Clement Clarke Moore was born in July of 1779 in New York City to parents Benjamin and Charity Moore. Benjamin Moore worked as the president of Columbia College and headed the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Clement Moore was later educated at Columbia College, earning both his B.A. and M.A. there. He graduated with his B.A. in 1798 at the top of his class then again in 1801 with his M.A..
Early Life and Career
It was in 1804 that Moore’s earliest known work was published. It was a pro-Federalist pamphlet that attacked the religion of Thomas Jefferson. He was the incumbent president at the time and a candidate for the 1804 election. In full the work was titled, “Observations upon Certain Passages in Mr. Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia, which Appear to Have a Tendency to Subvert Religion, and Establish a False Philosophy.”
Moore was not well-known as a writer during his lifetime but his work spanned across a number of different genres. His writing included the two-volume Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language and a translation of A Complete Treatise on Merinos and Other Sheep. His poetry appeared in Portfolio as well as other periodicals. The piece of writing for which he is most well-known is ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas.’
A Visit from St. Nicholas
The poem was published anonymously in 1823 and became more and more popular as time progressed. It was included in newspapers, anthologies and its recitation has become a Christmas tradition. It wasn’t until 1844 that Moore claimed the poem as his own. ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ was included in his collection, Poems, published that same year.
There is another claim to authorship of this piece made by the ancestor of Major Henry Livingston. There are no records of Livingston having written ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ giving Moore the strongest claim. Due to its widespread fame, the poem is considered to be one of the best-know verses written by an American poet.
Moore’s political and social opinions are well-known. As was common, he owned several slaves and actively worked against the abolition of slavery. His views on real estate were shown in the pamphlet “Proprietors of Real Estate.” He was against the continued development of the city, (likely because his own property sat on the last piece of developed land) seeing it as nothing more than a way to increase political leverage and please the working class. The publication also spoke out against taxes for public works. Despite these beliefs, Moore began developing his own property. He divided his Chelsea land into sections and sold them off to wealthy New Yorkers. To this day that area of New York is known as Chelsea because of his estate.
In 1813 he married Catharine Elizabeth Taylor who was 19 years old. Together the couple had nine children. Moore was very religious through his entire life and gave 66 tracts of land, which included the apple orchard, from his Chelsea state to the General Theological Seminary. The seminary is still operational today. It was due to this donations that he worked at there as a professor of oriental and Greek Literature from 1823 until he retired in 1850. This was the same year that he published a historical biography on George Castriot and his tenure on the New York Institution for the Blind ended. Many years later Moore also gave land to the diocese to build St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Later Life and Death
After retiring, the remainder of his years were spent in Newport, Rhode Island. He died there in July of 1863 only five days before he was to turn 84. His funeral was held soon after in Trinity Church, Newport, another institution he had donated money to. Finally his body was laid to rest in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York.
Starting in 1911, the Church of Intercession, located in Manhattan, has held a service on the Sunday before Christmas. It includes a reading of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ and a procession past Moore’s grave. There is also a park at 10th Avenue and 22nd Street in Chelsea named for the writer, as well as a school in Elmhurst, Queens.