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Davis, William Augustine (21 September 1809–15 January 1875), postal official, was born in Barren County, Kentucky, the son of Hardin Davis and Elizabeth Wynne, farmers. Following a childhood on his parents’ farm, Davis journeyed at age fourteen to Charlottesville, Virginia, to prepare for admission to the University of Virginia. To help support himself while he was in school, Davis worked in the Charlottesville post office for his mother’s brother, John Winn (family members spelled their name differently). Davis could hardly have guessed it at the time, but this stint in his uncle’s office was the opening chapter of a half century of distinguished service in the American postal system, then the largest public agency in the United States....

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Holbrook, James (1812–28 April 1864), postal official and journalist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of unknown parents. Holbrook grew up in Boston, where he was apprenticed to a printer. In 1833, he moved to Connecticut, where he worked as a newspaper editor and in that year married Mary Baker Tyler. He and Tyler had four children. He edited the ...

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Kasson, John Adam (11 January 1822–18 May 1910), diplomat, congressman, and postal official, was born in Charlotte, Vermont, the son of John Steele Kasson and Nancy Blackman, farmers. His father died a few years after Kasson’s birth, and his mother managed the farm. He was educated in the common schools, Burlington Academy, and the University of Vermont, where he received an A.B. in 1842. Kasson tutored for a season in a slaveholding family near Charlottesville, Virginia. He then spent three months in his brother’s law office in Burlington, Vermont, before moving to Worcester, Massachusetts, to read intensively under Emory Washburn, later a professor of law at Harvard. Kasson was admitted to the bar in 1844. Although he was only mildly antislavery, he attended the Free Soil Convention of 1848 in Buffalo. In 1850, after practicing law for six years in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he reestablished himself in St. Louis. That year he married Catherine Eliot; they had no children....

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Vail, Theodore Newton (16 July 1845–16 April 1920), business leader, was born near Minerva, in Carroll County, Ohio, the son of Davis Vail, a farmer and iron manufacturer, and Phebe Quinby. Vail grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, where his father oversaw the Speedwell Ironworks, a family concern. Vail obtained a high school education at the Morristown Academy and, after working briefly as a drugstore clerk, moved to New York City, where he secured a job through a friend as a telegraph operator for Western Union. Telegraphy was something of a family tradition, since Vail’s cousin Alfred had worked closely with ...