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Coggeshall, George (02 November 1784–06 August 1861), sea captain and author, was born in Milford, Connecticut, the son of William Coggeshall, a shipmaster, and Eunice Mallett. A Revolutionary War veteran, William Coggeshall was financially ruined when one of his vessels was seized by a British cruiser for trading at a French island, and another was captured by France for trading with English colonies. As a result, George Coggeshall and his six siblings were left destitute. Thus, he was denied a formal education and was forced to teach himself by reading every book available. A devoted son, Coggeshall determined that he would go to sea as soon as possible, thereby reducing the family’s expenses and affording him a chance to recoup his father’s losses....

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Olaudah Equiano. From the frontispiece of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1794. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54026).

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Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography....

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Simon, Kate (05 January 1912–04 February 1990), writer, was born Kaila Grobsmith in Warsaw, Poland, the daughter of Jacob Grobsmith, a skilled shoemaker, and Lina Babicz, a corsetiere. Braving wartime travel to save the life of her ailing young son, Lina Grobsmith along with her two children came to the United States in 1916 by steerage, joining her husband who had arrived three years earlier....

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Thompson, Era Bell (10 August 1906–30 December 1986), author and editor, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of Stewart C. Thompson and Mary Logan. In 1914 she moved with her family to Driscoll, North Dakota, where her father was a farmer and, from 1917 to 1921, a private messenger for Governor ...