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Creighton, William (29 October 1778–01 October 1851), congressman and political leader in early Ohio, was born in Berkeley County, Virginia (now W.Va.), the son of William Creighton (his mother’s identity is unknown). Creighton graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1795, studied law in Martinsburg, Virginia (now W.Va.), and migrated to the Scioto Valley in the Northwest Territory in 1799. There he built a reputation as a lawyer and as a caustic opponent of popular rule in general and the territorial government in particular. Creighton was more interested in the economic development of the Scioto Valley than in social equality or political democracy; not surprisingly, this conservative Jeffersonian Republican became a stalwart Whig....

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Robert Carlos DeLarge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98796).

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DeLarge, Robert Carlos (15 March 1842–14 February 1874), politician, was born in Aiken, South Carolina. His father was a free black tailor, and his mother was a cloak maker of Haitian descent; their names are unknown. Though several records claim that DeLarge was born into slavery, it is more likely that his parents were free blacks who owned slaves. This peculiar and paradoxical designation surely inspired the dual sensibilities that later characterized his political and social life as both an advocate for universal black enfranchisement and a member of South Carolina’s propertied, often exclusionist, mulatto elite. Fortunate to receive the benefits of the prewar education available to free black children, DeLarge attended primary school in North Carolina and Wood High School in Charleston. For a short time he was employed as a tailor and farmer, and some sources indicate that he was also a part-time barber. During the Civil War, he amassed some money as an employee of the Confederate navy, a curious affiliation in light of his Republican activities during Reconstruction. He later donated most of his Civil War earnings to the state Republican party. By the time he became active in Reconstruction politics, DeLarge was a citizen of considerable standing in Charleston, as indicated both by his net worth of $6,650 in the 1870 census and his membership in the Brown Fellowship Society, a fraternal and charitable association founded in 1870 that admitted only mulattoes....

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Dingley, Nelson, Jr. (15 February 1832–14 January 1899), politician and congressman, was born in Durham, Maine, the son of Nelson Dingley, a farmer, owner of a general store, and tavern keeper, and Jane Lambert. Dingley went to schools in Parkman and Unity, Maine, read avidly, and took an intense interest in politics. He started a diary when he was in his early teens and added regular entries until he became fatally ill. He spent several years at Waterville Academy and continued on at Waterville College (now Colby) until 1853, when he left in a dispute with the faculty. He finished his undergraduate work at Dartmouth College, graduating with the class of 1855. He studied law and was admitted to the bar. Dingley married Salome McKenney in 1857; they had five children....

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Elliott, Robert Brown (11 August 1842–09 August 1884), Reconstruction politician and congressman, was born probably in Liverpool, England, of unknown West Indian parents. Elliott’s early life is shrouded in mystery, largely because of his own false claims, but apparently he did receive an English public school education (but not at Eton as he claimed) and was trained as a typesetter. It is likely also that in 1866 or 1867, while on duty with the Royal Navy, he decided to seek his fortune in America and jumped ship in Boston harbor, without, however, taking out citizenship papers. All that is known for certain is that by March 1867 Elliott was associate editor of the ...

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Johnson, Robert Ward (22 July 1814–26 July 1879), Arkansas political leader and member of both the U.S. Congress and the Confederate Congress, was born in Scott County, Kentucky, the son of Benjamin Johnson and Matilda Williams. Young Johnson was named for his paternal grandfather, who headed a powerful political family in Kentucky. Two of his uncles won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, while another, ...

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Jefferson Franklin Long. Lithograph on paper, 1872, by Currier & Ives Lithography Company. (Long on right.) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Long, Jefferson Franklin (03 March 1836–04 February 1901), Reconstruction era politician, was born a slave of mixed African and Caucasian ancestry in Knoxville, Crawford County, Georgia. The names of his parents and of his owners are unknown. Sometime before the beginning of the Civil War, Long was taken from rural Crawford County to nearby Macon, where he evidently taught himself to read and write and learned a trade. Freed at the end of the war, he opened a tailor shop in Macon, which he and his son operated for a number of years and which provided him a steady income and a position of some eminence in the black community there. He married Lucinda Carhart (marriage date unknown) and had seven children....

