1. Introduction
  2. The Road to Dartmouth
  3. Scholarly Pursuits
  4. Writings and Speeches
  5. Room and Board
  6. Friendships
  7. The United Fraternity
  8. Phi Beta Kappa
  9. The Dartmouth Gazette
  10. Political Activity
  11. Commencement
  12. Conclusion
  13. A Note on Sources

The Road to Dartmouth
Daniel Webster was born on January 18, 1782 in Salisbury New Hampshire. The son of Ebenezer Webster (Bartlett 14), a former Captain in the American Revolution, and Abigail Eastman Webster, Ebenezer's second wife, Daniel was the youngest of ten children. Ebenezer owned a farm and was a member of the state Legislature, a man of modest means.
Painting of Webster's birthplace by Charles Lanman

Although his children were needed to help with the farm, Ebenezer also was concerned about their education. Daniel did not take to outdoor work very well, and once told the following anecdote:
(N. B: This comes from a short, partial autobiography written by Webster in 1829. It will be used liberally in this section of Daniel Webster: Class of 1801, as Webster describes his early life far better than it is in the power of the author to do so)

At one time I was put to mowing and made bad work of it. My scythe was sometimes in the ground, and sometimes over the top of all the grass. I complained to my father that the scythe was not hung right. Various attempts were made to hang it better, but with no success. My father told me, at length, that I must hang it to suit myself, whereupon I hung it upon a tree and said, "There, that's just right." Father laughed, and told me to let it hang there. My brother Joe used to say, that my father sent me to college in order to make me equal to the rest of the children! (Lewis, 8).
Perhaps there was some truth to Joe's words. Webster recalls his father calling his attention to a friend and supporter, saying:
"My son, that is a worthy man, he is a member of Congress, he goes to Philadelphia, and gets six dollars a day, while I toil here. It is because he had an education, which I never had. If I had had his early education, I should have been in Philadelphia in his place. I came near it as it was. I could not give your elder brothers the advantage of knowledge, but I can do something for you. Exert yourself, improve your opportunities, learn, learn, and when I am gone, you will not need to go through the hardships which I have undergone, and which have made me an old man before my time."
Ebenezer's words were prophetic on a number of counts. Daniel was enrolled at Phillips Exeter Academy, his first experience away from home. He made "tolerable progress" at the school, but remarked that during his time there he "could not make a declamation. I could not speak before the school." During winter break, Captain Webster brought his son home from Phillips Exeter and put his education in the care of the Rev. Samuel Wood:
On the way to Mr. Wood's, my father first intimated to me his intention of sending me to college. The very idea thrilled my whole frame. He said then that he lived but for his children, and if I would do all I could for myself, he would do what he could for me. I remember that I was quite overcome, and my head grew dizzy. The thing appeared to me so high, and the expense and sacrifice it was to cost my father, so great, I could only press his hand and shed tears. Excellent, excellent parent! I cannot think of him, even now, without turning child again.

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