Noah Webster, Jr. (1758 - 1843) MP

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Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut
Death: Died in New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Occupation: Lexicographer, author of "American Dictionary of the English Language, & other books
Managed by: Duane Robert Frisbie
Last Updated:

About Noah Webster, Jr.

Noah Webster was one of the great lexicographers. For decades, he was among the most prolific authors in the new nation, publishing textbooks, political essays for his Federalist party, and newspaper articles at a remarkable rate (a modern bibliography of his published works required 655 pages).

In 1806, Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The following year, at the age of 43, Webster began writing an expanded and comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, which would take twenty-seven years to complete.

He was born on October 16, 1758, in the West Division of Hartford, Connecticut, to a family who had lived in Connecticut since colonial days. His father, Noah, Sr. (1722-1813), was a farmer and a sower. His father was a descendant of Connecticut Governor John Webster (governor); his mother, Mercy (née Steele; d. 1794), was a descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony. Noah had two brothers, Abraham (1751-1831) and Charles (b. 1762).

At the age of 16, Noah began attending Yale College. His four years at Yale overlapped the American Revolutionary War, and, because of food shortages, many of his college classes were held in Glastonbury, Connecticut. During the American Revolution, he served in the Connecticut Militia.

Having graduated from Yale in 1778, Webster wanted to continue his education in order to earn his law degree. He taught school in Glastonbury, Hartford, and West Hartford in order to pay for his education. He earned his law degree in 1781, but did not practice law until 1789. He found the law not to his liking, so he tried teaching, setting up several very small schools that did not thrive.

Webster married Rebecca Greenleaf (1766-1847) on October 26, 1789, in New Haven, Connecticut. They had eight children: Emily Schotten (1790-1861), who married William W. Ellsworth, named by Webster as an executor of his will[1]Emily, daughter of Emily Webster and William Ellsworth, married Rev. Abner Jackson, who became president of both Hartford's Trinity College and Hobart College in New York State.[2]; Frances Julianna (1793-1869); Harriet (1797-1844); Mary (1799-1819); William Greenleaf (1801-1869); Eliza (1803-1888); Henry (1806-1807); and Louisa (b. 1808). Webster liked to carry raisins and candies in his pocket for his children to enjoy.

Webster married well and had joined the elite in Hartford but did not have much money. In 1793, Alexander Hamilton loaned him $1500 to move to New York City to edit a Federalist newspaper. In December, he founded New York's first daily newspaper, American Minerva (later known as The Commercial Advertiser), and edited it for four years.

For decades, he was one of the most prolific authors in the new nation, publishing textbooks, political essays for his Federalist party, and newspaper articles at a remarkable rate (a modern bibliography of his published works required 655 pages).

The Websters moved back to New Haven in 1798. He then served in the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1800 and 1802-1807. He is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery.

Speller and dictionary

As a teacher, he had come to dislike American elementary schools. They could be overcrowded, with up to seventy children of all ages crammed into one-room schoolhouses, poorly staffed with untrained teachers, and poorly equipped with no desks and unsatisfactory textbooks that came from England. Webster thought that Americans should learn from American books, so he began writing a three volume compendium, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. The work consisted of a speller (published in 1783), a grammar (published in 1784), and a reader (published in 1785). His goal was to provide a uniquely American approach to training children. His most important improvement, he claimed, was to rescue "our native tongue" from "the clamour[3] of pedantry" that surrounded English grammar and pronunciation. He complained that the English language had been corrupted by the British aristocracy, which set its own standard for proper spelling and pronunciation. Webster rejected the notion that the study of Greek and Latin must precede the study of English grammar. The appropriate standard for the American language, argued Webster, was, "the same republican principles as American civil and ecclesiastical constitutions", which meant that the people-at-large must control the language; popular sovereignty in government must be accompanied by popular usage in language.

