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Jenifer, Daniel of St. Thomas (1723–16 November 1790), planter, merchant, and political leader of the American revolutionary era, was born in Charles County, Maryland, the son of Daniel Jenifer, a chirurgeon, and Elizabeth Mason. A fourth-generation native known to his contemporaries as “the Major,” Jenifer inherited 504 acres of land in Charles County on his father’s death circa 1729, and by 1766 he had purchased at least 2,000 acres more. He resided at “Retreat,” his Charles County home near Port Tobacco, for many years, but by 1766 he was living in Maryland’s capital, Annapolis. During the next two decades he purchased more than 3,000 acres in Anne Arundel County, including “Stepney,” an 800-acre plantation near South River, just outside Annapolis, where he lived from about 1784 until his death. In addition to his activities as a planter, Jenifer was a partner in the mercantile firm of Jenifer and Hooe and owner of the ship ...

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Jones, Allen (24 December 1739–14 November 1807), planter, revolutionary patriot, and Federalist, was born in Surry County, Virginia, the son of Robert “Robin” Jones, a planter, and Sarah Cobb. The family moved to Northampton County, North Carolina, in the early 1750s. There, Robin Jones served as Lord Granville’s land agent and as the Crown-appointed attorney general for North Carolina, posts that enabled him to become one of the largest landowners in the Roanoke River valley. He sent his sons to England’s Eton College, his alma mater, to be educated. The dates of their attendance are uncertain. Both were destined to become aristocratic planters, revolutionary leaders, members of the Continental Congress, and important state officials....

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Henry Laurens. Reproduction of a painting by John Singleton Copley, 1781. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-CP-213).

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Laurens, Henry (24 February 1724–08 December 1792), planter-merchant and revolutionary war statesman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of John Laurens, a saddler, and Esther Grasset. The Laurens family had fled La Rochelle, France, as Huguenot refugees in 1682. After stops in London, Ireland, and New York, they settled in Charleston about 1715. Laurens received in his own words “the best education” that the provincial community could offer. In 1744 he sailed for London to serve a three-year clerkship in James Crokatt’s counting house. Laurens married Eleanor Ball in 1750. They had twelve children, but only four survived childhood. ...

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Mason, George (1725–07 October 1792), planter and revolutionary statesman, the son of George Mason (c. 1629–c. 1686), a planter, and Ann Thomson. He was probably born at Dogue’s Neck (now called Mason Neck) in the northern part of Stafford County, Virginia, now Fairfax County. Both his namesake father and grandfather had been important planters and sometimes controversial public men in the Potomac River Valley. His mother was the daughter of Stevens Thomson, an English barrister who served as attorney general of Virginia from 1703 until his death early in 1713. Mason’s father drowned in an accident in 1735, leaving his strong-willed and self-reliant mother to manage the large estate. George Mason remained in Virginia for a private education, which he obtained in part in the library of his guardian, the noted legal scholar ...

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Mercer, John Francis (17 May 1759–30 August 1821), planter and officeholder, was born at “Marlborough Point,” Stafford County, Virginia, the son of John Mercer, a lawyer and wealthy landowner, and Ann Roy. John Francis Mercer graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1775. In February 1776 he enlisted in the Third Virginia Regiment. Despite his youth—he was not yet seventeen—his family’s social status enabled him to secure a commission as a first lieutenant. In a little more than a year Mercer achieved the rank of captain. He was wounded in September 1777 at Brandywine. In June 1778 he was commissioned a major and became an aide-de-camp to General ...

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Nelson, Thomas (26 December 1738–04 January 1789), merchant-planter and public official, was born in Yorktown, Virginia, the son of William Nelson (1711–1772), a prosperous merchant-planter, and Elizabeth Burwell. Educated first at home and then at a private school in Gloucester County, Nelson was sent to England in 1753. There, under the care of London merchant Edward Hunt, he attended grammar school at Hackney, near London, followed by three years at Christ College, Cambridge. Returning home in 1761, he married Lucy Grymes the following year. The union produced thirteen children, eleven of whom lived to maturity....

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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-CC-42-6).

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Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth (14 February 1745–16 August 1825), lawyer and planter, was born in Charles Town (now Charleston), South Carolina, the son of Charles Pinckney, a lawyer, and Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Pinckney was born into a life of privilege and wealth. His father was very active in the political life of colonial South Carolina and in 1753 was appointed interim chief justice of South Carolina, but his hopes were dashed when he was not granted a permanent appointment; instead the office went to a corrupt placeman of the Crown. Following this sharp disappointment, in 1753 the Pinckney family moved temporarily to England, where the father served as South Carolina’s colonial agent. Charles Cotesworth remained there until 1769 for his education. He studied at Westminster School and matriculated in 1764 both at Christ Church College, Oxford, and at the Middle Temple, London, where he was called to the bar in 1769. He regularly attended debates in the House of Commons. A family portrait shows him declaiming against the Stamp Act of 1765, one indication that he was taking an active interest in politics, particularly questions relating to the American colonies....

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Plater, George (08 November 1735–10 February 1792), planter, legislator, and governor of Maryland, was born at “Sotterley,” his father’s plantation near Leonardtown, St. Mary’s County, Maryland, the son of George Plater and Rebecca Addison Bowles. His father was a lawyer, legislator, planter, and wealthy landholder who held a variety of proprietary positions, including service on the governor’s council from 1732 until his death. The younger Plater graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1754....

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Randolph, Peyton (1721–22 October 1775), planter and revolutionary leader, was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, the son of Sir John Randolph, a Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses and attorney general, and Susanna Beverley. Young Randolph matriculated at the College of William and Mary about 1733 but did not graduate; he entered the Middle Temple on 13 October 1739 and was called to the bar in London on 10 February 1744. Through the influence of the London merchant John Hanbury, Randolph became attorney general of Virginia on 7 May 1744 against Governor ...

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Tilghman, Matthew (17 February 1718–04 May 1790), planter and legislator, was born at the “Hermitage,” in Queen Annes County, Maryland, the son of Richard Tilghman, a wealthy planter, and Anna Maria Lloyd. Tilghman descended from two of the oldest and most prominent families on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. At the age of fifteen he went to live with his first cousin Matthew Tilghman Ward, whose wife was Matthew’s aunt Margaret Lloyd, at “Rich Neck,” Ward’s plantation in Talbot County. Ward had no children, and upon his death Tilghman became his principal heir. In 1741 Tilghman married his first cousin Anne Lloyd. They had three sons and two daughters, the elder of whom married ...