Born November 11, 1744 (Weymouth, Massachusetts) Died October 28, 1818 (Quincy, Massachusetts)
Founding mother, letter writer, political adviser, wife and mother of U.S. presidents
Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams (1735–1826; served 1797–1801; see entry in volume 1), the second president of the United States; she was also the mother of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848; served 1825–29), the sixth U.S. president. She is best known for her letter writing, which spanned approximately five decades. Never intended for publication, her letters were always newsy and often funny. They related the happiness and heartache of early American families and almost always included a discussion of politics of the day. When John was away on diplomatic missions, he came to depend on his wife's letters for information on politics and the activities of Congress. Abigail often instructed John to burn her letters, but he never complied with that request. Instead he held on to them, and from 1764 onward most of her letters to him survive.
Abigail Adams also wrote to her sisters, Elizabeth Smith Shaw...
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Born October 30, 1735 (Braintree, Massachusetts) Died July 4, 1826 (Quincy, Massachusetts)
U.S. president, vice president, lawyer, writer
John Adams fought for American independence and liberties with extraordinary zeal and patriotism. A brilliant writer, lawyer, public speaker, and independent thinker, he conveyed his ideas with clarity and boldness. In his career as a lawyer and public servant, he was stubborn, fiery, extremely hardworking and hard-driving, and completely absorbed in whatever issue was at hand. The American people never viewed him as warmly as they did George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97; see entry in volume 2) and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9; see entry in volume 1), the nation's first and third presidents. However, those who knew him best wrote of his humor, generosity, honesty, affection for his family, and devotion to his religion.
Early in Adams's career, he developed a philosophy on which he based his approach to creating a new government for America. Adams believed that humans were motivated by self-interest and a deep desire to be noticed or gain a reputation. He assumed individuals would sacrifice the interests of others to...
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Born February 14, 1760 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Died March 26, 1831 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Methodist preacher and bishop
Richard Allen was a Methodist preacher who became a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Allen was among the first black Americans to receive formal ordination (priestly authority) in any religious denomination. He was elected to serve as the first bishop of the AME Church and used his position to promote the improvement of the condition of African American people in society. Allen was a leader in organizing African Lodge #459, the first Masonic lodge for men of color in Pennsylvania. During the War of 1812 (1812–15), he also helped recruit men for the "Black Legion," a group of African American soldiers who helped defend Philadelphia. Allen believed in the benefits of education and started a number of schools. The AME Church continued operating many institutes of higher education into the twenty-first century, including Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina.
Allen was also a founder of the Free African Society (FAS), the first...
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Born August 20?, 1745 (Staffordshire, England) Died March 31, 1816 (Spotsylvania, Virginia)
Francis Asbury was North America's first Methodist bishop. He left England in 1771 and during his forty-year ministry traveled over more of America than any other person of his generation. Bishop Asbury was one of the most respected men in the newly formed United States. While spreading the Methodist message, he established educational institutions and argued against slavery. The detailed journals he maintained give an intimate look at home life in the young nation, especially on the frontiers, and the prevailing social and moral conditions in early America. More than a century after Asbury's death, President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933; served 1923–29) recognized Asbury as one of the key builders of the nation.
A pilgrim's progress
Francis Asbury was born into a family of comfortable means in Staffordshire, England, on the twentieth or the twenty-first day of August 1745. The exact date of his birth is in doubt because no record exists of his baptism in the church parish records, the primary...
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Born 1735 (Oxford, Massachusetts)
Died May 1812 (Augusta, Maine)
Midwife, nurse, mortician
For twenty-seven years, Martha Ballard kept a diary, from 1785 until her death in 1812. Ballard served as a midwife and primary health-care giver in Hallowell, Maine, near present-day Augusta. A midwife is a woman experienced in helping the birthing process of other women. She delivered 816 babies, carefully recording each birth in her diary. She also made notes on the weather, family events, social visits, the trading of goods between families, and everyday tasks such as the weaving of fabric.
Without Ballard's diary, history would have considerably less information on the role frontier women played during the early formative years of the nation. Hallowell physician Daniel Cory made no mention of midwives in his records. Resident Henry Sewall, who at times served as the town recording clerk, mentioned very little about Hallowell's women. Ballard attended Sewall's wife at eight deliveries, but he did not mention Ballard in the town records until the birth of...
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Born November 9, 1731 (Baltimore County, Maryland)
Died October 9, 1806 (Baltimore County, Maryland)
Benjamin Banneker was an accomplished self-taught mathematician and astronomer. He is considered America's first black scientist. Banneker calculated the daily position of celestial bodies (visible stars and planets in the night sky) and printed this information in charts, which he published in yearly almanacs. His almanacs also featured calendars, times of sunrise and sunset, phases of the moon, and other useful information. Banneker's almanacs for the years 1792 to 1797 were widely published. They brought international attention to Banneker, in large part because it was an unparalleled achievement for a black American to publish at all at that time in history.
In 1791, Banneker assisted in the land survey of the future site of Washington, D.C. Perhaps Banneker's greatest accomplishment was his plea for civil rights in his correspondence with then-U.S....
