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Joel Barlow. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Barlow.

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Barlow, Joel (24 March 1754–26 December 1812), businessman, diplomat, and poet, was born in Redding, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Barlow and Esther Hull, fairly well-to-do farmers. Barlow was born the second-to-last child in a large family. Given the size of the family and their farm, Barlow could receive formal education only from the local minister, an education probably interspersed with farm chores. When Barlow was eighteen, his father arranged for his schooling at Moor’s Indian School (now Dartmouth) in Hanover, New Hampshire. Barlow began his studies there in 1772, yet his father’s death shortly thereafter made it necessary for Barlow to return home. He entered Yale College with the class of 1778. At Yale Barlow began to give evidence of an interest in poetry, in moral and political philosophy, and in science as a key to the improvement of the human condition. His first published poem, a broadside publication, was a satire in pseudobiblical verse about the bad food served in Yale commons. Although he wrote poems throughout his college days, Barlow’s best-known college verses were verse orations delivered at two Yale commencements, ...

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Bolling, Robert (17 August 1738–21 July 1775), Virginia burgess and poet, was born in Varina, Henrico (new Chesterfield) County, Virginia, the son of John Bolling II, burgess and planter, and Elizabeth Blair. He was the third of their eight children who lived to adulthood. Through his father’s side, he was a great, great, great-grandson of ...

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Brooke, Henry (01 October 1678–06 February 1736), poet and politician, was born at Norton Priory in England, the youngest son of Sir Henry Brook, baronet of Norton. His mother’s name is not known. He was probably the Henry Brooke who graduated from Bracenose College, Oxford, in 1693. He went to Pennsylvania in 1702 seeking his fortune. An Episcopalian, Brooke had difficulty securing a place in Quaker-controlled Philadelphia, so he accepted the office of queen’s customs collector for Lewes Town, a trading settlement at the mouth of the Delaware River. While serving as collector he saved Newcastle from plunder by a French privateer in 1709, leading local inhabitants in a sortie against the raider....

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Cotter, Joseph Seamon, Sr. (02 February 1861–14 March 1949), teacher, author, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boarding house owner, and Martha Vaughn. Although his father was known as an avid reader, Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African blood. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught Cotter to read and enrolled him in school, but at age eight economic necessity forced him to drop out and begin working at various jobs: in a brickyard, then a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter’s life....

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Daggett, Rollin Mallory (22 February 1831–12 November 1901), journalist, congressman, minister to Hawaii, and author, was born in Richville, New York, the son of Eunice White and Gardner Daggett, farmers. Daggett was the youngest of seven children, the other six being girls. After his mother’s death in 1833, the family moved to Defiance, Ohio, in 1837. In 1849 Daggett became a printer, learning a trade which endowed him with an education and influenced his later choice of a journalistic career....

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Flagg, Edmund (24 November 1815–01 November 1890), author and civil servant, was born in Wiscasset, Maine, the son of Edmund Flagg and Harriet Payson. He graduated with distinction from Bowdoin College in 1835. Later that year he moved with his widowed mother and sister to Louisville, Kentucky, where he briefly taught the classics in a boys’ school. The following summer, he explored the Illinois and Missouri prairies and published in the ...

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Gallagher, William Davis (21 August 1808–27 June 1894), poet, journalist, and government official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Bernard Gallagher, apparently a printer or journalist, and Abigail Davis. At the age of eight Gallagher headed west with his three brothers and mother (a widow since 1814) and settled in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. There he attended the Lancastrian Seminary and learned the printing trade through an apprenticeship....

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Allen Ginsberg, late 1960s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-119239).

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Ginsberg, Allen (03 June 1926–06 April 1997), poet, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the younger son of Louis Ginsberg, a high school English teacher and and Naomi Levy Ginsberg. Ginsberg grew up with his older brother Eugene in a household shadowed by his mother's mental illness; she suffered from recurrent epileptic seizures and paranoia. An active member of the Communist Party–USA, Naomi Ginsberg took her sons to meetings of the radical left dedicated to the cause of international Communism during the Great Depression of the 1930s....

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Gonzales, Rodolfo “Corky” (18 June 1928–12 Apr. 2005), boxer, activist, and poet, was born in Denver, Colorado, to Federico and Indalesia Gonzales, the youngest of eight children. Gonzales’s nickname came from his uncle, who would chide the young Rodolfo for “always popping off like a cork” every time the boy was involved in an altercation. The name stuck and would come to reflect Gonzales’s life as a social activist....

