Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Shaping the Constitution Biographies

Shaping the Constitution Biographies

BILLY   (fl. 1770s–1780s) icon

BILLY (fl. 1770s–1780s)

Billy was an African American slave born possibly about 1754 and maybe in Richmond County, Virginia. Because he was a slave, we know very little about him, not even if he had a last name. In fact the only reason that anyone knows that Billy existed is because he took part in… more »

GABRIEL   (1776–1800) icon

GABRIEL (1776–1800)

Gabriel, an enslaved African American man, was born in 1776 probably in Henrico County on the Brookfield plantation of his master, Thomas Prosser. During his life Gabriel did not use the surname Prosser although later historians have referred to him as Gabriel Prosser. His p… more »

GEORGE III   (1738–1820) icon

GEORGE III (1738–1820)

George III was king of Great Britain from 1760 until his death. He was born on May 24, 1738, in London. His parents were both educated in Germany and spoke German. George, however, was the first Prince of Wales to be born in England in three-quarters of a century. While som… more »

PAULINE  ADAMS (1874–1957) icon

PAULINE ADAMS (1874–1957)

Born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 29, 1874, suffragist and local activist Pauline Forstall Colclough Adams was living in Brunswick County, North Carolina, by 1898, when she married Norfolk physician Walter J. Adams. They lived in Norfolk, where he established a medical practi… more »

J. LINDSAY ALMOND JR. (1898–1986) icon

J. LINDSAY ALMOND JR. (1898–1986)

James Lindsay Almond Jr. was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on June 15, 1898. He grew up on his family's farm in Orange County and attended a one-room county schoolhouse. After graduating high school in 1917, he joined the Student Army Training Corps at the University of… more »

SUSAN B. ANTHONY (1820–1906) icon

SUSAN B. ANTHONY (1820–1906)

Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts. She was educated at a Quaker school near Philadelphia but had to leave before finishing the coursework to help support her family in New York. She taught for the next decade, an experience which l… more »

ALINE  BLACK (1906–1974) icon

ALINE BLACK (1906–1974)

A plaintiff in a case challenging the disparate pay of African American and white teachers in Norfolk, Aline Elizabeth Black was born in Norfolk on March 23, 1906. She began working in the local school system as a science instructor in 1924. She attended Virginia Normal and … more »

ANNA WHITEHEAD BODEKER (1826–1904) icon

ANNA WHITEHEAD BODEKER (1826–1904)

Born Anna Whitehead in New Jersey on about July 26, 1826, she was married at age eighteen to Augustus Bodeker, a German immigrant who worked as a clerk and druggist in Richmond. They had three children and remained in Richmond during the Civil War. Inspired by her reading of… more »

WILLIAM  BREEDLOVE (ca. 1820–1871) icon

WILLIAM BREEDLOVE (ca. 1820–1871)

William Breedlove was a free African American who served as a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868. Breedlove was born in Essex County, the son of James Davis, a white man, and Polly Breedlove, a free African American. While little is known of … more »

HENRY BOX BROWN (1815 or 16–after 1878) icon

HENRY BOX BROWN (1815 or 16–after 1878)

Henry Box Brown, one of the most famous fugitives from slavery, was also an antislavery speaker, author, and performer. He was born into slavery as Henry Brown in 1815 or 1816 on the Louisa County plantation of John Barret, a former mayor of Richmond. As a teenager, Brown wa… more »

MARY WILLING BYRD (1740–1814) icon

MARY WILLING BYRD (1740–1814)

Mary Willing Byrd was a wealthy widow during most of the American Revolution. With unwavering determination she protected her husband's estate from plundering troops during the fighting and preserved the inheritance of her numerous children. Willing was born on September 10… more »

GEORGE MAJOR COOK (1860–1930) icon

GEORGE MAJOR COOK (1860–1930)

George Major Cook, who was also known by his Powhatan name Wahunsacook or Wahansunacoke was born on October 23, 1860, on the Pamunkey Reservation in King William County. Raised on the reservation, Cook learned to read and write as a child, although a state-funded school was … more »

