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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Richard Varick

President of the American Bible Society, 1828-1831

Portrait of Richard Varick

Revolutionary war soldier, Inspector General at West Point, Attorney General of New York and mayor of New York City, Richard Varick led a distinguished career before joining as a founder of the American Bible Society and later being elected its president.

Richard Varick was born 15 March, 1753 in Hackensack, New Jersey. He served in the first New York regiment of the Continental Army, and was appointed military secretary to General Philip John Schuyler. In August 1780 he was appointed aide to Benedict Arnold, commander of West Point. Varick was prostrated on the discovery of Arnold's treason and petitioned General Washington for a court of inquiry, which acquitted him with honor.

Washington later appointed Varick his confidential secretary to record his letters in books to “preserve them from damage and loss,” and turned over to him all correspondence and records of the headquarters of the Continental Army, which he arranged, classified and copied.

In 1784, Varick became recorder of New York City and in 1786, together with Samuel Jones codified the statutes of New York. (Laws of the State of New York, Comprising the Constitution and the Acts of the Legislature since the Revolution, 2 Volumes, 1789). He was speaker of the state Assembly (1787-1788) and Attorney General (1788-1789). He became the Federalist Party Mayor of New York City in 1789 and held that office until “the triumphant Republicans swept out all Federalists in 1801.”

Following the revolution, he was referred to as Colonel Varick, the rank he had held in the Continental Army and subsequently in the state militia in accepting the post of president of the American Bible Society, Richard Varick made the following comments:

“It now falls to my more favoured lot to address you in a different strain (he had earlier mourned the loss of John Jay and other pillars of the Society), and I do with pleasure perform the duty, namely, to inform you that the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society have abundant cause for thanksgiving and gratitude to Almighty God, for the success which, upon the whole, has, from the first institution of the Society, attended their efforts to disseminate the sacred Scriptures, and more especially during the past year. It is a matter of joy that he has put it into the hearts of so many of our fellow-citizens in various parts of the United States, to provide, and to transmit to the Board of Managers, the means for carrying to the distant, as well as the less remote parts of our beloved country, that sacred Volume, which alone points out to man the true path to future and eternal happiness. It is pleasing also to communicate to you the intelligence, that the number of volumes of the sacred Scriptures which have been issued the present year from the depository, have far very far, exceeded that of any former year, and lately has nearly doubled the issues of the corresponding months in the last or any preceding year. We have good cause to hope and expect, that as the past exertions of the Board of Managers have been greatly blessed, and the excellent Spirit which now pervades our country, our future efforts, under the smiles of a propitious Providence upon the faithful and conscientious discharge of our public duties in the cause of the Bible, will be crowned with the most abundant and wished for success.”

“It is our very happy condition to live in a state of society, in which although most of us rigidly maintain and cling to the peculiarities of the respective various religious sects in which our country is divided, we do, in the general, concur in opinion respecting the truths contained the Bible; and, with but very few exceptions, agree in the propriety of distributing that sacred Volume ‘without note or comment.’ The value of the precepts in that book contained, will, in their all-important consequences, not only outlive the time of our limited existence, but will endure throughout the endless ages of eternity.”

“No one of my greatly respected audience can remain uninformed, that our blessed Redeemer has ordained that the Gospel of salvation shall be preached throughout the world; but how shall it be preached and understood, unless not only the preachers, but also the unhappy objects to whom in kindness the preachers are sent, are also possessed of the Holy Scriptures, and are, moreover, instructed to read them.”

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