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Bedinger, George Michael (10 December 1756–08 December 1843), soldier, legislator, and businessman, was born in York County, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry Bedinger and Magdalene von Schlegel, innkeepers. In 1737 his grandfather had moved to Pennsylvania from the vicinity of Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine. At the time of George Michael’s birth, the family name was spelled Biedinger and German was the language spoken at home. Late in life Bedinger was described by a contemporary as a “full blooded Virginia Dutchman.”...

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Calhoun, William Barron (29 December 1796–08 November 1865), lawyer, writer, and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew Calhoun, a merchant, and Martha Chamberlain. His father was one of the founders of Boston’s Park Street Church. Calhoun was prepared for college by Harvard graduate William Wells, then he attended Yale, graduating in 1814. While a senior at Yale, Calhoun was one of the editors of a student publication, the ...

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Caminetti, Anthony (30 July 1854–17 November 1923), California legislator and U.S. commissioner general of immigration, was born in Jackson Gate, near Jackson, California, the son of Italian immigrants Roche “Rocco” Caminetti, a farmer and miner, and Batistina Guisto. Caminetti was raised in the heart of the Mother Lode region in the turbulent frontier atmosphere of the gold rush, which had lured his parents from Boston to California in 1849 via the Cape Horn route. Young Anthony attended primary schools in Jackson until the age of ten. His parents then sent him to San Francisco, where he completed his grammar school education in 1867. Returning to Jackson, Caminetti spent the next three years working in a store owned by his uncle Biagio Caminetti. In 1870 Caminetti journeyed once again to San Francisco to begin the study of law as a clerk in the offices of Leander Quint and James H. Hardy. He remained with them until March 1871, when he enrolled at the University of California. Withdrawing in October 1873 because of poor health and finances, Caminetti resumed working in his uncle’s store and studying law under the tutelage of James T. Farley, a prominent Jackson attorney and Amador County politician....

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Crary, Isaac Edwin (02 October 1804–08 May 1854), congressman and educator, was born in Preston, Connecticut, the son of Elisha Crary and Nabby Avery, farmers. He graduated from Trinity College in 1827 and spent two years practicing law in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1832 Crary moved to Marshall, Michigan, where he established that town’s first law firm. While law remained Crary’s profession, the advancement of education was his avocation, and he was instrumental in making Michigan a leader in the field of public education during the nineteenth century....

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David Crockett. Engraving after a portrait by John Gadsby Chapman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93521).

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Crockett, Davy (17 August 1786–06 March 1836), frontiersman, Tennessee and U.S. congressman, and folk hero, was born David Crockett in Greene County, East Tennessee, the son of John Crockett, a magistrate, unsuccessful land speculator, and tavern owner, and Rebecca Hawkins. John Crockett hired his son out to Jacob Siler in 1798 to help on a cattle drive to Rockbridge County, Virginia, and Siler tried forcibly to detain young Crockett after the completion of the job. The boy ran away at night, however, and arrived home in late 1798 or early 1799. Preferring to play hooky rather than attend school, he ran away from home to escape his father’s wrath. His “strategic withdrawal,” as he called it, lasted about thirty months while he worked at odd jobs and as a laborer and a wagon driver. When he returned home in 1802, he had grown so much that his family at first did not recognize him. He soon found that all was forgiven and reciprocated their generosity by working for a year to settle the debts that his father had incurred....

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Davis, John Wesley (16 April 1799–22 August 1859), physician and Indiana legislator, was born in New Holland, Pennsylvania, the son of the Reverend John Davis and Margaret Jones. The family later moved to Cumberland County, near Shippensburg, where John worked on the family farm, had brief apprenticeships with a clockmaker and a storekeeper, and then began the study of medicine in the office of George D. Fouke of Carlisle. As part of his medical study, Davis attended medical lectures at the University of Maryland in Baltimore during the winters of 1819–1820 and 1820–1821. In the fall of 1820 he married Ann Hoover of Shippensburg, with whom he had ten children. After graduating from medical school in April 1821, Davis began practicing medicine in Pennsylvania and then in Maryland, but he realized only a modest return. In 1823 he moved to Carlisle, Indiana, where he established a successful medical practice and soon entered public life....

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Gilmer, John Adams (04 November 1805–14 May 1868), state senator and U.S. and Confederate congressman, was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, the son of Robert Gilmer, a farmer and wheelwright, and Anne Forbes. Both parents were of Scotch-Irish descent; their families had come from Ireland to North Carolina via Pennsylvania. His father and both grandfathers fought against the British in the American Revolution. John Adams Gilmer’s name reflected his father’s Federalist political predilections. Young Gilmer worked on the family farm and attended a local subscription school a few months during the winter. When he was nineteen, he enrolled in the Reverend Eli W. Caruther’s school in Greensboro, where he excelled in classical languages and mathematics. For three years afterward (1826–1829), he taught school in Laurel County, South Carolina, to pay debts resulting from his education. In 1829 he returned to Greensboro to study law in the office of Archibald D. Murphey. In 1832 he married Juliana Paisley; they had six children, five of whom survived childhood. One son, John Alexander Gilmer, became a Confederate lieutenant colonel and superior court judge. Also in 1832 Gilmer was admitted to the bar, and he gradually built a lucrative practice. He was listed in the 1860 census as an agriculturalist and lawyer who owned fifty-three slaves and property valued at $112,000....

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Grasso, Ella Tambussi (10 May 1919–05 February 1981), state and federal legislator and governor of Connecticut, was born in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, near Hartford, the daughter of Giacomo Tambussi, a baker, and Maria Oliva. The daughter of Italian immigrant parents, she graduated magna cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 1940 and then two years later earned an M.A. in sociology and economics from the same institution. She was fluent in Italian and proud of her working-class heritage. Also in 1942 she married Thomas Grasso, a schoolteacher, and they had two children....