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Brackenridge, Hugh Henry
Born 1748 (Campbeltown, Scotland)
Died June 25, 1816 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania)
Hugh Henry Brackenridge's literary works reflect the mood and thoughts of late-eighteenth century America. His best-known work, Modern Chivalry, is one of the first novels written in the United States. It is an important example of both American satire (literary parody) and Western literature. Brackenridge also wrote short fiction stories, poetry, and essays, and he collaborated on two theatrical dramas. He wrote in the period between the end of the American Revolution (1775–83) and the beginning of the nineteenth century, a time when few other American writers were producing new literature. His work is notable for this reason and for the revolutionary ideals it expressed of individual freedoms from governmental control in politics as well as in art.
Brackenridge worked at various times as a judge, a politician, and a publisher, so most of his writing was strongly influenced by current events. He was a frequent contributor to the early debates on the nature of...
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Born February 6, 1756 (Newark, New Jersey)
Died September 14, 1836 (Port Richmond, New York)
Vice president, U.S. senator
Aaron Burr played many roles in early U.S. history. He was a revolutionary soldier, a lawyer, a senator, and a vice president. However, he was also charged with treason (betrayal of one's own country), and he gunned down one of the nation's leading Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804; see entry in volume 1), in a famous duel. The treason charge resulted from various vague plots by Burr to invade the Spanish Southwest and to separate sections of the American West from the union. Burr helped shape America, but his influence and his contributions were complex and controversial.
Orphaned as an infant
Aaron Burr was born in Newark, New Jersey, in February 1756, to a family with a rich background in religious and educational...
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Born January 8, 1735 (Upper Marlboro, Maryland)
Died December 3, 1815 (Baltimore, Maryland)
John Carroll is known as the founder of the Roman Catholic Church in America. He was the first Roman Catholic bishop of Baltimore and later was made archbishop of Baltimore. (The Roman Catholic Church is often called simply the Catholic Church; its members are called Roman Catholics or just Catholics.) Carroll was dedicated to building a national church that differed from the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, where church and state were closely tied to one another. He worked to counter anti-Catholic discrimination in America by stressing Catholic commitment to democratic ideals. Carroll's efforts to promote the Roman Catholic faith included a sincere attempt to create religious unity among all denominations of Christianity. His Address to the Roman Catholics of the United States of America was the first Catholic work written by an American that was published in the United States.
As head of the Catholic clergy...
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Born April 12, 1777 (Hanover County, Virginia)
Died June 29, 1852 (Washington, D.C.)
Statesman, U.S. senator, congressman
Henry Clay, a Virginian by birth and a Kentuckian by choice, was a fearless fighter for the cause of liberty and for the strength of the Union. A brilliant public speaker, he also inspired the common man in his role as an elected official. Clay was a man of action who successfully moved important legislation through Congress. Key to his success was his skill for compromising and for bringing different groups together for the common good.
Clay served many years in the U.S. House of Representatives, including ten years in an important position of leadership as Speaker of the House. He served in the U.S. Senate briefly from 1806 to 1807, again from 1810 to 1811, and then from 1831 until his death in 1852. Under President John Quincy Adams (1767–1848; served 1825–29), Clay served as secretary of state from 1825 until 1829. In 1824, 1832, and 1844, Clay ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. presidency.
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Born July 26, 1739 (Little Britain, New York)
Died April 20, 1812 (Washington, D.C.)
Governor, vice president
George Clinton, who presided over New York's government in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, is considered the "father of New York." In the early years of the nation, most politicians relied on the wealthy elite for support in their elections. Clinton was the first U.S. politician to build a power base of staunch support among the common people. He served in the American Revolution (1775–83) and was a member of the Second Continental Congress. He opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 because he feared a strong federal government would overpower state governments. After serving seven terms as governor of New York, Clinton went on to become vice president of the United States in 1805.
Adventurous and outspoken
George Clinton was the son of Charles Clinton and Elizabeth Denniston. Charles, born in Ireland, immigrated to America and settled in the community of Little Britain, located in Ulster...
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Born January 17, 1706 (Boston, Massachusetts)
Died April 17, 1790 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Statesman, diplomat, writer, publisher, scientist
Benjamin Franklin, though much older than other leading revolutionaries, profoundly influenced younger Founding Fathers in the 1780s. Franklin was earlier the chief spokesman for the American colonies through the 1750s and 1760s, helped in writing the 1776 Declaration of Independence, gained foreign support during the war against Britain through a treaty with France, negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris with Britain to end the war, and then signed the 1787 U.S. Constitution and presented a stirring speech encouraging other delegates at the Constitutional Convention to sign as well. Franklin was the only American to sign all three of the major documents that brought about the birth of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, and the U.S. Constitution. By the 1780s, he was looked upon as a living sage. Though a great thinker, writer, inventor, and statesman, he was always able to relate to the common person and had little need for wealth.
(The entire section is 4267 words.)
Born 1744? (Claverack, New York?)
Died December 28, 1829 (Stockbridge, Massachusetts)
Slave, freewoman, nursemaid, nanny, housekeeper
On December 6, 1865, eight months after the conclusion of the American Civil War (1861–65), Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning slavery in the United States. Eighty-four years earlier, in 1781, a determined black slave, Elizabeth Freeman, brought a lawsuit against her master, John Ashley, in a Massachusetts county court and won her freedom.