CHARLES  CORNWALLIS, SECOND EARL CORNWALLIS (1738–1805) icon

CHARLES CORNWALLIS, SECOND EARL CORNWALLIS (1738–1805)

Charles Cornwallis was the commanding general of the British forces during the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War and was forced to surrender to American troops at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. This was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and effectively e… more »

MARQUIS  DE LAFAYETTE (1757–1834) icon

MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE (1757–1834)

Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757, in Chavaniac, France, to an aristocratic family. He was orphaned young and inherited a fortune and the title of marquis from his maternal grandfather. He was educated in Paris and was a… more »

ROBERT CARLOS DE LARGE (1842–1874) icon

ROBERT CARLOS DE LARGE (1842–1874)

Robert Carlos De Large was born on March 15, 1842, in Aiken, South Carolina, probably to free parents. He attended a North Carolina primary school and later Wood High School in Charleston, South Carolina. A tailor and farmer before the Civil War, De Large became wealthy whil… more »

MARGARET  DOUGLASS (fl. 1845–1854) icon

MARGARET DOUGLASS (fl. 1845–1854)

An unlikely martyr for black education, Margaret Douglass was arrested in May 1853 for violating Virginia law, eleven months after opening a school for free black children. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, she married, and had two children.… more »

ROBERT BROWN ELLIOT (1842–1884) icon

ROBERT BROWN ELLIOT (1842–1884)

Robert Brown Elliot was born on August 11, 1842. His parents were probably from West India, but were living in Liverpool, England. He graduated from Eton College in 1859. Elliot served in the British navy and by 1867, he had moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and was the a… more »

WILLIAM  GRAYSON (1736–1790) icon

WILLIAM GRAYSON (1736–1790)

William Grayson was born in Prince William County and was the son of a merchant. Well-educated at what became the University of Pennsylvania and in Great Britain, he began to practice law in the Prince William County town of Dumfries during the winter of 1765–1766, whe… more »

PATRICK  HENRY (1736–1799) icon

PATRICK HENRY (1736–1799)

Patrick Henry was a famous lawyer and a fervent patriot. He represented Virginia at the First and Second Continental Congresses, attended four of Virginia's five Revolutionary Conventions, and was the commonwealth of Virginia's first governor. A member of the House of Burges… more »

OLIVER WHITE HILL (1907–2007) icon

OLIVER WHITE HILL (1907–2007)

Oliver White Hill was born in Richmond and began school in Roanoke but moved to Washington, D.C., to complete his education because there was no high school for African Americans in Roanoke. He graduated from the Howard University School of Law and became one of the most act… more »

THOMAS  JEFFERSON (1743–1826) icon

THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743–1826)

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States of America, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the Founding Father most closely associated with promoting the ideals of republicanism in the development of the United States government. … more »

ELIZABETH BERMINGHAM LACY (1945– ) icon

ELIZABETH BERMINGHAM LACY (1945– )

A pioneer in the legal profession in Virginia, Elizabeth Bermingham Lacy holds the distinction of being the first female deputy attorney general in the state, the first female judge on the State Corporation Commission, and the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court of Virgi… more »

JAMES  LAFAYETTE (ca. 1760–1830) icon

JAMES LAFAYETTE (ca. 1760–1830)

Very little is known about the early life of an enslaved man named James from New Kent County, Virginia. He is believed to have been born between 1748 and 1760, and was owned by William Armistead. In 1781, General George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental army… more »

ANNA MARIA LANE (fl. 1776–1810) icon

ANNA MARIA LANE (fl. 1776–1810)

Perhaps a native of New Hampshire, Anna Maria Lane followed her husband, John Lane, who enlisted in the Continental army in 1776 and served in the campaigns in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. During the conflict, it was not uncommon for women to work as cook… more »

JOHN MERCER LANGSTON (1829–1897) icon

JOHN MERCER LANGSTON (1829–1897)

