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Alexander, Mary Spratt Provoost (17 April 1693–18 April 1760), merchant, was born in New York City, the daughter of John Spratt, a Scottish immigrant merchant and alderman in New York, and Maria DePeyster, an heiress of a prominent Dutch family of goldsmiths, merchants, and politicians. After John Spratt died in 1697, Maria Spratt married David Provoost, a merchant and smuggler. Alexander and her siblings lived with their maternal grandmother after their mother died in 1700. In 1711 she married Samuel Provoost, an importer and a younger brother of David Provoost, her mother’s husband. The couple had three children. Alexander invested much of her inheritance in her husband’s enterprises and acted as his business partner....

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Allen, James (25 December 1697–07 January 1755), merchant and politician, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jeremiah Allen, the longtime treasurer of the province, and Mary Caball. Ranked fifth by social status in a class of seventeen at Harvard College, he graduated in 1717. Allen then entered his father’s merchant business, importing dry goods from England and exchanging New England fish for West India sugar. In 1725 he married Martha Fitch, daughter of Colonel Thomas Fitch. They had no children. Allen belonged to Boston’s Congregational West Church but was not a bigot: he contributed £20 to the Anglican King’s Chapel for the purchase of bells....

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Allerton, Isaac (1586– February 1659), merchant in the early years of the Plymouth colony, . Little is known of Allerton’s early life, and nothing is known regarding his education and religious orientation. He was a tailor in London at the time that he moved to Leiden, Holland, in 1608. When the Separatist congregation of John Robinson arrived in 1609 Allerton joined the church. In 1611 he married a fellow member, Mary Norris. In 1614 he became a citizen of the Dutch city....

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Alsop, Richard (23 January 1761–20 August 1815), poet and businessman, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Richard Alsop, Sr., a merchant, and Mary Wright Alsop. When Alsop was fifteen, his father died, leaving his wife, Mary, a strict Episcopalian, in comfortable circumstances but with eight children. Alsop was a precocious reader and enjoyed impersonating heroes of Homer's ...

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Alvarez, Manuel (1794–05 July 1856), merchant and U.S. consul, was born in Abelgas, León, Spain, the son of Don José Alvarez and Doña María Antonia Arias. Alvarez spent his childhood in his native village in the Cantabrian Mountains. Under the care of his parents, he became proficient in both French and Spanish. As a youth he wanted to become a writer. An avid reader, he was familiar with the writings of Thomas Carlyle, Sir Walter Raleigh, and ...

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Ashley, William Henry (1778–26 March 1838), fur trader and politician, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia. His parents are unknown, and there is no definitive record of his early years. In 1798 Ashley moved west to Kentucky. Four years later he crossed the Mississippi and took up residence in the lead-mining community of St. Genevieve (now in Missouri). From that time until his death, Ashley energetically and successfully pursued profits and power in the fluid frontier society....

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Aspinwall, William Henry (16 December 1807–18 January 1875), merchant, was born in New York City, the son of John Aspinwall, an importer of dry goods and a commission and Susan Howland. A member of a prominent family with strong ties to the sea, Aspinwall was schooled in New York City, where he gained fluency in Spanish and French. In 1830 he married Anna Lloyd Breck, with whom he had four children....

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John Jacob Astor. Oil on canvas, c. 1825, by John Wesley Jarvis. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Susan Mary Alsop.

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Astor, John Jacob (17 July 1763–29 March 1848), fur trader and financier, was born in Waldorf, duchy of Baden, Germany, the son of Jacob Astor, a butcher, and Maria Magdalena Vorfelder, who died when John was about three. His family was of the artisan class, and few records survive from his youth. Due in large part to a fine town schoolmaster, Astor’s education seems to have been better than average. It ended at age thirteen with his confirmation in the Lutheran church. At an age when many contemporaries became apprentices, Astor spent two years as an assistant in his father’s butcher shop but had little interest in learning the business....

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Bache, Richard (?1737–29 July 1811), merchant and revolutionary leader, was born in Settle in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, the son of William Bache, a tax collector in Settle, and Mary Blyckenden. With encouragement from his father, Richard, at a young age, pursued a career in business and evidently worked in several British counting houses....

