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Arnold, Benedict (14 January 1741–14 June 1801), revolutionary war general and traitor, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Benedict Arnold III, a merchant, and Hannah Waterman King. Of his mother’s eleven children, only he and a younger sister survived. At age eleven he was sent away to grammar school, but he left two years later when his alcoholic father lost the family’s fortune. Apprenticed to his mother’s cousin, an apothecary in Norwich, he volunteered in three campaigns (1757–1759) of the French and Indian War, deserting finally to be with his dying mother. His father died soon after, leaving little except debts, but his generous master paid the debts and set Arnold up in business when he decided to move to New Haven in 1762....

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Benton, Thomas Hart (14 March 1782–10 April 1858), U.S. senator and congressman, was born near Hillsboro (now Hillsborough), North Carolina, the son of Jesse Benton, a lawyer and farmer, and Ann “Nancy” Gooch. Jesse Benton died in 1791, leaving eight children, considerable land, extensive debts, and an aristocratic lifestyle. The family suffered a further blow when Thomas Hart Benton, at age sixteen, was expelled from the University of North Carolina for misusing money entrusted to him by roommates. The future senator was known ever after for scrupulous honesty and belligerent defense of his honor; concern that the story of his expulsion might surface probably influenced his consistent refusals to be considered for the presidency....

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Brown, Benjamin Gratz (28 May 1826–13 December 1885), U.S. senator and governor of Missouri, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of Mason Brown, a lawyer, and Judith Bledsoe. He was educated at Transylvania and Yale Universities, graduating from the latter in 1847. He then earned a degree from Louisville Law School. Upon being admitted to the bar in the fall of 1849, he moved to St. Louis to join his cousins ...

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Burr, Aaron (06 February 1756–14 September 1836), revolutionary soldier, U.S. senator, and vice president of the United States, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Aaron Burr, a theologian and the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), and ...

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Clay, Cassius Marcellus (19 October 1810–22 July 1903), antislavery politician and diplomat, was born in White Hall, Kentucky, the son of Green Clay, a land speculator, and Sally Lewis. Green Clay was one of the wealthiest landowners and slaveholders in Kentucky, and young Cassius was raised in comfort and affluence. He attended Transylvania University (1829–1831) and Yale College (1831–1832), where he received his bachelor’s degree. After returning to Transylvania to study law in 1832–1833, Clay married Mary Jane Warfield in 1833. The marriage produced ten children....

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Clay, Henry (12 April 1777–29 June 1852), statesman, was born in Hanover County, Virginia, the son of John Clay, a Baptist minister, and Elizabeth Hudson. John Clay died during the American Revolution when Henry was four years old. The following year Henry’s mother married Captain Henry Watkins, a planter and militia officer, and later they moved to Kentucky. Henry received his early schooling at the Old Field School and the St. Paul’s School in Virginia. Although he had a gifted mind, his formal education was extremely limited. Nor did he apply himself to his studies. As he later put it, he “relied too much upon the resources of my genius.” But growing up in Hanover County, he heard ...

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Clingman, Thomas Lanier (27 July 1812–03 November 1897), politician and businessman, was born in Huntsville, North Carolina, the son of Jacob Clingman, a merchant, and Jane Poindexter. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1832, he studied law at the office of ...

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Crawford, William Harris (24 February 1772–15 September 1834), U.S. senator, cabinet member, and presidential candidate, was born in Amherst County, Virginia, the son of Joel Crawford and Fanny Harris, farmers. In 1779 financial reverses led the Crawfords to move to the Edgefield District of South Carolina and four years later to Kiokee Creek, near Appling, Georgia. Joel Crawford valued education, and his children attended the field schools that served families in rural areas. After Joel’s death in 1788, young William Harris helped out on the farm while teaching at the field school he had recently attended. In 1794, at the age of twenty-two, Crawford enrolled for two years in ...

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Davis, Jefferson (03 June 1808?–06 December 1889), president of the Confederate States of America and U.S. senator, was born in Christian (later Todd) County, Kentucky, the tenth and last child of Samuel Emory Davis and Jane Cook, farmers. The year of his birth is uncertain; for many years Davis regarded 1807 as correct, but he later settled upon 1808....

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Foote, Henry Stuart (28 February 1804–20 May 1880), U.S. senator and governor of Mississippi, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, the son of Richard Helm Foote and Jane Stuart. After graduating from Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in 1819, he was admitted to the bar in Richmond in 1823. Soon, he moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama, for a few years, where he edited a Democratic newspaper, and then to Mississippi, where he quickly became one of the leading criminal lawyers in the state....

