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Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826): minister, educator; active in evangelism and missionary work; author of Geography Made Easy (1784), the first geography written in the United States.

Jedidiah Morse was born on August 23, 1761 in Woodstock, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale in 1783, and remained in New Haven studying theology until 1785, when he was licensed to preach. After a year of preaching and teaching school in Norwich, Connecticut, he returned to Yale as a tutor in 1786. He was ordained on November 9, 1786, and proceeded to Midway, Georgia, where he preached for five months. On April 30, 1789, Morse became the minister of the First Congregational Church of Charlestown, Massachusetts, where he remained for the next thirty years. On May 14, 1789, he married Elizabeth Ann Breese.

Throughout his career as a minister, Morse defended Orthodoxy against the intrusions of Arminianism and Unitarianism. As a member of the board of overseers of Harvard College, he opposed the election there in 1805 of Henry Ware as Hollis Professor of Divinity, because Ware, he felt, was not sufficiently orthodox. From 1805 to 1810, he edited the orthodox periodical Panoplist . In 1808 he helped to found Andover Theological Seminary, and in 1809, Boston's Park Street Church. But despite his efforts, Unitarian defection occurred in his own church, and after a few years of friction, he submitted his request for dismissal in 1819.

Morse was very active in evangelism and missionary work. He helped to found the New England Tract Society in 1814, and the American Bible Society in 1816. From 1811 to 1819, he served on the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He was most interested in the conditions of the American Indians and of the poor whites living on the Isle of Shoals. The Federal government in the summer of 1820 commissioned him to study the Indians, and in 1822 he published a report of his findings.

He was a staunch Federalist, opposing republicanism and the prevalent "French influence." In 1801, he helped to found the Federalist periodical The Mercury and New England Palladium .

Morse is best known as the "Father of American Geography." He wrote the first geography to come from the United States: published in 1784, it was entitled Geography Made Easy and it ran to 25 editions in his lifetime alone. He later expanded this work; both it and his other geographies became immensely popular here and abroad, securing a virtual monopoly in America during his lifetime. In 1794 the University of Edinburgh presented him with its honorary S.T.D. degree.

Among his other publications were the article on America for the Encyclopedia Brit[illegible]anica's American edition (1790); a History of New England, (1804) with Elijah Parish, which led to a great literary controversy with Hannah Adams; and Annals of the American Revolution (1824), almost his last work. Morse returned to New Haven in 1819, to devote the remainder of his life to Indian affairs, writing and preaching. There he died on June 9, 1826.

Of the eleven children born to Jedidiah Morse and his wife, only three survived infancy. Certainly the accomplishments of these three might have alleviated the grief at the loss of the others;

Sidney Edwards Morse, 1794-1871

Richard Cary Morse, 1795-1868

The eldest son of Jedidiah and Elizabeth Ann Morse, Samuel F. B. Morse was born on April 27, 1791 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale in 1810, acquiring while there a reputation for painting small but satisfactory portraits on ivory.

After graduation, he returned to Charlestown, where he met the painters Gilbert Stuart and Washington Alston. They approved of his work, and on July 13, 1811, Morse left for England with Allston, who was his mentor there for the following four years. While there, some of his paintings earned him some recognition by the members of the Royal Academy. In 1815, he returned to Boston and opened a studio, anxious to resuscitate the glories of the fifteenth century. But Boston was disappointing. Only portraits were in demand, and Morse had to travel widely in order to secure enough commissions to enable him to earn a living. He went to Concord, New Hampshire; New Haven; Charleston, South Carolina; and New York, where he remained for several years. His portraits were becoming popular, and he began to have some success. In 1826, he helped to found the National Academy of Design and became its first president, holding classes of instruction for aspiring painters and waging a pamphlet war against the rival American Academy of Fine Arts. He served as president until 1842.

In 1829, probably partially to escape the unpleasant memory of the deaths of his wife, father, and mother during the previous four years, Morse went to Europe to study, paint, and travel. He confined most of his travelling to Italy and Paris. While abroad, he cultivated friend. ships with James Fenimore Cooper and Horatio Greenough. After three years, he returned to New York, where he was appointed professor of painting and sculpture (later, also professor of the literature of the arts of design) in what is now New York University. It proved to be a much more prestigious than lucrative position. Between 1832 and 1836, Morse was engaged in much anti-catholic and Native-American activity: he wrote several tracts and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City in 1836 on the Native-American ticket. About 1837, disappointed in his hopes of creating an American Rennaissance, he retired from painting.

