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Attucks, Crispus (1723–05 March 1770), probably a sailor, was the first to be killed in the Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770. Generally regarded to have been of mixed ancestry (African, Indian, and white), Attucks seems to have hailed from a Natick Indian settlement, Mashpee (incorporated as a district in 1763, near Framingham, Massachusetts)....

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Birkbeck, Morris (23 January 1764–04 June 1825), pioneer and author, was born in Settle, Yorkshire, the son of Morris Birkbeck, apparently a businessman, and Hannah Bradford, both of whom were Quakers. In 1774 the Birkbecks moved to the hamlet of Wanborough, Surrey, where a community of Friends had been established and where young Birkbeck was raised. He became a farmer, and by 1794 he was operating a 1,500-acre estate, which he leased. A slim, muscular, bald-headed man, Birkbeck was energetic, reflective, idealistic, and even-tempered. Frequently innovative, he was the first breeder of merino sheep in England. In 1794 he married Prudence Bush, also a Quaker, of nearby Wandsworth. She died in 1804, leaving him with seven children....

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Dorothy McLeod MacInerney

Blake, Mary Elizabeth (01 September 1840–26 February 1907), author, was born Mary Elizabeth McGrath in Dungarven, Ireland, the daughter of Patrick McGrath, an artisan in marble, and Mary Murphy. Mary’s family immigrated to Quincy, Massachusetts, when she was ten. Her father’s trade prospered, enabling him to provide his children with good educations. Mary attended Quincy High School from 1855 to 1859, Emerson’s Private School in Boston from 1859 to 1861, and the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville from 1861 to 1863. Her major interests in school were music and modern languages. Upon graduating, Mary began teaching and writing poems, which were published in local newspapers. In 1865 she married John G. Blake, a prominent Boston physician; they had eleven children....

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Block, Adriaen (1610–1624), Dutch mariner, explorer, and trader, was most likely born in Holland, but nothing is now known of his place of birth, parents, early education, or marital status. It is thought that he studied law but soon felt eager to go to sea. His opportunity came after ...

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Bremer, Fredrika (17 August 1801–31 December 1865), novelist, travel writer, and poet, was born near Abo, Finland, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and his wife. The family moved to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1804 as Russia prepared to annex Finland, then a year later to a country estate near Arsta, Sweden. Bremer’s early life was unhappy; she was isolated and held under her parents’ strict control, her days consumed by a demanding academic regimen of history, philosophy, literature, music, art, and languages. She escaped the pressure by consuming romance novels by the British author Fanny Burney. Her health deteriorated, and in 1821 the family took her to the south of France to convalesce....

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Browne, John Ross (11 February 1821–08 December 1875), writer, world traveler, and government agent, was born in Beggars Bush, near Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Egerton Browne and Elana Buck. His father was a refugee from British rule. As the editor of three publications, Thomas Browne satirized British tithing measures and earned the enmity of the Crown, a fine, and a jail sentence for “seditious libel.”...

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Cabot, John (1450?–1498?), navigator and explorer, may have been born in Genoa, Italy. His parents are unknown. In 1498 the Spanish ambassador in London referred to him as “another Genoese like Colon (Columbus),” and most scholars accept Genoa as John Cabot’s place of birth, although no documents have been found to confirm this. Records in Venetian archives, however, document the granting of citizenship in that republic to John Cabot sometime during the period between 9 November 1471 and 28 July 1473. The 28 March 1476 senatorial confirmation of the grant mentions that he had been a resident of Venice for fifteen years. In the letters patent from England’s King Henry VII granting him permission “to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea,” Cabot is identified as a citizen of Venice. Like his contemporary ...

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Frank Carpenter. Center, talking with the director of the Standard Oil fields in Roumania. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98528).

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Carpenter, Frank George (08 May 1855–18 June 1924), journalist and author of travel books, was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of George F. Carpenter, an attorney, and Jeannette Reid. Frank attended public school in Mansfield and then went on to the University of Wooster, earning a Phi Beta Kappa key and graduating in 1877. He did further study at Ohio State University. In 1878 or 1879 he was hired as the Columbus (Ohio) correspondent for the ...

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Castiglioni, Luigi (03 October 1757–22 April 1832), naturalist, author, and politician, was born in Milan, Italy, the son of Count Ottavio Castiglioni and Teresa Verri, both of distinguished families. In childhood, after the death of his father, Castiglioni and his older brother, Alfonso, were adopted by their mother’s brother, Pietro Verri, whose political ideas and writings placed him and his brother, Alessandro, among the central figures of the Italian Enlightenment. Although Verri provided his nephews with material comfort and intellectual guidance, their relationship was sometimes contentious....

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Coggeshall, George (02 November 1784–06 August 1861), sea captain and author, was born in Milford, Connecticut, the son of William Coggeshall, a shipmaster, and Eunice Mallett. A Revolutionary War veteran, William Coggeshall was financially ruined when one of his vessels was seized by a British cruiser for trading at a French island, and another was captured by France for trading with English colonies. As a result, George Coggeshall and his six siblings were left destitute. Thus, he was denied a formal education and was forced to teach himself by reading every book available. A devoted son, Coggeshall determined that he would go to sea as soon as possible, thereby reducing the family’s expenses and affording him a chance to recoup his father’s losses....

