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Ames, Nathaniel (22 July 1708–11 July 1764), almanac maker, physician, and innkeeper, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the son of Captain Nathaniel Ames, an astronomer and mathematician, and Susannah Howard. Probably after an apprenticeship with a country doctor, Ames became a doctor. With the likely assistance of his father, in 1725 Ames produced the first almanac to carry his name, though he was a youth of only seventeen. The almanac soon became well known and remained a staple product in New England, appearing annually for a half century....

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Ames, Nathaniel (09 October 1741–20 July 1822), almanac writer, physician, and political activist, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames and Deborah Fisher Ames. The senior Nathaniel strongly influenced his son with his deep interest in the “new science” of Isaac Newton and his activities as a physician, tavern proprietor, and compiler of a notable almanac. At sixteen Nathaniel, Jr., entered Harvard College and in January 1758 began to keep a diary. His lively, absorptive mind responded to new ideas, particularly Professor ...

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Collins, Isaac (16 February 1746–21 March 1817), printer, was born near Centerville, Delaware, the son of Charles Collins and Sarah Hammond, farmers. The family were members of the Society of Friends. When his father died in 1760, Isaac was indentured as a printer’s apprentice to James Adams, whose recent arrival in Wilmington marked the beginning of printing in Delaware. Collins stayed with Adams about five years, during which time he probably met Shepard Kollock, another Adams apprentice, who, like Collins, later worked for ...

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Foster, John (1648–09 September 1681), engraver and printer, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of Hopestill Foster, a brewer, captain of militia, county commissioner, and member of the Massachusetts General Court, and Mary Bates. After he graduated from Harvard in 1667, he was employed by the town of Dorchester to teach Latin students at his father’s house. By 1674 the town was paying him to teach English, Latin, and writing in the Dorchester schoolhouse. His avocations were wood engraving and medicine; he began engraving possibly as early as college....

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Franklin, Ann Smith (02 October 1696–19 April 1763), printer and editor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Samuel Smith and Anna (or Ann; maiden name unknown). She grew up in Boston.

In light of her later successful career, it is reasonable to conclude that she was at least as well educated as most girls of her era. In 1723 she married ...

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Benjamin Franklin. From a nineteenth-century engraving. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90398).

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Franklin, Benjamin (06 January 1706–17 April 1790), natural philosopher and writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, opposite the Congregational Old South Church, where the Reverend Samuel Willard baptized him the same day. The youngest son and fifteenth child of Josiah Franklin, a tallow chandler and soap maker who emigrated from England in 1683 to practice his Puritan faith, Benjamin had eleven living brothers and sisters. Five were Josiah’s children by his first wife, Anne Child, and six were by his second wife, Abiah Folger, Benjamin’s mother. Two sisters were born later....

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Gaine, Hugh (1726–25 April 1807), printer-editor and bookseller, was born in Portglenone in the parish of Ahoghill, Ireland, the son of Hugh Gaine and his wife (name unknown). At age fourteen he began his apprenticeship to Samuel Wilson and James Magee, Belfast printers. When the partnership split in 1744, Gaine left Ireland for America and settled in New York City, where he became a printer’s journeyman for ...

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West, Benjamin ( March 1730–26 August 1813), astronomer and mathematician, was born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, the son of John West, a farmer. His mother’s name is not known. Not long after his birth, the family moved to Bristol, Rhode Island, where West worked discontentedly on the family farm. West attended the town school for only three months and took a course of navigation offered by Captain Woodbury, who waived his fees for the poor farm boy. Otherwise, West was self-educated, borrowing books from local parsons’ libraries. In 1753 he married Elizabeth Smith; they had eight children. That same year West moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he opened a private school, and then a dry-goods store that also sold books and was, by some accounts, the first bookstore in town. After nearly twenty years, his business failed and his effects were seized by creditors. His bankruptcy appears to have been a consequence of the depreciation of paper currency and the decline in transatlantic commerce just before the American Revolution. After his bankruptcy, some Bostonians offered to set him up in the book business again, but West doubted he could support his growing family this way. As a patriot, he chose to manufacture clothing for the American troops during the war. At war’s end, he reopened his school in Providence....