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Sydney V. James and Gail Fowler Mohanty

Brown, Moses (12 September 1738–06 September 1836), merchant and philanthropist, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of James Brown, merchant, and Hope Power. The father died the next year, leaving a variety of properties and businesses, which indicates that his family was far from poor. Moses Brown had a few years of formal schooling before being apprenticed to his merchant uncle, Obadiah, to learn the intricacies of eighteenth-century commerce and to be adopted as a son and partner. After Obadiah died in 1762, Moses managed the business, and in 1774 married Obadiah’s daughter Anna, who bore three children, two of whom lived to maturity. Moses joined his three surviving brothers in the firm of Nicholas Brown & Co. to operate the family businesses. The profits of trade were diversified by manufacturing and money-lending. The Brown brothers inherited profitable candle and chocolate works and started a plant to smelt and work iron. They also tried at least one ill-fated slaving voyage....

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Coffin, Levi (28 October 1789–16 September 1877), abolitionist and merchant, was born in New Garden, North Carolina, the son of Levi Coffin and Prudence Williams, farmers. The only son in a family of seven children, Levi was needed to work on the family farm. He was educated at home by his father until at age twenty-one when he enrolled in school to obtain a formal education. A superior student, he taught school himself from time to time....

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Cope, Thomas Pym (26 August 1768–22 November 1854), merchant and philanthropist, was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Caleb Cope, a plasterer and town burgess who had come from the family farm in Chester County, and Mary Mendenhall. The third son in a family of seven, Cope received a good education for the time, including study in English, German, Latin, and mathematics. In his diary he describes how an unfair teacher provoked in him such intense concentration that he dreamed mathematical problems and mastered the subject. His diary also reveals a well-trained and wide-ranging mind with a talent for acute, usually sympathetic, observation. During the revolutionary wars, the Quaker pacifism of Cope’s parents, and their willingness to house captured British prisoners, drew the attacks of local hotheads. The most famous prisoner that the Copes lodged was Major ...

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Cullen, Hugh Roy (03 July 1881–04 July 1957), oilman and philanthropist, was born in Denton County, Texas, the son of Cicero Cullen, a businessman whose father was a hero of the Texan struggle for independence, and Louise Beck, who came from a plantation-owning family of South Carolinians. When Cullen was in his early childhood his parents separated, and he moved with his mother to San Antonio where he completed his elementary education. At seventeen he was employed by a cotton broker, but after a six-year apprenticeship he set up his own cotton brokerage firm and vowed never to be someone else’s employee. In 1903 he married Lillie Cranz; they had five children....

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Cupples, Samuel (13 September 1831–06 January 1912), merchant, manufacturer, and philanthropist, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the son of James Cupples, an educator who had immigrated to the United States from County Down, Ireland, in 1814, and Elizabeth Bigham. Cupples was chiefly educated by his father, who operated a business school in Pittsburgh. At age twelve Cupples began his working life in a grocery store in Pittsburgh and, five years later, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was employed by Albert O. Tyler, a pioneer, midwestern manufacturer, and wholesaler of woodenware....

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Dugdale, Richard Louis (1841–23 July 1883), merchant and social scientist, was born in Paris, France, the son of Richard John Dugdale, a manufacturer and journalist, and Anna (maiden name unknown). After Dugdale’s father lost most of his fortune through the upheavals of 1848, the family returned to its native England, immigrated to New York City in 1851, and moved to Indiana in 1858. Richard Louis Dugdale returned to New York City in 1860 and enrolled in night classes at Cooper Union. Though he was first employed as a stenographer, he inherited a small sum of money that enabled him to enter the business of commerce and manufacturing. In turn, financial success freed him to devote his energies to sociological studies....

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Faneuil, Peter (20 June 1700–03 March 1743), merchant and philanthropist, was born in New Rochelle, New York, the son of Benjamin Faneuil and Anne Bureau, French Huguenot refugees who left Rochelle in France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Benjamin Faneuil and two brothers took considerable wealth with them and became freemen of Massachusetts Bay in 1691. Benjamin Faneuil eventually settled in New Rochelle. When he died in 1719, his sons Peter and Benjamin and daughter Mary moved to Boston to be raised by their uncle Andrew Faneuil. Peter Faneuil’s first claim to fame occurred in 1728 when he helped his brother-in-law Henry Phillips escape to France after he killed Benjamin Woodbridge in the first duel ever to take place in Boston. More mundanely, he assisted his uncle in running a lucrative mercantile establishment that traded with Antigua, Barbados, Spain, the Canary Islands, and England, to name only a few places from which Faneuil’s correspondence survives. Not all of his trade was legal. When in 1736 his ship ...

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Girard, Stephen (20 May 1750–26 December 1831), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of Pierre Girard, an officer in the French navy, and Odette Lafargue. He was blind, or partially sighted, in one eye at birth and, therefore, probably received less formal education than his peers. At age fourteen he signed on as a cabin boy for vessels sailing to the West Indies. His first American port of entry was New Orleans. After receiving a license to serve as a ship captain at age twenty-three, Girard was named an officer on a voyage to Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue (now Haiti), in 1774. He departed the West Indies and set sail for New York with a consignment of sugar and coffee. Rather than returning to France, Girard remained in New York and became an employee of the shipping firm of Thomas Randall & Son. He purchased a half-interest in the ship ...

