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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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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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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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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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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....