While returning from Europe in October of 1832, a fellow traveller named Charles Thomas Jackson had shown Morse certain electrical apparatus he had acquired in Europe. Morse's interest in electricity, fostered earlier by the lectures and demonstrations of Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day at Yale and James Freeman Dana before the New York Athenaeum, was renewed; the following twelve years were spent in perfecting a crude but efficient model of the telegraphic apparatus for which Morse is best known. With the aid of Leonard Dunnell Gale (1800-1883), Joseph Henry, and Alfred Vail, the invention was ready by 1837; but seven years of disappointment and often hunger followed before the funds necessary to construct a working model were supplied. The English and the French were uninterested, and it was not until 1843 that the United States Congress voted the funds ($30,000) for an experimental line, to be built from Washington to Baltimore. On May 24, 1844, Morse sent the famous message "What hath God wrought!" over this line, and Vail in Baltimore returned it correctly. The telegraph was born.

The son of Jedidiah and Elizabeth Ann Morse, Sidney Edwards Morse was born on February 7, 1794 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He received an A.B. degree from Yale in 1811, and from there went on to study law at Tapping Reeve's law school in Litchfield, Connecticut.

In 1813, he wrote a series of articles on the new southern states, to show "the injustice of erecting new states at the south", and in 1814, he published an explanation of the literary controversy between Hannah Adams and his father, Jedidiah Morse, (1761-1826)

At his father's suggestion, Morse helped to establish the Boston religious paper, the Recorder ; the first issue appeared on January 3, 1816. In 1817, he left the paper to study at Andover Theological Seminary, where he remained until 1820. He then moved to New York, where, with his brother Richard Cary Morse (1795-1868) he established another religious paper, the New York Observer ; the first issue appeared on May 17, 1823. Morse was senior editor and proprietor of this paper until 1858.

He was helpful to his father in revising the famous Geography of the elder Morse, and in 1822 the two edited a New System of Modern Geography . He made further advances in the field of geography when, in the 1830's, he and Henry A. Munson began working on a new method of printing maps: an engraving was made on wax, and from the engraving was made a-plate to be inserted with the type. Morse had written atlases previously, the first being An Atlas of the United States in 1823, and the new method proved very valuable in enabling him to print several more. The first production using the new method was his Gerographic Atlas of the United States, published in 1842.

He is credited with two other inventions. On October 3, 1817, he and his brother Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) were granted a patent for a "flexible piston pump", and on July 17, 1866, he and his son were granted one for a "bathometer", to be used in deep-sea exploration.

Morse on April 1, 1841 married Catherine Livingston, who bore him one son and one daughter. He died on December 23, 1871.

Richard Cary Morse, while on a tour of foreign travel, died at Kissingen, Bavaria, Sept. 22, 1868.

He was the fourth son of Jedidiah (Y. C. 1783) and Elizabeth Ann Breeze Morse, and was born in Charlestown, Mass., June 18, 1795.

He was fitted for College at Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., and after graduating, the youngest member of his class, and spending a year with President Dwight as his amanuensis, returned to Andover, completed the three years' course at the Theological Seminary there and was licensed to preach by the Union Congregational Association of Massachusetts, in October, 1817. During the winter of 1817 and '18 he supplied the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church on John's Island, S. C. Returning North, he was for some time associated with his father in geographical labor, and in editing a Universal Gazetteer. In 1823 he removed to the city of New York and engaged with his elder brother, Sidney E. Morse (Y. C. 1811), in founding the New York Observer, the oldest religious newspaper in that state. He remained associate proprietor and editor till 1858, and then retiring from active life, continued to reside in New York till 1863, when he removed to New Haven. He left that place for a tour of foreign travel in May, 1868.

Mr. Morse was married Sept. 30, 1828, to Miss Sarah Louisa Davis of Claverack, N. Y., who died in Paris, France, Oct. 17, 1851. They had ten children, nine of whom, 4 sons and 5 daughters, survive them. The sons are graduates of this College in the classes of 1856, 1862, 1867, and 1868. Mr. Morse married again, Aug. 12, 1856, Miss Harriot Hinckley Messinger of Boston, who survives him.

Yale College Obituary Record, 1859-1870, pp. 302-303.

