As told to one of the giants of American education and biography, William Allen
Noah Webster was a noted lexicographer. In 1806, he published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The following year, he started working on an expanded and comprehensive dictionary, finally publishing it in 1828. It became a classic. He was a strong advocate for American scholarship and education, not...
Noah Webster was a noted lexicographer. In 1806, he published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. The following year, he started working on an expanded and comprehensive dictionary, finally publishing it in 1828. It became a classic. He was a strong advocate for American scholarship and education, not just borrowing from European work.
William Allen was an important figure in the history of American higher education. A graduate of Harvard College, he served as regent there from 1804 to 1810. He prepared his American Biographical and Historical Dictionary in 1809, the first work of general biography published in the United States. In 1817 he became president of Dartmouth College, then left Dartmouth for Bowdoin College. Allen became Bowdoin’s third president, serving, with one interruption, from 1820 to 1839. He worked to lead the College through the formation of the new state of Maine in 1820, and to establish the Medical School of Maine. Allen also collected 10,000 words not contained in standard dictionaries, and published them as a supplement to Webster’s Dictionary.
Allen, whose work on his American Biographical and Historical Dictionary made him a scholar in genealogy, wrote Webster about his family history. Webster responded. Autograph letter signed, New Haven, August 25, 1835, to Allen. “In reply to your letters of the 3rd instant, I would inform you that I have minutes of my family taken from the records of the town of Hartford and of the probate office. I am not descended from any person the name of Hopkinson. But Jonathan Webster, son of Robert and Grandson of John, the Colonial Governor, married Dorcas Hopkinson in 1681. So that in 1689 when Stephen Hopkins died, his daughter was Dorcas Webster.
“The genealogy of the family is: John Webster, one of the first settlers of Hartford, and for a series of years magistrate and afterwards deputy governor in 1655 and governor in 1656. He with his sons Robert Thomas and William and a company removed to Hadley, written in the records of Hadleigh, in 1659 or 1660 – where he died. I have erected a monument to his memory in Hadley Church yard and burying ground. Robert, son of John, returned to Connecticut. His His sons were John 2hd, Jonathan, Samuel, Robert, Joseph and William . John 2nd, son of Robert, had several children, among whom was Daniel, my grandfather, whom I remember.
“There was Stephen Hopkins in West Hartford, who lived half a mile from my father, who was probably a grandson of Stephen, who died in 1689. He left a son, who died several years ago, but having left West Hartford many hears ago, I know not where his descendants are.”
Interestingly, being descended from Governor John Webster, Noah shares descent with such notables as Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, Rutherford B.. Hayes, Katherine Hepburn, and Janis Joplin.
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