Morse, Samuel Finley Breese

Morse, Samuel Finley Breese

Morse, Samuel Finley Breese, 1791-1872, American inventor and artist, b. Charlestown, Mass., grad. Yale, 1810. He studied painting in England under Washington Allston and achieved some success. He returned to the United States in 1815, took up portrait painting, and gained a considerable reputation in this field. Associated with the Hudson River school, he also executed a number of landscapes and, less successfully, various historical works. A founder (1825) of the National Academy of Design, he spent the years from 1829 to 1832 in further European study and upon his return became a professor of fine arts at New York Univ.

Morse's interest in electricity, aroused in his college days, was further stimulated by the lectures of James F. Dana in 1827 and later by contacts with university faculty. Learning in 1832 of Ampère's idea for the electric telegraph, Morse worked for the next 12 years, with the aid of the chemist Leonard Gale, physicist Joseph Henry, and machinist Alfred Vail to perfect his own version of the instrument. So many phases of the telegraph, however, had already been anticipated by other inventors, especially in Great Britain, Germany, and France, that Morse's originality as the inventor of telegraphy has been questioned; even the Morse code did not differ greatly from earlier codes, including the semaphore. In any case, in 1844 Morse demonstrated to Congress the practicability of his instrument by transmitting the famous message "What hath God wrought" over a wire from Washington to Baltimore. Morse subsequently was compelled to defend his invention in court, although by then he commanded the acclaim of the world. He later experimented with submarine cable telegraphy. Both Morse and John Draper were instrumental in introducing the daguerreotype in the United States.

See his letters and journals, ed. by E. L. Morse (1914, repr. 1973); biographies by C. Mabee (1943, repr. 1969), P. Staiti (1989), and K. Silverman (2003).

The Rev. Samuel Finley (b. July 2, 1715 in Armagh, Ireland, d. July 17, 1766, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1763 DD University of Glasgow (honorary). Evangelical (Presbyterian, "New Light") preacher and academic, he founded the West Nottingham Academy, and was the fifth president and an original trustee of the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) from 1761 until 1766.

Family and Students

He was the second son from a family of at least 9 children of Michael Finley by Ann daughter of Samuel O'Neill. At least 2 of his brothers, Rev James Finley and Rev Andrew Finley, became ministers.

It is likely that Samuel Finley was a graduate of William Tennant's Log College, in Neshaminy, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, known for its training of evangelical Presbyterian ministers who played a role in the 18th Century religious revival known as The Great Awakening. Finley also was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Glasgow.

On September 26, 1744 Samuel Finley married Sarah Hall (1728- July 30, 1760), daughter of Joseph Hall and Rebecca Rutter. Various sources report five sons and three daughters were born of this union. On May 13, 1761, he married Ann Clarkson (1730-1807), daughter of Matthew Clarkson and Cornelia de Peyste, of Philadelphia. They reportly had issue.

Finley's first wife, Sarah Hall, was the sister of Susanna Hall Harvey, the mother of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Rush moved into the Finley home at the age of six (some sources say eight) upon the death of his father, and was one of Finley's students at West Nottingham Academy. Finley is said to have convinced Rush to become a physician. Rush later attended Finley as Finley's physician at the time of Finley's death.

Another signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton, studied under Rev. Finley at West Nottingham Academy. Stockton's daughter, Julia, subsequently married Benjamin Rush.

During Finley's five year presidency at Princeton, the college graduated 130 students, including the Rev. James Manning (graduated in 1762), the founder and first president of Brown University; Ebenezer Hazard (1762), the third United States Postmaster General; William Paterson (1763), the second governor of the State of New Jersey; the Rev. Samuel Kirkland (1765), founder and first president of Hamilton College; David Ramsay (1765), physician and historian of the American Revolution; and Oliver Ellsworth (1766), the third Chief Justice of the United States. Finley's sermons, Hazard said: "were calculated to inform the ignorant, to alarm the careless and secure, and to edify and comfort the faithful".

It is thought that the so-called "Stamp Act Trees" (sycamores) planted in front of the then-President's home at Princeton were planted by Finley.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse, the developer of the telegraph and the namesake of Morse Code, was Finley's great-grandson via his daughter, Rebecca.

Memorial at Rittenhouse Square

Though Rev. Finley's body was originally buried at the 2d Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, when the building at Arch and Cherry Sts was torn down his body was moved, and his original tombstone was relocated and could as of 1988 be found imbedded in the wall of a lobby of a building on the North side of Rittenhouse Square.


Clan Finley. RADM Herald F. Stout, 2d Ed 2 VV bound as 1, Dover OH:1956, v 1 pp 14-5, 24

Genealogical and Personal History of Fayette County Pennsylvania, Vol. I-II, John W. Jordan, ed. New York, USA: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912

External links

  • Biography from A Princeton Companion by Alexander Leitch, Princeton University Press, 1978.

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