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Ethan Allen at Ticonderoga. Reproduction of a painting by E. Percy Moran (1862–1935). Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-96539).

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Allen, Ethan (10 January 1738–12 February 1789), frontier revolutionary leader and author of the first deistic work by an American, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Allen and Mary Baker, farmers. Allen served briefly in the French and Indian War and in 1762 began operating a productive iron forge in Salisbury, Connecticut. That same year he married Mary Brownson, with whom he would have five children. But Allen’s deism and aggressive personal conduct ruined his early prospects: he was warned out of Salisbury in 1765 and Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1767....

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Allen, Ira (01 May 1751–15 January 1814), frontier entrepreneur and Vermont political leader, was born in Cornwall, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Allen and Mary Baker, farmers. Little is known of his youth, but in 1770 he followed his five elder brothers north to the New Hampshire Grants region and joined the Yankee versus Yorker struggle, which stemmed from the 1764 Crown decree that New York rather than New Hampshire owned the area that would become Vermont. While brother ...

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Barnwell, John (1671– June 1724), frontier settler and Indian fighter, was the son of Alderman Matthew Barnwell of Dublin, Ireland, and Margaret Carberry. The elder Barnwell was killed in the siege of Derry in 1690 as a captain in James II’s Irish army, which attempted to restore the last Stuart king after the revolution of 1688. The family seat, Archerstown in County Meath, was forfeited as a result of this support of James II against William and Mary....

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Benton, Thomas Hart, Jr. (05 September 1816–10 April 1879), frontier educator and legislator, was born in Williamson County, Tennessee, the son of Samuel Benton, a congressman. His mother’s name is unknown. His uncle and namesake practiced law as an associate of Andrew Jackson...

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Bidwell, John (05 August 1819–04 April 1900), California pioneer, agriculturalist, and politician, was born on a farm in Chautauqua County, New York, the son of Abram Bidwell and Clarissa Griggs, farmers. The family moved to Pennsylvania and then Ohio. John was bookish, although he had only three winter months of schooling each year, at best. But he walked 300 miles to attend Kingsville Academy in 1836 and, after a year, was elected its principal. He returned home to teach, then went to Missouri to farm. There, a western trader told him of fertile California, a land of perpetual spring. So he helped organize a western emigration society....

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Boggs, Lilburn W. (14 December 1796–11 March 1860), governor of Missouri and California pioneer, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of John M. Boggs and Martha Oliver. After graduating from the local public schools at age fifteen, he became a bookkeeper at the Insurance Bank of Kentucky in Lexington. Following the outbreak of the War of 1812, Boggs enlisted with a force of Kentucky volunteers who, under the command of Governor ...

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Burleson, Edward (15 December 1798–26 December 1851), frontiersman and vice president of the Republic of Texas, was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina, the son of James Burleson and Elizabeth Shipman, a couple who never lived in the same place for more than ten years and never settled on cleared land. During Burleson’s youth, his family gained a reputation as American Indian fighters in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama, and he became part of that tradition by serving as a fifteen-year-old volunteer with ...

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Campbell, Arthur (03 November 1743–08 August 1811), frontiersman, soldier, and politician, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, the son of David Campbell and Mary Hamilton, immigrant Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. He was not quite fifteen when, during the French and Indian War, he joined a company of Virginia rangers stationed in western Augusta County. At Fort Young on the Jackson River in September 1758, Campbell was captured by Wyandot Indians and spent two years in captivity in the vicinity of Detroit before escaping....

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David Crockett. Engraving after a portrait by John Gadsby Chapman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93521).

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Crockett, Davy (17 August 1786–06 March 1836), frontiersman, Tennessee and U.S. congressman, and folk hero, was born David Crockett in Greene County, East Tennessee, the son of John Crockett, a magistrate, unsuccessful land speculator, and tavern owner, and Rebecca Hawkins. John Crockett hired his son out to Jacob Siler in 1798 to help on a cattle drive to Rockbridge County, Virginia, and Siler tried forcibly to detain young Crockett after the completion of the job. The boy ran away at night, however, and arrived home in late 1798 or early 1799. Preferring to play hooky rather than attend school, he ran away from home to escape his father’s wrath. His “strategic withdrawal,” as he called it, lasted about thirty months while he worked at odd jobs and as a laborer and a wagon driver. When he returned home in 1802, he had grown so much that his family at first did not recognize him. He soon found that all was forgiven and reciprocated their generosity by working for a year to settle the debts that his father had incurred....