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Grayson, William John (12 November 1788–04 October 1863), politician and author, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of William John Grayson, a sheriff of the Beaufort District, and Susannah Greene. His father, who had been an officer during the American Revolution, died in 1797 at the age of thirty-seven; eleven months later Susannah Grayson married William Joyner, a widower and wealthy planter of the Beaufort District. Young Grayson early developed an insatiable desire for learning. From 1801 to 1803 he attended private academies in the North in preparation for admission to either Yale or Harvard. Accustomed to the gentility and hospitality of the South, he chose instead the new South Carolina College (now University of South Carolina)....

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Harris, Thomas Lake (15 May 1823–23 March 1906), poet, writer, and founder of a religious community, was born in Fenny Stratford, England, the son of Thomas Harris, a grocer and auctioneer, and Annie Lake. When he was five, his parents emigrated to America, settling in Utica, New York. The death of his mother and his father’s remarriage, along with his aversion to the Calvinistic Baptist faith of his parents, occasioned Harris’s early departure from home. He sought a more liberal worldview in Universalism, receiving an informal theological education and financial help from Universalist ministers in Utica. By 1844 he had his first “settlement” at a church in the Mohawk Valley and was contributing poetry to Universalist newspapers. He married Mary Van Arnum in 1845; they had two children before her death in 1850....

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Home, Archibald (1705?– April 1744), secretary of the colony of New Jersey and poet, was born in Berwick, Scotland, the son of Sir John Home, the baronet of Berwick. His mother’s name is not known. Privately educated in Scotland, Home briefly resided in Glasgow before seeking his fortune in New York in 1733. He quickly established himself as the premier wit of the New York City taverns. In hopes of gaining a place in the local government, he plied his pen for Governor ...

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Hopkinson, Francis (02 October 1737–09 May 1791), author, composer, and judge, was born in Philadelphia, the son of Thomas Hopkinson, a lawyer and Pennsylvania councillor, and Mary Johnson. Hopkinson’s father emigrated from England in 1731. Hopkinson matriculated in the first class of the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) in 1751; he graduated in 1757 and, with other members of his class, received an M.A. degree three years later....

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Humphreys, David (10 July 1752–21 February 1818), poet and diplomat, was born in Derby, Connecticut, the son of the Reverend Daniel Humphrey(s), pastor of the Congregational Church in Derby, and Sarah Bowers. With his father instructing him at home in Latin and English grammar as well as in rhetoric, the poet entered Yale College at age fifteen. There he founded a literary society, known as the Brothers in Unity, and met the other writers who would later be known with him as the Connecticut Wits: ...

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James Russell Lowell. Engraving, c. 1894, from a drawing by S. W. Rowse, 1855. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100831).

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Lowell, James Russell (22 February 1819–12 August 1891), author and diplomat, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Lowell, a liberal Congregational minister, and Harriet Brackett Spence. Among New Englanders who were apt to take ancestry seriously, the Lowell family was already firmly established in the region’s ecclesiastical and legal annals. During the nineteenth century the Lowell name became synonymous with manufacturing wealth and State Street trusts, but Charles Lowell’s descendants benefited little from this tradition. Their area of prominence was in literature; both James Russell Lowell’s sister Mary Lowell Putnam and brother ...

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Munford, William (15 August 1775–21 June 1825), court reporter, poet, and politician, was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, the son of Robert Munford, a planter, playwright, and poet, and Anne Beverley. William began his education at the grammar school at William and Mary, then attended the college. His talents and intelligence impressed his teachers, including ...

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Muñoz Rivera, Luis (17 July 1859–15 November 1916), resident commissioner for Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C., writer, and newspaper editor, was born in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, the son of Luis Ramón Muñoz Barrios, a merchant and landowner, and Monserrate Rivera Vásquez. Inhabitants of a small town in the mountainous interior of Puerto Rico, Muñoz Rivera’s parents sent him at age six to the only local school. At age ten he had gone beyond what formal education could be offered there and studied with private tutors. His father taught him the rudiments of bookkeeping and basic business practices, and Muñoz Rivera became a modestly successful businessman. His father was mayor of Barranquitas and a member of the pro-Spanish Conservative party, and his uncle Vicente was a member of the Liberal party, So Luis grew up listening to the political discussions that agitated the Spanish colony in the 1860s and 1870s. At issue was local autonomy versus control by Spanish-appointed governors and their hand-picked advisory councils. The issue continued to agitate Puerto Ricans despite a change of colonial masters after the Spanish-American War in 1898....