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Jedediah Peck (January 28, 1748 – August 15, 1821) was an American farmer, surveyor, Revolutionary War soldier, and New York State legislator described as a father of the common school system of the State of New York. He was a man of limited education and had no gift as a debater or speaker, but he was a skillful organizer. (His first name has occasionally been spelled Jedidiah or Jedadiah in the literature.)
An outspoken opponent of the John Adams administration and the Federalist Party in New York State, Peck was arrested by Federalist Judge William Cooper for circulating a petition against the Adams-era Alien and Sedition Acts and taken to jail in chains; massive protests from Peck supporters and opponents of the administration won his release without trial.
Peck was born in Lyme, Connecticut, one of thirteen children of Elijah Peck and Hepzibah Pierson. He was raised on the family farm, and his formal education was limited to attending a country grammar school, but he taught himself by reading the Bible many times over. In 1771 at about age 23, Peck returned from a sea voyage to learn that his parents, three brothers and a sister had died. He became extremely depressed and wrote in his journal that he longed for:
He served four years as an enlisted man in the American Revolutionary Army. In 1790 he settled in what was to become the town of Burlington, Otsego County, New York. When Burlington was formed from a part of the Town of Otsego in 1792, Jedediah Peck became Burlington's first Town Supervisor and remained in that job for eight years. He is said to have been elected to the position three times, the latest in 1820, when he would have been 73.
He also worked as a surveyor and millwright, studied law, was appointed as a judge, wrote political tracts, and conducted religious services on request. He is said to have been seen as an awkward figure, with his "drawling, nasal, yankee twang" and his saddle-bags "filled with political papers and scraps" that he distributed to all who would listen.
Peck was a strong anti-Federalist, and in 1798, Judge William Cooper, an ardent Federalist, had him arrested by a United States Marshal under the Alien and Sedition Acts for circulating petitions against those very acts. Peck was taken in irons to be tried in New York City. The spectacle of the martyred war hero being transpored in chains only served to help the Republican cause. Peck was soon released without trial.
He was a member of the New York State Legislature for eleven years, in the Assembly (1798–1804) and in the Senate (1804 to 1808).
While in the State Assembly (in 1801, 1803 and 1804), Jedediah Peck sponsored bills to establish common schools in the state, but each resolution was rejected. In 1811, after Peck's retirement from active politics, Governor Daniel D. Tompkins appointed Peck chairman of a five man commission to study the problem of public school education. In five months the commission reported the fundamental principals of New York's educational system. In 1812, a bill become law and the basic foundation of the state's public school system was established. The law requires:
In addition to his work in establishing the common school system of New York, he introduced a bill for the abolition of imprisonment for debt which later became a law.
Although nearly seventy years of age at the time, he served in the War of 1812, and took part in the Battle of Queenston Heights. He died at age 74 and is buried at the  in the Town of Burlington, New York. A New York State Historical Marker at the site reads: