Noah Webster Jr. (October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843) was born in the Western Division of Hartford (which became West Hartford, Connecticut) to an established family. His birthplace is the Noah Webster House which highlights Webster’s life and is the headquarters of the West Hartford Historical Society. Webster’s father never attended college, but he was intellectually curious and prized education. Webster’s mother spent long hours teaching her children spelling, mathematics, and music. At age six, Webster began attending a dilapidated one-room primary school built by West Hartford’s Ecclesiastical Society. Years later, he described the teachers as the “dregs of humanity” and complained that the instruction was mainly in religion. Webster’s experiences there motivated him to improve the educational experience of future generations.

At age fourteen, his church pastor began tutoring him in Latin and Greek to prepare him for entering Yale College. Webster in early life was something of a freethinker, but in 1808 he became a convert to Calvinistic orthodoxy, and thereafter became a devout Congregationalist who preached the need to Christianize the nation.

Webster enrolled at Yale just before his 16th birthday, studying during his senior year with Ezra Stiles, Yale’s president. He graduated from Yale in 1779. Webster passed his bar exam in 1781 but since the Revolutionary war was still going on he could not find work as an attorney.  He received a master’s degree from Yale by giving an oral dissertation to the Yale graduating class. Later that year, he opened a small private school in western Connecticut that was a success. Nevertheless, he soon closed it and left town. He then founded a private school catering to wealthy parents in Goshen, New York, and by 1785, had written his speller, a grammar book, and a reader for elementary schools. Proceeds from continuing sales of the popular blue-backed speller enabled Webster to spend many years working on his famous dictionary.

Webster dedicated his Speller and Dictionary to providing an intellectual foundation for American nationalism. From 1787 to 1789, Webster was an outspoken supporter of the new Constitution. In October 1787, he wrote a pamphlet entitled “An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution Proposed by the Late Convention Held at Philadelphia”, published under the pen name “A Citizen of America”. The pamphlet was influential, particularly outside New York State. Webster married Rebecca Greenleaf (1766–1847) on October 26, 1789, in New Haven, Connecticut. They had eight children:

Webster married well and had joined the elite in Hartford but did not have much money. In 1793, Alexander Hamilton lent him $1,500 to move to New York City to edit the leading Federalist Party newspaper. On December 9, 1793, he founded New York’s first daily newspaper American Minerva (later known as the Commercial Advertiser), which he edited for four years, writing the equivalent of 20 volumes of articles and editorials. He also published the semi-weekly publication The Herald, A Gazette for the country (later known as The New York Spectator).

Webster was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1799. He moved to Amherst, Massachusetts in 1812, where he helped to found Amherst College. In 1822 the family moved back to New Haven, where Webster was awarded an honorary degree from Yale the following year. In 1827, Webster was elected to the American Philosophical Society. For decades, he was one of the most prolific authors in the new nation, publishing textbooks, political essays, a report on infectious diseases, and newspaper articles for his Federalist party. He wrote so much that a modern bibliography of his published works required 655 pages. 

Bibliographies

  1. Kendall, pp. 21–23.
  2. Kendall, pp. 22–24.
  3. Kendall, p. 24.
  4. Kendall, pp. 29–30.
  5. Kendall, pp. 69–71.
  6. Kendall, pp. 71–74.
  7. “Noah Webster Biography | Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society | West Hartford, Connecticut (CT)”http://www.noahwebsterhouse.org. Archived from the original on November 5, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  8.  Kendall, Joshua, The Forgotten Founding Father, pp. 147–49
  9. Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter W” (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  10. Snyder (1990).
  11. “APS Member History”search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  12. Wikipedia.org.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1621Deacon Robert Cushman preaches the first recorded sermon on American soil and the first printed there.

1884Stanley Smith and C. T. Studd, two of the Cambridge Seven  (young men who had renounced fame and fortune to serve with the China Inland Mission), speak at Edinburgh University. The meeting, which they had feared would be a flop, proves a time of great power.

1896William Henry Sheppard, an African-American missionary to Africa, writes to supporters at home, promising to prove that he merits the trust they have placed in him. Finding little success as a missionary, he explores the Congo and exposes Belgian atrocities.

1906William Hamner Piper and his wife Lydia Markley hold their first service in Chicago. Their popular meetings replace the disgraced ministry of John Alexander Dowie. They soon become Pentecostal.

1941 – Martyrdom of Orthodox priest Sergius Mechiev who rejected the atheistic and anti-ecclesiastical proclamations of the Soviet government and had to live for years in hiding. He is shot within prison walls.

*Information retrieved from Christianhistoryinstitute.org and Rhemalogy.com.

3 Comments »

  1. Hamilton’s loan of $1500 in 1793 is only about $40,000 in today’s dollars, so not a really big deal.
    But the pastor’s teaching Webster Latin and Greek suggests our education system has fallen by a greater margin than the dollar has changed! My wife’s students in Business Analytics don’t even know how to use Excel, cannot figure out ratios (fractions) and cannot speak anything but English… unless they are illegal immigrants who only speak Spanish! 😱
    (Her classes are all online, so they use translators.)
    There was a time a college education meant you knew how to learn. Now, it is just a trade school teaching you how to do a job interview. 😟

    Like

    • You and I definitely agree on that. Did you know despite the United States having the best-surveyed education system on the globe, U.S students consistently score lower in math and science than students from many other countries? According to a Business Insider report in 2018, the U.S. ranked 38th in math scores and 24th in science.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This has been the trend since the 1950s. Up through WW2 America was THE place to get a bachelor’s degree. But the affluence of the post-war era eroded our values of education. And like most “slippery slopes” the ride downhill keeps getting faster! 😉
        We still are the place for grad studies… for another decade or two, max. Mostly students come to America for the freedoms, NOT the education. So sad.

        Liked by 1 person

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