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Adams, Harriet Chalmers (22 October 1875–17 July 1937), explorer, lecturer, and writer, was born Harriet Chalmers in Stockton, California. Her father, Alexander Chalmers, Canadian via Scotland, came to California in 1864 to try his luck mining; he later ran a dry goods store with his brother before becoming a mine superintendent and part-owner. Her mother, Frances Wilkins, had grown up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. From the age of eleven Harriet and her sister Anna had private tutors. Her mother encouraged Harriet’s love of reading, while travels with her father developed her interest in the natural world as well as the Native American and Spanish-speaking cultures in the region. At thirteen Harriet and her father spent more than six months meandering the length of the Sierras from Oregon to Mexico, cementing her lifelong love of adventure. As a young woman Harriet continued her indoor and outdoor studies and had an active social life. She was fluent in Spanish and spoke Portuguese, French, Italian, and German as well....

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Alarcón, Hernando de (fl. 1540–1541), Spanish explorer, , is believed to have been born in Trujillo, Spain. The names of his parents and the circumstances and year of his birth are all unknown. The only documented period of his life is 1540–1541, when he acted in response to the commands of Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain (Mexico). In the spring of 1540 Mendoza directed Alarcón to sail north from Acapulco, Mexico, to support the land explorations of ...

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Ambler, James Markham Marshall (30 December 1848–30 October 1881), naval surgeon and explorer, was born in Markham, Virginia, the son of Richard Cary Ambler, a physician, and Susan Marshall. At age sixteen Ambler became a volunteer in the Twelfth Virginia Cavalry. He studied a premedicine curriculum at Washington College in 1865–1867 and then entered the University of Maryland. After acquiring a medical degree in 1870, he practiced in Baltimore until his appointment as an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Navy. During 1874–1875, he was stationed in the North Atlantic. In 1877 he joined the staff of the Naval Hospital at Norfolk, Virginia....

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Bingham, Hiram (19 November 1875–06 June 1956), explorer, was born Hiram Bingham III in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Hiram Bingham (1831–1908) and Clarissa Minerva Brewster, missionaries. Bingham’s family assumed he would constitute the third generation of missionary service to the natives of the south Pacific and constantly pressured him to live the godly life. His few efforts as a missionary literally made him sick, and he seems to have had little interest in the salvation of the natives. Bingham (he appears to have dropped the III about the time his father died) instead sublimated the family’s missionary zeal into a broad variety of interests....

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Byrd, Richard Evelyn (25 October 1888–11 March 1957), naval aviator and explorer, was born in Winchester, Virginia, the son of Richard Evelyn Byrd, an attorney, and Eleanor Bolling Flood. The family had long been prominent in Virginia; Byrd’s brother Harry Flood Byrd served as governor and several terms as a U.S. senator. After traveling alone around the world at the age of twelve, Byrd attended the Shenandoah Valley Military Academy, Virginia Military Institute (1904–1907), the University of Virginia (1907–1908), and the U.S. Naval Academy, receiving his ensign’s commission in 1912....

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Champlain, Samuel de (c. 1567-1570–25 December 1635), explorer and colonizer, probably, was born at Brouage, Saintonge (Charente-Maritime), France, the son of Anthoine de Champlain, allegedly a naval captain, and Dame Margueritte Le Roy. Champlain may have been baptized a Huguenot, but if so he was early converted to the Church of Rome. Little is known of his early years except that he acquired the skills of a draftsman and cartographer. In 1632 he declared that he had served in Brittany for several years (until 1598) with the army of Henri IV against the Catholic League in the French Wars of Religion. Yet, when the Spanish army occupying Britanny returned to Spain at the end of those wars, Champlain went with them, for in 1601 he was in Cadiz. In 1603 he accompanied François Gravé Du Pont on a fur-trading venture up the St. Lawrence River to Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay. It had become the customary summer rendezvous for European traders and the Montagnais Indians, who provided furs in exchange for metal goods, cloth, and trinkets....

