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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Elias Boudinot

First President of the American Bible Society, 1816-1821

Church Affiliation: Presbyterian

Painting of Elias Boudinot

Elias Boudinot was elected president of the American Bible Society at its founding in 1816 and served until his death in 1821.

ABS possesses a large quantity of material on its first president. Born in Philadelphia, May 2, 1740. He was descended from a French Huguenot family which left France to settle in New York in 1685, and his father, also Elias Boudinot, was a silversmith.

Elias Boudinot was sent to a school established by Benjamin Franklin, who was also his next door neighbor until his father was appointed postmaster at Princeton. There he studied law in the office of Richard Stockton.

He was a member of the New Jersey Provincial Congress and in 1777 was commissioned by George Washington as commissary-general of prisoners of war. He on the Continental Congress from 1777-1784 acting on occasion as president and as secretary for foreign affairs.

Elias Boudinot served 3 terms in congress, from 1789-1795, and chaired the committee to welcome Washington to New York for his inauguration. From 1795-1805 he served as Director of the Mint. Among public organizations, he was president of the New Jersey Bible Society, president of the American Bible Society, and a trustee of Princeton College.

Dr Boudinot had an unwavering faith that God had called the men of the Society to the work of making bibles available in America. In his letter accepting the office of President, which he esteemed “the greatest honor that could have been conferred upon him on this side of the grave,” he wrote: “I am so convinced that the whole of this business is the work of God himself, by his Holy Spirit, that even hoping against hope I am encouraged to press on through good report and evil report, to accomplish his will on earth as it is in heaven. So apparent is the hand of God in this disposing the hearts of so many men, so diversified in their sentiments as to religious matters of minor importance, and uniting them as a band of brothers in this grand object that even infidels are compelled to say, ‘It is the work of the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes!’ Having this confidence, let us go on and we shall prosper.”

In the Monthly Extracts of the American Bible Society, the board expressed these thoughts upon his death. “When the Managers carry back their recollection of the period which preceded the formation of this Society, and review the laborious and persevering efforts of Dr. Boudinot to accomplish the interesting object; when they consider the noble example of beneficence which he soon afterwards presented in the generous donation of ten thousand dollars to its treasury and of one thousand doallars since toward the erection of a depository; the unremitted interest, which, under the pressure of acute bodily suffering, and the infirmities of advanced age, he continued ever afterwards to evince in its concerns; his great exertion, notwithstanding the personal inconvenience and pain to which it subjected him, to attend its stated anniversaries; the dignity and amiableness with which he fulfilled the duties of the chair; and the pious and affectionate counsels supplied by his official communications; they deeply deplore the chasm that has been made in their body by this afflicting bereavement.”

The ten thousand dollar gift made by Dr. Boudinot essentially enabled the formation and early organization of the American Bible Society. In 1855 the ABS Record noted: “No then thousand dollars were ever more judiciously expended, and no adequate estimate of the benefit to mankind can now be made of the future extent and influence of this benevolent Society. When the excellent man laid the foundation of this stupendous and charitable Institution, he could not then have anticipated the great amount of importance which has been realized.”

A memorial tablet honoring Elias Boudinot's service to Princeton University was placed in Nassau Hall there in 1902. The letter from Rev. WW Atterbury to Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton and Woodrow Wilson's response were printed in the Bible Society Record of December 1902 and the text of those letters is reproduced here: click to read the letters.

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