But it is as a book and not as a text, that the Bay Psalm Book is best known, celebrated, and revered. And while the faithful translation into English meter of The Whole Booke of Psalmes could be accomplished with men and materials already in Massachusetts Bay Colony, its printing required the importation of both.

The Reverend Jose Glover was a Puritan from a wealthy family of London merchants with interests in the West Indies. When the Massachusetts Bay Company was charted in 1628, Glover, like his brothers, subscribed for £50 of its capital stock, just as they had supported earlier colonizing efforts. In 1636, Glover resigned his pulpit in Surrey rather than read from it—as was required by Archbishop Laud—a decree allowing “lawful recreation” after Sunday worship service.

Two years later, Glover had determined to settle in Massachusetts Bay, and in the summer of 1638 he secured passage for his family on the ship John of London. In addition to his wife and five children, servants, and household furnishings, Glover sailed with a printing press valued at £20; 240 reams of paper worth £60; and a case of assorted type. It was the inclusion of these stores among the vessel’s cargo that led Samuel Eliot Morison to call the John of London “the publishing fraternity’s Mayflower.”

Glover also had under his custody on the John of Londonone Stephen Day, a locksmith by trade, who was indentured to the Glovers and who himself was accompanied by his wife, children, and servants. But the father of the American press was fated to beget a posthumous child: the Reverend Glover died during the voyage to Boston Harbor.

Undeterred, Glover’s widow, Elizabeth, established the press at Cambridge by the end of 1638. Stephen Day—perhaps assisted by his eighteen-year-old son Matthew, who may have been apprenticed as a printer in London—acted as compositor and pressman. The press was probably set up at the house that Mrs. Glover had purchased for Day on Crooked Lane, now 15 Holyoke Street.

A somewhat cryptic memorandum of uncertain date (but evidently before 1654 or 1655) copied into Harvard’s College Book III records that “Some Gentlemen of Amsterdam gave towards the furnishing of a Printing-Press with Letters … fourty nine pound & something more,” but there is no reason to think this is any more accurate than the preceding entry, which states “Mr Joss: Glover gave to the Colledge a ffount of printing Letters.” It seems more likely that Glover intended to found his own independent printing shop, perhaps as a form of ministry. (Three years after fulfilling her late husband’s vision, the widow Glover would marry Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College, and after Elizabeth’s death in 1643, Glover’s press and type—the latter perhaps only briefly—did find their way to Harvard.)

The Indenture of Stephen Day, 7 July 1638. Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families. UAI 15.850 Box 1, Folder 1, Harvard University Archives  

The Whole Booke of Psalmes, B3r, Psalm 10

The press seems to have excited a good bit of local interest, perhaps because it was seen as legitimizing the cultural aspirations of Bay colonists. On 7 September 1638, the Reverend Edmund Browne wrote to a colleague in England, “We have a Cambridge here, a college erecting, youth lectured, a library, and I suppose there will be a presse this winter.” Within three months, the press had arrived in Cambridge, as attested by letter from Hugh Peter, 10 December 1638, to Patrick Copland in Bermuda: “We have a printery here and thinke to goe to worke with some special things. …”

In short order, the Cambridge, Massachussetts, press was in operation. In a journal entry for March 1639, John Winthrop noted "A printing house was begun at Cambridge by one Daye, at the charge of Mr. Glover, who died on seas hitherward. The first thing which was printed was the freeman's oath; the next was an almanack made for New England by Mr. William Peirce Mariner [master of one of the ships of the Winthrop fleet]; the next was the Psalms newly turned into metre."

The Freeman’s Oath had to be sworn to by any man twenty years of age, and six months a householder, wanting to become a citizen of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and thus be eligible to hold office and vote in elections. Stephen Day’s edition of the oath was likely imposed as a small handbill, and although the printing historian Hugh Amory speculated that as many as 2,000 copies were printed, no copies are known to survive. The text of the Oath, however, is preserved by later printings—notably its inclusion in John Childs’s 1647 New-Englands Jonas Cast Up at London, from which Mark Hoffman took the text for his notorious forgery.

