Poet Biographies

The Elusive Life of Clement Clarke Moore

Clement Clarke Moore was an 18th-century American poet, writer, scholar, and real estate developer. The enigmatic figure wrote several anonymous pieces but was most renowned for his work “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, which to this day has been recited by many on Christmas Eve.

Clement Clarke Moore

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. It is said that his father was responsible for ministering Alexander Hamilton’s last rites after his duel with Aaron Burr. These rites were given while Hamilton lay on the floor of a Greenwich Village house. 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

Clement Clarke Moore was born in New York City on July 15, 1779. He was the son of the reverend Benjamin Moore and Charity Moore. He was born into a well-established family during the colonial phase of the United States and ultimately had a privileged childhood.

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 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. Clement Clarke Moore’s 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 and 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. Prior to this, various anthologies, including The New York Book of Poetry, released in 1837, still had ‘Anonymous’ authorship.

There is another claim to authorship of this piece made by the ancestor of Major Henry Livingston. There are no records or physical evidence of Livingston having written ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ giving Moore the most substantial claim. Due to its widespread fame, the poem is considered one of the best-known verses written by an American poet.

Personal Life

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 throughout 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 these donations that he worked 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 at 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 to he had donated money. Finally, his body was laid to rest in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York.

Starting in 1911, the Church of Intercession, located in Manhattan, 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.

Personal Beliefs

Despite not openly discussing his personal beliefs on a public level, from his work, some of his beliefs can be inferred. We know from his poems that he was a devout Christian, supported by his membership in the Episcopal Church and the fact that he was the son of a well-respected priest within the Christian community of New York. 

Along with his writing containing Christian themes, Moore also was a professor of Biblical Learning and Hebrew at the General Theological Seminary in New York, showing his deep knowledge of the faith.

It was also clear that Moore was firmly against slavery despite having a family history of being directly involved in keeping slaves in the household. Moore’s parents were left four slaves by his maternal grandmother after her death in 1802. It is said that Benjamin and Charity Moore released some of them periodically until Clement Clarke Moore became the head of the household. The 1820 census declares that there were indeed no slaves in the Moore household.

Moore was known to be a generous philanthropist during his life, making numerous donations to institutions and organizations. Remarkably, after inheriting the Chelsea estate from his father, Clement gave away a large section of it to the General Theology Seminary.


Who was Clement Clarke Moore?

Clement Clarke Moore was an American writer and scholar from the late 18th century through to the mid-19th century. Despite being well respected within scholarly and philanthropic circles of New York, his crowning glory was his authorship of the famous poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ also named “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” There is some controversy surrounding the claim to authorship, but he is widely credited with writing it to this day.

Where was Clement Clarke Moore born?

Clement Clarke Moore was born in New York City on 15 July 1779 in his family’s Chelsea estate. Here he would spend the majority of his life building deep ties with the local area. He was born to Benjamin Moore and Charity Clarke.

Where did Clement Clarke Moore live?

Clement Clarke Moore spent most of his life giving in New York City at his Chelsea estate, which had been passed down through the family. In 1850 he started to visit a summer residence in Newport, Rhode Island, where he would later pass away.

What inspired the poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas‘ by Clement Clarke Moore?

It is said that the inspiration and idea for Clement Clarke Moore to pen ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas‘ came from his friend Washington Irving. Moore also was inspired to write a poem just for children, but over time it became iconic with readers of all ages.

How did Clement Clarke Moore die?

On July 10, 1863, Clement Clarke Moore died at his summer residence in Newport, Rhode Island. It is believed that he died of natural causes as he was at a relatively old age of 84 when he passed.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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