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Biographical Glossary

There are 132 entries in this glossary.
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Abbot, Henry

(C. 1740–1791) Born in London, son of the Reverend John Abbot (a canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral). Ran away to America in the mid-1750s and settled in Pasquotank (later Camden) County, North Carolina. Became a Baptist in 1758 and was an itinerant evangelist in northeastern North Carolina until 1761, when he became pastor of the Tar River Baptist Church in Granville County. By 1765, he had been ordained pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Pasquotank County. In 1769, he participated in the formation of the Kehukee Baptist Association of reformed, or Particular, Baptists. Sometime between 1766 and 1772, he married Mariam Caroon Lurry Wilson, who had two sons by a previous marriage. In 1776, he represented Pasquotank County in the provincial congress that endorsed American independence. Served on legislative committees for defense and for drafting a new state constitution and declaration of rights. Introduced bill permitting non-established clergy to perform marriages. Was recruiting officer for his county. Generally recognized as the author of 19th article of state declaration of rights, affirming that “all men have natural and inalienable rights to worship almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience.” Attended ratifying conventions at Hillsborough in 1788 and Fayetteville in 1789 and supported ratification with amendments. In 1790, owned six slaves and 300 acres of land. Died in May 1791 after a brief illness.

Adams, John

(1735–1826) Born October 30, 1735, in Braintree, Massachusetts, eldest son of Susanna Boylston and John Adams (a farmer), and second cousin of Samuel Adams. After graduating from Harvard College in 1755, taught school in Worcester, Massachusetts, and took up the study of law; admitted to the Boston bar in November 1758. Married Abigail, daughter of the minister William Smith of Weymouth, Massachusetts, in October 1764. Though opposed to mob action, took active role against Stamp Act in 1765. Rode circuits around state as law practice grew. Moved to Boston in 1768, where he successfully defended John Hancock against a smuggling charge that year. Elected delegate to the Massachusetts General Court from Boston in 1770. With Josiah Quincy, successfully defended British soldiers Captain Preston and his men in October-November 1770 against charges of murder in the controversial “Boston Massacre” case. Exhausted by town life, moved back to Braintree in 1771 but soon returned to Boston and his expanding law practice. Elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774; served on various committees. Elected to the provincial congress and became a member of the council. Served in the Second Continental Congress 1775–78 where he nominated George Washington to be commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775. Published pamphlet Thoughts on Government in January 1776 and urged the other colonies to institute new governments. Seconded Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence and served on the committee with Jefferson, Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman to prepare draft; signed the Declaration of Independence. With Franklin, took leading role on committee to draft a plan of treaties with foreign countries. Elected to the Board of War; with Franklin and Edward Rutledge, met with Lord Howe on Staten Island in fruitless conciliatory negotiation. Formed alliances and friendships with the Lees of Virginia, Benjamin Rush, and Jefferson, among others. Elected to replace Silas Deane as commissioner (with Franklin and Arthur Lee) to the court of France in November 1777. Arrived in Paris with son John Quincy in April 1778; returned to America in August 1779. Served in convention to frame Massachusetts constitution based largely on his plan, but before draft was completed was sent by Congress to Europe to negotiate peace and commercial treaty with Great Britain. Arrived in Paris in February 1780, distrusted Franklin and had falling-out with French foreign minister Vergennes; went to Holland to try to get loans. Appointed minister to Holland by Congress in December 1780; August 1782, named minister plenipotentiary to the United Provinces, negotiated loan and signed treaty of amity and commerce. Returned to France in time to help Franklin and Jay (whose efforts he supported) complete final elements of treaty; signed provisional peace accord with England in November 1782 (final treaty was signed in September 1783). Negotiated further loans in Holland. Joined by his family in France in 1784, was appointed first U.S. minister to Britain and served 1785–88. In London he wrote three-volume Defence of the Constitutions of the United States (1787–88), in which he criticized many American state constitutions as lacking in stability. He praised the new U.S. Constitution, though he still desired more stability and order than it seemed to promise. As vice-president of the United States under Washington, April 1789-March 1797, he supported Washington and helped Hamilton pass his financial measures. Elected president as a Federalist in 1796, he was angered by Hamilton’s efforts against him in the election; retained Washington’s cabinet. Appointed John Marshall, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Elbridge Gerry to a special mission to France 1797–98, resulting in the infuriating XYZ Affair. Prepared for possible war with France, increasing the army and navy and naming Washington to command; was forced by Washington to accept Hamilton as second in command (with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney third). Engaged in an undeclared naval war with France, 1798–1800. Signed Alien and Sedition Acts. After hearing that France would respond favorably, appointed William Vans Murray, Oliver Ellsworth, and William R. Davie to second peace mission in 1799, despite disagreement with his cabinet (peace with France was concluded in September 1800). Learned that some members of his cabinet were taking instructions from Hamilton; confronted McHenry, secretary of war, who resigned, and Pickering, who refused to resign and remained until May 1800 when Adams fired him (Wolcott was another Hamiltonian but Adams was unaware of his role). Appointed John Marshall secretary of state to replace Pickering and, in January 1801, appointed him Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (for a while he occupied both positions). Partly because of the enmity of Hamilton and his friends and the consequent split in the Federalist party, lost the election to Jefferson in 1800. When Congress reorganized the judiciary system in 1801, Adams made a large number of lifetime appointments before leaving office, angering Jefferson. Retired to his farm in Quincy (part of old Braintree) in 1801. With Benjamin Rush as mediator, renewed correspondence with Jefferson in 1812. Served as presidential elector for James Monroe in 1821. Died in Quincy, Massachusetts, July 4, 1826.