The Speller was arranged so that it could be easily taught to students, and it progressed by age. From his own experiences as a teacher, Webster thought the Speller should be simple and gave an orderly presentation of words and the rules of spelling and pronunciation. He believed students learned most readily when he broke a complex problem into its component parts and had each pupil master one part before moving to the next. Ellis argues that Webster anticipated some of the insights currently associated with Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Webster said that children pass through distinctive learning phases in which they master increasingly complex or abstract tasks. Therefore, teachers must not try to teach a three-year-old how to read; they could not do it until age five. He organized his speller accordingly, beginning with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.[4]

The speller was originally titled The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Over the course of 385 editions in his lifetime, the title was changed in 1786 to The American Spelling Book, and again in 1829 to The Elementary Spelling Book. Most people called it the "Blue-Backed Speller" because of its blue cover, and for the next one hundred years, Webster's book taught children how to read, spell, and pronounce words. It was the most popular American book of its time; by 1861, it was selling a million copies per year, and its royalty of less than one cent per copy was enough to sustain Webster in his other endeavors. Some consider it to be the first dictionary created in the United States, and it helped create the popular contests known as spelling bees.

Slowly, he changed the spelling of words, such that they became "Americanized." He chose s over c in words like defense, he changed the re to er in words like center, he dropped one of the Ls in traveler, and at first he kept the u in words like colour or favour but dropped it in later editions. He also changed "tongue" to "tung."

Unauthorized printing of his books, and disparate copyright laws that varied among the thirteen states, led Webster to champion the federal copyright law that was successfully passed in 1790.

In 1806, Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The following year, at the age of 43, Webster began writing an expanded and comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, which would take twenty-seven years to complete. To supplement the documentation of the etymology of the words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit. Webster hoped to standardize American speech, since Americans in different parts of the country spelled, pronounced, and used words differently.

During the course of his work on the book, the family moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1812, where Webster helped to found Amherst College. In 1822, the family moved back to New Haven, and Webster was awarded an honorary degree from Yale the following year.

Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in 1825 in Paris, France, and at the University of Cambridge. His book contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousand had never appeared in a published dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings, replacing "colour" with "color", substituting "wagon" for "waggon", and printing "center" instead of "centre". He also added American words, like "skunk" and "squash", that did not appear in British dictionaries. At the age of seventy, Webster published his dictionary in 1828.

Though it now has an honored place in the history of American English, Webster's first dictionary only sold 2,500 copies. He was forced to mortgage his home to bring out a second edition, and his life from then on was plagued with debt.

In 1840, the second edition was published in two volumes. On May 28, 1843, a few days after he had completed revising an appendix to the second edition, and with much of his efforts with the dictionary still unrecognized, Noah Webster died.

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The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture

By Joshua Kendall

The Book

The Forgotten Founding Father - This is by far the best, and best written, life of Webster. Kendall makes a convincing case that Webster invented American nationalism long before the American nation came into existence.”

—Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation and His Excellency: George Washington

Noah Webster (1758-1843) was more than just America’s greatest lexicographer. He was also a Founding Father who helped define American culture. In 1783, he published the first edition of his legendary spelling book, which would teach five generations of Americans how to read. A leading Federalist, who was a confidant of both George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, Webster was in Philadelphia during the Consitutional Convention where he wrote a highly influential essay on behalf of the nation’s founding document. During the greater part of the 1790s, he edited American Minerva, New York City’s first daily newspaper. A dedicated public servant, he served as a state rep in both Connecticut and Massachusetts. “America’s pedagogue” was also a founder of Amherst College – he was an early president of the college’s Board of Trustees.

In 1798, the 1778 Yale grad moved back to New Haven with his family — he and his wife Rebecca Greenleaf would raise seven children — to begin his dictionary. Having made a fortune from his publishing ventures, Webster could afford to follow his heart. The first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. He would continue working on revisions until the day he died. In contrast to his predecessor, the renowned British wordsmith, Samuel Johnson, who famously opined, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” Webster loved compiling and defining words more than just about anything else. This obsession, which was instrumental in helping a high-strung genius live an amazingly vibrant life, ended up giving America a language of its own.

The author offers a brief overview of Webster’s life that he wrote for the LA Times on the occasion of the lexicographer’s 250th birthday:

Click here to download the article in PDF format.

The biography was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA), on April 14, 2011 (on this date in 1828, Noah Webster copyrighted the first edition of his American Dictionary).

