Jun. 23, 1803 Hebron Tolland County Connecticut, USA
Mar. 17, 1869 Montgomery Orange County New York, USA
Levi Strong Backus (June 23, 1803 - March 17, 1869) was born in Hebron, Connecticut the eldest son of Jabez Backus (1777-1855), a tanner and saddle maker in Bolton, Connecticut, who married Octavia Strong (1783-1816) in 1801. He was named for his grandfather, Levi Strong (1762-1823). He was apparently born deaf, likely a genetic defect, since his sister Lucy Ann who died at five months of age in 1808, was also deaf.
He attended the Hartford Academy for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, and after graduation, became a teacher in the Central Asylum School for the Deaf and Dumb (est. 1823) in the hamlet of Buel, just outside the village of Canajoharie, New York. He married one of his former students, Anna Raymond Ormsby, in the same year that the village of Canajoharie was incorporated (1829). The village "is situated at the confluence of Bowman's creek with the Mohawk and on the Erie canal 55 miles from Albany. It consists of about 100 houses, a Lutheran church, and an academy." The school itself closed in 1836, and Levi Backus saw that his 33 students were transferred to the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in New York City.
That winter Backus organized a newspaper devoted to the deaf community called the Radii (later the The Canajoharie Radii and Taxpayer's Journal). A catalogue of newspapers published in 1884 has this entry: "1837. — The Radii, at Canajoharie, by Levi S. Backus a deaf mute.
In 1840 removed to Fort Plain, and in 1856 to Madison county. Subsequently returned to Canajoharie. Still published." Backus applied to get the Radii distributed free of cost to the members of the deaf community throughout New York state. In 1844 he was able to use the state subsidy to mail the Radii to deaf people across the state. The original Canajoharie site of the paper fell victim to the fire of 1840, the same year that saw the publication of the present book. Backus was the first person in America to insert pictures of the hand signs for the deaf in a newspaper's masthead.
Because of his association with deafness, Backus was particularly interested in non-verbal communication by means of signs. In later years he became a book publisher for other authors, printing a book on grammar (1858) and another of poetry (1861). He died in Montgomery, New York, in 1869, survived by his widow.