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Boyd, John Parker (21 December 1764–04 October 1830), army officer and soldier of fortune, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of James Boyd and Susanna (maiden name unknown). He developed military interests as a boy, and in 1786 he was appointed ensign in a Massachusetts infantry regiment suppressing Shays’s Rebellion (see ...

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Browne, John Ross (11 February 1821–08 December 1875), writer, world traveler, and government agent, was born in Beggars Bush, near Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas Egerton Browne and Elana Buck. His father was a refugee from British rule. As the editor of three publications, Thomas Browne satirized British tithing measures and earned the enmity of the Crown, a fine, and a jail sentence for “seditious libel.”...

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Carmichael, William (?–09 February 1795), diplomat and adventurer, was born at “Round Top” in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, the son of William Carmichael, a Scottish immigrant, and Brooke (maiden name unknown), a niece of the second wife of Richard Bennett, a wealthy landowner. Owing to the land and property that came to Carmichael from his mother’s side of the family, he was able to obtain a top-notch American education and to be admitted to the bar in Maryland. Carmichael also traveled to Ireland in 1768 and studied in Edinburgh, Scotland. He traveled throughout the British Isles for a time and when the American Revolution began, he was enjoying a pleasant life in London (where he was known for frequenting alehouses and soliciting the services of prostitutes)....

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Cooper, Merian Coldwell (24 October 1893–21 April 1973), filmmaker and adventurer, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of John C. Cooper, a lawyer, and Mary Coldwell. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, but resigned in his last year. After a failed attempt to become an aviator early in World War I, he worked for short periods on newspapers and then enlisted in the Georgia National Guard, seeing service in Mexico....

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de Vries, David Pietersen (1593–1655?), merchant adventurer and colonizer, was born in La Rochelle, France, the son of Pieter Jakobszoon de Vries, a ship captain, and a Dutch mother (name unknown). His father was from Hoorn, a northern Dutch province, and his mother from Amsterdam. They moved to La Rochelle in 1584 and back to Hoorn when David was four. He attended Latin school, obtained a knowledge of geography and astronomy, and learned French, Dutch, and English as a result of his family’s contact with the international Calvinist community....

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Halliburton, Richard (09 January 1900–?24 Mar. 1939), travel writer and adventurer, was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, the son of Nelle Nance, a music teacher, and Wesley Halliburton, a civil engineer and land developer. He was brought up in an affluent household in Memphis, Tennessee. Although his father wanted him to stay in Memphis, his mother wanted him to go away to school. Halliburton attended the Lawrenceville prep school, a stepping stone to nearby Princeton, which he entered in 1917. Novelist ...

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Harlan, Josiah (12 June 1799– October 1871), soldier of fortune and adventurer, was born in Newlin Township, Pennsylvania, the son of Joshua Harlan, a merchant broker of Philadelphia, and Sarah Hinchman. His parents were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), and indications are that Harlan followed in their path of independent thought though certainly not the Quaker ideal of pacifism. Almost nothing is known of his early years. The first prominent event of his career was in 1823, when he journeyed to Asia and entered the employment of the British East India Tea Company. He served as an officiating assistant surgeon in the Bengal artillery under British colonel George Pollock during the first Burmese War (1824–1826). This employment ended with the conclusion of the war, and Harlan traveled to northern India looking for other work. He had already, at the age of twenty-seven, traveled more than most Americans of his time period. He continued to expand his knowledge of the wider world in Afghanistan, which was at that time contested by Afghans, Sikhs, and the officials of the British East India Company, who feared an incursion by the forces of imperial Russia....

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Hayes, Bully (1829– March 1877), trader, adventurer, and blackbirder, was born William Henry Hayes in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Henry Hayes, a bargeman in and around the Great Lakes; his mother’s name is unknown. Little is known about Hayes’s early life. His first maritime experience came as a saltwater sailor on voyages around Cape Horn to California. Hayes commanded a total of fifteen vessels over his lifetime....

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Henry, John (1776?–1820?), adventurer, was born in Ireland, the son of a prominent family. Little is known about his early life. He was sent to the United States in 1792 to work for his uncle Daniel McCormick, a New York merchant, and by 1795 he was an editor for the ...

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Johnson, Osa (14 March 1894–07 January 1953), author, lecturer, and film producer, was born Osa Helen Leighty in Chanute, Kansas, the daughter of William Sherman Leighty, a railroad engineer, and Ruby Isabel Holman. In 1910 she left high school to marry Martin Johnson, whom she had met eleven years earlier when he visited Chanute as an eighteen-year-old itinerant photographer. In the meantime he had visited Europe alone and traveled with ...

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Judson, Edward Zane Carroll (20 March 1823–16 July 1886), adventurer and writer, known as “Ned Buntline,” was born in Stamford, New York, the son of Levi Judson, a schoolmaster and, later, an attorney; his mother’s name is unknown. After his father moved the family to Philadelphia, the adolescent Judson rebelled and ran away to sea as a cabin boy. He served for about five years on voyages to various Caribbean and South American ports. Judson’s life and career—one might say lives and careers—epitomize a restlessness that made him thirst for adventures and misadventures in- and out-of-doors, and they show that he had a keen eye for the chance to promote himself as heroic in sensationally fictionalized accounts of his own adventures. The list of epithets he inspires is almost encyclopedic: sailor and U.S. Navy officer; soldier; magazine editor; writer of several hundred “shilling shockers,” dime novels, and other “continuous” stories; temperance lecturer (and drunkard); superpatriot to those of Know Nothing (Buntlinite) persuasion, jingoist bigot to others; expert marksman and angler; bigamist; “discoverer” of ...