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Bache, Theophylact (17 January 1735–30 October 1807), merchant, was born in Settle, Yorkshire, England, the son of William Bache, a tax collector, and Mary Blyckenden. In 1751 he arrived in New York City, where he was taken under the wing of Paul Richard, a successful merchant and former mayor, whose wife was a Bache relative. Upon Richard’s death five years later, Bache inherited £300, became executor of the estate, and continued the business. His younger brother ...

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Bacon, Edward Payson (16 May 1834–25 February 1916), grain dealer, was born in Reading Township, near Watkins Glen, New York, the son of Joseph F. Bacon, a tailor, and Matilda Cowles. Edward Bacon was educated at public schools in the vicinity of Geneva, New York, where his father went to farm in 1838. At fifteen he entered the Brockport Collegiate Institute to prepare for the ministry, but his father’s financial reverses caused him to leave after a year. Bacon became a clerk with the newly completed New York & Erie Railroad at Hornellsville, New York, in 1851. After rising to chief clerk of its freight department in New York, he left in 1855 when offered a position in Chicago as head of the freight department of the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railroad, a predecessor of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern and a major component of the New York Central System’s main line....

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Baker, James (19 December 1818–15 May 1898), trapper, army scout, and early settler of Colorado and Wyoming, was born in Belleville, Illinois, and grew up near Springfield. His parents were of Scots-Irish ancestry from South Carolina. With little formal schooling but adept with a rifle, Jim Baker left home for St. Louis in 1838 and signed an eighteen-month contract with the American Fur Company. On 25 May 1838 the Rocky Mountain–bound party, led by ...

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Banning, Phineas (19 August 1830–08 March 1885), southern California pioneer, was born at Oak Farm near Wilmington, Delaware, the ninth of the eleven children of John Alford Banning, a Princeton graduate, shipbuilder, and farmer, and his wife, Elizabeth Lowber Banning. Phineas is said to have left school at thirteen and walked from Wilmington to Philadelphia, where he worked at first in the law office of one of his brothers and later in the wholesale trade....

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Julius H. Barnes. Right, with Thomas Lamont, left, and Silas Strawn. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92371).

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Barnes, Julius Howland (02 February 1873–17 April 1959), industrialist and government official, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of Lucien Jerome Barnes, a banker, and Julia Hill. Moving with his family, he attended public schools in Washington, D.C., and Duluth, Minnesota. Following his father’s death in 1886, Barnes left school to take a job as office boy with the Duluth grain brokerage firm of Wardell Ames. There he rose rapidly, becoming president of the company in 1910 and subsequently reorganizing it as the Barnes-Ames Company. By 1915 Barnes-Ames was the world’s largest grain exporter, and Barnes acquired other business interests, principally in shipbuilding and Great Lakes shipping. In 1896 he married Harriet Carey, with whom he had two children....

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Bates, Joshua (10 October 1788–24 September 1864), merchant and banker, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Colonel Joshua Bates and Tizrah Pratt. Bates’s father served as an officer during the Revolution. Joshua suffered from ill health as a child. He was educated by a private tutor and at the public school. When he was fifteen his father apprenticed him in the counting house of William R. Gray, the son of ...

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Bayard, John Bubenheim (11 August 1738–07 January 1807), merchant and statesman, was born at Bohemia Manor, Maryland, the son of James Bayard, a merchant and planter, and Mary Asheton. He and his twin brother James Asheton Bayard were educated first by Samuel Finley...

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Bayard, Nicholas (1644–1711?), merchant, was born probably in Alphen, near Utrecht, in the Netherlands, the son of Samuel Bayard, a and Anna Stuyvesant. Bayard was the nephew of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Netherland. His mother Anna, Stuyvesant’s sister, with her four children, accompanied the Stuyvesants to New Amsterdam in 1647. Educated by his mother in English, French, and Dutch, he began a long and lucrative political career with a post as English clerk in Stuyvesant’s government. He also held posts under the English administration that commenced in 1664 and during the second brief Dutch occupation in 1673....

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Bent, Charles (11 November 1799–19 January 1847), frontiersman, fur trapper, and Santa Fe trader, was born in Charleston, Virginia (now W.V.), the son of Silas Bent, Jr., a surveyor and jurist, and Martha Kerr. The family moved first to Ohio, then in 1806 to St. Louis, Missouri. Charles attended Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, although for how long is unknown. In 1822 he joined the Missouri Fur Company of Joshua Pilcher as a clerk, and in 1825 he became a partner. The American Fur Company of ...