Freeman could neither read nor write, but she had listened attentively to community leaders' discussions about freedom at meetings held in Ashley's Sheffield, Massachusetts, home. In the spring of 1781, she happened to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence at a town meeting. She reasoned that the Declaration's statements about freedom and equality applied to her along with everyone else living on American soil. Careful consideration of the ideas expressed in the Declaration prompted Freeman to file her lawsuit seeking freedom.
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Born January 2, 1752 (New York, New York)
Died December 19, 1832 (Monmouth County, New Jersey)
Philip Freneau was a major early American poet who used his wit and literary skills to advance America's political goals at the end of the eighteenth century. His talent and dedication to the revolutionary cause earned him the title "poet of the American Revolution." Many other authors from his time wrote for the cultured, wealthy citizens of the nation, but Freneau was different; he identified with the common people. Freneau devoted his life to public service, pouring his energy into propaganda (information distributed for the purpose of promoting a viewpoint) for American independence and full democracy (a government ruled through majority decisions made by the people).
Freneau also advocated the idea of naturalism (the belief in a natural order to the world that can be explained through the sciences). Many people still believed in supernatural forces, such as witches and demons, which were largely out of their control and often caused evil in the world. Therefore, Freneau's work brought fresh interest and attention to the study of nature. He...
(The entire section is 2937 words.)
Born January 29, 1761 (Geneva, Switzerland)
Died August 12, 1849 (Astoria, New York)
U.S. secretary of the treasury, congressman, diplomat
Albert Gallatin was the fourth U.S. secretary of the treasury, serving from 1801 until 1814. He held the office longer than any other person in U.S. history, and he became one of the most influential men of the early American republic. Gallatin served for eight years under President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9; see entry in volume 1) and then for four more years under President James Madison (1751–1836; served 1809–17; see entry in volume 2).
A native of Switzerland, Gallatin began life in his adopted country as a land speculator and farmer. Land speculation is the buying of undeveloped frontier land cheaply with the intention of later reselling it to settlers at a higher price, thus making a profit. In the early American period, it was a common means of gaining wealth. Gallatin also built a glass factory in 1796, the first factory of its kind west of the Appalachian Mountains.
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Greene, Catharine Littlefield
Born February 17, 1755 (Block Island, Rhode Island)
Died July 20, 1814 (Cumberland Island, Georgia)
Catharine "Caty" Littlefield Greene witnessed, and at times participated in, some of the most far-reaching events in American history through her marriage to General Nathanael Greene (1742–1786). She was a friend and confidant to important, well-known people of her day, including President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97; see entry in volume 2) and his wife, Martha Washington (1732–1802; see entry in volume 2).
After the American Revolution (1775–83), Catharine Greene became a financial supporter of Eli Whitney (1765–1825; see entry in volume 2), who was developing a mechanized process for ginning, separating cotton fiber from its seeds. Her participation in Whitney's invention of the cotton gin secured her place in history, because the new machine revolutionized the U.S. cotton industry and had a huge impact on America's economy in the nineteenth century.
(The entire section is 2805 words.)
Born 1735 (Unknown)
Died December 4, 1807 (Boston, Massachusetts)
Black social activist
Prince Hall founded the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons of Boston toward the end of the eighteenth century. The charter for the organization was issued by the Grand Lodge of England after the American Revolution (1775–83). More commonly known as African Lodge #459, it was the world's first black Masonic lodge, and Hall was its first grand master (leader). The group was a vital part of a movement to promote political and economic improvements for free blacks in America. Its organization was a model for all future black social institutions that were established to provide economic and educational assistance to their members. With Boston as the headquarters of African Masonry, Hall also chartered lodges in Philadelphia, Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut.
Hall was one of the most prominent and influential members of Boston's black community. He used his position as grand master of the lodge to speak out for abolition...
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Born January 11, 1755 or 1757 (Nevis, British West Indies)
Died July 12, 1804 (Weehawken, New Jersey)
Secretary of the U.S. treasury, political leader
As the nation's first secretary of the treasury under President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97; see entry in volume 2), Alexander Hamilton mapped out an ambitious plan to place the United States on firm economic footing. Hamilton was a key member of President Washington's Cabinet (a president's closest advisors), and the president commonly adopted Hamilton's ideas instead of the recommendations of other officials. As a result, Hamilton would help shape the new nation more than any other individual, and his influences continued for decades later.
Hamilton sought to reshape the American economy, which was primarily agricultural in the eighteenth century. He wanted the United States to have a market economy with robust international trade and growing industry. A market economy is commerce operating relatively free of government intervention, where demand and availability of goods and materials determines prices,...
(The entire section is 4425 words.)
Born March 15, 1767 (Waxhaw, South Carolina)
Died June 8, 1845 (Nashville, Tennessee)
Military hero, U.S. president
Raised on the western frontier of the United States, Andrew Jackson was the first president born in a log cabin. Earlier presidents had come from wealthy families. In contrast, Jackson had to work for a living; he practiced law and speculated in land on the frontier to support himself. He entered the world of politics through sheer determination and flamboyant behavior. Jackson became a central figure in American politics in the early 1800s, when the nation shifted its attention to newly acquired land in the West. By then, he was already well known as a war hero, having led U.S. troops to victory in various battles of the War of 1812 (1812–15).
