Noah Webster

Outside the former Town Hall of my home town, West Hartford, Connecticut, is a larger than life white statue of Noah Webster. It may not be strictly accurate to say that Noah Webster was from West Hartford, inasmuch as the town was not incorporated until after he had died, but the "West Division Parish" was formed before he was born, and the farm where he grew up was within the present political boundaries of West Hartford. Hence he is considered as a local boy who made good.

Noah Webster was born on October 16, 1758 on a farm. Unfortunately, when as a boy he took his Latin grammar into the fields with him, although his Latin thrived, the crops declined. He pursued his education at the local school, with a local minister, and at Yale, where he received his degree in 1778. He marched in his father's company of the militia during the Revolutionary War (1777), but did not see any action.

In 1779 he began teaching, and decided that America needed American rather than British texts. His American Spelling Book ("Blue-Backed Speller"), first written in 1783, sold over a million copies a year and reached the highest sales of any book in the world except the Bible, with total sales between 24.000,000 and 100,000,000 copies. He soon became a strong advocate of copyright, and has been characterized as the father of American copyright law.

Webster is of course best known for his An American Dictionary of the English Language, indeed, the name Webster has become synonymous with Dictionary. Webster's dictionary is best known for Americanizing English (dropping the k from musick and the u from colour, and rearranging the last two letters of centre; he was not successful in respelling women as wimmen), but the dictionary was better received in England than in America. Less well known is that the definitions in his 1843 dictionary are predicated on the Bible and Christian values.

Noah Webster died at age 84 on May 28, 1843.

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29 July 1996