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Gwinnett, Button (bap. 10 April 1735), merchant and political leader, was born in Gloucester, England, the son of the Reverend Samuel Gwinnett and Anne Emes. Gwinnett left England as a young man and for a number of years after arriving in America was a merchant in the colonial trade. In April 1757 he married Ann Bourne, with whom he had three children. His business activities took him from Newfoundland to Jamaica, and at times brought him into conflict with other merchants and with legal authorities. Never very successful, he moved to Savannah in 1765 and opened a store. When that venture failed, he bought (on credit) St. Catherines Island, off the coast of Georgia to the south of Savannah, and attempted to become a planter. Though his planting activities were also unsuccessful, he did make a name for himself in local politics....

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Hamilton, Alexander (11 January 1757?–12 July 1804), statesman and first secretary of the treasury, was born in Nevis, British West Indies, the second of two illegitimate sons of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien. (The year of birth is often given as 1755, but the evidence more strongly supports 1757.) The father deserted the family when Hamilton was eight; the mother died three years later. Hamilton was apprenticed to a firm of international merchants and proved to be so gifted in commerce that he was soon left in full charge of the business. At fifteen he was “discovered” by a Presbyterian minister, who arranged financial support to send him to the College of New Jersey at Princeton. After a year at a preparatory school he passed the stiff entrance exams at Princeton, but when the president refused to allow him to advance at his own pace rather than with the regular classes, he went to King’s College (now Columbia) in New York instead....

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Jackson, Andrew (15 March 1767–08 June 1845), soldier and seventh president of the United States, was born in the Waxhaw Settlement, South Carolina, the son of Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson, farmers. Like many other Scotch-Irish at the time, Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson migrated to this country from the port of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland in 1765, landing most probably in Philadelphia and then journeying southward to join relatives living in the Waxhaw Settlement along the northwestern boundary separating North and South Carolina. They settled with their two sons, Hugh and Robert, on a stretch of land on the south side of Twelve Mile Creek, a branch of the Catawba River, and for two years tried to scratch a living from this acid soil. Then, early in March 1767, Andrew died suddenly. Approximately two weeks later, on 15 March, Elizabeth gave birth to her third son and named him after her deceased husband. Later a dispute arose over the exact location of the birthplace of the future president—whether he was born in North or South Carolina—but Jackson himself always believed and repeatedly stated that he was born in South Carolina....

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Jackson, James (21 September 1757–19 March 1806), congressman, U.S. senator, and governor of Georgia, was born in Moreton Hampstead, Devonshire, England, the son of James Jackson, Sr., and Mary Webber, about whom nothing is known. At age fifteen he immigrated alone to Savannah, Georgia, where lawyer John Wereat took him in. Young Jackson received no formal education, but within the next few years the American Revolution transformed and gave focus to his life. In 1777 he was a delegate to the Georgia Constitutional Convention. More notably, he served in the state militia, fought in numerous engagements, including Cowpens in 1781, and became a major general in 1792. For his leadership of the patriot forces that repossessed Savannah after the British departure in July 1782, the assembly awarded him a house and lot in the town. In 1785 he married Mary Charlotte Young; they had five sons. By 1796 Jackson’s estate had grown to include several thousand acres of rice and cotton producing lands, including 4,594 acres from grants made to him by Georgia governors in recognition of war service. Showing little interest in selling this domain, he apparently was immune from the land speculation fever of his day. After studying with ...

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Laurens, Henry (24 February 1724–08 December 1792), planter-merchant and revolutionary war statesman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of John Laurens, a saddler, and Esther Grasset. The Laurens family had fled La Rochelle, France, as Huguenot refugees in 1682. After stops in London, Ireland, and New York, they settled in Charleston about 1715. Laurens received in his own words “the best education” that the provincial community could offer. In 1744 he sailed for London to serve a three-year clerkship in James Crokatt’s counting house. Laurens married Eleanor Ball in 1750. They had twelve children, but only four survived childhood. ...

