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Collection Samuel F. B. Morse Papers at the Library of Congress, 1793 to 1919

Childhood and Family Life

Journal entries and letters from Morse reveals a childhood full of curiousty for academia, as well as an era in early America plagued by high mortality rates.

Samuel F. B. Morse's Journal, 1805

At the age of thirteen, Morse began to keep this journal. In it he wrote about the daily occurrences of his life: learning his lessons, drawing, local news, and other activities. He described the books he read in detail and even recorded the weather. On the last page, Morse made note of his acceptance into Yale College, which he entered later that year.

Letter from Samuel F. B. Morse to Sidney and Richard Morse, 15 March 1805

"I now write you again to inform you that Mama had a baby, but it was born dead & has just been buried, now you have three brothers & three sisters in heaven and I hope you & I will meet them there at our death . . . ." The opening sentence of thirteen-year-old Morse's letter to his brothers reveals not only the fact of a high infant mortality rate in early America but also the religious upbringing of the Morse children. Their mother gave birth to eleven children, though only three--Samuel, Sidney, and Richard--survived past infancy. Jedidiah, Morse's father, was a Congregational minister and known as a proponent of Calvinism. His sons consequently grew to adulthood with a strong religious faith. Their acute awareness of death and their firm belief in the constant need to be prepared for it is evident here even at a young age.

Letter from Samuel F. B. Morse to Lucretia Walker Morse, 9 February 1825

Morse's first wife, Lucretia, died suddenly at the young age of twenty-five on February 7, 1825. Morse was away in Washington, D.C., taking up a commission to paint the Marquis de Lafayette's portrait. His father sent a letter with the sad news, but Morse did not receive it for several days.

Letter from Samuel F. B. Morse to Sidney Morse, 1 August 1849
Unaware of his wife's death two days before, he wrote this letter to her about the election of John Quincy Adams as president and his first meeting with Lafayette. By the time he returned home to New Haven, several days had passed since her burial. It would be nearly two decades before Morse would invent a device that could send such news immediately.

Morse and his brother Sidney often affectionately signed their letters to each other with drawings of a hare and tortoise, a reference to names their father gave them as children. According to their father, Samuel was the hare because he was too quick, and Sidney was the tortoise because he was too stubborn. This letter shows that the names stayed with them even into adulthood.