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Connecticut Historic Figures

Noah Webster
1758-1843: Lexicographer, born in West Hartford, Connecticut, USA. The son of a dairy farmer, he graduated from Yale College in 1778 and served under his father as a private in the American Revolution. He was admitted to the bar in 1781, but earned his living for some years as a teacher. In 1783 he published the first volume of A Grammatical Institute of the English Language. This small volume, in later editions titled The American Spelling Book, became widely known as The Blue-Backed Speller. It was immensely popular and continued in use in schools throughout the country well into the 20th century. Webster was an ardent patriot and Federalist and entered into his speller many of those spelling forms that continue to distinguish American from British writing. He also worked for the passage of the first US copyright law in 1790. For ten years he served as editor for Federalist newspapers in New York City, but from 1803 he devoted himself largely to the study of language. A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806) established his reputation as a lexicographer, but it was the appearance of a much expanded work in 1828, An American Dictionary of the English Language, that assured his preeminence in the field. As even the title hints, Webster recognized in his dictionary American contributions to the language in both new vocabulary and the development of new meanings. Although the dictionary was his main occupation for over 20 years, he also found time for other interests, including writing works on diseases, agriculture, and scientific subjects. During a ten-year residency in Amherst, Mass (1812--22), he helped to found Amherst College (1821) and he served two terms in the Massachusetts legislature. In his later years he continued to revise his dictionaries, campaign for unified copyright laws, and write essays. In 1833 he published a somewhat expurgated revision of the Authorized Version of the Bible. After his death, Webster's dictionary was seen through subsequent editions by his son-in-law, Chauncey Allen Goodrich.
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Eli Whitney
1765-1825: Inventor, engineer; born in Westboro, Mass. Whitney showed early mechanical skill, manufacturing nails at home by age 15. Determined to get an education, he taught school to pay for his way at Yale (1789--92). Moving to Savannah, Ga., to teach, he found the post filled but he was invited to stay on the plantation belonging to Gen. Nathanael Green's widow. After learning of the problems of local cotton growers, by Spring of 1793 he had developed the cotton gin for separating cotton from its seeds, a machine that could perform the work of 50 slaves. He soon ran into patent difficulties, and although he eventually won in court (1807), he profited very little from his invention. Deciding to turn to the manufacture of rifles, in 1798 he obtained a contract from the U.S. government and opened a factory near New Haven, Conn.; it was the manufacturing of firearms that led to his considerable fortune. And although now popularly associated with the cotton gin, he is actually more important for inventing machines that produced interchangeable gun parts, the basis for his reputation as the originator of mass production.
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Ethan Allan
1738-89: Soldier and Vermonter, born in Litchfield, Connecticut, USA. He and his brothers acquired large landholdings in the "New Hampshire Grants' as Vermont was then known. He formed the Green Mountain Boys, and resisted all efforts by New York and New Hampshire to control the Vermont area. He and Benedict Arnold jointly captured Fort Ticonderoga (1775) but he was then captured by the British during an attack on Montreal. After his imprisonment (1775--8), he returned to the new Republic of Vermont. He sought to represent Vermont as an independent political entity - he even negotiated with the British in pursuit of this goal. He died two years before Vermont achieved statehood.
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Benedict Arnold
1741-1801: Soldier, patriot, traitor; born in Norwich, Conn. Prior to the American Revolution he was a prosperous trader. He was an outstanding leader in military situations. He captured Fort Ticonderoga (1775) - in conjunction with Ethan Allen - and nearly captured Quebec City, where he was wounded in his leg. In 1776, he delayed a possible British invasion of New York by means of a makeshift fleet on Lake Champlain. In 1777, he inspired American troops and led them to the victory that brought about Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga (he was again wounded in his leg). He became bitter due to Congressional slights, and he moved into traitorous correspondence with British leaders. In 1780, he attempted to betray vital West Point to the British. Failing in this, he remained in the British camp, conducted raids against both Virginia, and his native Connecticut, and then retired to England where he received some money but no honor for having changed sides. He spent his last years as a not very successful trader in Canada and the West Indies.
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Nathan Hale
1755-76: Soldier, martyr; born in Coventry, Conn. He graduated from Yale (1773) and became a Continental Army captain in 1776. He was captured by British soldiers while disguised as a schoolmaster and hanged. His famous declaration "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" became a symbol of the Revolutionary spirit.
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