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O’Fallon, James (11 March 1749– December 1793), physician, speculator, and adventurer, was born in Roscommon, western Ireland, the son of William Fallon and Anne Eagan. (O’Fallon added the prefix to his name about 1783.) He studied medicine for two years at the University of Edinburgh (1771–1773), did not graduate, but was licensed by that or another institution as a physician. Thereafter he visited Rome, perhaps in anticipation of entering the priesthood. Subsequently, however, he worked at a hospital in London. In Glasgow in 1774 he was advised by a doctor at the university to go to the colonies, where a revolt was in the making “in favour of Liberty.” As his son John later wrote, “The strong spirit of freedom was already in James, and, (as a genuine Irishman) an hereditary aversion to British oppression” (Draper coll., 34J20)....

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Panton, William (1745?–26 February 1801), merchant-adventurer, was born on the family farm on the Mains of Aberdour some eight miles west of Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the son of John Panton and Barbara Wemyss, farmers. Nothing is known about his education in Scotland. Panton came to America in 1765 and served as an apprentice with John Gordon and Company, merchants and Indian traders, of Charleston. In 1774 he and Philip Moore formed a partnership that lasted for several years. He next joined with Thomas Forbes in the firm of Panton, Forbes and Company, with offices in South Carolina and Georgia. Panton and Forbes, however, were Loyalists, and the American Revolution soon forced them to move to St. Augustine, British East Florida....

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Ruxton, George Augustus Frederick (24 July 1821–29 August 1848), soldier, adventurer, and author, was born in Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire, England, the son of John Ruxton, an army surgeon, and Anna Maria Hay. On 14 July 1835 Ruxton became a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. After about two years at the academy, Ruxton was apparently expelled and subsequently traveled to Spain, where he participated for a time in that country’s civil war as a cornet of lancers in the British Auxiliary Legion, a unit serving with forces loyal to Queen Isabella II. For his distinguished actions at the Battle of the Bridge of Belascoain, 29 April–1 May 1839, the queen of Spain awarded Ruxton the Cross of the First Class of the National Military Order of San Fernando....

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Salm-Salm, Agnes Elisabeth Winona Leclercq Joy (25 December 1844–21 December 1912), princess, adventurer, and wartime humanitarian, was born in Swanton, Vermont (or southern Canada), the daughter of William Leclercq Joy, a farmer, and his second wife, Julia Willard. Salm-Salm always remained secretive about her youth, thereby feeding romantic rumors about her age, ancestry, and past. After spending some time in Cuba, as she asserted in her autobiography, she arrived in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1861, a vivacious, pretty young woman. There she attracted the attentions of Prince Felix zu Salm-Salm, the adventurous younger son of an old aristocratic German family. After serving in the Prussian and Austrian armies the prince had left Europe to escape his debts and to seek employment in the American Civil War....

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Lowell Thomas Photograph by Pirie MacDonald, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-89799).

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John Maxwell Hamilton and Carolyn Pione

Thomas, Lowell (06 April 1892–29 August 1981), broadcaster, author, and world traveler, was born Lowell Jackson Thomas in Woodington, Ohio, the son of Harriet Wagner, a teacher, and Harry Thomas, a physician. When Thomas was eight years old, his family moved to the rough gold-mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. Thomas delivered newspapers to the red-light district, smoked by the age of ten, explored the surrounding mountains, and yearned “to find out what lay beyond their farther slopes,” he recalled in his autobiography. At home he was expected to excel in traditional learning. A schoolteacher before he became a physician, Thomas’s father had one of the largest libraries in the West. In addition to encouraging his son to read, he providently drilled into the boy the importance of perfecting his speaking abilities. “Your voice is the expression of your personality,” the father insisted....

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Ward, Samuel (27 January 1814–19 May 1884), adventurer and lobbyist, was born in New York City, the son of Samuel Ward, a banker, and Julia Rush Cutler. He was sent to Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, and displayed an aptitude for languages and mathematics. He graduated from Columbia College in 1831. Despite misgivings, Ward’s father allowed his precocious son to study and travel in Europe. For four years he subsidized fellow students, dined exquisitely, took music lessons, attended performances, dallied with women, wrote a thesis in Latin on mathematical equations that earned him a Ph.D. from the University of Tübingen, acted as an unofficial diplomatic secretary, accumulated a library, and acquired a network of acquaintances. His serendipitous meeting with ...

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Webber, Charles Wilkins (29 May 1819–11 April 1856), author and adventurer, was born in Russellville, Kentucky, the son of Augustine Webber, physician, and Agnes Maria Tannehill. Educated at home, Webber left Kentucky in 1838 after his mother’s death. Traveling south and west, he spent time with John Coffee Hays and the Texas Rangers and met ...

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Wellman, Walter (03 November 1858–31 January 1934), journalist and adventurer, was born in Mentor, Ohio, the son of Alonzo Wellman and Minerva Graves. Educated in local schools in Michigan, Wellman’s formal education ended when he was fourteen years old. He recalled that his most important childhood possession had been a dictionary, which helps to explain his later literary talent....