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du Sable, Jean Baptiste Point (1745?–28 August 1818), explorer and merchant, was born in San Marc, Haiti, the son of a Negro slave woman (name unknown) and Dandonneau (first name unknown), scion of a prominent French-Canadian family active in the North American fur trade. Surviving historical journals record the name of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (Point au Sable by some accounts), a Haitian of mixed-blood ancestry, as the first permanent settler of Chicago. In her 1856 memoir of frontier life in the emerging Northwest Territory, ...

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Herrman, Augustine (1605?–1686?), merchant, attorney, ambassador, and mapmaker, was born in Prague, Bohemia, thought to be the son of Ephraim Augustin Herrman, a shopkeeper and city councilman, and Beatrix Redel, but possibly the son of Abraham Herrman, a Hussite minister in Mseno who was exiled to Zittau in Saxony because he was not Roman Catholic, and eventually settled in Amsterdam (wife’s name unknown)....

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Hunt, Wilson Price (1782?– April 1842), explorer and merchant, was born in Hopewell, New Jersey, the son of John P. Hunt and Margaret Guild, occupations unknown. Little is known of his early life. In 1804 he moved to St. Louis, on the edge of the frontier about to be opened by the expedition of ...

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Amerigo Vespucci. From an engraving by Gideon Fairman, c. 1815. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102761).

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Vespucci, Amerigo ( March 1454–22 February 1512), merchant and explorer after whom America is named, was born in Florence, Italy, the son of Nastagio Vespucci, a notary, and Lisa Mini. The date 9 March is often cited as his birth date as a result of confusion with an Amerigo Vespucci, born on 9 March 1451 and otherwise unrecorded, who can be presumed to have died in infancy. The explorer Vespucci’s family was wealthy and well connected. He was educated by his uncle Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, confessing, in a letter of 1476, the imperfection of the Latin he acquired. From 1478 to 1480 he accompanied his uncle Guido Antonio Vespucci on an embassy to Paris. From 1484, an extensive series of letters shows him at intervals in various Tuscan ports, probably engaged in family business. By 1488 he was in the employ of Lorenzo di Pier Francesco dei Medici, with whose family he established a relationship of confidence....

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Vizcaíno, Sebastián (1550–1628), merchant and explorer, was born in Spain, the son of Antonio Vizcaíno(?), a Basque commoner from Corcho, Spain. His mother’s identity is unknown. Vizcaíno apparently served in the Spanish army in Portugal in 1567 but sailed to New Spain (Mexico) in 1585. In Mexico he entered the China trade, making at least one voyage on the “Manila galleon” as a trader between 1586 and 1589. (The Manila galleon was sent regularly once a year to Manila from Acapulco, Mexico, with silver to return with luxury goods, mostly from China.) Some time before 1589 he married a woman of some means (name unknown), with whom he had at least one son, Juan. He also had at least one daughter (mother unknown)....

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Wyeth, Nathaniel Jarvis (29 January 1802–31 August 1856), New England ice merchant and western explorer, was born near Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Jacob Wyeth, the operator of the Fresh Pond Hotel, and Elizabeth Jarvis. He joined his father in the management of the hotel and in 1824 married his cousin Elizabeth Jarvis Stone. During the slack season, he harvested ice from Fresh Pond, first for the hotel’s use and then for ...