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Ethan Allen at Ticonderoga. Reproduction of a painting by E. Percy Moran (1862–1935). Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-96539).

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Allen, Ethan (10 January 1738–12 February 1789), frontier revolutionary leader and author of the first deistic work by an American, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Allen and Mary Baker, farmers. Allen served briefly in the French and Indian War and in 1762 began operating a productive iron forge in Salisbury, Connecticut. That same year he married Mary Brownson, with whom he would have five children. But Allen’s deism and aggressive personal conduct ruined his early prospects: he was warned out of Salisbury in 1765 and Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1767....

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Barnwell, John (1671– June 1724), frontier settler and Indian fighter, was the son of Alderman Matthew Barnwell of Dublin, Ireland, and Margaret Carberry. The elder Barnwell was killed in the siege of Derry in 1690 as a captain in James II’s Irish army, which attempted to restore the last Stuart king after the revolution of 1688. The family seat, Archerstown in County Meath, was forfeited as a result of this support of James II against William and Mary....

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Joseph Brant. Engraving by J. R. Smith after a painting by George Romney, c. 1776. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-4913).

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Brant, Joseph (1743–24 November 1807), Mohawk chief and captain in the British Indian Department, also known as Thayendanegea, was born while his family was in the Ohio country, the son of Peter Tehowaghwengaraghkwin and Margaret. His father died shortly after Brant’s birth, and he may have had several stepfathers, one of them the influential Brant Canagaraduncka, from whom Joseph Brant took his name. His mother’s family appears to have been prominent in the Mohawk town of Canajoharie. Brant is reputed to have gone to war as part of the Mohawk contingent allied to the British in the French and Indian War. His sister ...

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Brant, Molly (1736–16 April 1796), Mohawk, Loyalist, and Anglican, also known as Mary Brant or Konwatsi tsiaienni, was born either at the Mohawk “castle” of Canajoharie in upper New York or in the Ohio Valley, the daughter of Peter and Margaret, both Mohawks of the Six Nations Confederacy of Iroquois. She was the sister of ...

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Dickson, Robert (1765–20 June 1823), fur trader and British Indian Department officer, was born in Dumfries, Scotland, the son of John Dickson, a merchant. His mother’s name is unknown. Robert Dickson emigrated to the United States in 1785–1786, soon after the American Revolution and was first employed at Oswego (N.Y.), where “he began his apprenticeship, which induced him to adopt the fur trade as a life-long occupation” (Cruikshank [1931], p. 88). Within a few months, Dickson was removed to the Niagara area, where his duties included selling and shipping goods to the fur-trade posts and managing accounts. As he was closely connected with some of the most respected and influential Loyalist families along the Niagara, Dickson enjoyed preferential treatment in both the choice and flexibility of his work. As a result of this good fortune, Dickson took the opportunity to leave the drab routine of his work at Niagara and in July 1786 was pleased to be transferred to the “Island of Michilimackinac” (MacKinac Island, Mich.) in order “to learn the art and mystery of commerce” (Cartwright papers, 10 July 1786)....

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Endecott, John (1588–15 March 1665), governor and member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was born probably in Devon. There is no reliable information on his parents, and little is known of his early years.

Sometime during 1627 Endecott became acquainted with the Dorchester Company’s abortive attempt to plant a colony on Cape Ann near the present site of Gloucester, Massachusetts. As part of a reorganization effort, the Dorchester Company’s assets were transferred to a new group of investors willing to provide additional capital and, in the case of Endecott, actually settle in the New World. On 6 September 1628 Endecott landed in Naumkeag (now Salem), Massachusetts, and assumed command of the remnants of the previous settlement. The settlers who arrived with Endecott on the ...

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Folger, Peter (1617–1690), translator and government official, was born in Norwich, England, the son of John Folger and Meriba Gibbs. Around 1635 Peter Folger immigrated to Massachusetts with his widower father. During the voyage to America on board the vessel Abigail, he met and fell in love with Mary Morrill, an indentured maidservant. Living at first in Dedham and Watertown, Folger worked as an artisan for nine years (he was variously skilled as a weaver, miller, surveyor, and shoemaker) to raise the sum of twenty pounds necessary to buy Morrill’s freedom from ...

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Girty, Simon (1741–18 February 1818), British Loyalist and frontier warrior, was born near Harrisburg in colonial Pennsylvania, the son of farmers. One of at least four children born to Simon Girty and Mary Newton, young Simon was raised in modest circumstances. He received no formal education and remained illiterate. When only ten years of age, his father was killed by an Indian. Girty later maintained that his stepfather met a similar fate. In the course of the French and Indian War, Simon was captured by the Seneca and held captive for thirty-six months. During his captivity, Girty became familiar with the language of his captors....

