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Allen, Ira (01 May 1751–15 January 1814), frontier entrepreneur and Vermont political leader, was born in Cornwall, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Allen and Mary Baker, farmers. Little is known of his youth, but in 1770 he followed his five elder brothers north to the New Hampshire Grants region and joined the Yankee versus Yorker struggle, which stemmed from the 1764 Crown decree that New York rather than New Hampshire owned the area that would become Vermont. While brother ...

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Bowie, Jim (1795– March 1836), popularizer of the bowie knife, speculator, and co-commander of Texan forces at the Alamo, was the son of Rezin Bowie and Elvy Jones; his formal given name was James. Bowie’s birthday and his mother’s name are the subject of dispute. Some sources claim that he was born in 1795, while others believe the correct year was 1796; some claim that his mother’s name was Alvina, perhaps shortened to Elvy, and that the reading of her name as “Jones” from Spanish documents is an erroneous extrapolation from markings that could have been intended as “Jane.” Similarly, some sources state that Bowie was born in Burke County, Georgia, while others opt for Elliot Springs, Tennessee. ...

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Butterfield, John (18 November 1801–14 November 1869), western pioneer, express company operator, and investor, was born in Berne, near Albany, New York, the son of Daniel Butterfield (his mother’s name is unknown). His formal education consisted of intermittent attendance at local public schools. As a young man he became a stagecoach driver in New York State and later an investor in barges plying the Erie Canal....

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Hunt, John Wesley ( August 1773–21 August 1849), pioneer merchant, manufacturer, and financier, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Abraham Hunt, a merchant, and Theodosia Pearson. Growing up with seven siblings, John probably attended a private school. At a young age he began training in business in his father’s general store in the same two-story building as their home in Trenton. His father also taught him about breeding racehorses and about flour milling....

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Leidesdorff, William Alexander (1810– May 1848), pioneer, diplomat, and businessman, was born in St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, the son of William Leidesdorff, a Danish planter, and Anna Marie Sparks, an Afro-Caribbean slave. He was educated by his owner, who reportedly treated him more as a son than as a slave. As a young man he was sent to New Orleans to work for his uncle’s cotton business as a master of ships sailing between New York and New Orleans. Both his father and uncle died soon after, leaving Leidesdorff a sizable inheritance. His newly acquired wealth allowed him to propose to a woman he had been courting, Hortense, who accepted. The engagement ended painfully shortly before the marriage date when Leidesdorff told his fiancée that through his mother he was of African descent. She called off the wedding, and he, heartbroken, left New Orleans....

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Patton, James (1692– July 1755), frontier leader and land speculator in southwestern Virginia, was born in Ulster, Ireland, the son of Henry Patton and Sarah Lynn. The Patton family had immigrated to Ulster in the early seventeenth century as part of the larger movement of Scottish Presbyterians encouraged by the English Crown in an attempt to enhance its control of Ireland. Henry Patton was a member of the landed gentry of County Donegal, and Sarah Lynn apparently belonged to a prominent family living in Ulster. James Patton married Mary Osborn; the couple had two children....

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Peerson, Cleng (17 May 1782 or 1783–16 December 1865), "the father of Norwegian immigration", “the father of Norwegian immigration,” was born Kleng Pedersen in the parish of Tysvær—north of the coastal city of Stavanger—in Rogaland County, Norway, on the Hesthammer farm, the son of Peder Larsen and Inger Sivertsdatter, renters of Hesthammer, an ecclesiastical possession. Information about Peerson’s childhood is sparse. An attestation of confirmation is dated in November 1800, making him seventeen or eighteen years old at that time. The relatively high age for this religious rite of passage within the Norwegian Lutheran State Church has suggested to some historians that already at that young age he had revealed a rebellious spirit against the state church, causing the parish minister to delay his confirmation. In his youth he went to sea. It was the beginning of a life as a wanderer and adventurer. He had a quick mind, and visiting England, France, and Germany, he gained some facility in their languages....

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Pleasant, Mary Ellen (1812?–1904), legendary African-American woman of influence and political power in Gold Rush and Gilded Age San Francisco, was born, according to some sources, a slave in Georgia; other sources claim that her mother was a Louisiana slave and her father Asian or Native American. Many sources agree that she lived in Boston, as a free woman, the wife of James W. Smith, a Cuban abolitionist. When he died in 1844 he left her his estate, valued at approximately $45,000....

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Preston, William ( December 1729–1783), frontier leader and land speculator, was born in Ulster, the son of John Preston, a ship carpenter, and Elizabeth Patton. During Preston’s childhood, his family emigrated to western Virginia with his mother’s brother, James Patton, and by 1740 had settled in Augusta County in the Shenandoah Valley. After the death of Preston’s father, Patton helped him to complete his education. Preston studied for a time with a local Presbyterian minister and received instruction in surveying from Patton himself. In 1752 Preston served as his uncle’s private secretary in Virginia’s negotiations with the Iroquois and Delaware Indians at Logstown on the Ohio River....