Jackson would later set the model for future presidential candidates by pointing out his modest upbringing, excellent military record, and connection with ordinary, everyday Americans. He also set the course for future U.S. expansion by opening millions of acres of Native American lands to white settlers.
(The entire section is 4175 words.)
Born December 12, 1745 (New York, New York)
Died May 17, 1829 (Bedford, New York)
Statesman, diplomat, Supreme Court chief justice
Although he originally opposed the idea of American independence from Britain, John Jay became one of the most important figures in the fight for independence and the shaping of the new nation. Showing exceptional intelligence, great dignity, boundless ability, and high moral integrity, Jay made invaluable contributions to the fledgling government of the United States of America. He held more prestigious public offices than any other person in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His many roles included serving as a foreign diplomat, a Supreme Court chief justice, and governor of New York. His self-confidence and uncompromising adherence to his beliefs while in office contributed to the strong character of the nation.
Born into a privileged life
John Jay was born to Peter Jay and Mary Van Cortlandt Jay in New York City in December 1745. He was the sixth son among eight children in the family. Both of his parents
(The entire section is 3298 words.)
Born April 13, 1743 (Shadwell, Virginia)
Died July 4, 1826 (Monticello, Virginia)
U.S. president, vice president, secretary of state, scientist, inventor,
philosopher, foreign diplomat, architect
Thomas Jefferson, a slave-owning aristocrat and philosopher who believed in reason, science, and education, was the primary spokesman for the common people in the early years of the United States. Despite coming from a wealthy family, he had a strong ability to connect with the common person; he also had a talent for writing in plain, direct, yet eloquent language. His revolutionary thought profoundly influenced the direction of American independence. Though he spent most of his career in public office, Jefferson always considered himself a common citizen rather than a politician.
Jefferson rejected all existing European notions of society and governmental authority. He contended that government derives its authority from the consent of the people it governs. Believing in self-government by the people, Jefferson argued that the ideal society was that of landowning farmers living under as little government control as possible. This ideal became known as Jeffersonian democracy.
(The entire section is 6236 words.)
Born November 6, 1746 (Sussex County, Delaware)
Died February 13, 1818 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Absalom Jones was the first black Protestant Episcopal priest in the United States. He was principal founder of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, the first black Episcopal church in America. Besides providing spiritual guidance and religious instruction to his church, Jones also offered economic aid and educational opportunities to those in need. He founded several schools and established the Female Benevolent Society and the African Friendly Society.
Jones helped organize the Free African Society and was a well-respected community leader in Philadelphia. As an ardent abolitionist (an opponent of slavery), Jones used his pulpit for protest in the fight against slavery. Jones was a leader in the African Masonic Lodge and also helped recruit men to form the "Black Legion," a group of black soldiers who fought in defense of Philadelphia during the War of 1812 (1812–15). His ministry among blacks was so significant that...
(The entire section is 2059 words.)
Key, Francis Scott
Born August 1, 1779 (Frederick County, Maryland)
Died January 11, 1843 (Baltimore, Maryland)
Francis Scott Key wrote the words to the national anthem of the United States, the now-famous song called "The Star-Spangled Banner." Written in September 1814 during the Battle of Baltimore, the song was officially signed into law as the nation's anthem by President Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33) on March 3, 1931. Key was not a professional poet but rather a lawyer who later served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia between 1833 and 1841. As the author of the American national anthem, Francis Scott Key has numerous monuments and landmarks dedicated to his memory.
Exposure to notable figures
Francis Scott Key was born in Frederick County, Maryland, at Terra Rubra, his family's estate, named for the red earth on which it stood. Francis's...
(The entire section is 2512 words.)
Born July 25, 1750 (Boston, Massachusetts)
Died October 25, 1806 (Thomaston, Maine)
General, U.S. secretary of war
Known as the father of American army artillery, Henry Knox played a prominent role in most major battles during the American Revolution (1775–83) and became a close adviser and friend to General George Washington (1732–1799; see entry in volume 2) through the war years and during the following early period of the republic. Knox served as secretary of war from 1785 to 1794. He was the only government official to serve in the same capacity in the national government under both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution.
Early interest in the military
Henry Knox was born on July 25, 1750, the seventh of ten boys of William Knox and Mary Campbell. His parents had emigrated from Ireland to Boston in 1729. William was a shipbuilder but suffered financial setbacks and deserted the family. He went to the West Indies and died in 1762 at fifty years of age. To help support his mother and brothers, twelve-year-old Henry left school and began work as...
(The entire section is 2656 words.)
Born August 2, 1754 (Paris, France)
Died June 14, 1825 (Prince Georges County, Maryland)
Pierre-Charles L'Enfant was a French artist who excelled in architecture and engineering. He is best remembered as the city planner who designed Washington, D.C., under the direction of President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97; see entry in volume 2). L'Enfant was also responsible for remodeling Federal Hall in New York City, where Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States.
L'Enfant was a soldier in the American Revolution (1775–83) and a charter member of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization created to help maintain ties among veterans of the American Revolution. He designed the society's certificate and its insignia. L'Enfant's use of symbolism and his practical use of topography (natural features of the ground surface) made him an influential urban planner into the twentieth century. Elements of L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C., were adopted in numerous cities nationally and internationally.
