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Gilman, John Taylor (19 December 1753–31 August 1828), merchant, treasurer, and governor of New Hampshire, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, the son of Nicholas Gilman, a shipbuilder, merchant, and state treasurer, and Ann Taylor. Following his education in the local schools, Gilman learned the businesses of shipbuilding and finance from his father. Throughout his life he resided in Exeter; there he married Deborah Folsom in 1776, and the couple would have three children....

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Goodwin, Ichabod (08 October 1794–04 July 1882), governor of New Hampshire and businessman, was born in North Berwick, York County, Maine, the son of Samuel Goodwin and Anna Thompson Gerrish, farmers. Raised in a Congregationalist family, Goodwin attended but did not graduate from the South Berwick Academy. (He later received, in 1857, an honorary M.A. from Darmouth College.) Shortly after leaving the academy, he moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where in 1827 he married Sarah Parker Rice. They had seven children, including a daughter, Susan Boardman Goodwin, who married Admiral ...

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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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Hiester, Joseph (18 November 1752–10 June 1832), merchant and politician, was born in Bern Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, the son of John Hiester and Mary Barbara Epler, farmers. In 1737 his father and three brothers had emigrated from Silesia, then part of the Hapsburg Empire, to the colony of Pennsylvania. Eventually buying several thousand acres of land in Berks County, his father and two brothers moved to Bern Township, where Joseph was born. From an early age, Joseph worked hard on the farm. He obtained his formal education under the minister at the Bern church but could attend classes for only a few months of the year, during the intervals of farm labor. When he grew up, he was apprenticed as a clerk in the general store of Adam Whitman in Reading. He became a partner in the business in 1771, when he married Whitman’s daughter, Elizabeth Whitman. Together they had six children....

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Higgins, Frank Wayland (18 August 1856–12 February 1907), businessman and politician, was born in Rushford, Allegany County, New York, the son of Orrin T. Higgins, a storekeeper and businessman, and Lucia Cornelia Hapgood. He attended the Rushford Academy and, with a youthful interest in soldiering, the Riverview Military Academy in Poughkeepsie, New York, from which he graduated in 1873. He supplemented his education with a commercial course in a business college and extensive travel through various parts of the United States. Higgins worked briefly as a salesman in Denver, Chicago, and then in Stanton, Michigan, where for three years he was a partner in Wood, Thayer, and Company, a mercantile firm. In 1878 he married Catherine Corrinne Noble; they had three children. The next year he returned to New York state and joined his father in Olean in the grocery firm of Higgins, Blodgett, and Company. Later he acquired additional stores in Olean and had large holdings in pine timberlands and iron ore fields in the West, some of which he inherited from his father. He became head of a half-dozen corporations in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington and often visited their operations to see that they were functioning properly. Contemporaries attributed Higgins’s business successes to sound judgment, shrewd investment practices, and solid administrative abilities....

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Langdon, John (26 June 1741–18 September 1819), merchant and politician, was born a few miles outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on a modest farm belonging to his parents, John Langdon, Sr., and Mary Hall. He received the finest schooling available for boys in Portsmouth, at Major Samuel Hale’s Latin grammar school, where emphasis lay on the classics. It was not there, however, but in Daniel Rindge’s countinghouse that Langdon, as a young clerk, gained his lifelong trade and a shrewd eye for the main chance. By the mid-1700s Portsmouth, with its deep-water harbor and easily defended location on the Piscataqua River, buzzed with commercial prosperity. Investing first in some of Rindge’s West Indian voyages and then skippering a few himself in the early 1760s, Langdon entered the town’s maritime bonanza. Within a few years his own vessels headed out of the Piscataqua laden with lumber, hides, beef, and dried cod and returned carrying sugar and rum. By 1770, having abandoned seafaring, he and ...

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Mifflin, Thomas (10 January 1744–20 January 1800), merchant, soldier, and politician, was born in Philadelphia, the son of John Mifflin and Elizabeth Bagnell, Quakers. His father, a wealthy merchant, held numerous significant political posts including that of provincial councilor. Thomas graduated from the College of Philadelphia in 1760 and then spent four years learning the merchant trade with William Coleman. After visiting England and France during 1764 and 1765, Mifflin formed a mercantile partnership with his brother George and in March 1767 married Sarah Morris, a cousin. The couple quickly took a prominent place in Philadelphia’s elite social circle. Contemporaries described Mifflin as an affable gentleman and fine sportsman. Elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1768, he actively participated in that organization thereafter....

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Morgan, Edwin Denison (08 February 1811–14 February 1883), merchant and politician, was born in Washington, Massachusetts, the son of Jasper Morgan and Catherine Avery, farmers. When Edwin was nine years old the family moved to Connecticut, where he received a sparse formal education that ended when he was fifteen. At seventeen he became a clerk in an uncle’s general store. Quickly displaying an acumen for business and politics, he became a partner in the store at twenty and a member of the Hartford Common Council the next year. He married his cousin Eliza Waterman in 1833; of their five children only the first born, Edwin, survived infancy....

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Telfair, Edward (1735–17 September 1807), merchant and politician, was born in “Town Head,” Scotland, of unknown parents. He arrived in Georgia in 1766, joining his brother, William, who had emigrated earlier. They formed a partnership with Basil Cowper of Savannah and thus became members of the colony’s small merchant community. His base of operation was Savannah, but he had interests and property in the backcountry, which explains his election in 1768 to the assembly as a representative of upriver St. Paul’s parish. He also held offices in Savannah, and he moved as easily in low-country as upcountry circles. As a merchant he was concerned with the taxes and regulations passed by Parliament in the decade after his arrival, but there is little to indicate what role, if any, he played in the colonial protests of the period....

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Trumbull, Jonathan (12 October 1710–17 August 1785), merchant and governor of Connecticut, was born Jonathan Trumble in Lebanon, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Trumble, a merchant, and Hannah Higley. Jonathan changed the spelling of his name to Trumbull in 1766. After graduating from Harvard in 1727, Trumbull returned to Lebanon and studied for the ministry with the Reverend Solomon Williams. He earned his M.A. from Harvard in 1730 and was licensed by the Windham, Connecticut, Association of Ministers. He preached on probation for a time in nearby Colchester but declined a call in 1732 after his brother’s death created a vacancy in his father’s business. In 1735 he married Faith Robinson of Duxbury, Massachusetts. The couple had six children, including ...

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Wanton, John (?1672–05 July 1740), governor of Rhode Island and merchant, was born in Scituate, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Wanton, a farmer and shipbuilder, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). He was literate and learned enough about business at home and in the community to be able to enter the mercantile community. By 1691 Wanton moved to Newport, Rhode Island, from Scituate, then in Plymouth Colony, following his brother ...

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Wanton, Joseph (15 August 1705–19 July 1780), governor of Rhode Island and merchant, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of William Wanton, a merchant and later governor (1732–1733), and Ruth Bryant. The Wanton family was distinguished in Rhode Island commerce and politics before independence. Joseph’s uncle ...