About William Peirce’s almanac—no copies of which, authentic or forged, are recorded—nothing is known, including its format, text, or the size of the edition. It is worth noting that not only is there no evidence to corroborate Winthrop’s recollection of the mariner’s almanac, the reference to it in his holograph journal is crossed out.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes, A4v-B2r, Psalm 8

The Stephen Day-Samuel Green Accounts, 26 January 1656. Papers of Henry Dunster and the Dunster and Glover families. UAI 15.850 Box 2, Folder 2. Harvard University Archives

About “the Psalms newly turned into metre” much is known. The edition was substantial, about 1,700 copies, a number that can be extrapolated from the documentary evidence of a suit brought against Henry Dunster by the heirs of Jose and Elizabeth Glover in 1656. After Elizabeth’s death in 1643, Dunster ran the press for six years. In 1649 he leased it to Samuel Green, and when he retired from the presidency of Harvard in 1654, he sold the press to the college. This last action seems to have prompted the Glover children to seek the return of what they considered their property, as well as an accounting of Dunster’s printing activity. (Dunster was ordered by the Middlesex Court to make restitution in the amount of £117, about half of which was accounted for by the press and that portion of the Glovers’ paper stock remaining at the time of Dunster’s marriage to Elizabeth.)

The Stephen Day-Samuel Green accounts, published in Hugh Amory's First Impressions, indicate that The Whole Booke of Psalmes was printed on 37 sheets of paper and that 130 reams were consumed by the edition. Since each ream was comprised of 480 sheets, the number of copies pritned can be easily calculated. The reams of paper carried to Boston with the rest of the printing equipment acquired by Jose Glover were typical of the paper used by dozens of London printers in hundreds of pulications of the later 1630s.

The great majority of the paper used by the London shops, and thus the paper commonly supplied by English paper merchants, was imported from Norman and Breton paper mills, in the small size usually called Pott, with sheet dimensions of approximately 30 × 40 cm. Pots were a common watermark type for this size, but various mills used also other watermarks, one of the most common being a depiction of two columns, with the papermaker’s initials in a banderole between them and a surmount of a grape cluster. In the English paper trade this was called Pillar paper, and Edward Heawood’s Watermarks, Mainly of the 17th and 18th Centuries provides a good conspectus of these under the heading “Post or Pillar.”


A Pot watermark, from leaves 12r.3v                                   A Pillar watermark, from leaves V1r.4v


A second Pot watermark, from leaves Ee2r.3v                 A third Pot watermark, from leaves Ii1r.4v

In this copy of the Bay Psalm Book there are two different Pillar stocks, one appearing in ten sheets, and quite close in type to Heawood’s no. 3506, which he traced from a copy of Wye Saltonstall’s English translation of Historia mundi: or Mercator’s Atlas, folio, printed in London by Thomas Cotes, 1635. There are at least seven different stocks of Pot-watermarked paper in the present copy, some with double handles and some with single, one of which is of the type of Heawood nos. 3626-3627. The 1649 Platform of Church Discipline (“Printed by S[amuel] G[reen] at Cambridge in New England … 1649”, 4to) was also printed on a mixture of Pot- and Pillar-watermarked papers, which may have represented the last remainder of Glover’s original paper stock.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes. C3v, Psalm 18, showing the Brevier type in the heading

The type of the Bay Psalm Book, unlike the paper, was of English manufacture. The text type is a 95 English Roman (i.e., 20 lines of text type measure 95 mm), but an 83 Pica and a 53 Brevier appear as well, as do larger display capitals, a Hebrew font, a very few printer’s ornaments, and various other sorts. Writing in his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas described the type as “Roman, of the size of small bodied English, entirely new, and may be called a very good letter.”

The type was not new, however. Some of the pieces are visibly worn, and Amory speculates that “Glover surreptitiously obtained his type from the stock of a sympathetic printer like [the Puritan William] Jones, and not directly from one of the four licensed English founders, who were much more strictly supervised.” This would also help explain some of the deficiencies in Day’s type-case: italics seem to be in short supply and he evidently had no apostrophes at all, having to set inverted commas in their stead. In addition, some of the Hebrew characters appear to have been cut in wood, perhaps necessitated by missing sorts. Whether metal or wood, the Hebrew letters in the Bay Psalm Book represented the first Hebrew printing in the New World.

