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John Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13002 DLC).

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Adams, John (19 October 1735–04 July 1826), second president of the United States, diplomat, and political theorist, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1691–1760), a shoemaker, selectman, and deacon, and Susanna Boylston. He claimed as a young man to have indulged in “a constant dissipation among amusements,” such as swimming, fishing, and especially shooting, and wished to be a farmer. However, his father insisted that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle Joseph Adams, attend Harvard College, and become a clergyman. John consented, applied himself to his studies, and developed a passion for learning but refused to become a minister. He felt little love for “frigid John Calvin” and the rigid moral standards expected of New England Congregationalist ministers....

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Samuel Adams. After a painting by John Singleton Copley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-262).

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Adams, Samuel (27 September 1722–02 October 1803), revolutionary politician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Massachusetts governor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Adams and Mary Fifield. Of the twelve children born to the couple, he was one of only three who survived their parents. The elder Samuel Adams was a prosperous investor in real estate and other ventures, including the ill-fated land bank of 1740–1741, and the owner of a brewery. He also held several public offices—Boston selectman, justice of the peace, and member of the provincial assembly....

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Bartlett, Josiah (21 November 1729–19 May 1795), physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts, the son of Stephen Bartlett, a shoemaker, and Hannah Webster. Josiah Bartlett attended common school and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed to study medicine under Dr. Nehemiah Ordway of Amesbury. In 1750, seeking to set up his own practice, Bartlett settled in Kingston, New Hampshire, where he won quick acceptance for his fever treatments and his personal manner and demeanor. There, he married Mary Bartlett, a cousin from Newton, New Hampshire. Eight of the couple’s twelve children lived into adulthood....

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Elbridge Gerry. Engraving by James Barton Longacre, c. 1830, based on a drawing by John Vanderlyn. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-1889).

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George Athan Billias

Gerry, Elbridge (17 July 1744–23 November 1814), statesman, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Gerry, a merchant, and Elizabeth Greenleaf. His father was a British immigrant who arrived in 1730, settled in Marblehead, and became one of the most successful merchants in Essex County. The brightest of eleven children, Elbridge entered Harvard in 1758, graduated in 1762, and returned in 1765—the year of the Stamp Act—to submit his master’s thesis. Already a firebrand at twenty-one, he argued in it the question: “Can the new Prohibitary Duties which make it useless for the people to engage in Commerce, be evaded by them as faithful subjects?” His answer was “Yes.”...

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Hall, Lyman (12 April 1724–19 October 1790), member of the Continental Congress and governor of Georgia, was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, the son of John Hall, a Congregational minister, and Mary Street. After graduating from Yale in 1747, Lyman served briefly as a minister in Fairfield and then became a physician by apprenticeship, practicing in Wallingford. In 1752 he married Abigail Burr, who died a year later. He then married Mary Osborne (date unknown), the mother of his son John, born in 1765....

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John Hancock. Engraving by C. Shepherd, 1775. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-7340).

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Hancock, John (12 January 1737–08 October 1793), merchant and politician, was born in Braintree (present-day Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Hancock, a Harvard graduate and minister, and Mary Hawke. In 1744 Hancock’s father died, forcing Hancock’s mother to move with her three children to Lexington to live with her father-in-law, John Hancock. In 1745 young John was sent to live with his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Lydia Hancock, in Boston. ...

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Huntington, Samuel (03 July 1731–05 January 1796), signer of the Declaration of Independence, president of the Continental Congress, and governor of Connecticut, was born in Scotland Society, Windham Township, Connecticut, the son of Nathaniel Huntington, a farmer and clothier, and Mehetable (sometimes seen as Mehitabel) Thurston. He was descended from Simon Huntington, who died in passage to America in 1633....

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Thomas McKean. Oil on canvas, after 1787, attributed to Charles Willson Peale. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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McKean, Thomas (19 March 1734–24 June 1817), statesman, jurist, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of William McKean, an innkeeper and farmer, and Letitia Finney. He studied at Francis Alison’s New London Academy (1742–1750), then left to study law (1750–1754) with his cousin David Finney of New Castle, Delaware. He joined the Delaware bar in 1754 and expanded his practice into Pennsylvania (1755) and New Jersey (1765). Following his admittance to practice before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1757, he gained admission to the Society of the Middle Temple in London as a specialiter, which permitted him to earn certification in 1758 as a barrister without attending....

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Paca, William (31 October 1740–13 October 1799), lawyer and officeholder, was born on the Bush River near Abingdon in Baltimore (later Harford) County, Maryland, the son of John Paca, a planter, local officeholder, and delegate to the lower house of the Maryland General Assembly, and Elizabeth Smith. The Paca family was English, the Maryland progenitor arriving in the colony about 1660. At age twelve, Paca entered the Academy and Charity School in Philadelphia, which three years later became the College of Philadelphia. Paca took his B.A. in 1759 and studied law in the office of Stephen Bordley, a prominent Annapolis lawyer. Soon after arriving in Annapolis in 1759, Paca became a founding member of the Forensic Club, a group of “young Gentlemen” that met twice each month to debate politics, morality, and natural law....

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Paine, Robert Treat (11 March 1731–11 June 1814), lawyer, Massachusetts attorney general, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Paine, a merchant, and Eunice Treat. Shortly before Paine’s birth, his father had left the ministry for a mercantile career that soon flourished, providing comfortable circumstances for the family. Paine followed the traditional Boston elite educational path from Boston Public Latin School to Harvard College, where he graduated with the class of 1749. At about the same time, his father lost his fortune; following graduation, Paine was forced to seek his own way without the benefit of a family business....

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Rutledge, Edward (23 November 1749–23 January 1800), signer of the Declaration of Independence and governor of South Carolina, was born in Christ Church Parish, South Carolina, the son of John Rutledge, a physician and planter, and Sarah Hext. He studied law with his elder brother, ...

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Walton, George (1749?–02 February 1804), lawyer, statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in either Cumberland County or Goochland County, Virginia, the son of John Walton and Mary Hughes. Walton was orphaned at an early age and subsequently raised by his uncle and aunt, George and Martha Hughes Walton. He began an apprenticeship with a carpenter at the age of fifteen but was released from his term of service, because the carpenter recognized Walton’s natural intelligence and ambition and wanted him to go to school. Nevertheless, Walton underwent little formal education and was largely self-taught. In 1769 he moved to Savannah, Georgia, and began studying law in the office of Henry Young. Walton was admitted to the bar in 1774 and quickly built up one of the largest legal practices in Savannah....

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Wolcott, Oliver (20 November 1726–01 December 1797), Connecticut governor and revolutionary patriot, was born in Windsor (now East Windsor), Connecticut, the son of Roger Wolcott, a judge, member of the Connecticut Council, deputy governor, and governor (1750–1754), and Sarah Drake. He graduated from Yale in 1747, was granted a captain’s commission by New York governor ...