Here is a portion of the schedule for Joshua Kendall's “American Language Book Tour:”

  • Independence Museum — Exeter, NH –June 22, 2011
  • Redwood Library — Newport, RI — June 30, 2011
  • Newton Free Library — Newton, MA — July 5, 2011
  • NewBridge on the Charles — Dedham, MA — July 13, 2011
  • Saint Leo University — Saint Leo, FL — September, 15, 2011 — (Constitution Day Speaker)
  • New York Society Library — New York, NY — October 19, 2011
  • Oliver Wolcott Library — Litchfield, CT — October, 20, 2011
  • Society of Colonial Wars — Boston, MA — November 17, 2011

MORE PRAISE FOR THE FORGOTTEN FOUNDING FATHER:

”Noah Webster forged American nationalism by creating an American

language with his best-selling spelling-book and monumental dictionary. Joshua Kendall tells the story of his eventful life with narrative charm and psychological insight, exposing Webster’s faults and fights as well as his virtues and influence. Kendall enables the reader to place Webster in the context of both early republican political life and the development of lexicography.”

Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 – 1848

“As an Englishman I was not aware of Noah Webster other than as the compiler of America’s first dictionary; as a new American, I find my compatriots equally unaware! So I was delighted to learn about the life that he led in Joshua Kendall’s The Forgotten Founding Father. From his education at Yale and friendships formed with the dignitaries of the American Revolution – Washington and Franklin among them – to his speller for children, his pioneering journalism, and his passionate, unwavering belief in the unity and progress of the American republic, his biography offers a fascinating window on the formative years of the United States as a nation. An absorbing and instructive work!”


Nigel Hamilton, New York Times bestselling author of JFK: Reckless Youth and Bill Clinton: An American Journey


“Noah Webster was quintessentially American–rugged, tenacious, confident, independent, and tremendously competitive. Joshua Kendall’s masterly biography shows just how these characteristics surfaced not only in Webster’s

life but also in his books. This is a superb contribution to our understanding of America’s greatest lexicographer.”


Bryan Garner, author, Garner’s Modern American Usage & editor, Black’s Law Dictionary


“Everyone knows Webster’s dictionary, but how many know Webster?

Kendall’s portrait of America’s first great lexicographer is also the portrait of a scholar, an educator, a businessman, a politician, and a patriot, one who shaped the American language as he shaped the American nation. This lively biography — the most thoroughly researched and compellingly readable ever written – reveals Webster in all his complexity.”

Jack Lynch, author of The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of ‘Proper’ English From Shakespeare to South Park

“Joshua Kendall’s biography of Noah Webster paints a rich portrait of an American original, a man who was determined to shape a new American culture as an educator, political advocate, newspaper publisher, and pathbreaking lexicographer. So obsessive that he counted the houses in every town he visited, Webster’s difficult personality was uniquely suited to creating a seminal dictionary almost entirely by himself.”

David O. Stewart, author of Summer of 1787

“The author’s engaging, effective prose, tinged with wit and humor, makes every line of the biography so informative and fascinating that, like Webster, he too deserves to be called a remarkably talented wordsmith.”

>>Howard R. Lamar, former president of Yale University

“In this mesmerizing tale of a man whose name is a household word but whose life has been sadly neglected by history, Joshua Kendall single-handily rescues the least-known founder of American politics and culture and gives him his long overdue place of importance. The Forgotten Founding Father makes for fascinating and absorbing reading and is an eloquent paean for Noah Webster.”

James McGrath Morris, author of Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power

Source: Downloaded June 15, 2011 from the website Joshua Kendall produced concerning this book at http://theforgottenfoundingfather.com/

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-------------------- Noah Webster (October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843) was an American lexicographer, textbook author, spelling reformer, word enthusiast, and editor. He has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education”. His “Blue-Backed Speller” books taught five generations of children in the United States how to spell and read, and (in the United States) his name became synonymous with "dictionary", especially the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary that was first published in 1828 as An American Dictionary of the English Language.

