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Addicks, John Edward O’Sullivan (21 November 1841–07 August 1919), promoter and aspiring politician, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Edward Addicks, a politician and civil servant, and Margaretta McLeod. Addicks’s father achieved local political prominence and arranged for his son to take a job at age fifteen as a runner for a local dry goods business. Four years later Addicks took a job with a flour company and, upon reaching his twenty-first birthday, became a full partner in the business. Like many Quaker City merchants, Addicks speculated in local real estate in the booming port town, avoided service in the Civil War, and achieved a modicum of prosperity in the postwar period. He became overextended, as he would be most of his career, however, and went broke in the 1873 depression....

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Allen, James (25 December 1697–07 January 1755), merchant and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jeremiah Allen, the longtime treasurer of the province, and Mary Caball. Ranked fifth by social status in a class of seventeen at Harvard College, he graduated in 1717. Allen then entered his father’s merchant business, importing dry goods from England and exchanging New England fish for West India sugar. In 1725 he married Martha Fitch, daughter of Colonel Thomas Fitch. They had no children. Allen belonged to Boston’s Congregational West Church but was not a bigot: he contributed £20 to the Anglican King’s Chapel for the purchase of bells....

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Ashley, William Henry (1778–26 March 1838), fur trader and politician, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia. His parents are unknown, and there is no definitive record of his early years. In 1798 Ashley moved west to Kentucky. Four years later he crossed the Mississippi and took up residence in the lead-mining community of St. Genevieve (now in Missouri). From that time until his death, Ashley energetically and successfully pursued profits and power in the fluid frontier society....

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Bache, Richard (?1737–29 July 1811), merchant and revolutionary leader, was born in Settle in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, the son of William Bache, a tax collector in Settle, and Mary Blyckenden. With encouragement from his father, Richard, at a young age, pursued a career in business and evidently worked in several British counting houses....

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Bard, Thomas Robert (08 December 1841–05 March 1915), businessman and politician, was born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert McFarland Bard, a lawyer, and Elizabeth Parker Little. His father died when Thomas was nine, putting the family in somewhat straitened circumstances and placing adult responsibilities on the eldest of two sons. Bard began the study of law after graduating from the Chambersburg Academy in 1859, but a worsening family financial situation compelled him to seek more immediately remunerative employment on a railway survey crew....

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Bayard, John Bubenheim (11 August 1738–07 January 1807), merchant and statesman, was born at Bohemia Manor, Maryland, the son of James Bayard, a merchant and planter, and Mary Asheton. He and his twin brother James Asheton Bayard were educated first by Samuel Finley...

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Bayne, Thomas (1824–1889), dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As the slave of Martin, Bayne learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor’s assistant and to make dental house calls. Bayne also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor’s accounts....

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Bingham, William (08 April 1752–07 February 1804), businessman and public official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Bingham, a saddler and merchant, and Mary “Molly” Stamper. Bingham graduated cum laude from the College of Philadelphia in 1768. Sometime after the death of his father in 1769, he served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia merchant ...

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Bradley, Aaron Alpeora (1815?– October 1882), Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley’s youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In the latter city he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney....

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Blanche Kelso Bruce. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2781).

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Bruce, Blanche Kelso (01 March 1841–17 March 1898), black political leader and U.S. senator during the Reconstruction era, was born in Farmville, Virginia, the son of Polly (surname unknown), a slave. The identity of his father is unknown, but he took the surname of the man who owned his mother before he was born. His childhood as a slave on a small plantation, first in Virginia, then briefly in Mississippi, and finally in Missouri did not significantly differ, as he later recalled, from that of the sons of whites. This relatively benign experience in slavery perhaps owed a great deal to the fact that he was a light-skinned mulatto and the favorite of a benevolent master and mistress. He shared a tutor with his master’s son and thus obtained the education that prepared him for later success. During the Civil War, despite the benevolence of his owner, he fled to freedom in Kansas, but after slavery was abolished he returned to Missouri where he reportedly established the first school in the state for blacks, at Hannibal....

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Bush, John Edward (15 November 1856–11 December 1916), businessman and politician, was born a slave in Moscow, Tennessee. In 1862 his master moved him and his mother to Arkansas to keep them from being freed when the Union army moved into western Tennessee. His mother died when Bush was only seven years old. He was educated in the freedmen’s and public schools of Little Rock and was considered a good student by his teachers. He paid his school tuition by molding bricks. In 1876 he graduated from high school with honors and was immediately appointed principal of Capital Hill School, a public institution for African Americans in Little Rock. In 1878 he moved to Hot Springs, where he was named to head that city’s African-American high school....

