Origins: From the Old World to the New World

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) of Southampton in Great Britain, is known for his hymns, as one man called him, “the greatest name among hymn-writers” (See hymnary.org, poetryfoundation.org). His father was a Nonconformist, and was imprisoned twice for his religious views—in England, it was expected that citizens follow the Anglican religion. Isaac Watts became a pastor in 1702, and wrote his first book, Hymns, in 1707. He also wrote a book on collected works, which included sermons, poems, and treatises in 1720. Although known for his hymns, he was also a theologian and logician and wrote several works about his own thoughts, which included Logic, or the Right Use of Reason, and The Improvement of the mind, in 1724 and 1741, respectively.  He received his degree, Doctor of Divinity, or D.D., in 1728 from the University of Edinburgh. It was in 1719 in London that he put together his book, The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Apply’d to the Christian State of Worship, which was reprinted and revised throughout the eighteenth century (See Psalms Archive).

The first paper mill in the New World was created by Dutch William Rittenhouse in 1690 in Philadelphia (See jstor Rittenhouse). Overtime, more paper mills popped up all over New England. Paper mills used cotton and linen rags as pulp shipped from Europe to make the paper, up until the mid-1800s, when they began to use wood (See paperage.com). Benjamin Franklin was important in the printing business, for he helped increase the demand for paper mills in America. He printed controversial pamphlets and speeches pertaining to religion and intellectual thought. It was during this time, in the mid-1700s, that colonizers began printing editions and revisions of Doctor Isaac Watts’ Hymns and Psalms of David Imitated (See jstor Psalms). The first reprint was made by Franklin and Hugh Meredith in 1729 in Philadelphia, and soon, there came a great demand for these American editions in the 1740s and ‘50s.

As the colonies became more frustrated with Great Britain, the Psalms text became more “Americanized.” In 1781, the first revision was printed in Newburyport. The printer, John Mycall, removed texts honoring King George and Great Britain, and replaced it with “the glorious revolution of America, July 4 1776,” and other such wording honoring America or the States. Several other reprints of this version were made in the colonies. Joel Barlow of Hartford, in 1785, further made revisions by changing all the “local appropriations” of either Great Britain or America, into “the state of the Christian Church in general,” as an act of faith rather than that of patriotism. He also included all of the psalms, instead of just the ones Watts includes in his original Psalms. Isaiah Thomas of Boston, a year later, made his own Worcester edition that included the complete works of Watts, but also some of Barlow’s revisions. This became the first The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New-Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship. Together with Hymns and Spiritual Songs, in Three Books. With Indexes and Tables Complete, and the “First Worcester Edition.” In 1799, William Butler reprinted Thomas’ version in Northampton, but as his own edition.

The Northampton Book (1954) tells the story of young Butler, who was encouraged by his father to become an apprentice in the print shop (See Northampton Book, thank you to Pat Burdick of Special Collections for finding this book). David Butler believed that printing would be the next flourishing trade. At the age of twenty-two, William Butler founded The Hampshire Gazette, a newspaper, in 1786, his shop located in the back of Benjamin Prescott’s house. Eventually, Butler built his own paper mill, which became the first paper mill in Northampton. He became chief editor, and hired his cousin, Simeon Butler, and others. Although a small town, Northampton became known as the “Paper Mill Village.”

Butler’s print shop was a place of printing, publishing, editing, and distributing. In 1787, Butler printed his first book on record, A Sermon, Delivered at the Ordination of the Reverend John Taylor, to the Pastoral Care of the Church in Deerfield, by Noah Atwater, A.M. (See Early American Imprints). For the next twenty-seven years, Butler would print other books of this sort: sermons, discourses, and essays about the Christian Baptist faith, most authored by ministers. On occasion, he did print grammar books for children and political books, especially those pertaining to the French Revolution, for instance, Prophetic Conjectures on the French Revolution, and Other Recent and Shortly Expected Events, in 1794.  In 1814, Butler printed his last book, A Sermon, Delivered in the Baptist Meeting-House, by Elisha Andrews, A.M., before selling his paper mill to William W. Clapp of Boston in 1815, much to the disapproval of the citizens of Northampton. Butler’s cousin, however, did continue to print a few books.

In the original Psalms by Watts, the title has the word spelled as “apply’d,” while the Northampton version has the word spelled as “applied,” which is “Americanized. The Northampton edition also includes both psalms and hymns of Watts—it is a complete text. Both the original and the Northampton edition include an “Advertisement to the Readers of the Psalms” (a modern foreword, written by Watts), index, and table. The Northampton edition, however, removes and reorders parts of the advertisement, particularly words relating to Great Britain, since this copy was printed after the American Revolution. The index and table also appear before the psalms, as opposed to after the psalms as seen in the original. The Northampton edition, following Thomas’ Worcester edition, contains the psalms and the hymns in two columns and is ruled (see pictures below). The long “s” is also retained in the 1799 edition. Butler includes in the appendix psalms that Watts left out in the 1719 edition, of which were “written by the ingenious Mr. Joel Barlow of Connecticut” from his Dr. Watts’s Imitation of the Psalms of David, corrected and enlarged.