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 recentt president Lamar Vest, The American Bible Society has always been led by “true believers” in the Bible cause.


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John Jay, from the Presidents of the American Bible Society

An Article from the Bible Society Record

(part 2) October, 1863

BY G.P. Disosway

Portrait of John Jay

The following is quoted verbatim from the Bible Society Record


of the
BY G.P Disosway, Esq.

John Jay, LL. D.

JOHN JAY, LL. D., was elected the second President of the American Bible Society in the year 1822, having been previously its first Vice President. Owing to his advanced years and infirm health, the Board dispensed with his personal attendance at their ordinary meetings. He referred to this circumstance in his address, (acknowledging the honour conferred upon him), which was read by his son, Peter A. Jay, to the Board of Managers at the sixth anniversary of the Society. Mr. Jay writes: “I assure the Society, although restrained from active services by long-continued maladies and the increasing infirmities of age, my attachment to this Institution, and my desire to promote the attainment of its great and important objects, remain undiminished.”

The ancestors of John Jay were French Huguenots – a race famed for their love of the Bible, Augustus Jay, his grandfather, was one of Pierre Jay's sons, an opulent merchant of La Rochelle. On the revocation of the edict of Nantes, Pierre fled, in 1686, to England, from the persecutions following this insane measure of Louis XIV. The family of Jay in France was one of great antiquity, the name often occurring in the old annals. It furnished several presidents of the parliament of Paris. A grandson of Pierre's died from the wounds he received in the battle of the Boyne, 1690, -where he bravely fought as a volunteer for the Protestant King William of England.

The grandfather of Mr. Jay at first emigrated from England to South Carolina; but not liking the climate, he sailed to New York. In this province he settled at Esopus, at that time a favourite residence of the French Protestants. Thence he removed to New York City, marrying a Miss Bayard in 1697, Whose ancestors had also left France for Holland, on account of their Bible and evangelical principles. He died much respected, at the advanced age of eighty-five, leaving three daughters and one son. Peter, born in 1704, who married a daughter of Jacobus Van Cortland, the proprietor of the Van Cortland Patent, Westchester. These were the parents of John Jay. Before the American Revolution, the father of John Jay had retired from mercantile pursuits, to his estate at Rye, N.Y., an old Huguenotic region, but was forced to leave it at the commencement of that struggle. He died at Poughkeepsie, 1782, leaving ten children, among them John Jay, born in the city of New York, December 1st (old style), 1745.

John Jay's mother instructed him in the rudiments of literature. When eight years old he was placed in the school of the Rev. Mr. Stoupe, minister of the Huguenot Church, New Rochelle, and at fourteen, entered King's (now Columbia) College, then recently founded, and since the honoured Alma Mater of so many eminent and illustrious men–the Jays, the Livingstons, the Clintons, the Irvings, ths Kings, &c., &c., &c. After taking his bachelor's degree, he was admitted to the bar about 1768. In 1774 he was elected one of the delegates to the fist American Congress; an imperishable honour, for the members of that august body will ever command the gratitude of not only the American people, but of the whole world. Mr. Jay was next chosen president of Congress. The following year he was a member of the convention which framed the constitution of New York, and he made the first draft of that important document. During the year 1778, the government of his native State was organized, when Mr. Jay became its chief justice. We find him, the following year, again in the United States Congress, and whilst its presiding officer, he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Spain. The objects of this mission were to obtain an acknowledgment of our national independence, a treaty of alliance, and pecuniary aid. Here he remained until 1783, vainly endeavouring to accomplish these ends, and then was transferred to England as one of the commissioners to negotiate peace.

Dr. Franklin, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Laurens, joined Mr. Jay in concluding the treaty, and all arrived at Paris in 1782. This important treaty was officially signed, 1783, and Mr. Jay the following year returned to the United States.

