The Bible in America

History From its founding in 1816, the American Bible Society has grappled with the task of making the Word of God available to Christians and churches in America. From its earliest days, it has worked to provide scriptures to the men, and later women of the military, to local and international bible societies, and to translate the Holy Bible to other languages used by peoples in the United States so that they could not only possess scripture, but could understand its importance in their own lives.

Leaders Starting with a leader of the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot, John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and going right down to the most recent president Lamar Vest, The American Bible Society has always been led by “true believers” in the Bible cause.


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Letter from Elias Boudinot to William Jay

on the Founding of a General Bible Society

Dated April 4, 1816

Painting of Elias Boudinot

Elias Boudinot's letter to William Jay on the subject of founding a General Bible Society was given to WW Atterbury, Boudinot's descendent by William Jay's son. Their correspondence and the letter were reproduced in the July 1902 issue of the Bible Society Record.


BSR July 1902, p 113

In the June number of the Record mention was made of an interesting letter of Hon, Elias Boudinot respecting the organization of the American Bible Society. The letter was addressed to the Hon. William Jay, also deeply interested in the plan for a general Bible Society, and is now in the possession of the Rev. Dr. W. W. Atterbury. We copy below the essential part of this characteristic letter, together with a note from Mr. John Jay communicating the original document to Dr. Atterbury.

2 WAVERLY PLACE, Feb. 14, 1898.

DEAR DR ATTERBURY - Here is the characteristic letter of Mr. Boudinot, which I value as a tribute to my father's part in forming the American Bible Society.

Faithfully yours,

Burlington [N. J.], April 4, 1816.

William Jay, Esq.,
Bedford, West Chester County, New York.

My dear Sir:

By the blessing of Almighty God, after near Six Months close confinement, I am permitted to set up in my Bed, for 3 Hours in the Day. These precious moments, I have devoted to a full consideration of one of the greatest & most interesting subjects (a general Bible Society) that has ever honored the Children of Men. Weak and feeble, scarcely able to think or write, my Efforts promised but little in the great Cause, when your welcome & unexpected Letter of the 2nd Ultimo was brought in. My-drooping Spirits were raised–my Heart was indeed cheered and my mind greatly revived. I could not help giving glory to God for the great Encouragement afforded me to press on in this glorious Cause, when I thus beheld his special Mercy in raising up so powerful a support in this joyous work & Labor of Love. Tho' it is not more than 2 Hours since I received it, I am attempting to scribble a few lines of acknowledgment and gratitude for your excellent memoir. I fear you will not be able to read it, being among my first essays in letter writing and rather against medical advice. I have already sent for a Printer to engage him to publish the memoir without delay, but I wish to have your candid opinion on my Idea of changing a few sentences of the constitution. I have prepared a very rough draught of one which greatly coincides with yours in the leading points, but I am sorry to say by experience of the most unreasonable opposition I have rec'd, from those who I depended upon as the surest supports in this great cause, & that as far as I can discover, merely arising from an ill founded Jealousy that it was originated in the wrong section of the United States & that the clergy would be soon excluded from any great share in this important work altho' I gave every assurance that if they would take this great object Upon the enlarged scale I had in view I would yield it to them & engage never to act in a higher sphere than to be doorkeeper in the House of God & to have no more to do with it than to give them every aid in my power. If I am not misinformed great measures of opposition are forming preparative to the meeting at New York, if there should be any appearance of success at the first opening of the business, so that it will become us to put on the best appearance, on the first outset. ----- I hope I have been misinformed & am mistaken in my view of things. I wish to promote a principle of perfect equality of right, universal Brotherly love, founded on Gospel purity, and where we cannot agree to unite, we may agree to differ in peace and good will. I consider the present call to enter into our Lord's vineyard, as labourers, tho' at the eleventh hour, to be one of the most encouraging opportunities and imperious calls that ever has been conferred on the Christian professor to promote the glory of God and the best interest of his fellow men. Christians in general are not aware of the present state of the world. A minute attention to the predictions of the Gospel and the reasonable fulfillment of the warnings given to his Church by our blessed Saviour himself, puts the matter, with me, out of question. ----- The Church has been in the wilderness and God's witnesses (the teaching of the Spirit in the public worship of Almighty God in his Church, and the Sabbath or Lord's Day, with its ordinances) have ever since the Apostles time (been) prophesying or teaching in sack cloth and ashes, now about 1260 years. - - - - - They are now in the presence of the whole world ascending; up to Heaven in a cloud, that is, to the highest places of Honour & prosperity in every country in the Civilized world and serve as one of the Heralds of the Gospel, announcing, in language that cannot be misunderstood, the approach of him who is speedily to become the desire of all nations. ------ This is the unspeakably glorious work we are called on to assist in perfecting under the mighty power of the blessed Messiah and we are assured of success by being told by Truth itself that tho' we are such feeble inefficient instruments in ourselves, yet we are to press on, knowing that at last, it is God who worketh in us to do his whole good pleasure.

Pardon, dear Sir, the garrulity of an old man who even forgets his extreme weakness and the prohibitions of his physician. Forgive his blunders and incorrectness, for he is almost exhausted. I can Only again express my obligations to you and subscribe myself with great sincerity.

Yours most Affectionately,
Elias Boudinot.

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