John Mercer Langston was second only to Frederick Douglass in his position as a leader among African Americans late in the nineteenth century. He fought to advance the position of blacks in the United States both before and after emancipation, by working to end slavery and l… more »

RICHARD HENRY LEE (1733–1794) icon

RICHARD HENRY LEE (1733–1794)

Richard Henry Lee was a prominent Virginia planter and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress. Throughout the American Revolution, Lee played a pivotal role in politics. He introduced the resolution to declare independence from Great Britain… more »

ABRAHAM  LINCOLN (1809–1865) icon

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809–1865)

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. His parents were farmers. The family moved to Indiana in 1816 and Lincoln's mother died in 1818. Lincoln received little schooling during his childhood, but, as a teenager, he borrowed … more »

JEFFERSON FRANKLIN LONG (1836–1901) icon

JEFFERSON FRANKLIN LONG (1836–1901)

Jefferson Franklin Long was the second African American elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1870. He was born a slave on March 3, 1836, in Knoxville, Georgia. Self-educated and trained as a tailor, he became a successful businessman in Macon, Georgia, on… more »

JAMES  MADISON (1751–1836) icon

JAMES MADISON (1751–1836)

James Madison, Virginia politician, American statesman, and fourth President of the United States, is best remembered as the father of the Constitution of the United States. He was born on March 5, 1751, in Orange County and was educated at the College of New Jersey (its nam… more »

GEORGE  MASON (1725–1792) icon

GEORGE MASON (1725–1792)

George Mason served in the third, fourth, and fifth Virginia Revolutionary Conventions and prepared the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in May 1776 and the first draft of the first Virginia constitution in June of that year. He was born on December 11, 1725… more »

JOHN  MITCHELL JR. (1863–1929) icon

JOHN MITCHELL JR. (1863–1929)

Born a slave in Richmond on July 11, 1863, John Mitchell was appointed editor of the weekly paper, the Richmond Planet, in 1884 at the age of just twenty-one. He quickly gained a reputation as a man determined to expose racial injustice wherever it lurked. Mitchell … more »

LUCRETIA  MOTT (1793–1880) icon

LUCRETIA MOTT (1793–1880)

Lucretia Coffin was born on January 3, 1793, in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Her family's membership in the Society of Friends (Quakers) was an important influence on her life. She adhered to the church's teachings of equality of all people, leading her to become an advocate fo… more »

JOHN  MURRAY, FOURTH EARL OF DUNMORE (ca. 1730–1809) icon

JOHN MURRAY, FOURTH EARL OF DUNMORE (ca. 1730–1809)

Born in near Perth, Scotland, John Murray became the fourth earl of Dunmore when his father, William Murray, third earl of Dunmore, died in 1756. While serving in the Third Regiment of Foot Guards, he married Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of the sixth earl of Galloway. Th… more »

JOSEPH THOMAS NEWSOME (1869–1942) icon

JOSEPH THOMAS NEWSOME (1869–1942)

Joseph Thomas Newsome was born in Sussex County on June 2, 1869. The son of formerly enslaved parents, Newsome graduated from Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (later Virginia State University) in 1894 and earned a law degree from Howard University School of Law. "Law… more »

GEORGE  NICHOLAS (ca. 1754–1799) icon

GEORGE NICHOLAS (ca. 1754–1799)

George Nicholas, born in Williamsburg about 1754, was the son of Robert Carter Nicholas, treasurer of Virginia from 1766 to 1776, and a great grandson of Robert "King" Carter. He attended the College of William and Mary and became a noted attorney. Nicholas was a lieutenant … more »

EDMUND  PENDLETON (1721–1803) icon

EDMUND PENDLETON (1721–1803)

Edmund Pendleton was one of the most accomplished attorneys in Virginia at the time of the American Revolution. Born on September 9, 1721, Pendleton was orphaned in his native Caroline County when he was very young. He grew up as the ward of the county clerk, in whose office… more »

WALTER ASHBY PLECKER (1861–1947) icon

WALTER ASHBY PLECKER (1861–1947)

