Jedediah Morse—Father of American Geography
Jedidiah Morse (August 23, 1761 – June 9, 1826) was a notable geographer whose textbooks became a staple for students in the United States. He was the father of telegraphy pioneer and painter Samuel F. B. Morse, and his textbooks earned him the sobriquet of “father of American geography.”
Early life and education
Born to a New England family in Woodstock, Connecticut, Morse did his undergraduate work and earned a divinity degree at Yale University (M.A. 1786). While pursuing his theological studies studies under Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Watts, in 1783 he established a school for young women in New Haven.
In the summer of 1785 he was licensed to preach, but continued to occupy himself with teaching. He became a tutor at Yale in June 1786, but, resigning this office, was ordained on 9 November 1786, and settled in Medway, Georgia, where he remained until August of the following year. He spent the winter of 1787/8 in New Haven in geographical work, preaching on Sundays to vacant parishes in the vicinity.
He became a pastor in Charlestown, Massachusetts (across Boston harbor) on 30 April 1789, where he served until 1820. Among his friends and numerous correspondents were Noah Webster, Benjamin Silliman and Jeremy Belknap. In 1795 he received the degree of D.D. from the University of Edinburgh.
Throughout his life he was much occupied with religious controversy, and in upholding the faith of the New England church against the assaults of Unitarianism. Ultimately his persevering opposition to liberal views of religion brought on him a persecution that affected deeply his naturally delicate health. He was very active in 1804 in the movement that resulted in enlarging the Massachusetts general assembly of Congregational ministers, and in 1805 unsuccessfully opposed, as a member of the board of overseers, the election of Henry Ware to the Hollis Chair of Divinity at Harvard.
Morse did much toward securing the foundation of Andover Theological Seminary, especially by his successful efforts in preventing the establishment of a rival institution in Newburg,[where?] which had been projected by the Hopkinsians.[who?] He participated in the organization of the Park Street Church in Boston in 1808, when all the Congregational churches of that city, except the Old South Church, had abandoned the orthodox faith. In 1805 he established The Panoplist for the purpose of illustrating and defending the commonly received orthodoxy of New England, and continued its sole editor for five years. This journal later became The Missionary Herald.
Morse strongly influenced 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 school textbooks and the more weighty works often came out annually, 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. With the aid of Noah Webster and Rev. Samuel Austin, Morse published his gazetteer as Universal Geography of the United States (1797).
Native American peoples
Morse 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 humans.
He took great interest in the subject of civilizing and Christianizing the native Americans, and in 1820 he was appointed by the secretary of war to visit and observe various tribes on the border, in order to ascertain their actual condition, and to devise the most suitable means for their improvement. This work occupied his attention during two winters, and the results of his investigations were embodied in a Report to the Secretary of War on Indian Affairs (New Haven, 1822).
When I was in the 5th grade, I had to learn the shapes of all the United States, the names of the state capitals, and be able to label and locate each state and capital on a blank map of the United States, with only the states outlined. It has been a really useful thing to know, and doing that, I never forgot it. Try it with a blank U.S. map, and color each state a different color, so you can remember the shape of each state. ~C.A. Davidson