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Clark, William (01 August 1770–01 September 1838), explorer, Indian agent, and governor of Missouri Territory, was born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of John Clark III, a planter, and Ann Rogers. Although he was informally educated, Clark acquired the refinement and intellectual development usually reserved for those who had been exposed to formal study. His family noted of him that at a young age he demonstrated leadership skills as well as an intellectual curiosity about the natural phenomena of his native Virginia....

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Columbus, Christopher (?–20 May 1506), explorer, was born in the Republic of Genoa, the son of Domenico Colombo, a weaver, and Susanna Fontanarossa. His early life is poorly documented. A date of birth late in 1451 or 1452 would be consistent with verifiable facts. Brought up in Genoa and Savona, he went to sea, by his own report “at an early age,” though in 1472 he was still working in his father’s business. In 1478 he was employed by the Lisbon branches of the Centurione and diNigro firms of Genoese merchants, buying sugar for Genoa in Madeira. By that time his normal place of residence was in Lisbon but only romanticized traditions of how he got there survive. Probably toward the end of the 1470s, he married Felipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of the deceased explorer and hereditary captain of the island of Porto Santo, Bartolomeu Perestrelo. This was, as far as is known, the first big step in his ascent from the humble rank of society in which he was born....

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Cook, Frederick Albert (10 June 1865–05 August 1940), first American explorer of both polar regions and first claimant to the discovery of the North Pole, was born in the Sullivan County, New York, hamlet of Hortonville, the son of Theodore Albert Koch, a German immigrant physician (the spelling of whose name was changed by an immigration clerk), and Magdalene Long. Cook’s father died when he was only five years old, and Cook later became breadwinner for his four brothers and sisters, getting up early for a milk route and later working in the Fulton Fish Market after the family moved to New York. Early childhood years were spent in Port Jervis and later Brooklyn, where he attended night classes. In 1885 he entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating with an M.D. from New York University College of Medicine in 1890....

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de Soto, Hernando (1500?–21 May 1542), Spanish conquistador and explorer, was the son of Francisco Mendez de Soto, an important landowner in Jerez de los Caballeros, Badajoz Province, Spain, and Doña Leonor Arias Tinoco, a noblewoman from a family prominent in the city of Badajoz. De Soto usually gave his birthplace as Jerez de los Caballeros and considered it the seat of his family line....

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Doane, Gustavus Cheyney (20 May 1840–05 May 1892), soldier and explorer, was born in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of Solomon Doane, a carpenter and farmer, and Nancy Davis. The Doane family traveled to Oregon in 1846 and to Santa Clara, California, in 1849, where they established a farm. Doane attended local schools and graduated from the University of the Pacific in 1861 with a bachelor's degree. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Doane enlisted in late 1862 in a special cavalry company, the “California Hundred,” which was later absorbed by the Second Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry of the Union army. Serving as a sergeant with this unit, Doane participated in the battle of South Anna Bridge, Virginia, on 26 June 1863, and subsequently performed scouting duties with his regiment in the Washington, D.C., area. After falling behind the march of their battalion, Doane and a comrade were briefly detained by Confederate guerillas and released after surrendering their sidearms, resulting in Doane's later court martial for failing to offer resistance to an equal sized enemy force. Due to his temporary capture Doane was reduced from the rank of sergeant to private on 16 October 1863, but he later accepted a commission as a first lieutenant with the Mississippi Marine Brigade on 22 March 1864. He was discharged from this unit in January 1865....

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Ellsworth, Lincoln (12 May 1880–26 May 1951), polar explorer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of James William Ellsworth, a coal mine operator and financier, and Eva Frances Butler. Named William Linn and called by his second name, Ellsworth signed his name “Lincoln” when as a young boy he took an interest in his signature and “eventually gained that name by common consent” ( ...

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Frémont, John Charles (21 January 1813–13 July 1890), explorer and presidential candidate, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the son of Jean Charles Fremon, a French émigré teacher, and Anne Beverley Whiting Pryor, a Virginia woman of patrician birth who left her elderly husband in 1811 to run away with Fremon. The couple, who apparently never married, moved frequently, living for a period in Savannah, where Jean Charles gave French and dancing lessons, and Anne took in boarders. In 1818 Jean Charles Fremon died, and the family, which by then included several younger children, eventually settled in Charleston, South Carolina, to a life of genteel poverty. The social and economic insecurity of his situation profoundly influenced Frémont. He grew up an outsider—proud, reserved, cautious in sharing his feelings, skeptical of rules and authority, and eager, at times to the point of recklessness, to prove himself....