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Miller, Thomas Ezekiel (17 June 1849–08 April 1938), political leader and educator, was born in Ferrebeeville, South Carolina, the son of Richard Miller and Mary Ferrebee, occupations unknown. Miller’s race was a source of periodic concern and speculation. Although he always considered himself to be black, Miller’s very fair complexion led to allegations during his political career that he was white, the abandoned child of an unmarried white couple....

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Morrill, Justin Smith (14 April 1810–28 December 1898), businessman, politician, and legislator, was born in Strafford, Vermont, the son of Nathaniel Morrill, a blacksmith, and Mary Hunt. Morrill left school at fifteen after studying at the common school in Strafford and at Thetford and Randolph Academies. He wrote later, with obvious regret, “I desired to obtain a college education, but my father said he was unable to send all his boys to college and felt that he ought to give all an equal chance” (Parker, p. 23)....

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Potter, Robert (1800?–02 March 1842), North Carolina congressman and Republic of Texas political leader, was born at Brassfields, North Carolina, of parentage unknown to present-day historians, other than the fact that his father was a yeoman farmer. He attended country school at Williamsboro and entered the United States Navy as a midshipman on 2 March 1815. He served various tours of duty aboard the ...

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Joseph H. Rainey. Engraving by Charles Bryan Hall, c. 1870–1879. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105892).

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Rainey, Joseph Hayne (21 June 1832–02 August 1887), politician, was born a slave in Georgetown, South Carolina, the son of Edward L. Rainey and Gracia C. (maiden name unknown). The elder Rainey purchased his family’s freedom and moved with them in about 1846 (the exact date is unknown) to Charleston where he was employed as a barber at the exclusive Mills House hotel. He prospered and purchased two male slaves in the 1850s. Joseph Rainey received a modest education and was trained by his father as a barber. In 1859 he traveled to Philadelphia and married Susan E. (maiden name unknown). As a result of the intervention of several friends, the couple managed to circumvent the state prohibition against free people of color entering or returning to South Carolina, and they moved to Charleston. After the Civil War began, Rainey was conscripted to serve as a steward on a Confederate blockade runner. He was later compelled to work in the construction of Confederate fortifications around Charleston. He escaped with his wife to Bermuda on a blockade runner. They settled first in St. George and then in Hamilton. He resumed barbering, and his wife worked as a dressmaker. They returned to Charleston in 1865, shortly after the war ended....

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Ransier, Alonzo Jacob (03 January 1834–17 August 1882), politician, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to free parents. Contemporary accounts described his education as “limited.” In the 1850s he secured a position as a shipping clerk with a prominent commercial firm in Charleston. In 1856 he married Louisa Ann Carroll, and they were the parents of 11 children. Carroll died in 1875, and he married Mary Louisa McKinlay in 1876....

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Francis B. Spinola, c. 1861–1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102545).

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Spinola, Francis Barretto (19 March 1821–14 April 1891), politician and congressman, was born in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York. His parents’ background is obscure, although his mother’s family, of Irish descent, were prominent in the American revolutionary cause. At age ten he attended Quaker Hill Academy in Dutchess County. Six years later he became a jeweler’s apprentice in Brooklyn, then briefly a blacksmith, grocer, and carpenter. He also studied law and by 1844 was practicing in Brooklyn. But his life’s work as an assiduous and faithful partisan activist had already begun. He started out a Whig but later joined the Democratic party. After serving in the Brooklyn city clerk’s office in the early 1840s, he became an alderman on the Brooklyn Common Council in 1846, then was elected supervisor. In 1853 he entered the New York State legislature, serving first in the assembly and then in the state senate for four years from 1858. In these years he was clearly identified as a loyal follower of Augustus Schell and ...

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Van Rensselaer, Solomon (06 August 1774–23 April 1852), soldier, congressman, and public official, was born in Rensselaer County, New York, the son of Henry Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a revolutionary war general, and Alida Bradt. The Van Rensselaers were one of the powerful Dutch patroon families of New York. Respect for the military profession ran high in the culture and in the family, so Solomon’s father secured for him in 1792 a commission as cornet in the newly formed U.S. light dragoon squadron. The dragoons became part of ...