Noah Webster's adult home, where he raised his family and wrote many publications including the American Dictionary of the English Language. Built in 1823 in New Haven, Connecticut. Removed to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.Noah Webster was born on October 16, 1758 in the West Division of Hartford, Connecticut, to an established American family. His father, Noah, Sr. (1722-1813), was a farmer and a sower. His father was a descendant of Connecticut Governor John Webster; his mother, Mercy (née Steele; d. 1794), was a descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony. Noah had two brothers, Abraham (1751-1831) and Charles (b. 1762), and two sisters, Mercy (1749-1820) and Jerusha (1756-1831). His childhood home, the Noah Webster House, is now a National Historic Landmark and a museum.

At the age of 16, Noah began attending Yale College. His four years at Yale overlapped the American Revolutionary War, and, because of food shortages, many of his college classes were held in Glastonbury, Connecticut. During the American Revolution, he served in the Connecticut Militia.

Having graduated from Yale in 1778, Webster wanted to continue his education in order to earn his law degree. He taught school in Glastonbury, Hartford, and West Hartford in order to pay for his education. He earned his law degree in 1781, but did not practise law until 1789. He found the law not to his liking, so he tried teaching, setting up several very small schools that did not thrive.

Webster married Rebecca Greenleaf (1766-1847) on October 26, 1789 in New Haven, Connecticut. They had eight children: Emily Schotten (1790-1861), Frances Julianna (1793-1869), Harriet (1797-1844), Mary (1799-1819), William Greenleaf (1801-1869), Eliza (1803-1888), Henry (1806-1807), and Louisa (b. 1808). Webster liked to carry raisins and candies in his pocket for his children to enjoy.

Webster married well and had joined the elite in Hartford but did not have much money. In 1793, Alexander Hamilton loaned him $1500 to move to New York City to edit a Federalist newspaper. In December, he founded New York's first daily newspaper, American Minerva (later known as The Commercial Advertiser), and edited it for four years.

For decades, he was one of the most prolific authors in the new nation, publishing textbooks, political essays for his Federalist party, and newspaper articles at a remarkable rate (a modern bibliography of his published works required 655 pages).

The Websters moved back to New Haven in 1798. He then served in the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1800 and 1802-7.


A 1932 statue of Webster by Korczak Ziółkowski stands in front of the public library of West Hartford, Connecticut.As a teacher, he had come to dislike American elementary schools. They could be overcrowded, with up to seventy children of all ages crammed into one-room schoolhouses, poorly staffed with untrained teachers, and poorly equipped with no desks and unsatisfactory textbooks that came from England. Webster thought that Americans should learn from American books, so he began writing a three volume compendium, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. The work consisted of a speller (published in 1783), a grammar (published in 1784), and a reader (published in 1785). His goal was to provide a uniquely American approach to training children. His most important improvement, he claimed, was to rescue "our native tongue" from "the clamor of pedantry" that surrounded English grammar and pronunciation. He complained that the English language had been corrupted by the British aristocracy, which set its own standard for proper spelling and pronunciation. Webster rejected the notion that the study of Greek and Latin must precede the study of English grammar. The appropriate standard for the American language, argued Webster, was, "the same republican principles as American civil and ecclesiastical constitutions", which meant that the people-at-large must control the language; popular sovereignty in government must be accompanied by popular usage in language. "The truth is general custom is the rule of speaking—and every deviation from this must be wrong."

The Speller was arranged so that it could be easily taught to students, and it progressed by age. From his own experiences as a teacher, Webster thought the Speller should be simple and gave an orderly presentation of words and the rules of spelling and pronunciation. He believed students learned most readily when he broke a complex problem into its component parts and had each pupil master one part before moving to the next. Ellis argues that Webster anticipated some of the insights currently associated with Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Webster said that children pass through distinctive learning phases in which they master increasingly complex or abstract tasks. Therefore, teachers must not try to teach a three-year-old how to read; they could not do it until age five. He organised his speller accordingly, beginning with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.

