Founders of the Massachusetts Bible Society - 1809

The Massachusetts Bible Society began on July 6, 1809 and is an ecumenical, Christian organization dedicated to promoting Biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue. This blog lists brief biographies of our founders who gathered in the Massachusetts State House Senate Chamber on that historic day to sign the Charter founding MBS. Please visit our website:

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Thursday, August 20, 2009


While general sources are listed in the body of the biographies, there are not formal footnotes. Thanks to the Google Books Project, which has made thousands of original, contemporary documents available online, I had access to funeral sermons, contemporary town histories, obituaries, society records, and much more on the internet.

Because many of these men were notable for their achievements, there was often information available on Wikipedia or in modern sources like Virtual American Biographies. Genealogy sites often helped to confirm suspicions or point me in new directions.

Where I felt uncertain, or where there were several candidates, I made an educated guess and listed my reasons in their biography. Undoubtedly there are some errors, and since we have also posted these biographies online (see our website at, I will be happy to make changes or add information if there are descendants or other researchers with more and better information.

I do have much of the specific source information if anyone would like it, but in the vast majority of cases you can simply google a quote and turn up the source quickly.

I am grateful to Thomas W. Allen who sent me a whole CD of information on Rev. Thomas Allen, including the portrait shown with his biography and the wonderful life insurance ad featuring Rev. Allen printed on the inside back cover. I also wish to thank Rev. Tom Wintle who supplied the picture of Rev. Samuel Kendal from a bas-relief hanging in his church in Weston and Eric Wasileski for supplying the portrait of Timothy Rogers from the Bernardston, Mass. church.

The following list of founders is in the original order as read from left to right across the columns.

The Founders List As It Originally Appears

Rev. Samuel Webber, D.D. Rev. Thomas Allen

Rev. John Lathrop, D.D. Rev. Eliph. Porter, D.D.

Rev. Eliph. Pearson, D.D. Rev. Edw. D. Griffin, D.D.

Rev. James Freeman Rev. Joseph Eckley, D.D.

Rev. Abiel Holmes, D.D. Rev. Samuel Kendall, D.D.

Rev. J.T. Kirkland, D.D. Rev. Jos. L. Buckminster

Rev. Jos. Chickering Rev. William Emerson

Rev. Thomas Gray Rev. Jed. Morse, D.D.

Rev. Samuel Cary Rev. Henry Ware

Rev. Horace Holley Rev. Joshua Bates

Rev. Samuel Gile Rev. John Codman

Rev. Jacob Norton Rev. Joshua Huntington

Rev. Joseph Tuckerman Rev. Joseph McKean

Rev. Asa Eaton Rev. John Foster

Rev. John Eliot, D.D. Rev. Charles Lowell

Rev. John Pierce Rev. Timo. Alden, Jr.

William Phillips, Esq. Samuel Salisbury, Esq.

Dr. Isaac Rand Hon. George Cabot

Hon. John Phillips Mr. Samuel H. Walley

William Thurston, Esq. Francis Wright, Esq.

Daniel D. Rogers, Esq. Mr. Eben Larkin

Hon. Samuel Haven William Davis, Esq.

Hon. John Q. Adams Hon. Isaac Parker

Hon. Thomas Dawes Hon. John Davis

Hon. Samuel Dana Mr. Jona. Phillips

Rev. Joshua Huntington Mr. Francis Parkman

Rev. Joseph Tuckerman Dudley A. Tyng, Esq.

Mr. Lemuel Hedge Alden Bradford, Esq.

Francis D. Channing, Esq. John L. Sullivan, Esq.

