Jedidiah Morse

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Jedidiah Morse

Jedidiah Morse (July 23 1761 – June 9 1826) was a U.S. clergyman and geographer. He was the father of Samuel F. B. Morse.

Morse made an important impact on the educational system of the United States. While teaching at a school for young women, he saw the need for a geography textbook oriented to the forming nation. The result was skimpy and derivative, Geography Made Easy (1784). He followed that with American Geography (1789) which was widely cited and copied. New editions of his schoolchildren textbooks and the more weighty works often came out yearly, earning him the informal title "father of American geography." His postponed gazetteer for his work of 1784 was bested by Joseph Scott's Gazetteer of the United States in 1795. However, with the aid of Noah Webster and Rev. Samuel Austin, Morse published his gazetteer in 1797, with his Universal Geography of the United States.

He studied divinity at Yale (M.A. 1786). He was a pastor in Charlestown, Massachusetts (across Boston) for about thirty years. Among his friends and numerous correspondents were Noah Webster, Benjamin Silliman and Jeremy Belknap.

Morse also made significant contributions to Dobson's Encyclopædia, the first encyclopedia published in America after the Revolution. In addition to writing authoritatively on geography, he rebutted certain racist views published in the Encyclopædia Britannica concerning the Native American peoples, e.g., that their women were "slavish" and that their skins and skulls were thicker than those of other human beings.

Morse is also known for his part in the Illuminati conspiracy theory in New England 1798-99. Morse delivered three sermons beginning May 9, 1798 supporting John Robison's book "Proofs of Conspiracy." Morse was a strong Federalist and there were some fears that the anti-Federalists were influenced by alleged French Illuminati who, according a conspiracy theory, were responsible for the French Revolution. Official sources state that Morse & Robisons claims have been discredited, but it's worth noting that President George Washington, when presented with this information, acknowledged it as fact and stated, "It is not my intention to doubt that the doctrine of the Illuminati and the principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more satisfied of this fact than I am. The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of separation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a separation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned."


  • "To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys... Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them."

Further reading

  • William Buell Sprague, "The Life of Jedidiah Morse" (New York, 1874)