The speller was originally entitled The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Over the course of 385 editions in his lifetime, the title was changed in 1786 to The American Spelling Book, and again in 1829 to The Elementary Spelling Book. Most people called it the "Blue-Backed Speller" because of its blue cover, and for the next one hundred years, Webster's book taught children how to read, spell, and pronounce words. It was the most popular American book of its time; by 1861, it was selling a million copies per year, and its royalty of less than one cent per copy was enough to sustain Webster in his other endeavours. Some consider it to be the first dictionary created in the United States, and it helped create the popular contests known as spelling bees.

Slowly, he changed the spelling of words, such that they became 'Americanized'. He chose s over c in words like defense; he changed the re to er in words like center; he dropped one of the Ls in traveller; at first, he kept the u in words like colour or favour, but he dropped it in later editions.

Unauthorised printing of his books, and disparate copyright laws that varied among the thirteen states, led Webster to champion the federal copyright law that was successfully passed in 1790.

In 1806, Webster published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The following year, at the age of 43, Webster began writing an expanded and comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, which would take twenty-seven years to complete. To supplement the documentation of the etymology of the words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Anglo-Saxon and Sanskrit. Webster hoped to standardise American speech, since Americans in different parts of the country spelled, pronounced, and used words differently.

During the course of his work on the book, the family moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1812, where Webster joined with our ancestor Samuel Dickinson to found Amherst College. In 1822, the family moved back to New Haven, and Webster was awarded an honourary degree from Yale the following year.

Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in 1825 in Paris, France, and at the University of Cambridge. His book contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousands had never appeared in a published dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings, replacing "colour" with "color", substituting "wagon" for "waggon", and printing "center" instead of "centre". He also added American words, like "skunk" and "squash", that did not appear in British dictionaries. At the age of seventy, Webster published his dictionary in 1828.

Though it now has an honoured place in the history of American English, Webster's first dictionary only sold 2,500 copies. He was forced to mortgage his home to bring out a second edition, and his life from then on was plagued with debt.

In 1840, the second edition was published in two volumes. On May 28, 1843, a few days after he had completed revising an appendix to the second edition, and with much of his efforts with the dictionary still unrecognised, Noah Webster died.

Webster was a devout Christian. His speller was very moralistic, and his first lesson began "Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink ; nor for your body, what ye shall put on; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things."

His 1828 American Dictionary contained the greatest number of Biblical definitions given in any reference volume. Webster considered "education useless without the Bible." Webster learned 20 different languages in finding definitions for which a particular word is used. [Preface to the 1828 edition of Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language]

“ In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed...No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people. ”

Webster released his own edition of the Bible in 1833, called the Common Version. He used the King James Version as a base, and consulted the Hebrew and Greek along with various other versions and commentaries. Webster molded the KJV to correct grammar, replaced words that were no longer used, and did away with words and phrases that could be seen as offensive.

All editions of Webster's Dictionary published in 1913 and earlier, along with the Webster Bible, and Dissertation on the English Language are available in the public domain. --------------------

Noah Webster: Lexicographer and Author

Noah Webster was the famous lexicographer who wrote the original publications of Webster's Dictionary. Here is a quick insight from Wikipedia into one of the most influential persons in English literature:

Noah Webster, Jr. (October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843), was a lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English-language spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. He has been called the "Father of American Scholarship and Education". His blue-backed speller books taught five generations of American children how to spell and read, secularizing their education. According to Ellis (1979) he gave Americans "a secular catechism to the nation-state". His name became synonymous with "dictionary" in the United States, especially the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary that was first published in 1828 as An American Dictionary of the English Language.

Links

Find A Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1084

Biography: http://www.noahwebsterhouse.org/discover/noah-webster-biography.htm

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster

Webster Family History: http://www.houseofnames.com/Webster-family-crest

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Noah Webster, Lexicographer's Timeline

1758
October 16, 1758
Hartford, Connecticut
1789
October 26, 1789
Age 31
Hartford, CT
1790
August 4, 1790
Age 31
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
1793
February 5, 1793
Age 34
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
1797
April 6, 1797
Age 38
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
1799
January 7, 1799
Age 40
Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut, United States
1801
September 15, 1801
Age 42
New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut, United States
1803
December 21, 1803
Age 45
New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut, United States
1806
November 20, 1806
Age 48
New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut, United States
November 20, 1806
Age 48