Robert Aitken: 1st New Testament & 1st Bible in English in America

Robert Aitken produced the first English language New Testament made in America. Before the Revolution, it had been impossible to print an English language version of the Bible in the colonies because no American printers held a license from the King granting permission to print the Bible. The war cut off shipments of Bibles from Great Britain, but also got rid of the need for the license; thereby creating a shortage of Bibles and the ability to print them in America.

Robert Aitken stepped in to fill this void. Beginning in 1777, Aitken began publishing and selling New Testaments (I replicate this 1777 New Testament). Demand was heavy, so every year, for the next five years, Aitken published a new edition of his New Testament base off of the King James Bible. In total, he published five editions: Aitken’s second edition was published in 1778; his third in 1779; his fourth in 1780; and finally his last and fifth edition was published in 1781 (I replicate this 1781 New Testament). I am unsure of the number of New Testaments Aitken printed each year, but I expect that it was somewhere between one thousand and ten thousand. Only his 1777 & 1781 New Testaments still exist today.

It was not until 1782 that Aitken published his first complete Bible; his first Old Testament (1782) was added to his previously printed 1781 New Testament. I used to think that Aitken planned ahead and printed about ten thousand additional New Testaments in 1781 and had them waiting to be bound with the ten thousand Old Testaments that he printed in 1782.  However, since getting a chance to view more of his original 1782 Old Testaments, I can now identify at least two different printings of his 1782 Old Testaments. So, maybe I am wrong about when he printed the 1781 New Testaments that he added to his 1782 “Bible of the Revolution”.  You will notice that the 1782 Bible’s New Testament title page is dated 1781, while the Old Testament is dated 1782. 1782 was the only year that the Aitken Bible, aka “Bible of the Revolution” was published.  I also replicate Aitken’s 1782 “Bible of the Revolution”

After the war, America was once again flooded with inexpensive Bibles from England. Aitken was stuck with way too many Bibles and was near financial ruin. The Presbyterian Synod stepped in and purchased Aitken’s remaining stock and gave them to the poor; thus saving him from bankruptcy.

Original Aitken Bibles are very rare. The last copy I saw sold went for about $150,000.

 

The last time I looked, the following institutions were owners of original Aitken Bibles.

 

Goddard Library at Gordon-Cronwell Theological owns Aitken’s 1782 Old Testament

British Museum

Mass. Historical Society

New York State Library

Library of Congress

American Antiquarian Society in Worcester Massachusetts

American Bible Society

Lenox Library New York

Maryland Episcopal Library Baltimore MD

Connecticut Historical Society

Philadelphia Library Company

Pennsylvania Historical Society

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC

 

Check out my replicas of each of Aitken’s books at the following links:

 

1777 New Testament:  Click Here

1782 Bible of the Revolution:  Click Here