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Audubon, John James (26 April 1785–27 January 1851), naturalist and artist, was born Jean Rabin Fougère in Les Cayes, Santo Domingo, the son of Captain Jean Audubon, a French sea captain, planter, and slave dealer, and Jeanne Rabin (or Rabine), a young Frenchwoman employed as a chambermaid on the island. The traditional view, that Mlle Rabin was a Creole woman native to Santo Domingo, has been disproved. Audubon’s mother died before he was seven months old, and the child was cared for by another mistress of the father’s with whom he had several children. In 1791, fearing worsening conditions in Santo Domingo, Captain Audubon arranged for his son and a younger daughter by his mistress Catherine “Sanitte” Bouffard to be taken to France. There both were well cared for by Captain Audubon’s legal spouse, Anne Moynet Audubon, who had no children of her own. Both children were formally adopted by the couple in 1794, as was required if they were legally to inherit Captain Audubon’s name and property, and were baptized in 1800. At this time the boy received the name Jean-Jacques Fougère Audubon....

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John James Audubon. Lithograph in Gallery of Illustrious Americans, 1850. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-28111).

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Clark, Alvan (08 March 1804–19 August 1887), artist and telescope maker, was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, the son of Alvan Clark and Mary Bassett, farmers. He attended a local grammar school and worked briefly for a wagonmaker. In 1826 Clark married Maria Pease, and the couple had four children. Clark spent the next decade engraving cylinders used to print textiles, before opening a portrait studio in Boston in 1836....

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Fuertes, Louis Agassiz (07 February 1874–22 August 1927), artist, naturalist, and scientific illustrator, was born in Ithaca, New York, the son of Estevan Antonio Fuertes of Puerto Rico, a professor of civil engineering at Cornell University, and Mary Perry of Troy, New York. Named after but unrelated to the great nineteenth-century naturalist Louis Agassiz of Harvard, Fuertes was the youngest in a family of six. He traveled widely throughout the world but always considered Ithaca his home....

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Robert Fulton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102509).

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Fulton, Robert (14 November 1765–23 February 1815), artist, engineer, and entrepreneur, was born on a farm in Little Britain (later Fulton) Township, south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Fulton, a Scotch-Irish tailor and tradesman, and Mary Smith. Fulton’s father had left the prosperous market town of Lancaster to establish his family on the land, but like so many others with the same goal, he failed. The farm and the dwelling were sold at sheriff’s sale in 1772, and he took his family back to Lancaster. He died two years later....

Article

Hentz, Nicholas Marcellus (25 July 1797–04 November 1856), entomologist, educator, and miniaturist, was born in Versailles, France (although he is also recorded as being a native of Metz), the son of Nicholas Hentz, a lawyer, and Marie-Anne Thèrese Daubrée. Around 1816, when Hentz was in his late teens, the Hentz family left France for the United States, allegedly for reasons connected to Hentz’s father’s political activities. Given the situation in France between 1814 and 1816—the fall and rise and fall of Napoleon, the restoration of the French monarchy—emigration was probably expedient for a number of people. Further, if the family did have a connection to Metz, which is on the Moselle River and part of Alsace-Lorraine, the Hentzes’ decision to leave their homeland could have been affected by German as well as French political fluctuations....

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Samuel F. B. Morse. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92300).

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Morse, Samuel Finley Breese (27 April 1791–02 April 1872), artist and telegraph inventor, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the eldest child of Rev. Jedidiah Morse and Elizabeth Ann Breese. Some biographers have emphasized the influence of his father’s evangelical Calvinism on Morse, but much of his early life was spent away from home; he was enrolled as a boarder at Phillips Academy in Andover at age eight. He entered Yale in 1805 and graduated in 1810, obtaining some knowledge of electricity (but not of electromagnetism, which had yet to be discovered) from courses with ...

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Smith, Francis Hopkinson (23 October 1838–07 April 1915), mechanical engineer, writer, and artist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Francis Smith, a musician, mathematician, and philosopher, and Susan Teakle. Smith was reared in the genteel society of old Baltimore, where he studied for entrance to Princeton University. Smith’s family suffered economic ruin, however, and he never attended college. Before the Civil War he held jobs in a hardware store and an ironworks. Around 1858 he moved to New York City, where, after some training with a partner named James Symington, he set up an engineering firm. Over the years he increasingly complemented this enterprise with his work in the fine arts and as a speaker. He was usually thought of, and perhaps thought of himself, as a southern gentleman. In 1866 Smith married Josephine Van Deventer of Astoria, New York. They had two children....

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Thayer, Abbott Handerson (12 August 1849–29 May 1921), painter and naturalist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Henry Thayer, a physician, and Ellen Handerson. Raised in rural New Hampshire, Thayer was passionately interested in the out-of-doors; he was particularly attentive to wildfowl and became an avid trapper and hunter. His earliest artistic efforts were watercolors of birds and other animals....