Martha Washington

Wife of President George Washington Image: Martha Washington Michael Deas, Artist Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington was the first of the First Ladies of the United States. During her lifetime, she was known as Lady Washington. When George Washington took his oath of office in New York City on April 30, 1789, and assumed the new duties of President of the United States, his wife brought to their position a tact and discretion developed over 58 years of life in Tidewater Virginia society. Martha was a rather small, pleasant-looking woman, practical with good common sense. The oldest daughter of John and Frances Dandridge, Martha was born June 2, 1731, at her parents’ Chestnut…

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Ruth Cunningham

Wife of Founding Father James Otis, Jr. Image: James Otis, Jr. Ruth Cunningham, the shy but beautiful daughter of a wealthy Boston merchant, married James Otis, Jr. in 1755. The marriage enhanced Otis’ social standing and improved his financial situation. But his new bride did not share his political and social idealism. They had two daughters. James Otis Jr. was Boston’s most brilliant young lawyer. James had attended Harvard College, graduating in 1743, but continued his education in law under Jeremiah Gridley, a member of the General Court of Massachusetts. After Otis was admitted to the bar, he launched his law practice in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but relocated to Boston in 1750. His younger sister Mercy Otis Warren and his brother…

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Catherine Schuyler

Dutch Woman of New York Wife of General Philip Schuyler Catharine Van Rensselaer was born in 1734, the only daughter of John Van Rensselaer, who was called Patroon (landholder) of Greenbush, and was noted for his hospitality, and for his kindness toward the tenants of his vast estates. Catherine was the great-great-granddaughter of Killian Van Rensselaer, the original founder of the Dutch colony, named Rensselaerswyck, in the Albany region of eastern New York. Philip Schuyler was born in Albany on November 11, 1733, into an old aristocratic Dutch family, one of the colony’s largest landholders. He received an excellent education. After commanding a company of New York militia in the French and Indian War, he managed the large estate left…

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Sarah Shelton Henry

Wife of Patrick Henry Image: Patrick Henry: American Patriot Though he was not present for the signing of the Constitution, Patrick Henry was pivotal in galvanizing the Virginia colonists to action during the American Revolution. Along with Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, he was one of the most influential advocates of the American Revolution, especially in his denunciations of corruption in government officials and his defense of historic rights. On May 29, 1736, Patrick Henry was born at Studley, in Hanover County, Virginia, the second son of John Henry and his wife, Sarah Winston Henry, and one of eleven children. Two children died at young ages, leaving two sons and seven daughters in the family.

Deborah Read Franklin

Wife of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin Deborah Read Franklin played an important role in the founding of the United States simply by taking on the management of her family businesses. By so doing, she allowed her husband, founding father Benjamin Franklin, the opportunity to actively pursue his role in state and national politics in the decades before and after the American Revolution. Deborah Read was born about 1707 to John Read, a British carpenter, and his wife Sarah White Read. Whether Deborah was born while her parents still lived in England, or after they moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is uncertain. The second of seven children, Read received little formal education. Almost nothing else is known about her childhood.

Elizabeth Randolph

Wife of Founding Father Peyton Randolph Peyton Randolph and Elizabeth Harrison were married on March 8, 1746; they were among Williamsburg, Virginia’s leading citizens in the quarter century before the American Revolution. A second-generation Virginian, Peyton Randolph studied law in London and became Attorney General of Virginia in 1744. Though they had no children of their own, the Randolphs undoubtedly raised several of Elizabeth’s younger siblings after her parents’ early deaths. The date of Elizabeth Harrison’s birth is unknown. Her parents – Benjamin and Anne Carter Harrison – were both deceased by 1745, leaving nine children, the youngest only three years old. When Elizabeth married Peyton Randolph in 1746, some of the children went to live with their only other…

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Jane McDowell Foster

Wife of Civil War Era Composer Stephen Foster Jane McDowell Foster inspired the song Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, but her marriage to composer Stephen Foster proved to be less than romantic. Disillusioned and conflicted by the outbreak of the Civil War, Foster spent his last years in New York City, living on the Bowery and writing songs for cash. Jane McDowell was born in 1829, the daughter of Dr. Andrew N. McDowell, a leading Pittsburgh physician. She was an attractive young woman with auburn hair. Stephen Collins Foster was born to William Barclay Foster and Eliza Clayland Foster in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, on July 4th, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. After…

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