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Cutts, Samuel (08 December 1726–29 May 1801), merchant and revolutionary activist, was born probably in Kittery, Maine, the son of Major Richard Cutt, a merchant, and Eunice Curtis. The fourth of ten children, he was of the first generation to change the spelling of the family name from Cutt to Cutts. His great-grandfather was Robert Cutt, who with two brothers had come, in the 1640s to the Piscataqua River region of northern New England where they soon became one of the dominant mercantile and landholding families. One of Robert’s brothers, ...

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Duer, William (18 March 1743–07 May 1799), businessman and politician, was born in Devonshire, England, the son of John Duer, a wealthy squire, and Frances Frye. After graduating from Eton, Duer joined the British army and traveled to India, where he later served as secretary to Lord Clive, governor-general of the East India Company. Duer soon fell ill, however, and returned to England. His father’s subsequent death left him in possession of a large inheritance, which included an estate in the West Indies. By 1768 Duer was actively managing his estate and trading with prominent businessmen in New York, including ...

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Gadsden, Christopher (16 February 1724–28 August 1805), merchant and patriot, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Thomas Gadsden, the British collector of customs in that port, and his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of indentured servants whose names are unknown. Between the ages of eight and sixteen, young Christopher, nicknamed “Kittie,” lived with relatives in England and went to school there. He returned to British North America in 1740, passed five years in a mercantile apprenticeship in Philadelphia, and from 1745 to 1746 served during King George’s War as a purser on the British man-of-war ...

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Gorham, Nathaniel ( May 1738–11 June 1796), merchant and politician, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Gorham, a packet boat operator, and Mary Soley. The oldest of five children, Gorham was apprenticed at age fifteen to Nathaniel Coffin, a New London, Connecticut, merchant. He completed the terms of his apprenticeship in six years and returned to Charlestown in 1759. Gorham opened his own merchant house that same year and began to prosper during the later stages of the French and Indian War (1756–1763). He married Rebecca Call in 1763 and was the father of nine children....

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Habersham, Joseph (28 July 1751–18 November 1815), revolutionary leader, merchant, and politician, was born in Savannah, Georgia, the son of James Habersham and Mary Bolton. His father had followed George Whitefield to Georgia and eventually became the young colony’s leading merchant. He was acting governor in the early 1770s and a Loyalist until his death in 1775. Out of concern for Joseph’s health, his father sent him to Princeton, New Jersey, at age eight. Joseph attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) from 1763 to 1767. The elder Habersham was disappointed in the results of this education and sent his son to England to be a merchant apprentice under Graham, Clark, and Company in 1768. James Habersham’s friends enrolled the boy in Woolwich Academy for several months to improve his handwriting and mathematics before putting him to work. Although Joseph’s English career was reasonably successful, he was unhappy and disliked the English. He returned to Savannah in 1771....

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Hanson, John, Jr. (03 April 1721–15 November 1783), merchant and officeholder, was born in Port Tobacco Parish, Charles County, Maryland, the son of Samuel Hanson, a planter, and Elizabeth Story. Samuel Hanson owned over 1,000 acres in Charles County and was active in politics as both a county and provincial officeholder. Little is known about John Hanson’s early life. His father probably had him educated at home by a private tutor, a common practice among wealthy planters. About 1744 he married Jane Contee, daughter of Alexander Contee, a wealthy landowner and merchant. They had eight children....

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Hillegas, Michael (22 April 1729–29 September 1804), colonial merchant, revolutionary, and first treasurer of the United States, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Michael Hillegas, a naturalized Palatine German and Philadelphia merchant, and Margaret (maiden name unknown). Orphaned at age twenty-one, Hillegas by the following year had taken control of his father’s business interests and begun a career that continued to expand and prosper throughout his life. He sold metal goods, including stoves and stills; had interests in iron manufacturing, sugar refinement, and real estate; and owned at least partial interest in the ship ...

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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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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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Low, Isaac (13 April 1735–25 July 1791), merchant, early revolutionary leader, and later prominent Loyalist, was born near New Brunswick, New Jersey, the son of Cornelius Low, Jr., and Johanna Gouverneur (occupations unknown). Little can be ascertained about his early years. Low established himself as a merchant in New York City, rising to both fortune and political prominence. He became well enough off to marry Margarita Cuyler, daughter of the mayor of Albany, New York, in 1760. They had one child. Low was a founding member of the New York City Chamber of Commerce and became its president during the revolutionary war....

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Matlack, Timothy (28 March 1736?–14 April 1829), merchant and brewer, was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, the son of Timothy Matlack, a and Martha Burr Haines; both of his parents were Quakers who moved to Philadelphia in 1746. Timothy, Jr., however, remembered that he went to Philadelphia in 1744 and resided with a Quaker elder in 1749. He married Ellen Yarnall, the daughter of the Quaker preacher Mordecai Yarnall, in 1758; they had five children. In the 1760s and 1770s he was first a merchant and then a brewer, businesses that apparently he had established himself....

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Mifflin, Thomas (10 January 1744–20 January 1800), merchant, soldier, and politician, was born in Philadelphia, the son of John Mifflin and Elizabeth Bagnell, Quakers. His father, a wealthy merchant, held numerous significant political posts including that of provincial councilor. Thomas graduated from the College of Philadelphia in 1760 and then spent four years learning the merchant trade with William Coleman. After visiting England and France during 1764 and 1765, Mifflin formed a mercantile partnership with his brother George and in March 1767 married Sarah Morris, a cousin. The couple quickly took a prominent place in Philadelphia’s elite social circle. Contemporaries described Mifflin as an affable gentleman and fine sportsman. Elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1768, he actively participated in that organization thereafter....

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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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Osgood, Samuel (03 February 1748–12 August 1813), merchant and politician, was born in Andover, Massachusetts, the son of Peter Osgood, a farmer and town official, and Sarah Sprague Johnson. After graduating in 1770 from Harvard and relinquishing his earlier hope of becoming a minister, Osgood returned to Andover and entered the mercantile business, in which he became successful, with his brother Peter. In 1775 he married Martha Brandon; it was a childless marriage terminated by her death in 1778....

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Telfair, Edward (1735–17 September 1807), merchant and politician, was born in “Town Head,” Scotland, of unknown parents. He arrived in Georgia in 1766, joining his brother, William, who had emigrated earlier. They formed a partnership with Basil Cowper of Savannah and thus became members of the colony’s small merchant community. His base of operation was Savannah, but he had interests and property in the backcountry, which explains his election in 1768 to the assembly as a representative of upriver St. Paul’s parish. He also held offices in Savannah, and he moved as easily in low-country as upcountry circles. As a merchant he was concerned with the taxes and regulations passed by Parliament in the decade after his arrival, but there is little to indicate what role, if any, he played in the colonial protests of the period....

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Willing, Thomas (19 December 1731–19 January 1821), merchant, political leader, and banker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Willing, a successful merchant and, later, mayor of Philadelphia, and Anne Shippen, granddaughter of Edward Shippen, the first mayor of Philadelphia. The Willings in 1740 sent young Thomas to England to be educated. He first went to school at Bath between 1740 and 1743 and then attended Robert Wheeler’s school at Wells, Somersetshire. Willing went to London in September 1748 and for six months took courses in business at the Watt’s Academy. The same year he began to read law at the Inner Temple....