Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 39

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 39


This is the grave of Jedidiah Morse.

2016-05-07 11.38.44

Morse, born in 1761 in Connecticut, was an early American geographer. He was trained as a minister at Yale and held a parish in Massachusetts for over thirty years. He was a deeply conservative religious thinker, railing against the evils of Unitarianism. But he’s most known for his geographical work. Widely called “the father of American geography,” Morse authored the first geography textbook in the United States, Geography Made Easy, in 1784. This was a fairly quickly thrown together book but it sold well, allowing Morse to produce more authoritative texts such as his 1789 book The American Geography, as well as children’s book explaining geography at an age-appropriate level.

He is also the father of the more famous Samuel F.B. Morse, developer of the telegraph and Morse Code and one of the most virulent anti-Catholic and anti-Irish figures to ever live in the United States, as well as a defender of southern slavery on moral grounds.

Jedidiah Morse is buried at Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut

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  • (((Hogan)))

    Morse is also known for his part in the Illuminati conspiracy theory in New England 1798-99. Beginning May 9, 1798, Morse delivered three sermons supporting John Robison’s book Proofs of Conspiracy. Morse was a strong Federalist and shared fears that the anti-Federalists were influenced by alleged French Illuminati. According to a conspiracy theory, they were responsible for the French Revolution and Americans feared its excesses.

    Fun guy.

    • It’s kind of amazing the nation didn’t collapse in the late 1790s.

      • TM1

        The fact that it didn’t is thanks in large part to Washington and Adams. Washington voluntarily giving up power, and then Adams peacefully transferring power to another political party when he could have engaged in constitutional hardball and/ or ratfucking to hold on is pretty huge.

      • AMK

        If they had CNN and Twitter to continuously “debate” the illuminati threat, it absolutely would have.

      • LeeEsq

        It’s amazing how consistent American conspiracy theories have been like. You just need to change a few things and the Elder and Younger Morse could pass as Birchers.

        • Matt McIrvin

          Pat Robertson and Jack Chick are STILL banging on about the Illuminati.

          • N__B

            Pat Robertson and Jack Chick are STILL banging

            If you have video, you could be a rich man.

      • Piquoiseau

        In college, I did my History thesis on the subject of the 1790s Illuminati Scare. I read Morse’s sermons and many others on microfiche, and unearthed a charming contemporary pamphlet bravely making the case that it was actually the Knights Templar who were behind the French Revolution.

        Morse promises, in one of the sermons, to reveal a list of Illuminati in the US. This list turns out to consist of wealthy French Masons in flight from revolutionary Haiti, hardly the most plausible subversives. The conspiracy hysteria dried up soon thereafter, but that may simply have been because of the resolution of the diplomatic crisis with France.

        As a student, I took for granted that the question to answer about this incident was, “How could such paranoid ideas prevail among intelligent, reputable men?” But this was completely backward. Had I read more about colonial American, I would have known that sinister conspiracies served as the readiest explanation for any events Americans of the time didn’t like.

        • Sure. The nation itself was founded by a sinister cabal of property-owners conspiring against the Crown, why wouldn’t there be other such groups at work?

          • TM1

            No, it wasn’t. I know it’s popular to minimize and bash the Revolution on the left these days, but it was a genuine popular uprising. The Founders harnessed it, and took some of the radicalness out of it for their own ends, but it began as a popular bottom-up movement.

        • wjts

          I read Morse’s sermons and many others on microfiche, and unearthed a charming contemporary pamphlet bravely making the case that it was actually the Knights Templar who were behind the French Revolution.

          Obligatory “Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged” reference.

          • Piquoiseau

            Yeah, I believe that the title was “The Curse of Jacques de Molay”. It only took 400 years!

            • wjts

              If you’ve ever had any first-hand experience dealing with French bureaucracy, you’ll realize that a mere 400 years is actually a pretty impressive turnaround time.

        • Pseudonym

          I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five people that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Illuminati and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.

        • J Alfred Press

          In the 19th century, if I recall/understand a period in history about which I’m really embarrassingly ignorant, very smart but terribly outgunned anti-Jacksonians/persons who were down to ride with JQA capitalized on the wave of anti-Masonic paranoia tweaked by William Morgan’s murder to found the anti-Masonic party to try to stall/frustrate the Jacksonians. It was literally a single issue party whose one issue was “Screw you, you smug Masonic bastards.”

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    Samuel F B Morse has quite the marker himself. Kinda disappointing it isn’t done in dots and dashes though

    • Bruce Vail

      Yes. S.F.B. Morse also had an important role in the early history of the “The Journal of Commerce.”


      • Piquoiseau

        He was also an excellent painter.

        • (((Hogan)))

          And a co-founder of the National Academy of Design. No wonder he later became too busy to shave.

        • wjts

          In a “one afternoon, two coats!” kind of way?

          • Pseudonym

            You know who[m] else was an excellent painter?

            • wjts

              Pieter Bruegel the Elder?

              • JonH

                I really hope there’s a welder somewhere named Pieter Bruegel.

                • wjts

                  Or at least someone in charge of castrating the horses.

                • Pseudonym

                  Maybe even someone who could take those things and blend them together somehow.

    • Does the “F.B.” stand for Face Book?

  • mikeSchilling

    I knew Jedidiah had to be a relative of Samuels’s or he wouldn’t be notable enough for a post.

    In other words, you telegraphed that .

    • (((Hogan)))

      …. .- / …. .-

  • slothrop1

    He also tirelessly advocated “postalization” of the telegraph network.

  • John Revolta


    “Jedidiah” will become the big cool baby name in the next…………..oh, five years. Or so.

    Bookmark it.

    • royko

      I had — only half-jokingly — suggested the name “Obediah” for a boy to my wife. She pointed out that if we used the middle name “Juan” we could call him “Obie Juan”. Then she vetoed the name altogether. She’s cruel that way.

  • J Alfred Press

    I appreciate how many of your American Graves posts send me down Henry Adams’ History During Jefferson/Madison related rabbit holes in my brain! So many nerdy memories come flooding back with a little prompting.

  • Lurker

    I would not call Morse a “deeply conservative religious thinker” just for his track record of opposing Unitarianism. That is, after all, standard fare in Christianity. Unitarianism is, essentially, the latest coming of Arian heresy, and it has been opposed by all churches that abide by Nicean creed. That includes both conservative and liberal groups: everything from Scandinavian liberal established churches to hard-line Roman Catholics or conservative Evangelicals.

    As such, the opposition to Unitarianism is not a good shorthand for conservatism. (In 19th century New England, it was one, though.)

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