The Eliot Indian Bible

The Eliot Indian Bible (1661-63) is the first Bible printed in any language in North America and the largest single printing venture of the early colonial period. It is a landmark of printing history.

The Reverend John Eliot (1604-1690) emigrated to Massachusetts Bay in 1631 and settled in Roxbury. He believed that all the indigenous population should be settled in permanent villages and encouraged to adopt European ways, and thought that they should hear and read scripture in their own language and be served by Native American ministers.

To accomplish this goal, Eliot embarked on an ambitious publishing plan; first by publishing a basic primer and Bible extracts in the Massachuset language and spoken by Native Americans in eastern New England and later a much larger project.

The actual translation presented many problems as Eliot’s knowledge of Massachuset was imperfect. The scale of the project made it necessary to recruit an English printer to assist the official printer and to secure additional printing equipment from England. Two local indigenous Americans played important roles in publishing the Bible. John Nesutan, a preacher, assisted Eliot with the translation, and James Printer, a young Nipmuck, assisted both with the translation and the printing.

During the turmoil of the war led by King Phillip (1675-1676), most of the indigenous population were killed, and most copies of the Eliot Bible were destroyed.

In addition to the copy we hold at Exeter Cathedral Library & Archives, we are aware of three further copies at The Bodleian Library and one in the Dartmouth College Library in the USA.

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