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Lewis and Clark
Born August 18, 1774 (Albemarle County, Virginia)
Died October 11, 1809 (Nashville, Tennessee)
Born August 1, 1770 (Caroline County, Virginia)
Died September 1, 1838 (St. Louis, Missouri)
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are two of the most celebrated heroes in American history for leading an extraordinary expedition. With some for tycrewmembers, known as the Corps of Discovery, they journeyed by boat, canoe, horseback, and foot for three years in uncharted territory from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Northwest coast and back. President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9; see entry in volume 1) sent them to explore and map the new American lands, find a route to the Pacific Ocean, establish an American presence in the Pacific Northwest, make friends with Native Americans, and see to what extent European influence already existed, if any.
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Lewis, Nelly Custis
Born March 2, 1779 (Alexandria, Virginia)
Died July 15, 1852 (Shenandoah Valley, Virginia)
First family member
Eleanor Parke Custis and her brother George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857; see box) were the grandchildren of Martha Washington (1732–1802; see entry in volume 2) and the step-grandchildren of the first U.S. president, George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97; see entry in volume 2). Eleanor, known as Nelly, and little George, known as Wash, became the first children to live in a U.S. presidential mansion.
After Nelly and Wash's father died, George and Martha reached an agreement with the children's mother, Eleanor Calvert Custis (1757–1811), to raise both youngsters as their own. Nelly had just turned ten years old when she and Wash traveled with Martha to New York City, the nation's temporary capital, to join newly inaugurated President Washington. Nelly grew to womanhood during Washington's eight-year presidency. Martha, Nelly, and Wash had to forge their own path, because no guidelines existed on the role of the presidential family.
(The entire section is 3391 words.)
Born 1752 (Whitley County, Indiana)
Died July 14, 1812 (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
Miami tribal leader
Little Turtle was a distinguished war chief of the Miami tribe of Native Americans in the Great Lakes region in the late eighteenth century. He was one of the most successful woodland military commanders of his time and led an intertribal force to victory against two American frontier armies in 1790 and 1791. The battle known as St. Clair's Defeat marked the largest defeat of a U.S. Army force during a single battle in all of the U.S.–Native American wars. The loss exceeded any inflicted on the United States by the British in a single battle during the American Revolution (1775–83).
Little Turtle enjoyed this leading role in Native American resistance against American settlement of tribal lands until the superior forces of General Anthony Wayne (1745–1796; see entry in volume 2) triumphed in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Little Turtle then signed the...
(The entire section is 2787 words.)
Born May 20, 1768 (Guilford County, North Carolina)
Died July 12, 1849 (Washington, D.C.)
First lady, hostess
Dolley Madison was the wife of the fourth president of the United States, James Madison (1751–1836; served 1809–17; see entry in volume 2). As the nation's official hostess, she set entertainment standards that were copied by future first ladies for decades. Known for her genuine warmth, kindness, and elegant style, she was at the center of the Washington, D.C., social circle for years. With purpose and charm, she hosted social functions that brought together politicians and diplomats with widely differing views. Her presence and conversation skills opened discussions between individuals who otherwise may have never spoken to one another. The American public adored Dolley. Through forty-two years of marriage, the Madisons were seldom apart for more than a few days. Dolley sustained her husband through his time in public office. Her loyalty never wavered, and her cheerfulness rarely failed.
(The entire section is 4073 words.)
Born March 16, 1751 (Port Conway, Virginia)
Died June 28, 1836 (Montpelier, Virginia)
U.S. president, secretary of state
Between 1780 and 1817, James Madison's overriding goal was the success of American independence. Madison directed key aspects of the formation of the new nation. At the age of twenty-nine, he produced a plan for ceding (giving up) Virginia's western land claims, a plan that prompted the successful ratification (approval) of the nation's first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. When barely thirty-five, Madison worked with the Virginia legislature to pass a document written by his friend Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; see entry in volume 1) that provided a basis for religious freedom in America. At thirty-six, he was the chief author of the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted by the states in 1788. A year later, he pulled together suggestions by the states for additions to the Constitution; these additions became the Bill of Rights. For eight years, from 1801 to 1809, he served under President Jefferson as secretary of state. From 1809 until 1817, Madison served as the nation's fourth president. He retired feeling convinced that American independence was secured.
(The entire section is 5743 words.)
Born September 24, 1755 (Germantown, Virginia)
Died July 6, 1835 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
John Marshall grew up as a Virginia gentleman who was accepted into the most famous group of national leaders this nation ever produced. His fellow Virginian revolutionaries included George Washington (1732–1799; see entry in volume 2), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; see entry in volume 1), James Madison (1751–1836; see entry in volume 2), and Edmund Randolph (1753–1813; see entry in volume 2). In January 1801, the U.S. Senate approved Marshall as chief justice of the Supreme Court. At the time, it was a weak federal position. Over the next thirty-four years, however, Marshall made it into one of the most powerful positions in the national government.
In his court position, Marshall assumed the role of chief defender of the U.S. Constitution. He also resolved numerous conflicts between state and federal governments. Marshall took part in over one thousand...
(The entire section is 3416 words.)