Walter Ashby Plecker was born on April 2, 1861, in Augusta County, Virginia. His father was a merchant and slave owner who fought in the Civil War. Plecker graduated from Hoover Military Academy in Staunton in 1880 and obtained a medical degree from the University of Marylan… more »

JOSEPH HAYNE RAINEY (1832–1887) icon

JOSEPH HAYNE RAINEY (1832–1887)

Born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina, on June 21, 1832, Joseph Hayne Rainey was the first African American to serve in the United States House of Representatives and was the first black man to preside over the House. While enslaved, Rainey worked as a barber in So… more »

EDMUND  RANDOLPH (1753–1813) icon

EDMUND RANDOLPH (1753–1813)

Edmund Randolph was a man of enormous political and professional achievement. Born in Williamsburg on August 10, 1753, into one of the colony's great political families, Randolph was influenced both by his Loyalist father (John Randolph) and patriot uncle (Peyton Randolph), … more »

PEYTON  RANDOLPH (ca. 1722–1775) icon

PEYTON RANDOLPH (ca. 1722–1775)

Peyton Randolph was the son of Sir John Randolph, the only native colonial Virginian ever knighted by a king of England, and Susanna Beverley Randolph, a member of a wealthy Virginia family. He attended the College of William and Mary and spent nearly five years in London st… more »

HIRAM RHODES REVELS (1827–1901) icon

HIRAM RHODES REVELS (1827–1901)

Hiram Rhodes Revels was born free in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 27, 1827. Educated in Indiana and Ohio, he graduated from Knox University in Illinois. Ordained in the African Methodist Episcopalian Church, Revels accepted a pastorate in Baltimore in 1860. He … more »

JOSEPH JENKINS ROBERTS (1809–1876) icon

JOSEPH JENKINS ROBERTS (1809–1876)

Joseph Jenkins Roberts was born a free man in Norfolk, Virginia, on March 15, 1809, at a time when most African Americans in Virginia were slaves. He grew up in Norfolk and Petersburg and worked with his stepfather on a flatboat on the James River. He gained his early educat… more »

SPOTTSWOOD WILLIAM ROBINSON III (1916–1998) icon

SPOTTSWOOD WILLIAM ROBINSON III (1916–1998)

Spottswood William Robinson III was born on July 26, 1916, in Richmond, Virginia, to Spottswood William Robinson Jr. and Inez Clements Robinson. He attended Armstrong High School and Virginia Union University, before following in his father's footsteps and entering the law s… more »

DRED  SCOTT (ca. 1799–1858) icon

DRED SCOTT (ca. 1799–1858)

Dred Scott was born into slavery in Southampton, Virginia, about 1799 and became the plaintiff in one of the most well known cases in United States Supreme Court history. Scott migrated westward with his owner, Peter Blow, living for a time in Alabama and settling in St. Lou… more »

ELIZABETH CADY STANTON (1815–1902) icon

ELIZABETH CADY STANTON (1815–1902)

Elizabeth Cady was born on November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York. Her family was well-to-do and her father was a notable lawyer and politician. She received an unusually rigorous education for a woman in the nineteenth century and learned much about the law at home in co… more »

ADAM  STEPHEN (ca. 1721–1791) icon

ADAM STEPHEN (ca. 1721–1791)

Adam Stephen was born in Scotland and became a surgeon in the British Royal Navy. He moved to Virginia in 1748 and practiced medicine in Fredericksburg and later acquired a plantation north of Winchester on what was then the frontier and is now Jefferson County, West Virgini… more »

MARY CHURCH TERRELL (1863–1954) icon

MARY CHURCH TERRELL (1863–1954)

Mary Eliza Church was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on September 23, 1863. Her father, Robert Reed Church, was a formerly enslaved businessman who became the first African American millionaire in the South, and her mother, Louisa Ayres, was a hair dresser. She received an exce… more »

MARY SUE TERRY (1947– ) icon

MARY SUE TERRY (1947– )

