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Title page of the Bay Psalm Book.

The Bay Psalm Book was the first book, that is still in existence, printed in British North America.

The book is a Psalter, first printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Psalms in it are metrical translations into English. The translations are not particularly polished or poetic, and none have remained in use, although some of the tunes to which they were sung have survived (for instance, "Old 100th.") However its production, a mere 20 years after the Pilgrim Fathers arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, represents a considerable achievement. It went through several editions and remained in use for well over a century.



The early residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony brought with them several books of psalms: the Ainsworth Psalter (1612), compiled by Henry Ainsworth for use by Puritan "separatists" in Holland; the Ravenscroft Psalter (1621); and the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter (1562, of which there were several editions). Evidently they were dissatisfied with the translations from Hebrew in these several psalters, and wished for some that were closer to the original. They hired "thirty pious and learned Ministers", including Richard Mather and John Eliot[1], to undertake a new translation, which they presented here. The tunes to be sung to the new translations were the familiar ones from their existing psalters.

The first printing was the third product of the Stephen Daye press, and consisted of a hundred and forty-eight small quarto leaves, including a twelve-page preface, "The Psalmes in Metre," "An Admonition to the Reader," and an extensive list of errata headed "Faults escaped in printing." The first edition of the Bay Psalm Book to include music was the ninth edition, of 1698, which included tunes from John Playford's A Breefe Introduction to the Skill of Musick (London, 1654).[2]

Title page

The title page of the first edition of 1640 reads:

The Whole Booke of Psalmes

Whereunto is prefixed a discourse
declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also
the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance
of singing Scripture Psalmes in
the Churches of God.

Cambridge, Mass. Stephen Day

Imprinted, 1640

Extant copies

Eleven copies of the first edition of the Bay Psalm Book are known still to exist. One of them is in the Library of Congress, one is owned by Yale University, one by Brown University, one by the American Antiquarian Society, one by the Rosenbach Museum & Library and two, housed in the Rare Book Collection at the Boston Public Library, are owned by Old South Church in Boston.

The discovery of a twelfth complete copy was one of the plot points in David Baldacci's 2006 thriller novel, The Collectors. A jewel-encrusted copy of the book appears in Linda Fairstein's 2008 novel, Lethal Legacy.


  1. ^ (2003)Bay Psalm Book. In Encarta Encyclopedia 2004. Microsoft.
  2. ^ Graham (2004, 1)

See also


  • Graham, Fred Kimball (2004) "With One Heart and One Voice: A Core Repertory of Hymn Tunes Published for Use in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, 1808-1878. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
  • Orcutt, William Dana (1930) "The Magic of the Book". Boston, MA: Little, Brown, & Company

External links



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