From the guide to the Morse Family Papers, 1779-1868, (Manuscripts and Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Morse Family Papers, 1779-1868 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adams, Hannah, 1755-1831 person
associatedWith Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848 person
associatedWith Baldwin, Rebecca Sherman, 1764-1795 person
associatedWith Baldwin, Simeon, 1761-1851 person
associatedWith Belknap, Jeremy, 1744-1798 person
associatedWith Bigelow, Timothy, 1767-1821 person
associatedWith Bradford, Gamaliel, 1795-1839 person
associatedWith Breese, Sidney, 1800-1878 person
associatedWith Brinkerhoff, George. person
associatedWith Buckminister, Joseph, 1751-1812 person
associatedWith Calhoun, John C. (John Caldwell), 1782-1850 person
associatedWith Campbell, John, 1766-1840 person
associatedWith Carey, Mathew, 1760-1839 person
associatedWith Channing, William Ellery, 1817-1901 person
associatedWith Child, Sarah Pierce Larkin, 1800- person
associatedWith Church, Maria Trumbull Silliman. person
associatedWith Colgate, Elizabeth Ann Morse, 1829-1891 person
associatedWith Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 person
associatedWith Dana, Daniel, 1771-1859 person
associatedWith Dana, James Dwight, 1813-1895 person
associatedWith Davis, Henry, 1771-1852 person
associatedWith Dwight, Timothy, 1752-1817 person
associatedWith Ebeling, Christoph Daniel, 1741-1817 person
associatedWith Evarts, Jeremiah, 1781-1831 person
associatedWith Farrar, Samuel, 1773-1864 person
associatedWith Goodrich, Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold), 1793-1860 person
associatedWith Green, Ashbel, 1762-1848 person
associatedWith Hale, Nathan, 1784-1863 person
associatedWith Hall, Harrison, 1785-1866 person
associatedWith Hall, William Brenton, 1764-1809 person
associatedWith Hawley, Susan Hubbell Waller, 1845- person
associatedWith Hodge, Charlotte Gebhard Morse, 1833-1907 person
associatedWith Hollingshead, William. person
associatedWith Howe, Hezekiah, 1775-1838 person
associatedWith Jarvis, Samuel Farmar, 1786-1851 person
associatedWith Jay, John, 1745-1829 person
associatedWith Jay, Peter Augustus, 1776-1843 person
associatedWith Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826 person
associatedWith Lettson, John Coakley, 1744-1815 person
associatedWith Livingston, William, 1723-1790 person
associatedWith Lyman, Joseph, 1749-1828 person
associatedWith Macaulay, Zacharay, 1768-1838 person
associatedWith Madison, James, 1751-1836 person
associatedWith Mason, Mira Peters, 1797-1862 person
associatedWith Monroe, James, 1758-1831 person
associatedWith Morse, Elizabeth Ann Breese. person
associatedWith Morse, Harriet Hinckley Messinger, 1805-1885 person
associatedWith Morse, Jedidiah, 1726- person
associatedWith Morse, Jedidiah, 1761-1826 person
associatedWith Morse, Jonathan, 1750-1835 person
associatedWith Morse, Lucretia Pickering Wheeler, 1799-1825 person
associatedWith Morse, Mary Trumbull, 1862-1935 person
associatedWith Morse, Oliver Cromwell, 1847-1922 person
associatedWith Morse, Richard Cary, 1795-1868 person
associatedWith Morse, Richard Cary, 1841-1926 person
associatedWith Morse, Samuel F. B. (Samuel Finley Breese), 1791-1872 person
associatedWith Morse, Sarah Louisa Davis, 1808-1851 person
associatedWith Morse, Sidney Edwards, 1794-1871 person
associatedWith Morse, Sidney Edwards, 1835-1908 person
associatedWith Morse, William Goodrich. person
associatedWith Parish, Elijah, 1762-1825 person
associatedWith Park, Edwards Amasa, 1808-1900 person
associatedWith Parmelee, Louisa Davis Morse, 1837-1917 person
associatedWith Parsons, Eliphalet, 1752-1826 person
associatedWith Parsons, Elizabeth Rice, 1799-1860 person
associatedWith Parsons, Theophilus, 1797-1882 person
associatedWith Pickering, Susan Burbeen Walker, 1801- person
associatedWith Plinn, Andrew, 1773-1820 person
associatedWith Price, Richard, 1723-1791 person
associatedWith Sergeant, John, 1747-1824 person
associatedWith Seward, William Henry, 1801-1872 person
associatedWith Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864 person
associatedWith Smith, John Cotton, 1765-1845 person
associatedWith Spafford, Horatio Gates, 1778-1832 person
associatedWith Sprague, William Buell, 1795-1876 person
associatedWith Stiles, Ezra, 1727-1795 person
associatedWith Stockdale, John, 1749? -1814 person
associatedWith Taylor, Charles, 1840-1908 person
associatedWith Thomas, Isaiah, 1749-1831 person
associatedWith Trumbull, Benjamin, 1735-1820 person
associatedWith Van Rensselaer, Stephen, 1765-1839 person
associatedWith Victoria, queen of England, 1837-1901 person
associatedWith Walker, Augustus Willard, 1803- person
associatedWith Walker, Charles, 1798-1843 person
associatedWith Walker, Hannah Pickering, 1769-1821 person
associatedWith Walker, Thomas, 1777-1863 person
associatedWith Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915 person
associatedWith Watson, Elkanah, 1758-1842 person
associatedWith Webster, Noah, 1758-1843 person
associatedWith Weir, John Ferguson, 1841-1926 person
associatedWith Wells, William, 1744-1827 person
associatedWith Welsh, Jonas. person
associatedWith Whitney, Eli, 1765-1825 person
associatedWith Wilberforce, William, 1759-1833 person
associatedWith Williams, William, 1787-1833 person
associatedWith Wood, George, 1799-1870 person
associatedWith Woods, Leonard, 1774-1854 person
associatedWith Yale University. Students. corporateBody
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