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Noah Webster Family Papers

Identifier: MA.00074

Scope and Contents

Letters, legal and business papers, journals, photographs and other materials belonging to Noah Webster and four generations of his descendants, chiefly Eliza S.W. Jones, Emily J. Day, Robert W. Day, and Rodney W. Day. Much of the early 19th century correspondence concerns Noah Webster's publications, family history, travels and trials. Other family papers relate to the work of Reverend Henry and Eliza Jones as educators in Bridgeport, Connecticut and Greenfield, Massachusetts; and to the personal and business affairs Robert W. Day, a businessman in Buffalo, New York.


  • Creation: 1810-1917


Conditions Governing Access

In general, there is no restriction on access to the Noah Webster Family Papers for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections.

Biographical / Historical

Noah Webster, American lexicographer, author and teacher, was born in 1758 in West Hartford, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale College in 1778, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1781. As a schoolteacher in New York State, he became dissatisfied with children's textbooks, which he felt ignored distinctive elements of American language and culture. In 1783 he published The American Spelling Book, a widely used textbook that is still in print. Subsequent publications of a grammar (1784) and a reader (1785) formed, with the speller, Webster's three-part Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Webster's advocacy of spelling reform in this period was responsible for most of the differences that exist today between American and British spelling. After marrying Rebecca Greenleaf in 1789, Webster practiced law in Hartford until 1793. In New York City he then founded two newspapers, American Minerva (said to be New York's first daily newspaper) and The Herald, both of which he sold in 1803. He moved to New Haven in 1798, where he was active in local politics. In 1806 Webster published his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. This work prepared the way for the achievement for which he is most famous, An American Dictionary of the English Language, containing over 70,000 entries and published in two volumes in 1828. (Later, George and Charles Merriam purchased the rights to this dictionary from Webster's estate.)

From 1812 to 1822, Webster and his family lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, where, living largely off the income from his published schoolbooks, he farmed, served in the Massachusetts legislature and continued work on his dictionary. In Amherst the Webster family lived in a house on Main Street, facing the Common. (This house was destroyed by fire in 1838.) As a trustee of Amherst Academy, he was involved in the founding of the Amherst Collegiate Institute, the precursor of Amherst College. In 1822 the family moved back to New Haven. Noah Webster died in New Haven in 1843.


2 Linear feet (4 archives boxes)

Language of Materials



Letters, legal and business papers, journals, photographs and other materials belonging to Noah Webster and four generations of his descendants. Consists mainly of correspondence concerning lexicographer Noah Webster's life and work. Some papers relate to the work of educators Rev. Henry and Eliza Jones and of businessman Robert Day.


This collection is organized in two series:

  1. Series 1: Family Correspondence, 1817-1917
  2. Series 2: Miscellaneous Family Papers, 1810-1911

Related Materials

Amherst College Early History Collection (see separate finding aid)

Thompson, Everett E. "Noah Webster and Amherst College." Amherst Graduates Quarterly, August 1933.

Physical Description

2 linear feet

Carol Trabulsi, Peter Nelson.
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299