During the year 1787 there was an alarming riot in the city of New York, caused by the culpable imprudence of medical students, who had disinterred some dead bodies for dissection. Such was the excited state of public feeling at the moment, that the young men were compelled to seek protection in the city prison from the violence of the populace. A large crowd had assembled for the purpose of forcing the students from their retreat and inflicting on them summary punishment. The militia were ordered out, but they seemed indisposed to act, when serious consequences began to be apprehended. At this moment of excitement and alarm, Mr. Jay and Colonel Hamilton, among others, volunteered to be peacemakers; and while near the prison, they were violently assaulted with stones, one of which struck Mr. Jay, inflicting a dangerous wound on his forehead and which confined him to his bed a long time. A this period the Federalist was published by Mr. Madison and Colonel Alexander Hamilton. Mr. Jay had written the second, third, fourth, and fifth numbers, when he was obliged by this accident to discontinue writing. He added, however, afterwards the sixty-fourth number, upon the treaty-making powers; an appropriate subject for him, who was perhaps the most competent man in the country to discuss it.

In the year 1794 Mr. Jay was again appointed envoy extraordinary to Great Britain, where he negotiated the treaty which has since borne his name. Before his return, in 1795, he was elected governor of New York. This responsible office he filled with wisdom and distinguished ability until 1801, when he declined a re-election. He had also been honoured with the appointment of chief justice in the court of the United States, which he did not accept. Now no longer a candidate for public life, he retired to his farm at Bedford, Westchester County, where, secluded from the busy world and its cares and strifes, he passed in religious quiet and retirement the remainder of his days.

Mr. Jay's health becoming more feeble, he resigned in 1827 the presidency of the Bible Society. He had intimated at a former period his desire to surrender the office for this same reason, but was requested by the Board to remain, if he could only address the members by an annual written communication. But his growing infirmities forbade even the discharge of this pleasant duty. He had also a long settled aversion to nominal offices, and he continued, amidst the infirmities of extreme age, to exhibit those bright principles of consistency and duty which had uniformly shone conspicuously in his useful, honourable career.

During the presidency of Mr. Jay, embracing the period from 1822 to 1827, the American Bible Society gradually extended its great work, as is seen from this tabular view:

  Receipts Vols. printed.
1823 $52,021 53,600
1824 $42,416 77,575
1825 $44,833 48,550
1826 $53,639 81,000
1827 $60,194 76,734
1828 $75,879 118,750

In all his duties, this useful, honoured, and excellent man observed great exactness, and this was the case especially with his domestic life. Every morning the whole family was summoned to religious worship, and precisely at nine in the evening the call was repeated, when he read them a chapter of God's Word, concluding the day with family prayer. Nothing ever interfered with these important and holy services.

In 1827 Mr. Jay was seized with severe and dangerous illness. Asked by one of his children to tell on what foundation he now rested his hopes, and the source from which he drew his consolation, “They have the Book,” was the concise and expressive reply of the dying Christian. Similar was the expression of the great Sir Walter Scott on his deathbed, when his son-in-law asked him what he should read from to cheer his departing hours: “What,” answered the dying man, “but the Book.” God's Word and its precious promises can cheer the last moments of man's pilgrimage on the earth. Blessed Volume! Mr. Jay had secured the greatest blessing. For many months before his death he was scarcely able to leave his room, where occasionally the Lord's Supper was administered to him. On the evening of May 14th, 1829, he was seized with palsy, and expired on the 17th, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. Agreeably to his will, his funeral was without ostentation: “I would have my funeral decent, but not ostentatious. No scarfs–no rings. Instead thereof, I give $200 to any poor deserving widow or orphan of this town whom my children may select.”

The intelligence of his death called forth tributes to his exalted worth from the public journals, the courts, and all parties. Congress ordered his bust, as the first chief justice of the United States, to be placed in the chamber of the supreme court room, where we have seen it still standing. The whole life of John Jay exhibited the rare and sublime picture of the patriot, statesman, and Christian united, and justifies the universal respect and honour always bestowed upon him.

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