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Binns, Archie (30 July 1899–28 June 1971), novelist and historian, was born Archie Fred Binns in Port Ludlow, Washington, the son of Frank Binns, one of the early pioneers of western Washington, and Atlanta Sarah McQuah. Growing up in the Puget Sound area of northern Washington, Binns was nourished by both the soil and the sea. He spent his childhood working on the farm his father had cleared near Shelton and attending the district school he had established. Although Binns’s upbringing was distinctly rural, the Puget Sound region—which he would later describe as the “Sea in the Forest”—helped to sustain his interest in seafaring. Family tradition may have also fueled his sea-interests; his mother had been born aboard the SS ...

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Charles Brockden Brown. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; given in loving memory of Katharine Lea Hancock by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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Brown, Charles Brockden (17 January 1771–22 February 1810), novelist, historian, and editor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Elijah Brown, a merchant and land conveyancer, and Mary Armitt. The fifth of six children in a prosperous Quaker family in the nation’s most cosmopolitan city and first capital, Brown was shaped in his early years by his Quaker background and the era’s tumultuous revolutionary politics. From 1781 to 1786 he received a classics-oriented secondary education under Robert Proud at the Friends’ Latin School of Philadelphia and displayed an enthusiasm for literary composition. Although his earliest work is lost, he composed derivative poetry in the “primitive” vein, based on the Psalms and Ossian and planned but never completed verse epics on the exploits of Columbus, Pizarro, and Cortez. The period’s political and ideological conflicts touched Brown’s family directly when revolutionary authorities exiled his father to Virginia for several months, deeming the father’s Quaker position of principled neutrality an aid to the British. While Brown’s Quaker background facilitated his early exposure to progressive British dissenting writers such as William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who would become crucial influences, it left him outside the period’s Congregationalist and Presbyterian cultural elite and predisposed him to his lifelong stance of reasoned skepticism of utopian or perfectionist notions for political change. That is, Brown’s background and early years helped shape his career-long concern with the violent ideological controversies of the early republic, as well as his characteristic tendency to see both the destructive and productive aspects of the period’s far-reaching political upheavals....

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Crawford, F. Marion (02 August 1854–09 April 1909), novelist and historian, was born Francis Marion Crawford in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, the son of Thomas Crawford, an American sculptor, and Louisa Cutler Ward. The family lived in Rome, where Crawford began a cosmopolitan education in places that would later form the settings of his novels. Crawford’s parents made certain that their children never lost sight of their American roots. After her husband’s death in 1857 Louisa married Luther Terry, an American painter, and continued to make her home in Rome. Crawford’s early education was conducted mainly by private tutors until 1866 when he was sent to St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. After his return to Rome in 1869, he studied in a variety of places: Rome, England, Germany, and India. He left India in 1880, returned to Rome, and the following year came to Boston to seek literary employment and perhaps to enter politics....

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Davis, William Stearns (30 April 1877–15 February 1930), historian and novelist, was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, the son of William Vail Wilson Davis, a Congregational minister, and Frances Stearns, both from old New England stock. Davis stated that one of the strongest influences of his boyhood was his maternal grandfather’s large library. William Augustus Stearns was president of Amherst College, Massachusetts, and Davis was born in his mansion. Because of the family’s frequent moves when William Davis accepted calls to new parishes, the library became a constant in his education. One of his favorite boyhood occupations was to study world atlases, which he read while standing on a hassock at a library table....

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Eggleston, Edward (10 December 1837–03 September 1902), author and historian, was born in Vevay, Indiana, the son of Joseph Cary Eggleston, a lawyer, and Mary Jane Craig. Often too ill to attend school, he read widely in his father’s private library but took too seriously such priggish books as ...

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Forbes, Esther (28 January 1891–12 August 1967), historian and novelist, was born in Westborough, Massachusetts, the daughter of William Trowbridge Forbes, a judge, and Harriette Merrifield, an author of published studies of historical artifacts and documents. Harriette Forbes contributed greatly to background research for her daughter’s writing. The Forbeses were a New England family with a long history, and Esther reputedly drew on that history for historical novels such as ...

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Latimer, Elizabeth Wormeley (26 July 1822–04 January 1904), novelist, translator, and historian, was born Mary Elizabeth Wormeley in London, England, the daughter of Rear Admiral Ralph Randolph Wormeley of the English Royal Navy and Caroline Preble of Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was born in Virginia, but as a boy he was taken to England, where he received his education and enlisted in the navy. Elizabeth spent her childhood in England, Boston, Virginia, and France. She was educated mostly by tutors, although she spent a brief time at a boarding school. When she was fourteen, the family moved to London, where she attended the funeral of King William IV and the coronation of Queen Victoria. In Paris she became acquainted with William Makepeace Thackeray and his mother, Mrs. Carmichael Smythe. She witnessed the second funeral of Napoleon and made her debut at the balls of Louis Philippe. In 1842 she traveled to America to visit at the home of friends. Here she met the historian ...

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Margaret Leech. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112187).

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Leech, Margaret Kernochan (07 November 1893–24 February 1974), historian and novelist, was born in Newburgh, New York, the daughter of William Kernochan Leech, a milkman, and Rebecca Taggert (or Taggart). Leech grew up in the adult world of Newburgh’s Palatine Hotel, where, she later recalled, “we were rather nice hotel children” (Nichols, p. 8). After graduating from nearby Vassar College in 1915, Leech went to New York City, where she answered the complaints of subscribers to ...

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Mari Sandoz Photograph by Al Aumuller, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117537).

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Sandoz, Mari (11 May 1896–10 March 1966), novelist and historian, was born in Sheridan County, Nebraska, the daughter of Jules Ami Sandoz and Mary Elizabeth Fehr, Swiss immigrant homesteaders. Sandoz grew up in an impoverished household, ruled by her violent-tempered father. The family led a painful existence, but Mari later realized that growing up in that place and time gave her poignant writing material. Living near an old Indian and trapper crossing on the Niobrara River, not far from two Indian reservations, she learned the area’s history and also the art of storytelling from the old friends of her father who stopped to exchange tales of their experiences with him. She also learned of the recent disappearance of the Indians’ way of life as settlers established their own civilization in the region....

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Skinner, Constance Lindsay (07 December 1877–27 March 1939), poet, novelist, and historian, was born Constance Annie Skinner in Quesnal, British Columbia, Canada, the daughter of Robert James Skinner, a factor for the Hudson Bay Company, and Annie Lindsay. In Quesnal, an isolated fur-trading post northeast of Vancouver, Constance played with Native American children; these early experiences influenced her writing, particularly her poetry. The Skinners lived in a large cedar house, 500 miles from the railroad, so Constance was tutored by her parents from their extensive library. She loved to read and often ran off into the forest to peruse the books that fascinated her. When Constance was fourteen, the family moved to Vancouver, where she attended a private school, her only formal education....