On New Year’s Day in 1844, Charles Wilson was born to Protestant parents in New York City. His father sold fruit on the street, and his mother worked odd jobs as a seamstress. Charles grew up poor, in a tenement building on the Lower East Side.
Peter H. Cisco was born into slavery in 1855, on Shirley Plantation, in Charles City County, Virginia. Peter’s mother was a domestic servant for the plantation owners, and his father worked the tobacco fields. Peter lived the first seven years of his life in slavery, but early one morning in April 1862, everything changed. The Civil War had been raging on for a year, and Peter’s parents, living so tantalizingly close to the border with the free North, decided to plan an escape, in an effort to guarantee a better future for Peter.
William McCarthy was born on February 3, 1843 in New York City. Hazel-eyed, with flaming red hair and a ruddy complexion, William, a Catholic, fit the stereotypical mold of the tough Irishman exactly. William’s parents died when he was just 5 years old, leaving him orphaned and alone in the streets of New York City. He spent the rest of his young life in the orphanage on 73rd Street and Riverside Drive, with hundreds of other parentless children. There, cared for by the women who ran the orphanage, William learned lifelong skills. He was taught reading and writing, and he also learned mechanical skills which enabled him to become a laborer as a young adult. Most importantly, growing up in an orphanage taught William how to survive in tough situations and how to assert himself in a group setting. To get the best chore assignments, to gain favor with the orphanage directors, to be first on line for meals, William had to be tough, relentless, and cunning.
Born on April 15, 1856, Edward Johnson had a gift – he could paint. Edward was born in Danville, Missouri, but he moved many times over the years with his parents. Edward’s parents were both Protestant religious artists, his father a traveling gospel singer and his mother a mildly successful poet among Southern congregations. Edward’s parents fostered his love of art and encouraged his painting from a young age, and they taught Edward that the true beauty and value of any art is in how that art serves God and His Kingdom. Edward spent many years of his young life on the road with his parents, improving his painting skills. The family even lived in the West for a while, in Kansas, Oregon, and California. But in the winter of 1876, everything changed. Edward’s entire family contracted influenza. Edward was better soon, but his parents suffered immensely in the winter months, both eventually succumbing to the illness in March of 1877.
William Clarke was born on May 23, 1858. He grew up in Raymond, New Hampshire, a small town just outside Manchester. William’s parents and aunt were servants for a wealthy family that was part of the New England aristocracy. William’s mother Ruth, was the personal maid for Mrs. Anne Richardson, his father Jack was the head butler, under the supervision of Anne’s husband Thomas, and his aunt Mary was the head cook. William was lucky to grow up in the Richardson’s home – Anne and Thomas loved the Clarkes, and they treated them well. Anne and Thomas were older when William was born, and their children were already grown, so they loved having a child around again, and they included William and his parents as part of their family.