Born 1759 (Present-day Alabama)
Died February 17, 1793 (Pensacola, Florida)
Creek Indian leader
Alexander McGillivray was an important Native American political leader during the early years of the United States. He came to power in the Creek Confederacy at a time when white settlements were expanding farther into traditional Native American homelands and threatening Native American society. McGillivray used his influence to introduce reforms and protect Creek interests. As the son of a European father and a Native American mother, McGillivray made a unique contribution to the history of the newly formed United States.
McGillivray's domestic policy urged the centralization of power among the Native Americans; the concept of centralization was characteristic of European-style governments but had never been tried in the Creek nation. His foreign policy in the mid-1780s resulted in an alliance with Spain, the country that controlled the Gulf Coast region and the area that makes up present-day Florida. The alliance guaranteed the Creek their political...
(The entire section is 2730 words.)
Born 1760 (Pennsylvania)
Died February 1817 (Henderson County, Kentucky)
James McGready is known as the father of revivalism in the American West, which in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. McGready's use of camp meetings brought religion to the masses on the western frontier of the United States. As a result, America experienced a "Second Great Awakening," a period of widespread revival in religious activity. (A first "Great Awakening" had occurred in the early eighteenth century.) Through McGready and others, Protestantism (Christian beliefs held by congregations that are independent of the Catholic pope and other central authority) continued to serve as an important force in the nation's history.
McGready was a powerful preacher who drew thousands to hear his message of faith at the beginning of the nineteenth century. His services provided a spiritual and emotional experience for all who attended, and his preaching often provoked a...
(The entire section is 2664 words.)
Born April 28, 1758 (Westmoreland County, Virginia)
Died July 4, 1831 (New York, New York)
Diplomat, governor, U.S. president
James Monroe was the first of the early prominent U.S. leaders to deliberately choose public service as his career. Spanning forty-three years, Monroe's career included the roles of state legislator, governor, foreign diplomat, U.S. secretary of state, U.S. secretary of war, and U.S. president.
James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758, the first of four children born to Colonel Spence Monroe and Elizabeth Jones Monroe. James was tutored at home before entering a private school at twelve years of age. He entered the College of William and Mary at the age of sixteen. After two years, his studies were interrupted when he decided to join the Continental Army, to fight for American independence. The American Revolution (1775–83) had begun, and James wanted to help his country break free from British rule.
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Murray, Judith Sargent
Born May 1, 1751 (Gloucester, Massachusetts)
Died July 6, 1820 (Natchez, Mississippi)
Author, social activist
Judith Sargent Murray was a well-known author in the United States during the late eighteenth century. Although she used fictitious names—and sometimes a male identity—when writing, Murray's identity was not a secret, and she established a distinguished literary reputation. She is believed to be the first woman to regularly publish essays with her series titled The Gleaner. Considered a minor classic in America, the work has been favorably compared to that of her contemporaries, Philip Freneau (1752–1832; see entry in volume 1) and Noah Webster (1758–1843). Murray entered the national debate on the role of women in the emerging United States, which made her works important to late-twentieth-century historians.
Murray's lengthy writing career covered a number of topics and took on a variety of forms, including prose (ordinary language) and poetry. She was a pioneer in the field of playwriting and was the first American-born writer whose work was...
(The entire section is 2341 words.)
Born June 26, 1767 (Litchfield, Connecticut)
Died January 19, 1852 (Litchfield, Connecticut)
Sarah Pierce was an educator who opened and operated the first school in the United States dedicated to the higher education of women. The Litchfield Female Academy was the leading institution for women during the first decades of the nineteenth century. It attracted students from fifteen states and territories, Canada, Ireland, and the West Indies. Pierce greatly influenced the history of education through the many young women she trained as teachers. While some of her students returned to teach at Litchfield Female Academy, others, inspired by Pierce, went on to establish their own schools. Many of the Female Academy's graduates devoted their energies to improving educational opportunities for other women.
An untried experiment
Sarah Pierce was born on June 26, 1767, the...
(The entire section is 2052 words.)
Pinckney, Eliza Lucas
Born December 28, 1723 (Antigua, West Indies)
Died May 26, 1793 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Eliza Lucas Pinckney was a teenager when she was assigned to manage three large plantations for her family. She was still a young woman when her horticultural (plant-growing) experiments succeeded in the cultivation of the first indigo plants in British North America. Lucas shared her discovery with her South Carolina neighbors, creating an industry that would sustain the Carolina economy for three decades. The so-called Indigo Bonanza saw indigo planters double their money every three to four years from 1745 until 1775, when the American Revolution (1775–83) brought an end to trade with Britain. By 1775, South Carolina was exporting over 1 million pounds of indigo annually, with a present-day value of over $30 million. Thanks to Pinckney's efforts, the Southern economy had grown strong by the time the United States won its independence in 1783.
Pinckney supported the American Revolution...
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Born August 10, 1753 (Williamsburg, Virginia)
Died September 12, 1813 (Clark County, Virginia)
Attorney general, secretary of state, governor
Edmund Randolph was highly influential in the political shaping of America, particularly between 1776 and 1800, when he served as Virginia's first attorney general, Virginia state governor, the first U.S. attorney general, and the nation's second secretary of state. Coming from a family with a colonial legal background, Randolph was very intelligent and highly respected for his legal knowledge. Randolph played a key role at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, serving on a committee that developed an early draft of the U.S. Constitution.
