Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Thomas Bailey Aldrich moved with his father to New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of three. He remained there until age thirteen, when his father's impending death prompted Aldrich's return to New Hampshire and his mother's household (Parker). At age sixteen, Aldrich started working as a clerk for his uncle, Charles Frost: "While working over the books of the firm, his mind was often busy with themes outside of the commission house, all leading towards a literary career" (Hemstreet 218).
Before trying his hand at writing, Charles F. Briggs spent several years working as a sailor on voyages to Europe and South America. He also spent a few years as a merchant in New York City. In 1839 he published The Adventures of Harry Franco: A Tale of the Great Panic, which was based upon his adventures as a sailor. Retaining the pseudonym Harry Franco, Briggs went on to publish The Haunted Merchant in 1843. In 1844 he created the Broadway Journal, for which Edgar Allan Poe first worked as a contributor.
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.
Born the son of a Polish count, de Gurowski’s strong political opinions led to his expulsion from the Gymnasia of Warsaw and Kalisz, and later led to his imprisonment. His estates were confiscated because of his objections to Russian influence in the region. At the University of Berlin he studied philosophy under Hegel and later graduated from the University of Heidelberg in 1823. In Paris he studied with Charles Fourier, working on the notion of Pan-slavism which he developed in his book on the subject La Verite sur la Russie (1835).
William Winter describes Solomon Eytinge, Jr. as "[a] man of original and deeply interesting character, an artist of exceptional facility, possessed of a fine imagination and great warmth of feeling [. . .] In his prime as a draughtsman he was distinguished for the felicity of his invention, the richness of his humor, and the tenderness of his pathos. He had a keen wit and was the soul of kindness and mirth” (Old Friends 317).
While William Henry Fry’s presence at Pfaff’s remains unconfirmed, he is listed among the many associates of Ada Clare, the “Queen of Bohemia” (Rawson). A native of Philadelphia, Fry was born into a prominent native American family to parents William and Anne (nee Fleeson) Fry. His father was the publisher of the National Gazette, and his mother was the granddaughter of Judge Plunkett Fleeson. Having displayed musical talent at an early age, Fry taught himself to play the piano after listening to his older brother's piano lessons.
Getty Gay, born Gertrude Louise Vultee, was an actress as well as a major contributor to the Saturday Press (Gunn 11.162, 14.16-7). Although not much is known about her artistic career, the obituary of Henry Clapp calls Gay "a talented bit of womanhood" (7). A. L. Rawson connects Gay to the scene at Pfaff’s through Ada Clare and Charles Gayler: “Ada [Clare] was never without a woman companion, and one of them was Getty Gay, who was pretty, bright and witty. Her lithe and petite figure and sweetly sad face were ever welcome among the Pfaffians” (103).
Born to a family of tradesmen in New York City, Charles Gayler began his career as a teacher before he moved to Ohio and worked as a journalist and editor. While there, he developed an interest in politics that led him to write songs and speeches for Whig Presidential candidate Henry Clay in the 1844 election. In 1846 he married Grace Christian, with whom he had eight children. While one source suggests that his wife was actress and fellow Pfaffian Getty Gay (Rawson 103), Thomas Butler Gunn indicates that Gay was Gayler’s mistress (10.34).
Matilda Heron was born in poverty in Labby Vale, Draperstown, Ireland in 1830 and came to the U.S. as a child. Matilda came to Philadelphia in 1842 with her parents and two sisters, Fanny and Agnes, where she took lessons from Peter Richings of the Walnut-street Theatre.
Edward Howland was born in Charleston, South Carolina and was educated at Harvard. He is remembered as an "elegant scholar" who sold "his choice library he had spent many years and a fortune to collect" to help Henry Clapp launch the Saturday Press (Rawson 106). Howland was in charge of the business side of the publication (Miller 26) and is also listed among the “friendly contributors” who “were glad to furnish articles for nothing, being friendly toward the establishment of an absolutely independent critical paper” (Winter 294).
Though much of her early life, including her real name and exact date of birth, remains in shadow, Laura Keene is thought to have come from a well-to-do background. She was widely read and spent time in Turner’s studio during her childhood. After performing with Madame Vestris’ company, Keene journeyed to New York in 1852 at the invitation of James W. Wallack. She became the leading lady of his theater and enjoyed great success.
Born in Bavaria in 1840, Nast emigrated to New York City with his mother and sister in 1846 and his father followed them in 1850. Nast’s early artistic influences were historical painter Theodore Kaufmann, with whom he began his first formal study; Alfred Fredericks, whose studio was nearby and who became a mentor to Nash and helped him gain entry to the Academy of Design, as well as Frank Leslie, the publisher of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper who hired the sixteen-year old Nast for five dollars a week.
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.
A former teacher, Charles Bailey Seymour moved from London to New York City in 1849. In New York, he began working as the dramatic and musical editor for the New York Times. In 1858, Seymour published the book Self-Made Men. The book, which won him a certain degree of fame, was "a collection of short biographies of British and American subjects that included [Henry] Clapp's old mentor, Elihu Burritt" (Lause 48).
Born in Riga, NY, Mortimer Thomson was a humorist and journalist who wrote under the name Q. K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.--Queer Kritter, Philander Doesticks, Perfect Brick ("Obituary," 5). Thomson acquired this penname while writing for a student magazine at the University of Michigan; although he never graduated from the university, as he was expelled for belonging to a campus secret society, Thomson had a productive career as a journalist and satirist after failing as both an actor and a traveling salesman.
Born in New York City on New Year’s Eve in 1820, John Lester Wallack was christened John Johnstone Wallack; he later adopted Lester John Wallack as his professional name. He first became interested in drama while being schooled in England at private schools; Wallack admits that he “hesitated long before [he] made up [his] mind to become an actor" (Memories of Fifty Years 24). Wallack made his first professional appearance in Tortesa the Usurer; he used the alias “Allan Field,” so as not to rely on the draw of his father’s name.