“The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre” commonly known as the “Bay Psalm Book”, was the first book printed in the American Colonies. It was first printed in 1640 by Stephen Daye, the first printer of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Two years earlier, in 1638, Reverend Jesse Glover imported the first printing press to the colonies and Daye, a London printer, came over with the press and established a printing office in Cambridge. John Eliot, Thomas Welde and Richard Mather were asked by the colony’s residents to translate the Book of Psalms from Hebrew for use in the churches. While other hymn books were brought to the New World, the Puritans thought they deviated from the original Hebrew words. Around 30 New England ministers assisted Mather, the principal translator and editor, in translating the book.
The creation of the book is a milestone for both the church and the colonies. It marked an evolution in musical tradition used in American churches. The book was reissued into several editions and was in use for over 100 years. For the colonies, “Bay Psalm Book” represented advancement as a society. To have an actual printing press meant they were not wholly dependent upon outside sources. The press was imported about 20 years after the Mayflower’s arrival and helped fortify their place in the New World.
There are 11 first edition copies of the “Bay Psalm Book” known to still exist. Only five are in complete condition, four of which are considered “perfect” copies. Among the institutions that own a copy include the Library of Congress, Yale University, Harvard University and Brown University. The Old South Church in Boston actually owns two books, which are housed at the Boston Public Library. In December 2012, the church announced they are going to auction off one of their two copies. (The Old South Church is one of the nation’s oldest churches and was founded in 1669.) It is estimated that the 372-year-old hymn book will fetch anywhere between $10 million to $20 million.
Library of Congress
World Digital Library
Ted Widmer, “This Is the First Book the Puritans Published on Our Shores,” Slate, November 19, 2012.
Jay Lindsay, “Bay Psalm Book Sale: Old South Church To Sell First Book Published In North America,” Huffington Post, Decemeber 2, 2012.