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Fay, Jonas (28 January 1737–06 March 1818), frontier revolutionary leader, was born in Hardwick, Massachusetts, the son of Stephen Fay and Ruth Child, farmers and tavernkeepers. After serving briefly in the Seven Years’ War as a clerk, Fay trained himself in the practice of medicine. In 1766 he moved with his family to the frontier town of Bennington, where his father opened the Catamount Tavern, a famous center for radical political action. From 1750 until 1775 the Green Mountain region lay at the center of a jurisdictional conflict between New York and New Hampshire, both of which held charter rights to the area. Jonas Fay quickly became a key participant in the separatist movement seeking to negate the claims of both provinces, serving as secretary of the extralegal conventions that eventually created the state of Vermont. A member of the Green Mountain Boys, Fay was present at the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and served as a surgeon in ...

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Flower, Richard (1761–02 September 1829), reformer and Illinois pioneer, was born in England, probably in Hertfordshire, the son of George Flower, a prosperous tradesman. His mother’s name is unknown. Establishing himself in Hertford as a brewer, Flower did well in business for over twenty years. He married a daughter (name unknown) of Edward Fordham of Kelshall; they had five children. He joined in the activities of his brother Benjamin Flower, who had become involved in dissenting politics and pamphleteering, and wrote ...

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Girty, Simon (1741–18 February 1818), British Loyalist and frontier warrior, was born near Harrisburg in colonial Pennsylvania, the son of farmers. One of at least four children born to Simon Girty and Mary Newton, young Simon was raised in modest circumstances. He received no formal education and remained illiterate. When only ten years of age, his father was killed by an Indian. Girty later maintained that his stepfather met a similar fate. In the course of the French and Indian War, Simon was captured by the Seneca and held captive for thirty-six months. During his captivity, Girty became familiar with the language of his captors....

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Leidesdorff, William Alexander (1810– May 1848), pioneer, diplomat, and businessman, was born in St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, the son of William Leidesdorff, a Danish planter, and Anna Marie Sparks, an Afro-Caribbean slave. He was educated by his owner, who reportedly treated him more as a son than as a slave. As a young man he was sent to New Orleans to work for his uncle’s cotton business as a master of ships sailing between New York and New Orleans. Both his father and uncle died soon after, leaving Leidesdorff a sizable inheritance. His newly acquired wealth allowed him to propose to a woman he had been courting, Hortense, who accepted. The engagement ended painfully shortly before the marriage date when Leidesdorff told his fiancée that through his mother he was of African descent. She called off the wedding, and he, heartbroken, left New Orleans....

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Mathews, George (30 August 1739–30 August 1812), soldier, frontiersman, and governor of Georgia, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, the son of John Mathews, an Irish immigrant. His mother’s name is not available. Little is known of his early life, but in 1757 he commanded a company of volunteers fighting against the Indians on the Virginia frontier. In 1762 he married Anne Paul, with whom he is thought to have had eight children. That same year he established himself as a merchant in Staunton, Virginia, and during the next decade he served as a vestryman, justice of the peace, tax collector, and sheriff in Augusta County. In 1776 he was elected to the House of Burgesses. Later that year he joined the army under ...

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Maxwell, William (1766 or 1767?–10 September 1809), pioneer printer, newspaper editor, and office holder, was long thought, based on statements made by his descendants, to have been born about 1755 in New York or New Jersey, the son of William Maxwell, an immigrant from Scotland. Current scholarship infers a probable birth date of 1766 or 1767 from a contemporary newspaper obituary and suggests several additional mid-Atlantic states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland) as possible places of origin. Little is known of Maxwell’s early life, including his mother’s identity. Although he is reputed to have served as a revolutionary war soldier, his participation has not been confirmed by extant military records....

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Oñate, Juan de (1551–03 June 1626), frontiersman and colonial administrator, was born in Nueva Galicia, Mexico, the son of Cristóbal de Oñate, a provincial governor, and Doña Cathalina de Salazar. Cristóbal de Oñate is noted for discovering and developing the silver mines at Zacatecas, Mexico. Little is known of Juan’s childhood except that he followed his father’s lead, discovering the rich mines at Zichú, Charcas, and San Luis Potosí and became renowned on the northern frontier of New Spain for fighting the Chichimecas. In August 1595 he was confirmed as guarda mayor de la Casa de la Moneda de Potosí. He married and had two children with Isabel Tolosa, a descendent of both Cortés and Montezuma....