Family of lawyers
Edmund Randolph was born in August 1753 to John Randolph and Ariana Jenings at Williamsburg, Virginia. Their home was called Tazewell Hall. The family was well established in colonial politics and legal matters, having moved to America from England in the mid-1600s. His father, uncle, and grandfather all served as attorneys for the British Crown in the Virginia...
(The entire section is 2071 words.)
Born January 1, 1752 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Died January 30, 1836 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Betsy Ross, the legendary maker of the first American flag known as the "Stars and Stripes," was a successful businesswoman during the early years of the nation. Ross did not just supplement the family income as many women did in the early years of the nation; she actually supported her family with her business skills. She trained as a seamstress and apprenticed as an upholsterer before becoming an official flag-maker for the Pennsylvania State Navy Board. She resided in Philadelphia her entire life and experienced firsthand the effects of the American Revolution (1775–83). Ross lost two husbands to the war, and at one point her home was taken over by the British to lodge soldiers.
Disowned by the Quaker Society as a young woman, Ross became a faithful member of the new Society of Free Quakers. The group was commonly called the "Fighting Quakers" because they participated in civil affairs and...
(The entire section is 2308 words.)
Born 1786 (Present-day Idaho)
Died December 20, 1812 (Present-day South Dakota)
Sacagawea is an extraordinary figure in the history of the American West. She was the only woman to participate in the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804–6), an exploration of the West arranged by President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9; see entry in volume 1). Sacagawea's indispensable role in the expedition made her a legendary figure in her own right. Over time, Sacagawea's documented history became mixed with frontier myth (a traditional story) to create a woman shrouded in mystery. Sacagawea became a popular subject of books, movies, and tribal lore during the twentieth century. More monuments, memorials, rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges have been named for Sacagawea than for any other American woman. In the twenty-first century, Sacagawea remains one of the most familiar figures of the Lewis and Clark party.
Child of the Snake people
Sacagawea was born around 1786 as a member of the...
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Seton, Elizabeth Ann
Born August 28, 1774 (New York, New York)
Died January 4, 1821 (Emmitsburg, Maryland)
Educator, religious leader
Elizabeth Ann Seton was a convert to Roman Catholicism who formed a religious community and opened a school for poor children in Maryland. In 1809, she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, the first religious order of women in the United States. In 1813, Seton was elected mother superior, or head, of the Sisters of Charity—the same year the organization set up a national Catholic school system. By 1814, Mother Seton and her Sisters of Charity were also managing the first Catholic orphanage in the United States.
In 1828, shortly after Seton's death, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's began the first Catholic hospital in the United States, located in St. Louis, Missouri. Seton left a large body of writing in the form of journals and correspondence that helped document the historical development of American Catholicism in the nation's early years. In 1975, she became the first person born in the United States to be named a saint when she was canonized by Pope Paul VI (1897–1978)....
(The entire section is 2420 words.)
Born September 23, 1745 (Rockingham County, Virginia)
Died September 24, 1815 (Fort Decatur, Alabama)
First governor of Tennessee
John Sevier served as the first, and only, governor of the state of Franklin from 1784 until its collapse in 1788. He went on to serve six terms as governor of the state of Tennessee after participating in the organization of the state in 1796. When his term as governor ended in 1809, Sevier was elected as a state senator representing Knox County, Tennessee. Sevier began his career as a pioneer and a soldier, but his leadership abilities soon carried him into public service. He exercised a lifelong commitment to western and southern expansion of American settlement during the early formative years of the United States. Sevier ended his political career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and advisor to U.S. president James Madison (1751–1836; served 1809–17; see entry in volume 2).
A soldier of fortune
John Sevier was born in September 1745 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. His birthplace was...
(The entire section is 2489 words.)
Born 1768 (Old Piqua, Ohio)
Died October 5, 1813 (Chatham, Ontario, Canada)
Shawnee tribal leader
Tecumseh was one of the greatest and most trusted leaders of the Shawnee nation. He aggressively resisted American settlement and influence in his native land and worked to build a united Native American front against the Americans. He spent much of his time traveling through the Ohio River valley and in the South, rallying other Native American groups to defend their lands. Tecumseh was a member of the Algonquian tribe, a widespread group that shared a common language. The Algonquians include the Shawnee, Delaware, Miami, and Ottawa, among others. Algonquian was one of the largest language groups in native America.
Tecumseh was an eloquent speaker and often served as the spokesman for the Shawnee at councils between white officials and the tribes of the Ohio River valley. His dignity of character brought him to the forefront in dealing with the leaders of the United States and Britain during a time of significant change throughout the world. Tecumseh's...
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Warren, Mercy Otis
Born September 25, 1728 (Barnstable, Massachusetts)
Died October 19, 1814 (Plymouth, Massachusetts)
Mercy Otis Warren was an American poet and a historian of the nation's early years. She is often referred to as the first lady of the American Revolution (1775–83), because leading political figures from the colonies consulted with her about their plans for independence. She participated in the revolutionary cause through her publications, which promoted democracy (a government ruled through majority decisions made by the people) at a time when most Americans still thought of it as an impossible notion. Warren promoted political and legal rights for women along with American independence. As the colonists' rebellion against British rule increased, Warren became one of the most important women in early American history. Her books provide historians with details and commentary on the founding of the United States from a woman's perspective.