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Hammond, Jabez Delano (02 August 1778–18 August 1855), politician and historian, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Jabez Hammond and Priscilla Delano. He grew up in Woodstock, Vermont, where he was educated in the common schools. At age fifteen he began teaching school, and, after becoming eligible through a brief apprenticeship, began a medical practice in Reading, Vermont. Dissatisfied with the medical profession for unknown reasons, Hammond sought to improve his fortune in New York, moving to Newburgh and reading law in Jonathan Fiske’s office while supporting himself as a schoolmaster. Admitted to the bar in 1805, the young lawyer pursued further opportunity in the Susquehanna Valley in the town of Cherry Valley, building “within a short time a reputable and profitable legal practice” and entering politics....

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Hardin, Benjamin, Jr. (29 February 1784–24 September 1852), attorney, U.S. congressman, and Kentucky politician, was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, the son of Benjamin Hardin, Sr., and his first cousin Sarah Hardin. Hardin’s father moved his family to Washington County, Kentucky, in 1788 and settled near Springfield. Hardin received his early educational training from family and tutors. He then read law under his cousin ...

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Samuel Hooper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93108 ).

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Hooper, Samuel (03 February 1808–14 February 1875), merchant and legislator, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of John Hooper and Eunice Hooper. Through both his mother and his father, Samuel was descended from the early and influential settlers of Marblehead, and he carried on the family tradition in trade and shipping. As a boy he learned the business firsthand, sailing on his father’s ships to Europe, Russia, and the West Indies. In the counting room of the Marblehead Bank, of which his father was president, Hooper received his first lessons in finance. Although the family lived in a mansion, called the “Hooper House,” Hooper attended Marblehead common schools....

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Hyman, John Adams (23 July 1840–14 September 1891), North Carolina senator and U.S. congressman, was born a slave near Warrenton, Warren County, North Carolina. Nothing is known about his parents. In 1861 Hyman worked as a janitor for a jeweler who with his wife taught Hyman to read and write. When that was discovered, the jeweler and his wife were driven from Warrenton, and Hyman was sold and sent to Alabama. Having been at least eight times “bought and sold as a brute,” as he described it, Hyman in 1865 returned to Warren County, where he was a farmer and store manager. Sometime between 1865 and 1867 he became a trustee of one of the first public schools in Warren County....

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Kershaw, Joseph Brevard (05 January 1822–13 April 1894), lawyer, soldier, and politician, was born in Camden, South Carolina, the son of John Kershaw, a judge, and Harriette Du Bose. The Kershaws were a distinguished South Carolina family. Joseph was named for his paternal grandfather, who had immigrated to America from England in 1748 and was prominent in the American Revolution. Joseph’s father was mayor of Camden for several years and served one term in the U.S. Congress. Joseph studied for a career in law in the offices of the distinguished South Carolina lawyer John M. De Saussure and passed the South Carolina bar at age twenty-one. In 1844 he married Lucretia Douglas; the couple had one son and four daughters. After practicing for several years, beginning in June 1844, he participated in the Mexican War as a volunteer, serving as a lieutenant in South Carolina’s Palmetto Regiment. In Mexico, he saw action in several battles but became ill and was evacuated back to the United States in June 1847. Kershaw was elected to the South Carolina state legislature in 1852 and 1854, and he was a member of the state’s 1860 secession convention that met in Charleston, South Carolina....

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King, Preston (14 October 1806–13 November 1865), politician and leading opponent of slavery extension, was born in Ogdensburgh, New York, the illegitimate son of John King, a local landowner, and Margaret Galloway. He graduated from Union College in 1827 and studied law in the offices of the rising Democratic leader, ...

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Lacock, Abner (09 July 1770–12 April 1837), state and national leader and canal builder, was born on Cub Run, near Alexandria, Virginia, the son of William Lacock and Lovey (maiden name unknown), farmers. Around 1780 his family settled in Washington County in western Pennsylvania; there they bought a 120-acre farm in Amwell Township, and Abner helped his parents in planting and in harvesting crops. Between 1782 and 1786 Lacock attended Thaddeus Dodd’s Academy in Amity, Pennsylvania, and studied mathematics, surveying, and the classics. In 1788 he married Hannah Eddy, and the couple had three sons and four daughters....

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Maclay, William Brown (20 March 1812–19 February 1882), congressman and state legislator, was born in New York City, the son of recent Scottish immigrants, the Reverend Archibald Maclay, pastor of the Mulberry Street Church (Baptist), and Mary Brown. In 1836 Maclay graduated with highest honors from the University of the City of New York. Attracted to books, scholarship, and the world of the intellect, he accepted a position at his alma mater teaching Latin (language and literature) and also became associate editor for the ...

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Mankin, Helen Douglas (11 September 1894–25 July 1956), lawyer and legislator, was born Helen Douglas in Atlanta, Georgia, the daughter of Hamilton Douglas and Corinne Williams, lawyers and educators. Mankin’s parents had earned law degrees together at the University of Michigan and then moved to Atlanta, where Mankin’s father practiced law and helped found Atlanta Law School. Denied admission to the Georgia bar because of her sex, Corinne Douglas became a teacher and a pioneer in the education of women....

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McLemore, Jeff (13 March 1857–04 March 1929), journalist, state legislator, and congressman, was born Atkins Jefferson McLemore near Spring Hill in Maury County, Tennessee, the son of Robert Anderson McLemore and Mary Howard McEwen, farmers. He had an “aversion to teachers” and recalled that he “never saw the inside of a schoolroom after he was fourteen years of age” ( ...