Scope and arrangement
The Noah Webster Papers include accounts, correspondence, diaries, and manuscript writings. The diary, many of the letters, and some miscellaneous writings were published by Emily Ellsworth Fowler Ford in Notes on the Life of Noah Webster (1912, New York) to which reference should be made for a further description of the Webster manuscripts. A bibliography of Webster's publications was later completed by Emily Ellsworth Ford Skeel, edited by Edwin H. Carpenter, and published as Bibliography of the Writings of Noah Webster in 1958 by The New York Public Library. In 1953, Harry Warfel edited and published the Letters of Noah Webster which added to the letters already published in Ford's 1912 edition. Richard M. Rollins' Autobiographies of Noah Webster, 1989, includes excerpts of Webster letters, publications, manuscripts, the unpublished Memoir of Noah Webster, LLD held in Yale's Sterling Library, as well as the diaries held in the Webster manuscripts of the New York Public Library.
The Noah Webster papers are arranged in five series:
Webster presented himself in his correspondence as a prophetic civil servant speaking for his nation's highest ideals: God and the American people. Through his correspondence one gains a sense of his involvement with political and religious concerns. Much of the correspondence from his later years is addressed to members of his family, especially to his brother Abraham, son William, and members of his daughter Julia Webster Goodrich's family. Letters to and from Webster's wife, Rebecca Greenleaf Webster, are arranged separately in subseries C.
Notable correspondents listed in chronological order include: Nathaniel Appleton, Jeremiah Atwater, Moses Atwood, Simeon Baldwin, Jeremy Belknap, Frederich J. Bradley, Charles Chauncey, Henry Clay, Harriet W. Cobb, Thomas Dawes, Thomas Dawes, Jr., C.D. Ebeling, Edward Everett, William Fowler, Benjamin Franklin, James Greenleaf, Eunice W. Hubbard, Henry Hudson, John Jay, William Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Kent, Rufus King, John Lathrop, Joseph Lyman., Jared Mansfield, Josiah Meigs, William Montgomery, Jedidiah Morse, George Ord, Seth P. Staples, Timothy Pickering, Edward Pope, Joseph Priestley, Josiah Quincy, David Ramsay, Benjamin Rush, Richard Rush, Benjamin Silliman, Samuel Smith, Horatio Southgate, Ezra Stiles, Caleb Strong, Jonathan Trumbull, Benjamin West, John Wheelock, and Oliver Wolcott.
Some of the important letters from Webster's distinguished correspondents have been removed from the collection. A letter from George Washington, from Mount Vernon, July 31, 1788, on the subject of military operations, is held in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. Other letters from the Webster manuscripts have been filed with separate collections in Manuscripts and Archives Division of The New York Public Library, such as the Thomas Jefferson papers and the Benjamin Franklin papers. These letters appear on the last reel of the microfilm. As the collection was heavily used by the Fords, their notations and transcriptions can be found on documents within the correspondence series.
The writings of Noah Webster are divided by topic and arranged alphabetically within each topic. The series includes manuscript drafts of writings on assorted topics including etymology and orthography, legislative matters, and politics and history.
Items of note among the writings of Noah Webster include Webster's manuscript draft of the printed circular of February 25 1807, addressed "To the Friends of Literature in the United States." This advertisement described Webster's work in gathering material for the dictionary and also the financial burden it entailed. He asks for contributions from individuals and learned societies to continue his work. The series also includes Webster's etymological research, the "synopsis of words." Around 1810, Webster began work comparing words having the same or cognate radical letter, in about twenty languages, for the purpose of obtaining a more correct knowledge of the primary sense of original words, and of the affinities between English and other others languages. He spent ten years in this comparison of radical words, and arranged them in classes under their primary letters. The synopsis was never published, but in the preface to the unabridged An American Dictionary of the English Language he refers to its role in the Dictionary's final form.
Legislative writings include drafts and propositions to the Connecticut and Massachusetts legislatures.
The miscellaneous writings cover a wide range of topics, including scientific research. The newsclippings contain a collection of Webster's editorials from Connecticut newspapers from 1836-1842. Writings on politics and history include unpublished manuscripts on governance.
The subject files are made of correspondence, accounts, legal papers, printed material, and other documents arranged by topics of interest to Webster, including his American Dictionary and Speller, Amherst College, copyright law, Webster family genealogy, and pestilent disease.
Materials in the personal miscellany series are arranged alphabetically and include documents and artifacts such as; Webster's personal accounts, accounts with printers of his books, a commonplace book, his diaries, diplomas and honorary degrees, legal documents, a notebook, and his passports and wills.
The Websteriana series consists of materials relating to Noah Webster collected by the Ford family to augment Webster's own papers.