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Lee, Charles (26 January 1731–02 October 1782), revolutionary war general, was born in Chester, England, the son of John Lee, a British officer, and Isabella Bunbury. Possessing the important social advantage of gentle ancestry, his education was not neglected. His father, desiring that he familiarize himself with peoples and languages other than English, enrolled him at an early age in an academy in Switzerland. Over the years, Lee became proficient in Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. In 1746 he entered grammar school at Bury St. Edmunds, where he became lifelong friends with important and well-placed companions such as William Butler and Charles Davers. His father, colonel of the Fifty-fifth Regiment of Foot, also determined that young Lee would continue the family’s tradition of military service. Thus when Lee was fourteen years old, Colonel Lee purchased for him an ensigncy in the Fifty-fifth Regiment, soon renumbered the forty-fourth; when young Lee completed his education he reported for active duty. His father died in 1750, and four years later Lee fell out with his mother. Their problems likely stemmed from a strain of eccentricity in the Bunbury family, which Lee inherited, and which manifested itself in moodiness and a choleric temper. As Lee himself later admitted, he suffered from a “distemper of … mind.” Thereafter, Lee was on close terms only with his unmarried sister, Sidney Lee, who like himself had survived a childhood scarred by the deaths of five siblings....

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Morgan, John Hunt (01 June 1825–04 September 1864), soldier and Confederate general, was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of Calvin Cogswell Morgan, a wholesale merchant and planter, and Henrietta Hunt, the daughter of an entrepreneur. When Morgan was six years old, his family relocated to Fayette County, Kentucky, near Lexington. He attended Transylvania University but was suspended for dueling and never completed his studies. During the Mexican War he served in a volunteer cavalry regiment that distinguished itself at Buena Vista in 1847. Desiring a career in the military but denied the opportunity, Morgan became a businessman, investing in hemp manufacturing and the woolen industry, as well as the slave trade. He also was active for several years in the Kentucky militia, forming a sixty-man company known as the “Lexington Rifles.” In 1848 Morgan had married Rebecca Bruce. After giving birth to a stillborn child, she lingered as an invalid for eight years prior to her death in July 1861. Seventeen months later, Morgan married twenty-one-year-old Martha Ready of Murfreesboro, Tennessee....

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Perry, Oliver Hazard (23 August 1785–23 August 1819), naval officer, was born near South Kingston, Rhode Island, the son of Christopher Raymond Perry, a and Sarah Wallace Alexander. Of prominent Rhode Island lineage, he and his younger brother, Matthew C. Perry, were both significant to American naval history. Oliver Hazard Perry received an educational foundation from his mother and learned maritime sciences from schoolmasters in Newport. The Navy Department appointed Perry a midshipman on 7 April 1799 and assigned him to his father’s frigate, ...

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Pike, Albert (29 December 1809–02 April 1891), lawyer, soldier, and Masonic scholar, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Pike, a cobbler, and Sarah Andrews. The boy was torn between his father, whose irreverence and drinking scandalized neighbors, and his mother, who read the Bible to her only son daily and planned on his entering the ministry. In 1813, seeking to supplement his income by farming, Benjamin Pike moved the family to Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1825 Albert was sent to live with his uncle, a teacher at Framingham Academy, who soon learned that Pike had a prodigious memory that enabled him to digest large volumes and recall their contents at will; the boy learned Hebrew, Latin, and Greek almost effortlessly. Eight months after his arrival in Framingham, Pike passed the entrance examination for Harvard College. He could not afford the tuition, however, so, instead of enrolling at Harvard, he taught common school at Gloucester. The following year Harvard agreed to admit him as a junior, but school officials insisted that he pay the first two years’ tuition. Outraged, Pike abandoned his dreams of a formal education....

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Soulé, Pierre (31 August 1801–26 March 1870), U.S. senator, jurist, and diplomat, was born at Castillon-en-Couserans in the French Pyrenees, the son of Joseph Soulé, a distinguished Napoleonic officer and a magistrate, and Jeanne Lacroix. Soulé spent his youth absorbing the republican spirit of revolutionary France and conversely enduring the strident discipline of a Jesuit seminary. He rejected the seminary and joined republican revolutionaries who opposed the Bourbon restoration. After a brief exile and pardon, he returned to Bordeaux, earned the degree of bachelor of letters in 1819, and went to Paris to study law. His admission to the bar in 1822 did not deter him from again plunging into the revolutionary movement against Charles X. Arrested and imprisoned, he managed to escape to England. After brief and unsatisfactory sojourns in Port-au-Prince, Baltimore, and New York, Soulé arrived in New Orleans, where many other Frenchmen had sought refuge....