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Brooke, Abraham (1806–08 March 1867), physician and radical reformer, was born at Sandy Spring, Maryland, the son of Samuel Brooke and Sarah Garrigues, farmers. The Brooke family had been leading Quakers in Maryland for several generations, and Abraham attended Quaker schools at Sandy Spring before entering medical college in Baltimore. In 1829 he married Elizabeth Lukens, a fellow Quaker from Sandy Spring; they had three children. When the Hicksite-Orthodox schism took place among Quakers, the Brookes, like most Maryland Friends, sided with the Hicksite group....

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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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Eaton, Peggy (03 December 1799?–08 November 1879), central figure in a series of political scandals, was born Margaret O’Neale in the city of Washington (now in the District of Columbia), the daughter of William O’Neale and Rhoda Howell, innkeepers. Her father, a native of Trenton, New Jersey, served as a major during the revolutionary war and was a tavern owner at the time of her birth (which some sources cite as 1796). Peggy was the eldest of six children and received an extensive education at Mrs. Hayward’s fashionable private school. As her parents prospered, the pretty and vivacious girl was surrounded by male admirers, including numerous members of Congress who resided at the O’Neales’ Franklin House. She claimed in her autobiography to have driven one spurned suitor to suicide and to have precipitated an abortive duel between two smitten army officers. In 1815 her parents sent her to finishing school in New York after a botched elopement....

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John F. Fitzgerald Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-96662).

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Fitzgerald, John Francis (11 February 1863–02 October 1950), mayor of Boston and maternal grandfather of U.S. president John F. Kennedy and U.S. senators Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, mayor of Boston and maternal grandfather of U.S. president John F. Kennedy and U.S. senators ...

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Flora, William (fl. 1775–1818), war hero and businessman, was born probably in the vicinity of Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of free black parents, whose names are unknown. On the eve of the American Revolution fewer than 2,000 free blacks lived in Virginia. The colony’s statutes forbade the manumission of slaves except those who exposed an incipient slave uprising. Consequently, Flora, who was known as “Billy,” was probably descended from Africans who arrived in Virginia before 1640, when blacks were treated like indentured servants rather than slaves....

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Grace, Charles Emmanuel (25 January 1881–12 January 1960), Boyfriend of the World, better known as Daddy Grace or Sweet Daddy Grace or by his self-proclaimed title, was one of the more flamboyant African-American religious personalities of the twentieth century. He was born, probably as Marceline Manoel da Graca, in Brava, Cape Verde Islands, of mixed Portuguese and African ancestry, the son of Manuel de Graca and Gertrude Lomba. In the charismatic church that he founded and headed, however, he managed to transcend race by declaring, “I am a colorless man. I am a colorless bishop. Sometimes I am black, sometimes white. I preach to all races.” Like many other Cape Verdeans, Grace immigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, around the turn of the century and worked there and on Cape Cod as a short-order cook, a salesman of sewing machines and patent medicines and a cranberry picker....

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Hale, Nathan (06 June 1755–22 September 1776), martyr of the American Revolution, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, the son of Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, successful farmers. A sickly infant, he barely survived his first year, but as he grew he became an outdoorsman and a powerful athlete. He enjoyed reading, and his father decided to prepare him for the ministry, first by hiring Rev. Joseph Huntington to tutor him and then by sending him in 1769 to Yale College. At Yale he was widely admired by his teachers and fellow students. Dr. ...

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Hathorne, William (1607– April 1681), developer of Salem, Massachusetts, and progenitor of the Ha(w)thorne family in America, developer of Salem, Massachusetts, and progenitor of the Ha(w)thorne family in America, was born in Bray, Berkshire, England, the son of William Hathorne, a yeoman, and Sarah (full name unknown). Little is known of his early years except that he received more education than was usual for one of his family’s standing and grew up in relatively comfortable surroundings. As a young man of eighteen or nineteen, he was converted to Puritanism and, soon after, announced that he intended to migrate to New England. His close friend Richard Davenport, betrothed to Hathorne’s sister Elizabeth Hathorne, left for America in 1628 with the understanding that William and his sister would soon follow. When the Hathornes reached New England is unclear. Probably they arrived after 1630 and no later than the fall of 1633....

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Lafayette, James (1748–09 August 1830), patriot spy, also known to history as James Armistead, was born in slavery; little is recorded of his parentage or early life except that he belonged to William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. In the summer of 1781 James was attending his master while Armistead worked as a commissary in Richmond, supplying patriot forces under the command of the ...

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Perle Mesta Right, with U. S. Senate candidate Marjorie Bell Hinrichs at the Democratic party jubilee in Chicago. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92423).

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Mesta, Perle (12 Oct. 1889 or 1891–16 March 1975), political activist, businesswoman, diplomat, and hostess, was born Pearl Skirvin in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of William Balser Skirvin, a salesman, and Harriet Reid. The actual year of her birth was one of her best-kept secrets. Early in the twentieth century her father left Michigan for the oil fields of South Texas, where he made a fortune in the famed Spindletop field. The feisty “Billy” Skirvin moved to Oklahoma City, where he founded the American Oil and Refinery Company and built the luxurious fourteen-floor Skirvin Hotel. Pearl was educated in private schools in Galveston and studied voice and piano at the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. In 1917 she married 54-year-old George Mesta, founder and president of the Mesta Machine Company located in Pittsburgh. During her years living in the nation’s steel capital she changed her name to the distinctive “Perle.”...

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Shelby, Isaac (11 December 1750–18 July 1826), first governor of Kentucky and revolutionary war hero, was born near Hagerstown, Frederick County, Maryland, the son of Evan Shelby and Letitia Cox, farmers. The Shelby family originally came from Wales to Pennsylvania and then to Maryland. In 1773 the family moved to the Holston area of western Virginia, where they established a fort and small trading post....

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Patrick G. Williams

Sisson, Jack (1743?–1821), soldier, was also known as Tack Sisson, Guy Watson, or Prince. He was one of those African-American patriots whose lives were allowed by their contemporaries to become shrouded in obscurity. Little record exists of his whereabouts, activities, or circumstances before or after the exploit for which he is noted—the July 1777 abduction of Brigadier General Richard Prescott, commander of the redcoat garrison at Newport, Rhode Island. Sisson was among the forty volunteers Lieutenant Colonel ...

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Tarrant, Caesar (1740–1797), patriot, was born into slavery, probably at Hampton, Virginia. The identity of his parents is unknown. In his early adulthood, Caesar was sold to Carter Tarrant upon the death of his master Robert Hundley. His purchase price exceeded the normal price for male slaves because Tarrant had a particular skill, that of a river pilot. Just how Tarrant acquired the skill is unclear. Typically, the Tidewater area river pilot was white and passed the skill on to his son. In any case, Tarrant would eventually use this skill to parlay his freedom....

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Zachary Taylor. Photograph by Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13012 DLC).

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Taylor, Zachary (24 November 1784–09 July 1850), army hero and twelfth U.S. president, was born in Orange County, Virginia, the son of Richard Taylor, a revolutionary war officer and pioneer political leader, and Sarah Strother, a cousin of James Madison and Robert E. Lee...

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Thompson, Robert George (21 June 1915–16 October 1965), military hero and ranking American Communist Party figure, was born in Fruitdale, Oregon, the son of Harold Condon Thompson, a logger, and Ernestine Mell. Harold Thompson considered himself a Socialist but was not a member of the Socialist party (SP) or of the Industrial Workers of the World. Robert received little formal education, joining his father in the logging camps at age twelve; they later worked together in the lettuce fields....