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John André. A rendering of his capture at Tarrytown, New York. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2395).

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André, John (02 May 1750–02 October 1780), British officer and spy, was born in London, England, the son of Anthony André, a merchant, and Marie Louise Girardot. His early schooling was with a tutor, the Reverend Thomas Newcomb, and he may have attended St. Paul’s School. In his teens André studied mathematics and military drawing at the University of Geneva, giving vent to his romantic temperament by dreaming of a military career. He was rudely brought back to reality by his merchant father when he was called home to work in the countinghouse before he completed a degree. Despising the family business, he nevertheless labored at it manfully for a number of years. After his father died on 14 April 1769, he felt a particular obligation as the eldest son to continue the business, even though his father had left him financially independent, with a small fortune of £5,000. In the summer of 1769 he joined a Lichfield literary group presided over by Anna Seward, a poet. The group included a young lady named Honora Sneyd, for whom he developed a passion. They became engaged and courted for a year and a half before she suddenly rejected him for another man at a Christmas party in 1770. Shattered by this betrayal, André revived his earlier ambition to become a soldier and in early 1771 bought a second lieutenant’s commission in the 23d Regiment, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Later he purchased a first lieutenancy in the same regiment....

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Birney, William (28 May 1819–14 August 1907), soldier, journalist, and lawyer, was born in Madison County, Alabama, the son of James Gillespie Birney, a lawyer, state legislator, and abolitionist leader, and Agatha McDowell. In 1818 his family had moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and in late 1835 they relocated to New Richmond, Ohio. Birney was educated at four colleges, including Yale University, and graduated from Cincinnati Law School in 1841. He began practicing law in that city and in 1845 married Catherine Hoffman. They would have nine children. For five years thereafter he resided on the Continent and in England. He contributed essays on the arts to English and American newspapers, and he upheld the activist reputation of his family by opposing French troops as a member of a Republican student battalion in Paris. In 1848 he accepted an appointment as professor of English literature at the lycée in Bourges....

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Denys de la Ronde, Louis (02 August 1675–25 March 1741), French military officer, explorer, and spy, was born in Quebec City, Canada, the son of Pierre Denys de la Ronde, a landowner and merchant (the Crown had given the aristocracy in Canada permission to engage in trade), and Catherine Leneuf de la Potherie. He entered naval service in 1687 as a midshipman in France. During the war of 1689–1697 he served in exiled British king James II’s expedition to Ireland, then off the coast of England, and finally on several voyages to New France and along the coast of New England. Captured at sea in 1695, he was soon released in an exchange of prisoners of war. He served in ...

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O’Neill, Buckey (02 February 1860–01 July 1898), lawman, newspaper editor, and soldier, was born William Owen O’Neill, probably in St. Louis, Missouri, although his birth record is lost, and he gave variously St. Louis and Ireland as his birthplace. He was the son of Irish immigrant parents, John Owen O’Neill and Mary McMenimin, and was raised in Washington, D.C., where his father, disabled from wounds he received during the Civil War, worked for the Treasury Department....

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Pryor, Roger Atkinson (19 July 1828–14 March 1919), journalist, Confederate soldier and jurist, was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, the son of Theodorick Bland Pryor, a lawyer, and Lucy Eppes Atkinson. His mother died before Pryor was two years old, so he was raised by his father, who had become a Presbyterian minister. Pryor attended the Classical Academy in Petersburg before entering Hampden-Sidney College in 1843, where he graduated as class valedictorian in 1845. He went on to study law at the University of Virginia for two years, taking his degree in 1847....

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Velazquez, Loreta Janeta (26 June 1842–?), purported soldier and spy, was born in Havana, Cuba, to an unknown Spanish father and an unknown French-American mother. Given the degree of hyperbole in The Woman in Battle (1876), the primary source of information on her life, there is even some question as to whether Velazquez herself actually existed, or whether the identity was a nom de plume adopted to describe her at least partially fictional exploits. Recent research into the details of her narrative, however, suggests that although there is some contradiction and inconsistency in her text—which she claimed to have written without notes—enough remains that can be corroborated to suggest that some version of the truth is retold there....