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John Adams. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-13002 DLC).

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Adams, John (19 October 1735–04 July 1826), second president of the United States, diplomat, and political theorist, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Adams (1691–1760), a shoemaker, selectman, and deacon, and Susanna Boylston. He claimed as a young man to have indulged in “a constant dissipation among amusements,” such as swimming, fishing, and especially shooting, and wished to be a farmer. However, his father insisted that he follow in the footsteps of his uncle Joseph Adams, attend Harvard College, and become a clergyman. John consented, applied himself to his studies, and developed a passion for learning but refused to become a minister. He felt little love for “frigid John Calvin” and the rigid moral standards expected of New England Congregationalist ministers....

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Blair, John, Jr. (1732–31 August 1800), associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, the son of John Blair, a prominent colonial Virginia statesman, and Mary Monro. Educated at the College of William and Mary, from which he graduated with honors in 1754, Blair pursued the study of law at the Middle Temple in London (1755–1756), where in 1757 he was called to the bar. While in England, he married Jean Blair (no relation) on 26 December 1756....

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Butler, Pierce (11 July 1744–15 February 1822), U.S. senator and member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, was born in County Carlow, Ireland, the son of Sir Richard Butler, a baronet and member of the Irish Parliament, and Henrietta Percy. Because Butler was third in line to inherit his father’s lands and title, his parents purchased a commission in the army for him when he was eleven. By the age of fourteen he was on active duty with the Twenty-second Regiment of Foot in Canada, where in 1758 he took part in the capture of the French fortress of Louisbourg. In 1762 he transferred to the Twenty-ninth Regiment, in which he held the rank of major by 1766. Two years later, while stationed in South Carolina, he tried to elope with a fifteen-year-old heiress, but her stepfather forestalled the marriage. In 1771 Butler married Mary Middleton, the daughter of Thomas Middleton and Mary Bull. Also an heiress, she brought extensive landholdings in the southern part of the colony near Beaufort as well as a connection with some of the leading local families. Butler and his wife had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood....

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Samuel Chase. Oil on wood, 1811, by John Wesley Jarvis. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Chase, Samuel (17 April 1741–19 June 1811), associate justice of the Supreme Court, was born in Somerset County, Maryland, the son of Thomas Chase, an Episcopal rector at St. Paul’s in Baltimore, and Martha (or Matilda) Walker. He was instructed primarily in the classics by his father. Chase began the study of law in the offices of Hammond & Hall in 1759 in Annapolis, Maryland, and was admitted to the bar in 1761. The next year he married Anne Baldwin; they had seven children (three of whom died in infancy) before her death in the late 1770s....

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Dayton, Jonathan (16 October 1760–09 October 1824), revolutionary war officer and congressman, was born in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey, the son of Elias Dayton, a wealthy merchant and revolutionary war general, and Hannah Rolfe. Dayton probably attended Elizabethtown Academy (a grammar school). He entered the College of New Jersey (Princeton) about 1774 and graduated in 1776, although he missed the commencement because he had joined the Continental army....

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Findley, William (1742–05 April 1821), member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was born in Ulster, North Ireland, of unknown parentage. His formal education was limited, but he studied his father’s books on church history and divinity. Findley migrated to Pennsylvania in 1763 and settled in Cumberland County. In 1769 he married Mary Cochran and began farming near Waynesboro. His family included eleven children....

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Floyd, William (17 December 1734–04 August 1821), signer of the Declaration of Independence and congressman, was born in Brookhaven, on the south shore of Long Island, Suffolk County, New York, the son of Nicoll Floyd and Tabitha Smith. Nicoll Floyd’s grandfather Richard Floyd had emigrated from Brenochshire, Wales, to Massachusetts about 1650 and had subsequently settled in Setauket, Long Island. Nicoll Floyd lived in Brookhaven, where he built the “Mastic” estate about 1724. William was sober and serious, a person of proper, respectable, and somewhat pretentious characteristics, who inspired confidence and respect, if not affection. He married Hannah Jones in 1760; they had three children. Floyd lent money at interest and was one of Connecticut governor ...

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Elbridge Gerry. Engraving by James Barton Longacre, c. 1830, based on a drawing by John Vanderlyn. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-1889).

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George Athan Billias

Gerry, Elbridge (17 July 1744–23 November 1814), statesman, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Gerry, a merchant, and Elizabeth Greenleaf. His father was a British immigrant who arrived in 1730, settled in Marblehead, and became one of the most successful merchants in Essex County. The brightest of eleven children, Elbridge entered Harvard in 1758, graduated in 1762, and returned in 1765—the year of the Stamp Act—to submit his master’s thesis. Already a firebrand at twenty-one, he argued in it the question: “Can the new Prohibitary Duties which make it useless for the people to engage in Commerce, be evaded by them as faithful subjects?” His answer was “Yes.”...

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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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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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Izard, Ralph (23 January 1742–30 May 1804), planter and politician, was born near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Izard, a planter, and Margaret Johnson. His great-grandfather (also Ralph Izard) had emigrated from England in 1682, acquired land, and gained prominence in provincial politics. By the mid-eighteenth century, when the family properties in Berkeley County, South Carolina, descended to Izard’s parents, the family had maintained a strong position in the Carolina house of assembly and in the Anglican vestry....

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Thomas Jefferson. After a painting by Gilbert Stuart, artist. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117117 DLC).

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Jefferson, Thomas (13 April 1743–04 July 1826), philosopher, author of the Declaration of Independence, and president of the United States, was born at Shadwell, in what became Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of Peter Jefferson, a pioneer farmer and surveyor, and Jane Randolph. He always valued the enterprising example of his father, who set him in the path of education; he became “a hard student,” indeed remained one throughout his life. Peter Jefferson died in 1757, leaving to his son a fair estate—5,000 acres and the slaves to work them. Less than three years later, Jefferson, already a proficient classical scholar, enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg....

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Thomas Johnson. Reproduction of a painting by Charles Willson Peale. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ61-2178).

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Johnson, Thomas (04 November 1732–26 October 1819), politician and jurist, was born on his parents’ farm in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of Thomas Johnson and Dorcas Sedgwick. Educated at home, Johnson began his legal studies in Annapolis, where he read law with Stephen Bordley, one of the foremost lawyers in the province, and by working as a scrivener in the office of the clerk of the Maryland Provincial Court. First admitted to the bar of the Annapolis Mayor’s Court in 1756, Johnson gained admission by 1760 to the bars of Frederick and Baltimore counties, the Charles County Court, and the provincial court. While pursuing advancement as an attorney, he became interested in public office and in 1762 was elected to represent Anne Arundel County in the lower house of assembly. He continued to serve in that position through 1774. In 1766 he married Ann Jennings; they had eight children....

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Richard Henry Lee. Reproduction of a painting by Charles Willson Peale in Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92331).

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Lee, Richard Henry (20 January 1733–19 June 1794), revolutionary, member of the Continental Congress, and U.S. senator, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the son of Thomas Lee and Hannah Ludwell, planters. Lee studied for seven years at an academy in Wakefield, England. In 1757 he married Anne Aylett, with whom he had four children before her death in December 1768. The following summer he married Anne Gaskins Pinckard; they had five children....