Bay Psalm Book

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BAY PSALM BOOK. The Bay Psalm Book, formally titled The Whole Book of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre (1640), was the first book printed on Anglo-American soil. The Puritan divines of the Massachusetts Bay Colony set out to produce a translation from the Hebrew that was reflective of their unique brand of Calvinism and more literal than the most popular Psalter of the day. Although approximately thirty clergymen contributed to the book, Richard Mather, John Eliot, and Thomas Welde were its primary authors. Scholars have disputed the authorship of the preface, some attributing it to Mather and others to John Cotton.

The use of the Bay Psalm Book in both public services and private devotions underscores the central place of song in Puritan religious life. The book's cultural significance was originally underestimated by modern scholars because of its awkward poetic style, but recent interpreters point out that the authors' primary aim was to translate the Scriptures as literally as possible into musical form. Furthermore, they stress that the book is an artifact of a society that defined itself through oral communication, and that its unsophisticated rhymes and phrasing facilitated memorization in an age when many could not read. The Bay Psalm Book went through twenty-seven editions, the last of which appeared in 1762.


Amory, Hugh, and David D. Hall, eds. The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

Haraszti, Zoltán. The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.

K. HealanGaston

See alsoPuritans and Puritanism .

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Popular title of the first book produced by English-speaking American authors on a British-North American press; published by Stephen Day(e) in Cambridge, Mass., 1640, under the official title of The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. This psalter was a new translation begun in 1636 by a group of Puritan divinesRichard Mather, John Eliot, and Thomas Weld, with some additions by the English poet Francis Quarleswho had become dissatisfied with the Sternhold and Hopkins translation being used in Massachusetts Bay Colony. The new psalter was immediately adopted by the congregations, but around 1647 the ministers of the Bay Colony felt that a revision of their initial effort was needed. The result was the third, and definitive, edition of 1651, entitled The Psalms Hymns and Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament, Faithfully Translated into English Metre, popularly known as the New England Psalm Book. The first known edition to contain examples of notated music was the ninth (1698). In its revised form the book was widely used for more than a century, not only in America but also among Puritan congregations in England and Scotland. It ranked among the most popular English psalters of its time.

See Also: hymns and hymnals; music, sacred (u.s.); psalters, metrical

Bibliography: z. haraszti, The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book (Chicago 1956). g. chase, America's Music (New York 1955) 14, 1921.

[a. m. garrett]