The beginning of Mercy
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Born February 22, 1732 (Westmoreland County, Virginia)
Died December 14, 1799 (Mount Vernon, Virginia)
First U.S. president, military commander
Known as the Father of His Country, George Washington was commander of the Continental Army from 1775 through 1783, the entire period of the American Revolution. He then became the first president of the United States, serving from 1789 to 1797. The nation's capital and a state are named after him, as are numerous landmarks across the nation. As if in anticipation of his forthcoming historic role, Washington crafted a very formal, authoritative, and dignified persona for himself. In his military career, he defeated the British and won American independence, crushed the Native American resistance to U.S. settlement on the frontier, and decisively put down rebellions in the new republic. During his presidency, the new national government was formed, economic prosperity was established, and new treaties with Britain and Spain were signed. Perhaps one of his most crucial tasks was transferring the nation's over-whelming respect for him to the position of the president.
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Born June 2, 1732 (New Kent County, Virginia)
Died May 22, 1802 (Mount Vernon, Virginia)
The lives of prominent eighteenth-century women were rarely recorded in any detail. Yet women played as vital a role as men in early America. Women managed the household duties, including food preparation and storage, sewing, giving birth to and caring for numerous children, and over-seeing the health of the entire family. Martha Washington performed all these duties but on a grander scale than most women. She was a member of the wealthy planter class, which meant she had to oversee the household operations of large plantations. Her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis (1711–1757), was the richest man in Virginia. After his death, she remarried military hero and large landowner George Washington (1732–1799; see entry in volume 2). The wealth she brought to her second marriage ensured the success of Washington's plantation, Mount Vernon.
Washington became the first president of the United States and the most...
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Born January 1, 1745 (Waynesboro, Pennsylvania)
Died December 15, 1796 (Presque Isle, Pennsylvania)
Gaining recognition as a general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution (1775–83), Anthony Wayne served in the first U.S. Congress before returning to a military role to defeat a strong Native American alliance. The alliance had formed west of the Appalachian Mountains in the Old Northwest to forcibly resist expansion of U.S. settlements into the region. Wayne demonstrated considerable courage and competence when the young nation needed leaders on the battlefield. He earned the nickname "Mad Anthony" for his fearless charges into enemy lines.
Anthony Wayne was born on New Year's Day in 1745 to Isaac Wayne and Elizabeth Iddings Wayne. He was their only child. His father and grandfather emigrated from Ireland and around 1724 settled on a 500-acre farm in Pennsylvania. The growing local community became known as Waynesboro. The Waynes also purchased a profitable tannery, where animal hides...
(The entire section is 2189 words.)
Born April 4, 1748 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Died July 17, 1836 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Episcopal church leader
William White has been called the chief architect of the Episcopal Church in America. His gifts as a theologian and an organizer, along with his family connections, made him an important leader during the development of the Church. He was largely responsible for creating the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. White helped organize the system of church government that remains the base of the modern Episcopal Church. As the rector (clergyman in charge of a parish) of a prominent Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, parish, White wrote extensively on the unity and future growth of Anglicanism, or the Episcopal Church, in the new nation. He was elected bishop of the diocese of Pennsylvania in 1786 and was presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church from 1795 until his death in 1836.
William White was born in 1748 to a wealthy Philadelphia family who had made their money...
(The entire section is 2505 words.)
Born December 8, 1765 (Westborough, Massachusetts)
Died January 8, 1825 (New Haven, Connecticut)
Inventor, engineer, manufacturer
Eli Whitney is one of the most influential inventors in American history. Though most noted for inventing the cotton gin, he made his greatest contribution to industry by creating a manufacturing process for making muskets (firearms) with interchangeable parts. A part from one musket could fit any other musket he made. Whitney revolutionized industrial production by establishing the basis for the future assembly line and modern mass production. He was a pioneer in creating machine tools, which could make each part of a musket separately with consistent precision. With this new manufacturing process, unskilled workers could mass-produce items that were previously made very slowly by individual skilled craftsmen.
The cotton gin, on the other hand, was a mechanically simple device. Therefore, its importance was more in the social and economic realm. The cotton gin led to a booming Southern economy and greatly increased the use of slaves in the United States. Some eighty...
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Born February 5, 1723 (Gifford, Scotland)
Died November 15, 1794 (Princeton, New Jersey)
Protestant theologian, educator
John Witherspoon was an American Founding Father, a noted clergyman, and an educator. He played an influential role in his home country of Scotland and in his adopted country, the United States. Witherspoon was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. From 1776 until 1782, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he helped draft the Articles of Confederation, America's first constitution. After the American Revolution (1775–83), Witherspoon was twice elected to the New Jersey legislature.
Witherspoon served as president of College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) from 1768 until 1794. In his role as educator, he taught many students who became leaders in early American public life. His students included future U.S. senators, governors, U.S. Supreme Court justices, and the future author of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison (1751–1836; see entry in volume 2), who would one day...
(The entire section is 2923 words.)