Aitken bible - 1782 A.D.

A Collection Exhibit

Painting above: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, Emanuel Leutze, A German American

First American English Bible and Bible of the Revolution Recieving Congressional Reccomendation 

Before the Revolutionary War, the most notable Bibles that came to America from Europe were the Geneva and King James Bibles.  However, due to the Revolutionary War, Bibles became scarce from an embargo by England, from where English Bibles were printed with strict authorization of the Royal Crown.  Regarded as “universal and important,” this coalesced into a congressional order of 20 thousand Bibles from Scotland and Holland with questionable fulfillment leading to Aitken's endeavor of printing an English version in America.  Aitken's title page indicates it is "Newly translated out of the Original Tongues; And with the former Translations diligently compared and revi[s]fed."  According to congressional resolution and corresponding documents, the Aitken Bible was a “memorial” endeavor “to prevent the fatal confusion” of the recognized 66 books (inclusive yet non-exclusive) as cannon of the Bible for “use in schools and churches” with an “interest in religion” and “progress of arts” for “American families;” moreover, full fill the shortage needs due to the war.  So, while it includes a list of books, it does not explicitly limit the canon to those books alone.  Following the First Great Awakening, it is apparent that Aitken’s endeavor was a proceed of that religious fervor.  The Aitken Bibles’ linguistic impact as an “American edition… in English” impressed the language in “education” and “political rhetoric” that helped continue solidifying English as a primary public language within America.  Aitken also wrote this work was “accomplished in the midst of the confusion and distresses of [the Revolutionary] war.”

Displayed in this exhibit is a Bible facsimile reproduction of the Aitken Bible: Robert Aitken, 1782 that was published by the American Bible Society of Arno Press, Inc., New York in 1968. 

      The Aitken Bible, published by Robert Aitken (1735–1802), was the first Bible printed in English in North America. Aitken was born in Scotland and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1769, where he worked as a bookseller and publisher. In 1781, near the end of the American Revolution, he petitioned Congress to support his plans to print a Bible in English. The British government had long regulated the publication of English Bibles, forcing colonists to import them from Britain or Europe. The war subsequently created a shortage in the colonies. Congress endorsed Aitken’s Bible when it was completed in 1782. Today, the Aitken Bible is known by many as “the Bible of the Revolution.”

Left (.pdf, 19 MB): Book Forward .pd

Journals of Congress document in LOC:


For more details, read my paper titled (.pdf, 245 KB):

Colonial Bibles, Imprint on America

"So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me." 1 Corinthians 14:9-11



  • First American English Bible (linguistically documenting and preserving early forms of “American” English).
  • Proceed of the First Great Awakening.
  • In parallel with the Geneva and KJV, the Aitken Bible solidified and imprinted the English language within America.
  • To be read in schools, churches, and among American families.
  • Congressional Resolution: Only Bible “recommended,” “approved,” and “authorized to publish” by US Congress, with the first copy going to John Hanson, president of the Congress.  While Aiken suggested, Congress purchase a portion on account of the United States, "One-Fourth of it will Amount to 200 Bibles for each State."  This Bible was neither funded by Congress nor adopted for exclusive use or printing; rather, "Open to all parties but influenced by none."
  • Looked at as the Revolutionary War Bible: 1) "Accomplished in the midst of the confusion and distresses of [the Revolutionary] war." 2) Printed because England banned the exportation of Bibles to American colonies to apply pressure during the war.  Moreover, 3) President George Washington expressed the desire to distribute to all veterans.  Yet, the production of this Bible had come too late to his attention as the veterans had already begun to disband upon the war’s end.
  • The Bible was prominent in political rhetoric and educational studies during this period.
  • Daughter Jane Aitken continued the work by producing the Thompson Bible (the first English translation of the Greek Septuagint) in 1808.

The first video on the left above is an excellent narrative of this Bible but comes from an auction that has past and been sold.

The second video on the right above is likewise an excellent narrative emphasizing the context of national liberty.

For searching text within the Bible viewer below, use the search option to its left. Hover the edge of the pages to view and jump to page numbers. 

Aitken Bible links: