The Philadelphia Bible Society, America’s first Bible society, was officially organized on December 12, 1808. The Rev. Dr. William White was president of the Society and Declaration signer Benjamin Rush was a vice president. 1 The Society was formed to ensure that every person in Philadelphia had access to the “existence, character, will, works, and grace in Jesus Christ in the Bible.” 2
By 1816, 121 more Bible societies had been started across the nation. 3 These early Bible societies had the support and involvement of many of America’s Founding Fathers. For example, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were lifetime members of the Virginia Bible Society, formed in 1813. 4 Elias Boudinot (president of Congress; framer of the Bill of Rights), John Jay (original Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court), Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (military general; signer of the US Constitution), Bushrod Washington (Justice on the US Supreme Court), William Wirt (Attorney General of the United States), and many others were officers of the American Bible Society 5, founded in 1816.
Find out more about America’s early Bible societies in this video by David Barton!
WallBuilders has a vast collection of original documents, including many items related to so many of America’s early Bible societies. One item that can be found in our library is an original Bible published by the Philadelphia Bible Society (this was the first Bible printed in America to use stereotype plates, and was imported with the help of President James Madison and the US Congress).
We also have other items related to various Bible societies across the nation, such as an original constitution of the Philadelphia Bible Society, an original constitution of the American Bible Society, a first edition Bible printed by the American Bible Society, a certificate signed by John Jay as president of the American Bible Society (pictured above), and numerous reports from Bible societies that existed all over America.
1. The First Report of the Bible Society Established at Philadelphia; Read Before the Society at their Annual Meeting, May 1, 1809 (Philadelphia: Fry and Kammerer, 1809), inside front cover.
2. The First Report of the Bible Society Established at Philadelphia; Read Before the Society at their Annual Meeting, May 1, 1809 (Philadelphia: Fry and Kammerer, 1809), p. 31.
4. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D. C.: Taylor & Maury, 1854), Vol. VI, pp. 308-309, to Samuel Greenhow on January 31, 1814; Address of the Managers of the Bible Society of Virginia to the Public (Richmond: Samuel Pleasants, 1814), p. 8, “Constitution of the Bible Society of Virginia,” 1813, Shaw # 30910; Thomas Buckley, Establishing Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Statute in Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 157.
5. Constitution of the American Bible Society (New York: C. F. Hopkins, 1816), “Officers of the American Bible Society.”