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George Clymer. Engraving by James Barton Longacre. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111789).

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Gaspare J. Saladino

Clymer, George (16 March 1739–23 January 1813), merchant, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Christopher Clymer, a sea captain and an Episcopalian, and Deborah Fitzwater, a disowned Quaker. Clymer’s parents died by 1746, and he was raised by his maternal aunt Hannah Coleman and her husband William, a wealthy Quaker merchant and Proprietary party leader. The Proprietary party was aligned with the Penn family (proprietors of Pennsylvania) against the Quaker party, which sought to turn Pennsylvania into a royal colony. By the late 1750s Clymer himself had become a merchant. In 1765 Clymer, an Episcopalian, married Elizabeth Meredith, the daughter of the Quaker merchant Reese Meredith; like Clymer’s mother, she was disowned for marrying a non-Quaker. Five of their eight children attained maturity. Following his uncle William Coleman’s death in 1769, Clymer inherited £6,000. Three years later Clymer entered into partnership with his father-in-law and his brother-in-law ...

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Ellery, William (22 December 1727–15 February 1820), merchant and politician, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of William Ellery, a merchant, and Elizabeth Almy. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1747. While attending college he met and married Ann Remington. After college Ellery returned with his wife to Newport and with little enthusiasm established himself as a merchant....

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Button Gwinnett. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111795).

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Gwinnett, Button (bap. 10 April 1735), merchant and political leader, was born in Gloucester, England, the son of the Reverend Samuel Gwinnett and Anne Emes. Gwinnett left England as a young man and for a number of years after arriving in America was a merchant in the colonial trade. In April 1757 he married Ann Bourne, with whom he had three children. His business activities took him from Newfoundland to Jamaica, and at times brought him into conflict with other merchants and with legal authorities. Never very successful, he moved to Savannah in 1765 and opened a store. When that venture failed, he bought (on credit) St. Catherines Island, off the coast of Georgia to the south of Savannah, and attempted to become a planter. Though his planting activities were also unsuccessful, he did make a name for himself in local politics....

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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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Lewis, Francis (21 March 1713–31 December 1802), merchant and member of the Continental Congress, was born in Llandaff, Glamorganshire, Wales, the son of Reverend Francis Lewis, a rector, and Amy Pettingal of Caernarvonshire, Wales, whose father was also a Church of England clergyman. Orphaned at a very early age, Lewis lived with relatives in Wales and Scotland (learning both the Cymric and Gaelic languages), and finally came under the care of his maternal uncle, who was dean of St. Paul’s in London. Lewis attended Westminster School in London. After finishing his education, he worked in a countinghouse of a London merchant....

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Livingston, Philip (15 January 1716–12 June 1778), merchant and political leader, was born in Albany, New York, the son of Philip Livingston, a merchant and proprietor of “Livingston Manor,” and Catrina Van Brugh. Livingston enjoyed the benefits of membership in one of New York’s leading families. At a time when most Americans lacked formal education, four of six surviving Livingston brothers earned Yale degrees. Upon graduation in 1737, Philip Livingston returned to Albany to serve a mercantile apprenticeship with his father. Livingston learned the Albany trade and, through his father’s efforts, obtained potentially valuable clerkships in Albany’s local government. In 1740 he married Christina Ten Broeck, daughter of Colonel Dirck Ten Broeck, mayor of Albany. They had nine children, of whom eight survived infancy....

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Morris, Robert (20 January 1735–08 May 1806), preeminent merchant and revolutionary financier, was born in Liverpool, England, the son of Robert Morris, Sr., an ironmonger and later a tobacco agent in Maryland, and Elizabeth Murphet. Shortly after Morris joined his father in Maryland in 1747, his father placed him in the care of Robert Greenway of Philadelphia, who obtained an apprenticeship for Robert in the established Philadelphia mercantile house of Charles Willing. Morris quickly displayed exceptional talent and resourcefulness in commerce, sometimes serving as supercargo on the firm’s vessels. He also became a lifetime friend of Charles Willing’s son ...

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Nelson, Thomas (26 December 1738–04 January 1789), merchant-planter and public official, was born in Yorktown, Virginia, the son of William Nelson (1711–1772), a prosperous merchant-planter, and Elizabeth Burwell. Educated first at home and then at a private school in Gloucester County, Nelson was sent to England in 1753. There, under the care of London merchant Edward Hunt, he attended grammar school at Hackney, near London, followed by three years at Christ College, Cambridge. Returning home in 1761, he married Lucy Grymes the following year. The union produced thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to maturity....

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Roger Sherman. Photograph of a painting by John F. Weir. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111793).

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Sherman, Roger (19 April 1721–23 July 1793), merchant and revolutionary leader, was born in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of William Sherman and Mehetabel Wellington, farmers. He moved with his family two years later to the part of Dorchester that became Stoughton and is now the town of Canton, Massachusetts. He grew up on his father’s farm and attended district schools, an apt student with a particular interest in arithmetic. William Sherman was somewhat downwardly mobile and had reduced his farm from 270 acres to 73 acres by the time of his death in 1741....

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Whipple, William (14 January 1730–28 November 1785), merchant and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Kittery, then part of Massachusetts (now Maine), the son of William Whipple, a farmer and maltster, and Mary Cutt. As a child in a small town at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, Whipple received an elementary education and early became well acquainted with ships in the harbor served by the larger town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the opposite bank. At an early age he went to sea, and by his twenties he was master of his own vessel engaging in commercial trade, including the slave trade, through the port at Portsmouth. As a result, he maintained household slaves throughout his life. In 1767 he married Catherine Moffatt. Although Whipple had already accumulated his own fortune, the couple settled in a house owned by her family, overlooking the Portsmouth harbor, where they had one child, who died in infancy....