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Lyman, Phineas (1715–10 September 1774), provincial general and colonizer, was born in Durham, Connecticut, the son of Noah Lyman, a weaver, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Lyman’s exact birthdate is unknown; he was baptized 6 Mar. 1715. After abandoning weaving, his father’s craft, Lyman studied to enter Yale, graduated in 1738, and stayed on as a tutor and part-time law student until 1742. In that year he married Eleanor Dwight; they had five sons and two daughters. Lyman moved to Suffield, Connecticut, where he practiced law, held a militia commission, and became prominent in provincial politics. In 1747 he was appointed to initiate the ultimately successful process to obtain recognition that Suffield was in Connecticut, rather than Massachusetts, a province with an equally, and perhaps more, plausible claim to the town. Lyman served briefly as a deputy, one of two elected by the freemen of Suffield to the General Court of Connecticut. In 1752 he was chosen for its upper house. As one of the most active of the twelve assistants elected annually, until 1758 he negotiated with other colonies and the London government about Connecticut’s wartime roles. Military duties began to divert him in 1755. War with France interrupted another of Lyman’s interests, his close involvement in the schemes for westward settlement of the Susquehannah Company....

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Menéndez de Avilés, Pedro (15 February 1519–17 September 1574), captain general of the armada of the Indies and adelantado of Florida, was born in northern Spain, in the Asturian seaport of Avilés, the son of Juan Alfonso Sánchez and María Alonso de Arango. A descendant of minor hidalgos, he was connected by blood and marriage to several noble families, but as one of the youngest of twenty children, he could count on little else. Raised by relatives after his father died and his mother remarried, Pedro married a distant cousin, María de Solís, with whom he would have four children; invested his patrimony in a small, rapid sailing vessel; and became an unlicensed privateer....

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Mitchell, David Dawson (31 July 1806–31 May 1861), fur trader and government American Indian agent, was born in Louisa County, Virginia. Nothing is known about his parents. Mitchell’s youth remains wrapped in mystery. He arrived in St. Louis as a young man and quickly became involved in the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Employed by the American Fur Company as early as 1828, he was assigned first to the Ioway country and then to the Upper Missouri River, where he displayed considerable skill in dealing with the Blackfoot and Assiniboine Indians. During the period between 1828 and 1838 he headed several trading outfits and built Fort McKenzie in Montana in spite of American Indian objections to the construction at the mouth of the Marias River. Noted for a cool head in stressful situations, Mitchell managed to keep tensions from reaching a boiling point, especially over the issue of which native groups might be favored in trade. ...

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Oñate, Juan de (1551–03 June 1626), frontiersman and colonial administrator, was born in Nueva Galicia, Mexico, the son of Cristóbal de Oñate, a provincial governor, and Doña Cathalina de Salazar. Cristóbal de Oñate is noted for discovering and developing the silver mines at Zacatecas, Mexico. Little is known of Juan’s childhood except that he followed his father’s lead, discovering the rich mines at Zichú, Charcas, and San Luis Potosí and became renowned on the northern frontier of New Spain for fighting the Chichimecas. In August 1595 he was confirmed as guarda mayor de la Casa de la Moneda de Potosí. He married and had two children with Isabel Tolosa, a descendent of both Cortés and Montezuma....

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Rice, Henry Mower (29 November 1816–15 January 1894), Indian trader and commissioner, Minnesota territorial delegate, and U.S. senator, was born in Waitsfield, Vermont, the son of Edmund Rice and Ellen Durkee. After his father died in 1828, Rice lived with the family of Justus Burdick. He completed an academy education and studied law in Rutland, Vermont, before moving to Michigan with the Burdick family in 1835. He worked as a chainman in the surveying of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and for Kalamazoo merchants until 1839. That year he traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was hired by Kenneth MacKenzie, a prominent commission and forwarding merchant and fur trader, who sent him to Fort Snelling, in present-day Minnesota, to assist the post sutler. The next year he was appointed sutler at the newly created Fort Atkinson near the Winnebago reservation in northeastern Iowa. In 1842 he moved to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, to join Hercules L. Dousman, a longtime partner in the Western Outfit of the American Fur Company, in trade with the Winnebago and Ojibwa of the upper Mississippi region. Five years later he was sent to Mendota near Fort Snelling as an agent of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company (see ...