Day imposed The Whole Booke of Psalmes as a quarto, although an octavo format would have been much more efficient. (Amory calculates that printing the book as an octavo would have saved more than half the paper that was used.) But an octavo imposition is much more complicated, with eight pages (rather than four) having to be set for the outer and inner forme of each sheet. In addition, Day’s principal text type, the 95 English Roman, was not well suited to the smaller format.


The Whole booke of Psalmes. O4r, Psalm 64,                                                    The Whole Book of Psalmes. S3v, Psalm 77,
showing a wrong-sort Italic L in the catchword                                       showing an ink-clotted o in the catchword     

Stephen Day is remembered as America’s first printer, but not as an accomplished one. His lack of experience, coupled with an extreme idiosyncrasy in spelling, produced a book that, in the words of George Parker Winship, “looks the part that the fates assigned it to play. It has every appearance of being an effort of beginners on a remote frontier.” (One example of Day’s inexact orthography is found in the preface where two successive paragraphs include the spellings “metre,” “meeter,” and “meetre.”)

The faults of the book are as obvious as they are understandable, and Isaiah Thomas summarized them 200 years ago: The Bay Psalm Book “abounds with typographical errors. … This specimen of Daye’s printing does not exhibit the appearance of good workmanship. The compositor must have been wholly unacquainted with punctuation. ‘The Preface,’ is the running title to that part of the work. ‘The.’ with a period, is on the left hand page, and ‘Preface.’ on the right. Periods are often omitted where they should be placed, and not seldom used where a comma only was necessary. Words of one syllable, at the end of lines, are sometimes divided by a hyphen; at other times, those of two, or more syllables, are divided without one; the spelling is bad and irregular. One thing is very singular—at the head of every left hand page throughout the work, 'PSALM' is spelled as it should be; at the head of every right hand page, it has an E final, thus, 'PSALME.'"

Long as Thomas’s litany of Day’s eccentricities is, it can be expanded. Day not infrequently set catchwords to correspond with the running-head rather than with the first word of the text. He sometimes used the running-head as the caption-title for a psalm beginning a new page. He freely substituted wrong-font italic capitals for the appropriate roman correspondents. He employed ligatured sorts indifferently with non-ligatured ones. He inked the type unevenly, and occasionally entire lines are printed in blind. He did not clean his type well between pulls, and there is ample evidence of dirty or ink-clotted type, and occasionally of pulled letters. The ink, a compound of lampblack and varnish, was presumably made by Day.  

Reconstruction of the unfolded outer forme of sheet D       

One significant error undoubtedly demonstrates Day’s inexperience. In the present copy, and in the copy given by Middlecott Cooke to Harvard, sheet D was turned upside down in reiteration. The outer forme is printed correctly, but the inner is inverted, so that D1r is backed by D3v, D2v is fronted by D4r, D3r is backed by D1v, and D4v is fronted by D2r. While this is a printer’s error and not an issue point, it is certainly likely to have occurred early in the press run and not to have affected many copies.

Hugh Amory was the first to publish this mistake, but his melodramatic description seems overwrought, particularly when contrasted with the reaction of the first (or at least early) owner of the present copy. While Amory imagines a “disaster” analogous to a computer crash “erasing hours of toil,” the staid seventeenth-century reader, recognizing that nothing was lost or erased, simply made a few concise annotations indicating how the printer’s mistake could be corrected: thus, “miss 2 leaves” at the foot of D1r and D4r and “Turn back a leafe” on D3r and D2r. 

Reconstruction of the unfolded inner forme of sheet D as printed in the present copy and the Harvard copy

L14r, errata, from the copy of the Bay Psalm Book remaining at the Old South Church in Boston. Courtesy of the Old South Church Boston

The Whole Booke of Psalmes. Detail of B2r, Psalm 9, showing contemporary manuscript corrections to errata in verses 9 and 10

Day acknowledged that his printing included mistakes by including a highly selective list of errata, headed “Faults escaped in printing,” on the recto of the final leaf of The Whole Booke of Psalmes. While he cites only seven faults specifically, Day recognized that there were inevitably more than that, directing the reader that “The rest, which have escaped through oversight, you may amend, as you finde them obvious.”

