What Was the First Bible Printed in the United States?

atkins-bookshelf-booksWhat was the first Bible printed in America? That would have to be one of the several English language bibles, like the King James Bible (1611), the Wycliffe Bible (1382), the Tyndale Bible (1526), or the Geneva Bible (1560), right? No. Surprisingly, the first Bible printed in the United States was not even in English — it was the Eliot Indian Bible written in Algonquian, an unwritten Massachusetts Indian dialect; thus it is also  referred to as the Algonquian Bible. The Eliot Indian Bible, originally titled Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God naneeswe Nukkone Testament kah wonk Wusku Testament, was published in 1663 at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

John Eliot, an English Puritan missionary, learned the Algonquian language and grammar over several decades living among the Indians, and spent 14 years translating the English-language Geneva Bible in the native Indian language. England provided the funds (more than 16,000 pounds), the printing press, type, ink, and paper for the endeavor. Eliot, with the assistance of two men, printed 1,500 copies of the New Testament in 1661; followed by 1,050 copies of the complete Bible (a 1,180 page edition) in 1663. (40 copies were immediately shipped to benefactors in England.

Sadly, many copies of the first edition were destroyed by the British during King Philip’s War of 1675. Eliot printed a second edition of the New Testament in 1680 and the Old Testament in 1685. In 1709, Experience Mayhew published a special edition of the Algonquin Bible featuring two columns with the English text on one side, and the Algonquian text on the other.

As you can imagine, the Eliot Indian Bible is extremely rare and valuable. Out of the 1,050 copies of the first edition of the Eliot Indian Bible, there are only 39 copies in existence today. Most of these, however, are not in perfect condition. Twenty-nine of these are owned by college libraries and wealthy bibliophiles in New England; about ten are found in Europe. The Dartmouth College Library owns one first edition and two incomplete copies of the second edition. Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, owns an almost perfect first edition.

Incidentally, the first Bible taken to America via the Mayflower was a Geneva Bible. The first Bible printed in the English language in the United States was the Aitken Bible, published by Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia printer and bookseller, in 1782. Printing the Bible in America became necessary when England, due to the Revolutionary War, had cut off the supply of the Good Book — as if that made any difference in the outcome of the war.




Algonquin Indian New Testament
Don’t Know Much About the Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Good Book
America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales

Read related post: The Most Expensive American Book
The World’s Most Expensive Book
The Most Expensive Painting

For further reading:http://www.dartmouth.edu/~library/Library_Bulletin/Apr1993/LB-A93-Hoefnagel.html?mswitch-redir=classic
The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Volume XX, October 1895.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.