Sunday, September 21, 2014

Aitken anniversary

The good people at 18th Century Bibles, craftsmen who preserve and reproduce historic Bibles and, in the process, hand off “historical accuracy of the great Christian literature of the 1700s” to posterity, cite today as the 232nd anniversary of Congress’ authorization of the Aitken Bible—the first English-language Bible to be printed in America. (However, I think the actual anniversary is September 12, per the Congressional resolution. Click here and scroll down.)

Here’s what 18th Century Bibles has to say:

Courtesy 18th
Century Bibles
Before the Revolution, it had been impossible to print an English language version of the Bible in the colonies, because no American printers held a license from the King granting permission to print the Bible. The war cut off shipments of Bibles from Great Britain, but also got rid of the need for the license; thereby creating a shortage of Bibles and the ability to print them in America. Robert Aitken stepped in to fill this void.
Beginning in 1777, Aitken began publishing and selling New Testaments. Aitken made the first New Testament printed in this country in 1777. After this first printing, he had to bury all of his equipment. The regulars were headed to Philadelphia and would have looked very unfavorably on any printer that they came across. Robert Aitken first advertised his New Testament for sale in the August 28, 1777 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post. The transcription of this ad is below:
“Just printed (bound and ready for sale) by R. Aitken, printer and bookseller, opposite the London Coffee-house, Frontstreet, a neat edition of THE NEW TESTAMENT for the use of schools, where may be had writing paper of different kinds, particularly letter paper of the first quality, and several hundreds of excellent quills.”
There are only three known copies of Aitken’s 1777 New Testament still in existence today. One can be found in the New York Public Library’s collection. Another belongs to the Philadelphia Historical Society. The last was auctioned off by Bloomsbury Auctions in London November, 2011 by an undisclosed seller. Demand was heavy, so every year, for the next five years, Aitken published a new edition of his New Testament. In total, he published five editions: Aitken’s second edition was published in 1778; his third in 1779; his fourth in 1780; and finally his last and fifth edition was published in 1781. I am unsure of the number of New Testaments Aitken printed each year, but I expect that it was somewhere between one thousand and ten thousand.
It was not until 1782 that Aitken had his first complete Bible. He printed his 1782 Old Testament and added it to his previously printed 1781 New Testament. I believe that Aitken planned ahead and printed about ten thousand additional New Testaments in 1781 and had them waiting to be bound with the ten thousand Old Testaments he printed in 1782. If you look at my web site, you will notice that the 1782 Bible’s New Testament title page is dated 1781, while the Old Testament is dated 1782. 1782, or maybe 1783, was the only year that the Aitken Bible was published. I am pretty sure that these Bibles were not available (bound) until 1783.
After the war, America was once again flooded with inexpensive Bibles from England. Aitken was stuck with way too many Bibles and was near financial ruin. The Presbyterian Synod stepped in and purchased Aitken’s remaining stock and gave them to the poor.

My own photograph of an Aitken Bible, taken July 2011 at the American Bible Society in New York City.


Tom Van Dyke said...

After the war, America was once again flooded with inexpensive Bibles from England. Aitken was stuck with way too many Bibles and was near financial ruin. The Presbyterian Synod stepped in and purchased Aitken’s remaining stock and gave them to the poor.

After reading all the endless anti-David Barton crap from his detractors about the Aitken Bible, this part I never heard. They never mention it.

Now THIS is interesting, to finally hear the Rest of the Story. Thx, Brother Magpie. I'm trying to retire from fighting the bullshit--from Barton, and from the people who tell their only half of the rest of the story.

I think you just closed the loop. Printer Aitken printed Bibles at his own expense, hoping to cash in. He asked the Continental Congress to approve the translation, and the Congress appointed some preachers to approve the translation, and they did.

The Congress approved and recommended the Aitken Bible. They did not, however, buy a single one.

Aitken, stuck with all these [rather crappy] Bibles, asked General Washington to buy and distribute them to his departing troops. GWash sent a polite letter, sorry but I can't.

But the part about the Aitken Bibles' ultimate fate, bought by the Presbyterians and distributed to the poor, that part I never heard, not taht Barton's critics actually care about history and the whole story.

It's true that David Barton is a conservative activist and is interested only in the parts of history that further his conservative GOP agenda.

But his critics pretend to be Defenders of Historical Truth, but they are unconcerned with historical truth, only with furthering the Democratic Party.

Historically, the Aitken Bible is rather a wash, although it leans slightly toward the furtherance of religion in the Founding.

If the Founding were indifferent to the Christian religion, Congress would never have appointed a review board for Aitken's Bible in the first place.

The review board approved it and Congress "recommended it." That's the historical truth.

iladelphia, September 10th, 1782.

Honble James Duane, Esq. Chairman, and the other
Honble Gentlemen of the Committee of Congress on
Mr. Aitken's Memorial."

THAT the United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion, as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this Recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.


Magpie Mason said...

Thanks, Tom. I cringe when I see Barton's name here (simply burned out), but I'm glad this contribution helps.