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Aitken's Bible Printing Press

110 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

 

Although the printing of translations of the Bible into other languages, including Native American languages, had occurred in North America, the printing of the Bible in English had not. Bible publication was under the direct control of the King of England. Due to the Revolutionary War, shipments of the Bible from England and Scotland were suspended and new Bibles became unavailable in America. To rectify the issue, the Continental Congress explored the possibility of importing English Bibles from the Netherlands.

The problem was solved in 1782 by a Philadelphia printer named Robert Aitken. Using his own finances and printing press, he printed the first English Bible in North America. The cover page of his Bible identifies the historic address of his printing shop as “Under the sign of the ‘Pope’s Head’ in Market Street, just three doors away from the coffee house.” Today this is 110 Market Street, the current location of Shane Handcrafted Candies, the oldest candy store in Philadelphia, dating from 1876. The coffee house was The London Coffee House, the meeting place of all the newspaper men of early Philadelphia because it was so close to the waterfront and was a great place to hear the news being brought in by the many ships docking on the Delaware River. This coffee house also became the meeting place of the Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia.

Aitken’s printing of the Bible was still technically illegal, as the peace treaty with England would not be signed until the next year in 1783. The Bible was submitted to the Continental Congress for its review. Those who assisted Aiken in his efforts to gain congress’ approval and reviewed his work included three congressmen, the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon of Princeton College in New Jersey, James Duane of New York and Thomas McKean from Delaware as well as the two chaplains of congress, Episcopalian William White from Christ Church in Philadelphia and a Philadelphian Presbyterian Minster, George Duffield. It was found to be satisfactory and was recommended to the American people for their use. As a result, Aitken’s Bible has been called “Congress’ Bible.” Congress’ desire that Americans have the Bible to teach the new nation reflects the teaching of the
Bible itself.  Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (NIV). George Washington said that he would have been happy for each of his soldiers in the Revolutionary Army to receive one of these Bibles if they had been available before the soldiers were given leave to return to their families.