Adams, Samuel

(1722–1803) Born September 27, 1722, in Boston, son of Mary Fifield and Samuel Adams (a prosperous Boston brewer and real estate owner who was active in civic affairs and who had established a land bank that was later destroyed by Governor Thomas Hutchinson). Graduated from Harvard College in 1740 and studied law briefly. Went into business, but was not successful. In 1749, married Elizabeth Checkley, who died in 1757, leaving him with two children. Married Elizabeth Wells in 1764. Became one of the most active members of the committee of correspondence of the Sons of Liberty during the Stamp Act crisis. Organized town meetings and wrote pamphlets and articles throughout the period leading up to the Revolution. Frequently corresponded with the Lees of Virginia, John Lamb of New York, and many others. Appointed tax collector of Boston. Elected to the Massachusetts General Court 1765–74. Served with his second cousin John Adams in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1782 (when he resigned). Supported independence from an early date. Seconded nomination of George Washington as commander-in-chief of Continental Army. Signed the Declaration of Independence. Was a member of the committee that drafted Articles of Confederation in 1776. Member of the Massachusetts state constitutional convention 1779–80. President of the state senate in 1781. Supported suppression of Shays’ Rebellion by the militia. Served as a delegate to Massachusetts ratifying convention of 1788, despite the death of his only son on January 17. Reluctant at first to support the Constitution, at the end of the convention threw his influence behind John Hancock’s crucial call for amendments subsequent to ratification. Elected lieutenant governor in 1789, defeating Benjamin Lincoln; reelected annually through 1793. Elected governor for three terms, 1794–97. Died in Boston on October 2, 1803.

Ames, Fisher

(1758–1808) Born April 9, 1758, in Dedham, Massachusetts, son of Deborah Fisher and Nathaniel Ames (innkeeper, doctor, almanac maker, and publisher). Graduated from Harvard College in 1774. Served briefly with the militia. Taught country school in Dedham area, read Greek and Latin classics, and began study of law on his own in 1777. Entered law offices of William Tudor in Boston, completed his studies, and was admitted to the Suffolk bar in 1781. Returned to Dedham and opened his own practice. Wrote and published the “Lucius Junius Brutus” essays in October 1786 and the “Camillus” essays in March 1787, urging that Shays’ Rebellion be put down by armed force and stressing the need for a stronger central government. Represented Dedham in the Massachusetts General Court and in the Massachusetts ratifying convention in 1788, where he supported ratification. Elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1789, defeating Samuel Adams. Served in the first four Congresses 1789–97, where he supported Hamilton’s construction of the Constitution in favor of powerful central government and eloquently defended Jay’s Treaty with England in 1796. In July 1792, he married Frances Worthington of Springfield, Massachusetts, with whom he had seven children. One of the most influential Federalists, he considered himself a republican but not a democrat, feeling that the two had little in common. Was horrified by the French Revolution and felt its excesses were caused by too much democracy. Retained political influence after his retirement from Congress, and with George Cabot, Hamilton, and Oliver Wolcott, attempted to elect Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, rather than John Adams, president in 1800. Practiced law, and experimented with the breeding of dairy cattle and hogs and the culture of fruit trees. Became the first non-cleric chosen to be president of Harvard College, though his health compelled him to decline the post. Died at Dedham, July 4, 1808.

Armstrong, John

(1717–1795) Born October 13, 1717, in Brookborough Parish, County Fermanagh, Ireland, son of James Armstrong. Married Rebecca Lyon of Enniskillen in the same county (their son, General John Armstrong, an aide to Mercer and Horatio Gates and the author of the Newburgh Addresses of 1783, married a sister of Robert R. Livingston; served as diplomat under Jefferson and as secretary of war under Madison). They moved to the Cumberland district in Pennsylvania. Armstrong, as surveyor, laid out the town of Carlisle. Served successfully in French and Indian War as captain and lieutenant colonel. Commissioned brigadier general in the Continental Army in May 1776, and then major general and commander of the Pennsylvania militia. Served in the Continental Congress 1779–80. Supported ratification of the Constitution. When Washington wrote him (letter of April 25, 1788), Armstrong was retired and living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he died on March 9, 1795.