The seven errors he does list are an odd lot. The first seems extraordinarily exacting, considering the standard of spelling throughout the volume: Day instructs that in Psalm 9, verse 9, the word “oprest” should be corrected to “opprest.” Other of the faults are more substantive: in Psalm 21, verse 8, the inaccurate reading “the Lord” is to be replaced by “thine hand,” and in Psalm 143, verse 6, “moreover I” is to be substituted for the erroneous “I even I.”

But the proofreading of the Bay Psalm Book was arbitrary at best. Psalms 9 and 18 both have two errata noted, but no faults at all are pointed out between psalms 21 and 143. One of the errors cited in the “Faults escaped” is that in verse 29 of Psalm 18 the word “thee” appears as “the.” But this is a mistake that appears, unremarked, elsewhere in the book, including in the first verse of Psalm 9—the facing page of which contains two of the seven printing errors noted in the errata. In this copy, all of the mistakes pointed out by the printer, save one, have been neatly corrected by an early reader.


The Whole Book of Psalmes. C4v, Psalm 18, showing                          The Whole Booke of Psalmes, Kk2r, Psalm 143, showing
                       contemporary manuscript correction to erratum in verse 31                contemporary manuscript correction to erratum in verse 6

There are press corrections in the Bay Psalm Book as well, some certainly the work of Day himself, but at least one reveals the hand of one of the “learned Ministers.” Verse 23 of Psalm 69 reads in the present copy, “And let their eyes be darkened / that they may never see: / with trembling also make their loynes / to shake continuallie.” This reading is found in all extant copies save the one remaining in the collection of the Old South Church in Boston, where the final two lines are set as “their loynes also with trembleing / to shake continuallee.” Because of the imbalance of the surviving versions—and because the common reading is a better parallel to the preceding line “And let their eyes be darkened”—this emendation must have been made very early in the press run.

Since he was known as a locksmith, and because his few surviving holographs show him to be poorly lettered, Stephen Day has frequently been pushed aside by historians who suppose it more probable that it was Matthew Day who actually first operated the Cambridge press. But contemporary documentation supports Stephen. In December 1641, the General Court granted the elder Day “300 acres of land where it may be convenient, without prejudice to any towne” in consideration for his “being the first that set upon printing.” This grant was reconfirmed in 1655 “for Recompence of his Care and Charg in furthering the worke of Printing.” And there is also his own testimony from a suit he brought against Henry Dunster in Middlesex Court in 1656 seeking £100 for his “Labour and Expences about the printing presse and the utensils and appurtenances thereof, and the mannaging the said worke.” (The court found for the defendant and Day was ordered to pay costs.)

The Whole Booke of Psalmes, E3v-E4r, Psalm 26

Matthew Day did succeed his father as printer at the Cambridge press in 1643, likely at Dunster’s insistence. And the quality of the printing was improved. The output of the press became even more artful when Samuel Green took over the shop about 1649. It is inconceivable that Stephen Day could have managed—at all, let alone elegantly—the composition and printing of Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe up-Biblum God, John Eliot’s Indian Bible, which Green so successfully managed with the assistance of Marmaduke Johnson and James Printer.

But Stephen Day was the first, and if he was a locksmith by trade rather than a printer, then the magnitude of his accomplishment ought to be enhanced rather than diminished. His edition of The Whole Booke of Psalmes is not just a book; it is a sacred relic of America’s founding and a touchstone of America’s material and intellectual culture. In no other country has the product of the hand printing press had the historical impact that it did in the United States, from John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s; and from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to John Dunlap’s broadside of the Declaration of Independence to his publication of the Constitution in the Pennsylvania Packet. And these all had as their progenitor Stephen Day’s imperfect, yet somehow irreproachable, printing of the Bay Psalm Book. Stephen Day merits gratitude and commendation, and he deserves the encomium that Walt Whitman offered more than two centuries later to others, who like Day, left the past behind to seize “a newer, mightier world, varied world, … world of labor and the march”: Pioneer! O pioneer!

The Whole Booke of Psalmes, E4v-F2r, Psalm 27

The Whole Booke of Psalmes, E4v-F2r, Psalm 28