Though many details about his early life are in dispute, scholars agree that Arnold was born in New York City and that his father may have been the Reverend George B. Arnold. The family relocated to Illinois and then to Monmouth County, New Jersey where Arnold enjoyed a country upbringing. Though he apprenticed himself to a portrait painter in New York in 1852, Arnold soon determined that literature would be his true calling.
Little is known about Nat Bloom outside of his affiliation with what was known as the "Fred Gray Association," a group of young men at Pfaff's whom Ed Folsom and Ken Price characterize as "a loose confederation of young men who seemed anxious to explore new possibilities of male-male affection" (Re-Scripting 62).
Little is known about the specific details of Charles Chauncey’s early life. We know that, along with Walt Whitman, he was one of several men who made up the Fred Gray Association, "a loose confederation of young men who seemed anxious to explore new possibilities of male-male affection" (Folsom and Price Re-Scripting 62). Stephanie Blalock, when describing the Fred Gray Association, lists Chauncey as one of the many members of the group that were later included in Whitman’s memory book (179).
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).
Ada Clare (whose given name was Jane McIlheny) was born in South Carolina. As Thomas Gunn, a contemporary of Clare, describes she "made an attempt – several attempts – to become a tragic actress, but despite any amount of puffery on the part of fellows who knew her (or wanted to know her in a scriptural sense) failed. She had money and aspired for 'fame' only" (Gunn vol. 11, 160). She received a small inheritance upon her parents' deaths, which she used to travel to Paris.
Fred Gray, the son of prominent New York doctor Dr. John F. Gray and Elizabeth Hull-Gray, was born in New York in 1840. His two siblings died before they reached adulthood. Gray enrolled in William’s College in Massachusetts in 1858, studying science and medicine and eager to follow in his father’s esteemed footsteps. He studied in Germany at the University of Heidelberg from 1860 to 1861, but left before finishing his degree to serve in the Union army (Blalock 52).
Born into an anti-slavery family of eight children, Howells aided his family by setting type in his journalist father's printing office. Though he never finished high school, Howells would later receive honorary degrees from six universities as well as the offer of Ivy League professorships. Howells published frequently in the Saturday Press (Belasco 252) and was one of the “foremost writers of fiction” in novel form. Percy Holmes Boynton puts him in the company of such writers as Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Walt Whitman in being “scrupulously careful writers” (49).
Born in County Cork and raised primarily in Limerick, Ireland, Fitz-James O'Brien moved to New York City in 1852. Descending from an Anglo-Irish landholding family, O'Brien received his inheritance (estimated at £8000) at about the age of 21. Between 1849 and 1851, it is believed that O'Brien edited a failed literary magazine called The Parlour Magazine of the Literature of All Nations and squandered his inheritance (Wolle 21). Leaving England almost penniless, O'Brien immigrated to America and made the U.S.
Charles Pfaff's obituary in the New York Times characterizes him as the proprietor of the famous Bohemian "chop house" at 647 Broadway that flourished between 1860 and 1875 ("In and About the City," 2). Born in Baden, Switzerland likely in 1819, Pfaff first arrived in New York in the early 1850s "part of a wave of German immigrants" (Blalock; Martin 18). According to scholar Justin Martin, "Herr Pfaff was a round little man with shaggy eyebrows and chubby fingers. His Old World manner and thickly accented English gave him a courtly and discreet air" (18).
Little is known about Charles H. Russell outside of his affiliation with what was known as the "Fred Gray Association," a group of men whom Ed Folsom and Ken Price characterize as "a loose confederation of young men who seemed anxious to explore new possibilities of male-male affection" (62). According to Stephanie Blalock, the Fred Gray Association met fequently at Pfaff's, in addition to other establishments located throughout New York City (50).
Born on Long Island and raised in Brooklyn, Walt Whitman spent his childhood and early adulthood amid the sights and sounds of New York City and its environs. As a young man Whitman worked as a journeyman printer for several New York newspapers, before ultimately becoming a journalist and editor in his own right. Before committing himself to poetry, Whitman also worked intermittently as a schoolteacher, a carpenter, and a writer of sensational prose fiction.
The unofficial biographer of the Pfaff’s crowd, William Winter was born in coastal Massachusetts, and his mother died when he was young. Winter attended school in Boston; he also went to Harvard Law School but decided not to practice ("William Winter, 19). By 1854 he had already published a collection of verse and worked as a reviewer for the Boston Transcript; he befriended Pfaffian Thomas Bailey Aldrich after reviewing a volume of his poetry. He relocated to New York in 1856 "because he believed [the city] offered the best field for writers" (Levin 153).