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Downer, Silas (16 July 1729–15 December 1785), scrivener and lawyer, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Downer and Phebe Bishop, farmers. The family soon moved to Sunderland, Massachusetts. Downer entered Harvard in 1747 and was ranked twenty-eighth in a class of thirty. Since Harvard students were then ranked according to their family’s social standing, Downer’s low ranking indicates his relatively humble origins. As an undergraduate, he won Brattle and Hollis scholarships. After receiving an M.A. in 1750, he moved to Rhode Island, settled in Providence, and became a scrivener. He married Sarah Kelton in 1758; within a decade the couple had five children....

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Hiawatha (fourteenth century–?), Onondaga warrior and orator, was spokesman for Deganawidah in the campaign for the formation of the League of the Hau-De-No-Sau-Nee, or People of the Longhouse. In the absence of contemporary sources, our current information is based on oral traditions handed down by the elders, some of which were recorded and published only in the late nineteenth century. Oral tradition is transmitted through storytelling, ritual reenactments, and sacred symbols carved on wooden sticks or embroidered on wampum belts. The so-called myths are of historical importance because they reflect the traditional values of the past and are called on to resolve present issues....

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Perle Mesta Right, with U. S. Senate candidate Marjorie Bell Hinrichs at the Democratic party jubilee in Chicago. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92423).

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Mesta, Perle (12 Oct. 1889 or 1891–16 March 1975), political activist, businesswoman, diplomat, and hostess, was born Pearl Skirvin in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of William Balser Skirvin, a salesman, and Harriet Reid. The actual year of her birth was one of her best-kept secrets. Early in the twentieth century her father left Michigan for the oil fields of South Texas, where he made a fortune in the famed Spindletop field. The feisty “Billy” Skirvin moved to Oklahoma City, where he founded the American Oil and Refinery Company and built the luxurious fourteen-floor Skirvin Hotel. Pearl was educated in private schools in Galveston and studied voice and piano at the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. In 1917 she married 54-year-old George Mesta, founder and president of the Mesta Machine Company located in Pittsburgh. During her years living in the nation’s steel capital she changed her name to the distinctive “Perle.”...

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Revere, Paul ( December 1734–10 May 1818), craftsman, patriot, and businessman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Paul Revere, a goldsmith, and Deborah Hichborn (or Hitchborn). Revere’s father, born Apollos Rivoire, emigrated from France to Boston in 1715 at the age of thirteen and apprenticed with John Coney, a prominent local gold/silversmith. Shortly before his marriage he changed his name, first to Paul Rivoire and then to Paul Revere. The son’s birth date has long been the source of confusion since only his baptismal date, 22 December 1734 OS and 1 January 1735 NS, is recorded. Revere’s early life, fairly typical of boys of his day and economic status, included basic schooling at the North Writing School. During his teens he entered into a formal agreement with fellow North End youths to ring the bells at Christ Church for a fee. Revere’s own words, “My Father was a Goldsmith. … I learned the trade of him,” confirm that as the eldest surviving son, he apprenticed with his father, thus beginning his most enduring occupation. Though overshadowed by the fame of his son, the elder Revere’s skill as a gold/silversmith may actually have equaled that of his son. The younger Revere noted that his father died “in the year 1754, he left no estate, but he left a good name.” Just nineteen years old, Revere ran the shop with the help of his mother. In 1756 he received a commission as a second lieutenant of artillery and spent the better part of a year on an unsuccessful expedition to capture the French fort at Crown Point on Lake Champlain....

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Paul Revere. Drawing by Charles Févret de Saint-Mémin. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-7407).

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Rezanov, Nikolai Petrovich (28 March 1764–01 March 1807), colonial administrator, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of Petr Gavrilovich Rezanov, a judge; his mother’s name is unknown. He received his primary education at home. After short service in the army and civil duties of little significance, Rezanov became chief clerk in the office of Count Ivan G. Chernyshev, vice president of the Admiralty College. After his family friend Gavriil R. Derzhavin was appointed secretary for senate reports, Rezanov became chief clerk in Derzhavin’s office. For some time Rezanov served also in the office of Empress Catherine’s favorite prince, Platon A. Zubov, and carried out several special assignments for the empress....

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Taylor, Edward Thompson (25 December 1793–05 April 1871), Methodist preacher, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to unknown parents. Raised in a foster home, he sought to engage playmates by giving funeral sermons for animals, whipping those children not already weeping from the force of his preaching. At the age of seven he went to sea. In the autumn of 1811, at seventeen, he found himself in the port of Boston and crawled through the window of the Methodist chapel, where the Reverend ...