The Noah Webster papers consist of correspondence, writings by Webster on various topics, diaries, and miscellaneous papers. Correspondence, 1776-1843, and diaries, 1784-1820, relate to his career as lawyer, educator, editor of newspapers, Federalist agitator, lexicographer, and etymologist. Included are his writings on banking, the history of political parties, federalism, and suffrage. Also, papers concerning his American Dictionary of the English Language, Amherst College, epidemics, etymology, legislation in Connecticut, amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and other matters.
Biographical/historical: Noah Webster (1758-1843) was an American lexicographer, educator, lawyer, and editor. His first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, was published in 1806. He is best known for the more comprehensive American Dictionary of the English Language, finished in 1825 and published in 1828.
Webster must be counted among the founding fathers of the United States. Historians continually note the wide sales of Webster's 'blue-back spellers,' and the monumental achievement of his American Dictionary published in 1828. Webster's Grammatical Institutes of the English Language, of which the speller was the first part and originally published in 1782, followed by the Grammar in 1785 and the Reader in 1786, sold some 15,000,000 copies before his death in 1843. With these and other literary and scientific efforts, Webster stimulated the educational programs of the early American republic. He is also remembered for his participation in the fight for an American copyright law, which he personally promoted in the thirteen original states, resulting in its incorporation in the Federal constitution.
A descendent, by his father of John Webster, Governor of Connecticut in 1656, and by his mother of William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth in 1621, Webster was born in Hartford, Connecticut, Oct. 16, 1758. He entered Yale College in 1774, and, after serving in the militia raised to oppose Burgoyne, graduated in 1778. He then pursued the study of the law in the intervals of school-teaching and, in 1781, was admitted to the bar.
In 1783 he published a series of papers in the Connecticut Courant, signed Honorius, in vindication of the Congressional soldier's pay-bill, and in the same year issued his First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language, or Webster's Spelling Book. The profits from this publication, at less than a cent per copy, helped support Webster during the later stage of his career during which he compiled the American Dictionary. In 1785, he traveled the Southern States, and presented General George Washington with his Sketches of American Policy, an early proposal for a new Constitution of the United States.
Webster resided in Philadelphia and served as superintendent of the Episcopal Academy through November of 1787. From December of that year to November of 1788, he published the American Magazine in New York City. Webster married Rebecca Greenleaf in 1789 and resided in Hartford, CT until 1793, when he returned to New York City to bring out a magazine on behalf of the policies of George Washington's administration. The daily paper entitled the Minerva was begun in November of 1793, and was later accompanied by a semi-weekly paper entitled the Herald. The names were later changed to The Commercial Advertiser and The New York Spectator and continued under other editors.
From 1798 to 1812, Webster lived in New Haven, CT, pursued philological studies, and, in 1807, began the preparation of his American Dictionary of the English Language (first edition, 1828, 2 vol.) the improvement of which was his great endeavor and occupied the rest of his life. From 1812 to 1822, he resided at Amherst, MA, and played an instrumental role in the establishment of Amherst College. In 1822 he returned to New Haven, and, with the exception of a visit to Europe from June 1824 to June 1825, remained there until his death on May 28, 1843, his 85th year.
Content: The Noah Webster Papers include accounts, correspondence, diaries, and manuscript writings. The diary, many of the letters, and some miscellaneous writings were published by Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford in Notes on the Life of Noah Webster (1912, New York) to which reference should be made for a further description of the Webster manuscripts. A bibliography of Webster's publications was later completed by Emily Ellsworth Ford Skeel, edited by Edwin H. Carpenter, and published as Bibliography of the Writings of Noah Webster in 1958 by The New York Public Library. In 1953, Harry Warfel edited and published the Letters of Noah Webster which added to the letters already published in Ford's 1912 edition. Richard M. Rollins' Autobiographies of Noah Webster, 1989, includes excerpts of Webster letters, publications, manuscripts, the unpublished Memoir of Noah Webster, LLD held in Yale's Sterling Library, as well as the diaries held in the Webster manuscripts of the New York Public Library.
Funding: Digitization was made possible by a lead gift from The Polonsky Foundation