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Claiborne, William (1600–1677), American Indian trader and political leader in Virginia, was baptized at Crayford, County Kent, England, on 10 August 1600, the son of Thomas Claiborne, a former mayor of King’s Lynn, County Norfolk, and Sarah James, the daughter of a London brewer. Making the Chesapeake his home after 1621, Claiborne served as a Virginia councillor (1624–1637, 1643–1661), secretary of state (1626–1634, 1652–1661), treasurer (1642–1660), parliamentary commissioner (1651–1660), deputy governor (1652–1660), and the first major general of militia (1644–1646)....

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Clayton, William Lockhart (07 February 1880–08 February 1966), businessman and statesman, was born near Tupelo, Mississippi, the son of James Clayton and Martha Fletcher Burdine, cotton farmers. Raised in modest circumstances in Jackson, Tennessee, Clayton left school at thirteen to work as a court stenographer and typist. Offered work in St. Louis as a secretary by a visiting businessman impressed with his diligence, Clayton followed his employer to New York City in 1896 to join the American Cotton Company. Clayton entered the cotton business at a time when the rapid improvement of communications was cutting costs and prices, creating a highly concentrated marketing system. Clayton learned the ropes of the new system and won promotion. He married Susan Vaughan in 1902; the couple had four daughters. By 1902 he had become manager of the sales department and had been appointed secretary-treasurer of a subsidiary, the Texas Cotton Products Company. Worried that the American Cotton Company would founder from mismanagement, in 1904 Clayton joined his brother-in-law Frank Anderson in establishing a cotton brokerage, Anderson, Clayton & Company, in Oklahoma City....

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Colyar, Arthur St. Clair (23 June 1818–13 December 1907), industrialist and politician, was born in Washington County, Tennessee, the son of Alexander Colyar and Katherine Sevier Sherrill, farmers. As a boy Colyar moved with his parents to Middle Tennessee, where he received a country-school education in Coffee and Franklin counties. He later read law while teaching school and was admitted to the bar in Winchester in 1846. Colyar married Agnes Erskine Estill in 1847; they had eleven children before she died in 1886. In 1888 he married Mary McGuire....

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Cooper, Edward (26 October 1824–25 February 1905), businessman, philanthropist, and politician, was born in New York City, the son of Peter Cooper, a businessman, philanthropist, and public figure, and Sarah Bedell. After attending public school in New York City, the younger Cooper enrolled at Columbia College, but he earned no degree. At Columbia College, Cooper met ...

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Jacob Coxey. "'Coxey's Army' approaching Washington, April 30th. 'General' Coxey, accompanied by reporters with bicycles … From sketches by T. Dart Walker." Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 12 May 1894. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105022).

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Coxey, Jacob Sechler (16 April 1854–18 May 1951), businessman, politician, and head of "Coxey's Army" of the unemployed, businessman, politician, and head of “Coxey’s Army” of the unemployed, was born in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Coxey, a stationary engineer, and Mary Sechler. Six years later his family moved twenty miles farther north to Danville, in Montour County, where his father worked in an iron-rolling mill. Young Jake attended public school for eight years and, at age sixteen, took a summer job as a water boy in the mill with his father. He quickly advanced to machine oiler and then boiler tender. By the time he left the mill at the age of twenty-four he had become a stationary engineer like his father....

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Crowninshield, Benjamin Williams (27 December 1772–03 February 1851), merchant and politician, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of George Crowninshield, a sea captain and merchant, and Mary Derby, daughter of another prominent shipping family. Young Benjamin received a common school education and then was put into his father’s shipping business, George Crowninshield and Sons, to learn navigation and the clerical details of the business. He went to sea at a very early age and may even have captained a ship himself. In 1804 he married Mary Boardman, who was also from a prominent shipping family; they had no children....

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Cushing, Thomas (24 March 1725–28 February 1788), merchant and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Cushing, a prominent merchant and officeholder, and Mary Bromfield. Thomas graduated from Harvard in the class of 1744 and received a master’s degree in 1747. That same year he married Deborah Fletcher, with whom he had two children. Although established as a merchant specializing in the importation of woolens, his business dwindled as his interest in local politics increased. After serving in a number of minor Boston offices, he was appointed a justice of the peace in 1760. The next year he began a fourteen-year stint in the Massachusetts General Court as a member of the Popular party, opposing the royal governor’s Court party. In 1766, when Governor ...