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James Hinds was born in East Hebron New York on December 5, 1833, the last of six children, with four older brothers and one older sister. Hinds grew up on a farm, but his parents hoped that he could get a solid education and go on to do something else. At first, he was home-schooled before moving on to several schools around the state, per “Killing Congress.” Once his schooling was behind him, Hinds turned his attention to the west and headed to St. Louis.
In St. Louis, Hinds worked for lawyers, which served as his professional introduction to law and government work. Hinds passed the bar exam and started practicing law, but he didn’t stay in St, Louis for long. Instead, he moved to St. Peter, Minnesota, a small town that had only recently been founded before Hinds arrived. He purchased a piece of land for his law practice there.
In St. Peter, Hinds continued practicing law and soon became involved in local Democratic Party activities, and toward the end of the 1850s he married his wife, Anna. The couple had several children.