MORSE, SAMUEL F.B. (1791-1872). American artist and inventor; inventor of the telegraph and the code which bears his name; founder of the National Academy of Design. ALS. (“Sam. F.B. Morse”). 1½pp. 8vo. New York, June 1, 1864. To WILLIAM STICKNEY (1827-1881), co-founder of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (later Gallaudet University) and private secretary to his father-in-law, influential politician and telegraph magnate Amos Kendall (1789-1869).
Autograph Letter Signed by the Inventor of the Telegraph about Money and Marriages
Signed by Samuel F.B. Morse
“I have just received my new scrip, (From Mr. Douglas,) of the So. Westn Teleg. Co. and your fraction is issued to me. I send you, therefore, my check for the same $8.33 which I believe is correct, (not being able to refer to my books which are at Po’keepsie). We are now at our Summer home. We received the cards of Mr. Babcock & Miss Mallie, and Mr. & Mrs. Kendall. Pray make to them our congratulations, and best wishes for the happiness of the whole family circle, in this new connection. Tell Mr. & Mrs. Kendall that we also have had marriages here. – A distant cousin married at my house last week, and the day after a niece Miss Louisa Morse, at her father’s at New Haven where we all attended. Give our kind regards to Mr. and Mrs. Kendall, and all the family…”
Though best remembered as the inventor of the single-wire telegraph system, Morse was also a talented and renowned artist. He painted portraits of Presidents John Adams and James Monroe as well as the 1821 Hall of Congress that depicted the newly constructed capital. Never apolitical, critics often observed that his paintings contained anti-Federalist messages. It was in 1825, while in Washington working on a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, that Morse received letters informing him of his wife’s illness and, then, death. He immediately returned to his home in Connecticut only to find that she had already been buried. His heartbreak led to his interest in advancing rapid long-distance communication.
In 1832, on a return voyage from Europe he developed the concept of the single-wire telegraph system, whereupon he filed a caveat for his invention with the U.S. Patent Office in September 1837. By 1844, the mechanism that introduced the world to instantaneous electronic communication was in operation. In 1845, after sending the first telegraphed message, “What hath God wrought!” from the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court to the B&O Railroad depot in Baltimore the previous year, Morse hired lawyer, journalist and politician Amos Kendall as his business manager. Despite legal difficulties and precarious finances, Morse “enjoyed the acclaim, honors, and emoluments of a great inventor and public personage… [and] ultimately… attained to wealth,” (DAB.).
Our letter mentions a payment from Kentucky’s South–Western Telegraph Company (eventually incorporated into Western Union) of which George L. Douglass (1808-1889) was treasurer. With two wives, Kendell fathered 13 children who survived to adulthood. Our letter discusses the 1864 marriage of Kendell’s youngest daughter Marion “Mollie” Kendall (1844-1901) to attorney and Treasury Department employee Sidney S. Babcock (1842-1866). Unfortunately, Babcock died two years after their union.
Also mentioned is Morse’s home in “Po’keepsie,” the elegant Italianate villa Locust Grove, which was completed in 1851 and is now a National Historic Landmark. Written on a folded sheet. Boldly penned and signed in Morse’s elegant hand. Normal folding and in excellent condition.