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Collier, Price (25 May 1860–03 November 1913), writer and minister, was born Hiram Price Collier in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Robert Laird Collier, a Unitarian clergyman who collected European labor statistics for the U.S. government, and Mary Price, whose father, Hiram Price, was a U.S. congressman. After his mother’s death in 1872 Collier spent five years in Europe with his father and became fluent in French and German. In 1882 Collier finished Harvard Divinity School, where he was the youngest student to graduate up to that time. He first occupied the pulpit of the First Parish Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, and in 1888 arrived at the First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn, New York, where he almost instantly became both a sought-after preacher and a man about town. Early in 1890 the New York ...

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Colton, Walter (09 May 1797–22 January 1851), clergyman, journalist, and author, was born in Rutland County, Vermont, the son of Walter Colton, a weaver, and Thankful Cobb. The family soon moved to Georgia, Vermont. Colton was apprenticed to a cabinetmaking uncle in Hartford, Connecticut, where in 1816 he joined the Congregational church. He attended classes at the Hartford Grammar School until 1818, entered Yale College, won a prize for excellence in Latin, and graduated as valedictorian poet in 1822. He studied at the Andover Theological Seminary, graduating in 1825. Later that year he became a Congregationalist evangelist and joined the faculty of the Scientific and Military Academy in Middletown, Connecticut, where he taught moral philosophy and belles-lettres and was chaplain. Publishing essays and poems signed “Bertram” in the Middletown ...

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Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John de (31 January 1735–12 November 1813), writer and government official, was born in Caen, Normandy, where, in the parish of St. Jean, he was baptized Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur. He was the elder son of Guillaume-Augustin Jean de Crèvecoeur and Marie-Anne-Thérèse Blouet, his father a substantial landowner and his mother also of the provincial nobility of Normandy. Crèvecoeur grew up in the manor house of Pierrepont, near the village of Creully. At the Jesuit Collège Royal de Bourbon at Caen, Crèvecoeur studied practical mathematics, learned surveying and cartography, and was graduated with distinction in literature and languages in 1750. He continued his education in Salisbury, England, and probably visited Lisbon, about which he wrote several times....

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Delano, Amasa (21 February 1763–21 April 1823), New England mariner and author, was born in Duxbury, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Delano and Abigail Drew. His father, a well-to-do shipbuilder, joined the American army when the Revolution broke out and was almost immediately taken prisoner. “Treated with great harshness and severity,” he was released before the war ended and resumed his trade. Meanwhile, over his father’s objections, Delano had entered the army at the age of fourteen and shipped out on the privateer ...

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Dorr, Julia Caroline Ripley (13 February 1825–18 January 1913), author, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of William Young Ripley, a merchant, and Zulma DeLacy Thomas. Dorr’s mother and her family, natives of France, had come to Charleston from the West Indies after a slave revolt dispossessed them in the late 1700s. Julia, an only child, moved with her family to Vermont because of her mother’s ill health; the change of region failed to help, however, as Zulma Ripley died on the day following her arrival. Julia was reared in Vermont and, for a time, in New York City. Her education has been characterized as “irregular” and “haphazard,” but she apparently had some talent in Latin and attended classes at the Middlebury seminary in Vermont. At the age of twenty-two, she married Seneca M. Dorr, a young businessman who apparently shared Julia’s interests in literature and elite culture, and they made their home in Ghent, New York, for a decade before moving to Rutland, Vermont, to join Julia’s father (who had established successful careers as the owner of marble quarries and as a bank president)....

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John Dos Passos. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117477).

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Dos Passos, John (14 January 1896–28 September 1970), writer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Randolph Dos Passos, a lawyer, and Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison. His parents were married in 1910, when his father’s first wife died, and in 1912 the boy took his father’s name of Dos Passos; before that he was known as John Roderigo Madison. As an illegitimate child he had lived a rootless life, traveling much in Europe with his mother. She died in 1915. The necessary secrecy of his boyhood, the mixture of admiration and fear Dos Passos felt toward his powerful father—who was both an important corporate lawyer and the author of books on trusts and the stock market—and his dependence on his beautiful, often unhappy southern mother affected him deeply. A timid boy, Dos Passos found excitement in reading, studying languages, and observing the art of the time; he discovered his greatest joy in writing. His early poems, with those of ...

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Du Chaillu, Paul Belloni (31 July 1835?–30 April 1903), explorer and author, was the son of Charles Alexis Du Chaillu, a Frenchman representing a Parisian firm trading in Gabon, on the west coast of central Africa. His mother, not identifiable by name, may have been an Italian, a Creole, or a mulatto. The possibility that Du Chaillu was illegitimate or that his mother was of mixed parentage could account for his never mentioning her in his writings. His date of birth is not known for certain; although 31 July 1835 is commonly accepted, it has also been published that he was born in 1831 and in 1838. His place of birth is also uncertain; various authorities say New Orleans, Paris, and the Indian Ocean island of Réunion (called Bourbon before the revolution of 1848). Du Chaillu’s father was in France in the 1830s, during which time Du Chaillu was very likely with him and began his schooling there. His father returned to Gabon in the 1840s, and Du Chaillu was there with him again around 1848, attending Protestant and Catholic mission schools there. By the age of fifteen, he was clerking for the local colonial administration. During his early years in Gabon, he hunted, roamed the interior, traded with natives, and picked up the rudiments of several local languages....

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Olaudah Equiano. From the frontispiece of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1794. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54026).