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Greely, Adolphus Washington (27 March 1844–20 October 1935), soldier and arctic explorer, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of John Balch Greely, a shoemaker, and Frances D. Cobb, a cotton mill weaver. Greely graduated from Brown High School, Newburyport, in 1860, and in the following year, at the age of seventeen, he joined the Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He served as a private, corporal, and first sergeant and was hospitalized for wounds sustained at Antietam, including a facial injury, which he covered with a beard for the remainder of his life. On furlough in 1863 he accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Fourth U.S. Volunteers (later Eighty-first U.S. Colored Infantry), stationed in Louisiana....

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Heilprin, Angelo (31 March 1853–17 July 1907), geologist and explorer, was born in Satoralja-Ujhely, Hungary, the son of Michael Heilprin, a scholar and encyclopedist, and Henrietta Silver. His father was originally from Russian Poland. In 1856 Heilprin and his family immigrated to the United States, searching for the freedom that had evaded them in both Poland and Hungary. He grew up in New York City and attended the public schools of Brooklyn and Yonkers. At the age of fourteen he entered a hardware concern in New York City in conjunction with his younger brother Louis. He worked there for several years, but he had already decided to become a naturalist and enthusiastically pursued the opportunity to write articles for the ...

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Hennepin, Louis (07 April 1640–1705?), author and explorer, was born at Ath in the province of Hainaut in present-day Belgium, the son of Gaspard Hennepin, a butcher, and Robertine Lelup. Hennepin was baptized as Jacques. As the son of a butcher, Hennepin could experience social and educational advancement only through the Catholic priesthood. He began preparing for the priesthood by attending the ...

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Henson, Matthew Alexander (08 August 1866–09 March 1955), arctic explorer, was born in Charles County, Maryland, the son of Lemuel Henson, a sharecropper, and Caroline Gaines. Contradictory information exists about the details of his early life, but most accounts, including his autobiography, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole...

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Kane, Elisha Kent (03 February 1820–16 February 1857), physician and Arctic explorer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Kintzing Kane, a federal judge, and Jane Duval Leiper. The Kane family was prominent in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., through Judge Kane’s association with President ...

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La Salle, René-Robert Cavalier de (21 November 1643–19 March 1687), explorer, was born in Rouen, France, the son of Jean Cavelier, a haberdasher, and Catherine Geest. The family was part of the prosperous bourgeoisie. The sobriquet “de La Salle” referred to an estate they owned outside Rouen. La Salle’s initial intention, however, seems to have been to escape his position, for after having studied with the Jesuits in Rouen, he renounced any claim to the family fortunes and entered the novitiate for the order in Paris in 1658. He actually took vows in 1660, continued, apparently rather brilliantly, his studies of mathematics, and taught in Jesuit schools until 1666. Having requested missionary assignments several times and been denied because he had been unable to demonstrate spiritual maturity and submission to the discipline of the order, he was released from his vows in 1667 and only a few months later went to New France, penniless but with many influential connections. There his brother, a Sulpician, was doubtless responsible for his obtaining from that order a grant of a seigneury on Montreal Island, but after two years La Salle sold most of it back to them and began his career of exploration by attaching himself to the Dollier and Galinée missionary party bound for the western Great Lakes. Hearing of the Ohio River from Iroquois Indian guides, he left the party, claiming illness, and virtually disappeared for four years....

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Le Moyne, Jean-Baptiste (baptized 23 Feb. 1680–07 March 1767), French soldier, explorer, and governor of colonial Louisiana, was born in Montréal, New France, the son of Charles Le Moyne, sieur de Longueuil et de Châteauguay, a provincial nobleman, and Catherine Thierry Primot. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne inherited the title ...