Born in Massachusetts to a family of merchants and seamen, Clapp traveled to Paris to translate the socialist writings of Fourier. In Paris, Clapp abandoned his ardent sympathy for the temperance movement and embraced the leisurely café life of the city. Upon returning to New York in 1850, he sought to recreate this atmosphere, spending hours at Charlie Pfaff's beer cellar, drawing a crowd of journalists, painters, actors, and poets to cultivate an American Bohemia in which participants admired and discussed the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and Washington Irving (Martin 15-7).
Described by Thomas Gunn as "a weak, well-to-do Fifth Avenoodle [sic]," Robert Pearsall was born in 1833 (Gunn, vol. 12, 139-40). While not much is known about his childhood or early life, he became a succesful businessman, making the majority of his fortune in the wholesale grocery business ("The Pearsalls").