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Green, John Cleve (04 April 1800–29 April 1875), philanthropist, railroad entrepreneur, and China trader, was born in Lawrenceville (formerly Maidenhead), New Jersey, the son of Caleb Smith and Elizabeth Green. His great-great-grandfather, Jonathan Dickinson, was first president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University; this family connection would later play a great part in Princeton’s future....

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Henry Grinnell. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110168).

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Grinnell, Henry (13 February 1799–30 June 1874), merchant and patron of exploration, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Cornelius Grinnell, a sea captain, and Sylvia Howland. The seaport of New Bedford was a center of the New England whaling industry, and young Henry took an early interest in the sea. After graduating from New Bedford Academy, Grinnell became a clerk at a shipping company, H. D. and E. B. Sewell, in New York City, and over the next seven years learned the shipping business. In 1814 his older brother, Joseph, had become a partner in another New York shipping firm, Fish & Grinnell. In 1825, after the retirement of Joseph Grinnell’s partner, Preserved Fish, the three Grinnell brothers—Henry, Joseph, and Moses Hicks—joined together to continue the firm under the name Fish, Grinnell & Company....

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Hand, Daniel (16 July 1801–17 December 1891), merchant and philanthropist, was born in East Guilford (now Madison), Connecticut, the son of Daniel Hand, a farmer, and Artemesia Meigs. The Hands were a distinguished family with deep roots in Calvinist New England, and Daniel was the third of that name. The first Daniel Hand was his grandfather, a captain in the revolutionary war; the second was his father, a local judge as well as a successful merchant-farmer. He was educated at home by his parents, supplemented by a few terms in the district school and a lifetime of serious reading, especially in the Bible. The scholarly John Elliott (b. 1768), a graduate of Yale and the great-great-grandson of ...

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Heathcote, Caleb (06 March 1666–01 March 1721), merchant, manor lord, and Anglican activist, was born in Derbyshire, England, the son of Gilbert Heathcote, a trader in hides and iron who served as mayor of Chesterfield, England, and Anne Dickens. While living in England Heathcote became a merchant specializing in trade with New York, where he settled in 1692 after the woman to whom he was betrothed fell in love with his brother Samuel and married him instead....

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Kelly, Eugene (25 November 1808–19 December 1894), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, the son of Thomas Boye Kelly. His mother’s name and his parents’ occupations are unknown. Little is known of his family background save that his father, heir to a formerly prominent and prosperous line, lost the balance of his fortune because of his participation in the rebellion of 1798. Following the rebellion, the elder Kelly changed his name from “O’Kelly” to the more common “Kelly” as a precaution against reprisals for his activities. Eugene received his education in a local hedge school, after which he became a draper’s apprentice....

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Lunt, Orrington (24 December 1815–05 April 1897), merchant and philanthropist, was born in Bowdoinham, Maine, the son of William Webb Lunt, a merchant and state legislator, and Ann Matilda Sumner. After receiving a meager education in local schools, he entered his father’s store at the age of fourteen and by the age of twenty-two had become a partner in the enterprise. He achieved sufficient local stature to serve as both town clerk and treasurer, and upon his father’s retirement from the business he carried on the firm’s affairs in partnership with a brother. Following the panic of 1837, business conditions steadily deteriorated, and Lunt, like so many of his countrymen, turned his sights westward....

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James Mott. Right, with Gardiner Stow. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90671).

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Mott, James (29 June 1788–26 January 1868), merchant and reformer, was born at Cowneck (later North Hempstead), New York, the son of Adam Mott, a farmer and miller, and Anne Mott (Mott was both her maiden and her married name). Both parents were descended from a seventeenth-century Quaker emigrant from England, and Mott was brought up in a close-knit community of Long Island Friends. He received his education at a Friends’ boarding school at Nine Partners in New York’s Dutchess County. He excelled at Nine Partners and, after ten years, was appointed an assistant teacher and then a teacher. At the school he met Lucretia Coffin ( ...

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Osborn, William Henry (21 December 1820–02 March 1894), merchant, railroad executive, and philanthropist, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of William Osborn and Anna Henfield Bowditch, farmers. After a few years at local schools Osborn, at the age of thirteen, became a clerk in a Boston firm, the East India House of Peele, Hubbell & Company. Bright and quite capable, by age sixteen he was representing his firm in Manila, Philippine Islands. While still in his twenties Osborn set up his own import-export business in Manila. The new firm prospered and by the early 1850s he had made a small fortune. He left the Philippines, toured Europe, and returned to the United States in 1853....

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George Peabody. Engraving by John Chester Buttre, second half of the nineteenth century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98992).

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Peabody, George (18 February 1795–04 November 1869), merchant, investment banker, and philanthropist, was born in South Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Peabody, a leather worker and a farmer, and Judith Dodge. His parents, though not wealthy, managed to provide their son with a basic education. As a boy George came to know the value of work. At age eleven he worked in Sylvester Proctor’s grocery in Danvers, and for a short time in 1811 he served as a clerk in the dry-goods store of his brother David....