted that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle Joseph Adams, attend Harvard College, and become a clergyman. John consented, applied himself to his studies, and developed a passion for learning but refused to become a minister. He felt little love for “frigid John Calvin” and the rigid moral standards expected of New England Congregationalist ministers....

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Samuel Adams. After a painting by John Singleton Copley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-262).

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Adams, Samuel (27 September 1722–02 October 1803), revolutionary politician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Massachusetts governor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Adams and Mary Fifield. Of the twelve children born to the couple, he was one of only three who survived their parents. The elder Samuel Adams was a prosperous investor in real estate and other ventures, including the ill-fated land bank of 1740–1741, and the owner of a brewery. He also held several public offices—Boston selectman, justice of the peace, and member of the provincial assembly....

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Bartlett, Josiah (21 November 1729–19 May 1795), physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts, the son of Stephen Bartlett, a shoemaker, and Hannah Webster. Josiah Bartlett attended common school and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed to study medicine under Dr. Nehemiah Ordway of Amesbury. In 1750, seeking to set up his own practice, Bartlett settled in Kingston, New Hampshire, where he won quick acceptance for his fever treatments and his personal manner and demeanor. There, he married Mary Bartlett, a cousin from Newton, New Hampshire. Eight of the couple’s twelve children lived into adulthood....

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Braxton, Carter (10 September 1736–10 October 1797), signer of the Declaration of Independence and legislative leader, was born at his family’s estate, “Newington,” in King and Queen County, Virginia, the son of George Braxton, Jr., a planter and merchant, and Mary Carter, daughter of ...

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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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Samuel Chase. Oil on wood, 1811, by John Wesley Jarvis. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Chase, Samuel (17 April 1741–19 June 1811), associate justice of the Supreme Court, was born in Somerset County, Maryland, the son of Thomas Chase, an Episcopal rector at St. Paul’s in Baltimore, and Martha (or Matilda) Walker. He was instructed primarily in the classics by his father. Chase began the study of law in the offices of Hammond & Hall in 1759 in Annapolis, Maryland, and was admitted to the bar in 1761. The next year he married Anne Baldwin; they had seven children (three of whom died in infancy) before her death in the late 1770s....

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Clark, Abraham (15 February 1726–15 September 1794), surveyor, politician, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey, the son of Thomas Clark, a farmer, town alderman, and county judge, and Hannah Winans. Although he was referred to as “the poor man’s counsellor,” as far as is known he had no formal education or legal training, having turned as a young man to surveying and writing land conveyances because a “frail” constitution made him unfit for active farming. He did transact a good deal of legal business, including drawing up deeds, mortgages, and other papers. He married Sarah Hatfield (or Hetfield), probably in 1749. They had ten children, six or seven of whom survived childhood....

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George Clymer. Engraving by James Barton Longacre. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111789).

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Gaspare J. Saladino

Clymer, George (16 March 1739–23 January 1813), merchant, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Christopher Clymer, a sea captain and an Episcopalian, and Deborah Fitzwater, a disowned Quaker. Clymer’s parents died by 1746, and he was raised by his maternal aunt Hannah Coleman and her husband William, a wealthy Quaker merchant and Proprietary party leader. The Proprietary party was aligned with the Penn family (proprietors of Pennsylvania) against the Quaker party, which sought to turn Pennsylvania into a royal colony. By the late 1750s Clymer himself had become a merchant. In 1765 Clymer, an Episcopalian, married Elizabeth Meredith, the daughter of the Quaker merchant Reese Meredith; like Clymer’s mother, she was disowned for marrying a non-Quaker. Five of their eight children attained maturity. Following his uncle William Coleman’s death in 1769, Clymer inherited £6,000. Three years later Clymer entered into partnership with his father-in-law and his brother-in-law ...

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Ellery, William (22 December 1727–15 February 1820), merchant and politician, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of William Ellery, a merchant, and Elizabeth Almy. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1747. While attending college he met and married Ann Remington. After college Ellery returned with his wife to Newport and with little enthusiasm established himself as a merchant....

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Floyd, William (17 December 1734–04 August 1821), signer of the Declaration of Independence and congressman, was born in Brookhaven, on the south shore of Long Island, Suffolk County, New York, the son of Nicoll Floyd and Tabitha Smith. Nicoll Floyd’s grandfather Richard Floyd had emigrated from Brenochshire, Wales, to Massachusetts about 1650 and had subsequently settled in Setauket, Long Island. Nicoll Floyd lived in Brookhaven, where he built the “Mastic” estate about 1724. William was sober and serious, a person of proper, respectable, and somewhat pretentious characteristics, who inspired confidence and respect, if not affection. He married Hannah Jones in 1760; they had three children. Floyd lent money at interest and was one of Connecticut governor ...

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Benjamin Franklin. From a nineteenth-century engraving. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90398).

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Franklin, Benjamin (06 January 1706–17 April 1790), natural philosopher and writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, opposite the Congregational Old South Church, where the Reverend Samuel Willard baptized him the same day. The youngest son and fifteenth child of Josiah Franklin, a tallow chandler and soap maker who emigrated from England in 1683 to practice his Puritan faith, Benjamin had eleven living brothers and sisters. Five were Josiah’s children by his first wife, Anne Child, and six were by his second wife, Abiah Folger, Benjamin’s mother. Two sisters were born later....

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Elbridge Gerry. Engraving by James Barton Longacre, c. 1830, based on a drawing by John Vanderlyn. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-1889).

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George Athan Billias

Gerry, Elbridge (17 July 1744–23 November 1814), statesman, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Gerry, a merchant, and Elizabeth Greenleaf. His father was a British immigrant who arrived in 1730, settled in Marblehead, and became one of the most successful merchants in Essex County. The brightest of eleven children, Elbridge entered Harvard in 1758, graduated in 1762, and returned in 1765—the year of the Stamp Act—to submit his master’s thesis. Already a firebrand at twenty-one, he argued in it the question: “Can the new Prohibitary Duties which make it useless for the people to engage in Commerce, be evaded by them as faithful subjects?” His answer was “Yes.”...

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Button Gwinnett. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111795).