Born in Martinsville on September 28, 1947, Mary Sue Terry received her undergraduate degree from Westhampton College and a master's degree and a law degree from the University of Virginia. After serving for four years as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Patrick Count… more »

EVELYN BUTTS THOMAS (1924–1993) icon

EVELYN BUTTS THOMAS (1924–1993)

Evelyn Thomas Butts, of Norfolk, rose to prominence in the 1960s when she successfully challenged Virginia's poll tax. She was born on May 22, 1924. Her mother died when she was young and she was raised by an aunt. After Butts's husband was disabled during World War II she t… more »

SOJOURNER  TRUTH (1797–1883) icon

SOJOURNER TRUTH (1797–1883)

Noted abolitionist, woman's rights advocate, and religious leader, Sojourner Truth was born in Ulster County, New York, as Isabella Baumfree to enslaved parents. Freed in 1827 and the mother of five children, she moved in 1829 to New York City and became associated with a re… more »

BENJAMIN STERLING TURNER (1825–1894) icon

BENJAMIN STERLING TURNER (1825–1894)

Benjamin Sterling Turner was born a slave on March 17, 1825, in Weldon, North Carolina. Turner moved to Alabama with his owner and was sold when he was twenty years old. During the Civil War, Turner raised enough money to purchase his own property, and after emancipation he … more »

NAT  TURNER (1800–1831) icon

NAT TURNER (1800–1831)

Little is known for certain about Nat Turner's life. He was born probably on October 2, 1800. Nat Turner's mother, who may been born in Africa, was owned by Benjamin Turner of Southampton County, from whom Nat Turner probably took his surname. The identity of Turner's father… more »

LILA MEADE VALENTINE (1865–1921) icon

LILA MEADE VALENTINE (1865–1921)

Lila Hardaway Meade was born on February 4, 1865, to a well-to-do family in Richmond. Her parents were Richard Hardaway Meade and Jane Catherine Fontaine Meade. While she received the formal education that was standard for a woman of her class, she read avidly and wanted to … more »

MAGGIE LENA WALKER (1864–1934) icon

MAGGIE LENA WALKER (1864–1934)

Maggie Lena Walker was born in 1864 in Richmond, Virginia. Her mother, Elizabeth Draper, worked for many years as a laundress and may have been enslaved when her daughter was born. Her father was an Irish journalist. As a young girl she lived with her mother, stepfather, and… more »

JOSIAH THOMAS WALLS (1842–1905) icon

JOSIAH THOMAS WALLS (1842–1905)

Josiah Thomas Walls was born enslaved on December 30, 1842, on the plantation of Dr. John Walls in Winchester, Virginia. When the Civil War began, Walls was forced into serving a Confederate artilleryman, but he was captured by Union soldiers in May 1862. They emancipated hi… more »

GEORGE  WASHINGTON (1732–1799) icon

GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732–1799)

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. When he was just eleven years old, in 1743, his father, Augustine Washington, died. His share of the estate did not leave him with enough resources to continue a life among Virginia's gentry, … more »

DOUGLAS  WILDER (1931– ) icon

DOUGLAS WILDER (1931– )

Lawrence Douglas Wilder was born in Richmond, Virginia, on January 17, 1931. The grandson of enslaved blacks, Douglas Wilder grew up the second youngest of eight children. His parents named him after the renowned abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, and the poet Paul Laurence D… more »

WILLIAM  WOODFORD (1734–1780) icon

WILLIAM WOODFORD (1734–1780)

William Woodford was a Revolutionary War general from Caroline County. The son of William Woodford Sr. and Anne Cocke, daughter of William Cocke, secretary of the Virginia colony, he grew up on his father's plantation, Windsor, ten miles outside of Fredericksburg on the Rapp… more »

GEORGE  WYTHE (ca. 1726–1806) icon

GEORGE WYTHE (ca. 1726–1806)

George Wythe taught law to Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Henry Clay, twice served as acting attorney general of the colony. He was a member of and clerk of the House of Burgesses and, after July 1776, a member of the House of Delegates. He signed the Declaration of In… more »