Hon. Edw. H. Robins Mr. William Hilliard

Mr. Joseph W. Jenkins Mr. Nathan Parker

Mr. Francis Hyde Mr. Oliver Holden

Mr. Ensign Lincoln Deacon M. Grant

Mr. Wm. Andrews Mr. John Tappan

Caleb Gannett, Esq. Mr. Edward Phillips

Mr. Edw. Tuckerman, Jr. Mr. John Grew

Mr. Henry Chapman Mr. Henry Homes

Mr. Josiah Bumstead Mr. Joseph Callender

Mr. Samuel T. Armstrong Mr. Daniel P. Parker

Mr. Andrew Calhoun Mr. William Brown, Jr.

Mr. Elam Bliss Mr. David Hyslop

Mr. Daniel Mallory Deacon Isaac Warren

Mr. Isaac Warren, Jr. Deacon David Goodwin

Mr. John Bartlett Mr. Josiah Salisbury

Mr. Gustavus Tuckerman Mr. Eben. Rockwood, Esq.

Mr. John Farrar Mr. Sidney Willard

Mr. Luther Wright Mr. Joses Grant, Jr.

Mr. Thomas Furber Mr. Edward Dorr

Mr. Thomas Bumstead Mr. William Perkins

Mr. Eben. Withington Samuel Bartlett, Esq.

Deacon John Walton Deacon John Simpkins

Mr. Timothy Rogers Mr. Abel Fox

Mr. Henderson Inches Mr. Chester Stebbins

Mr. Peter Thacher, Esq. John Mellen, Esq.

Deacon Josiah Moore

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But Where Was Channing?

Conspicuous by his absence is the Rev. William Ellery Channing, the most renowned Unitarian preacher of his day and one of that denomination’s most esteemed theologians.

The above biographies show that Rev. Channing’s church was represented at our founding and his brother, Francis, was also among those present. William’s presence at the next meeting just a few days later and his subsequent role at the Society’s incorporation in February 1810 show that he was fully supportive of the mission. Rev. Channing was chairman of the first Executive Committee from 1809-1818, and his eulogy by Francis Parkman would indicate he kept his MBS membership until his death in 1842.

We cannot say whether it was an oversight on the part of Dudley A. Tyng, who recorded those present, or whether some demand of his parish kept him away, but Rev. Channing is neither listed with the founders, nor mentioned in the minutes of the meeting, except by virtue of being nominated to help move the society forward in the days to come.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Mr. Luther Wright

Born in Acton on April 19, 1770, Luther Wright graduated from Harvard in 1796, studied theology, and was ordained to the First Church of Christ in Medway, where he served from 1798 to 1815. The history of the town of Medway credits Rev. Wright with “bringing about the renewed fellowship of the First and Second Churches in town, after an alienation of thirty-two years.”

He also served on the school committee in that town and, like founder Samuel Kendal and so many others, he took in many students to prepare them for college. The history of Medway records that “The Rev. Mr. Wright, in person, was a short, thick-set man, of fair, full countenance…He was devoted to his work, and while he met with some discouragements, he was loved by his people, and showed himself a man of ability and sagacity.”

That success not withstanding, Rev. Wright resigned that parish in 1815. He then accepted a call to minister at the Congregational church in Barrington, RI in Jan. 1817, where he began their first Sunday School. He was part of the Knights Templar in that town, knighted in April, 1818. Despite Rhode Island history books calling his ministry successful, he resigned from that church in 1821. From 1825-1828 he ministered in Tiverton, RI as supply. He retired to Woburn for the last decades of his life. He and his wife had no children and he died in Woburn on June 21, 1858.

Here ends the listing of the founders of the Massachusetts Bible Society

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Mr. Francis Wright

Not only an MBS founder but one of its first Trustees, Mr. Wright was a tobacconist by trade and was a deacon in the Long Lane (Federal Street) Church. It was Francis Wright who wrote the letter calling William Ellery Channing to be the minister at that church. Mr. Wright served as a Boston selectman and became the inspector of tobacco, butter, and lard. He was elected in 1807 to be part of the convention to determine the Massachusetts constitution. He died in 1812.

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Mr. Ebenezer Withington

Born in Stoughtonham (now Sharon), Mass. on March 29, 1769 and married to the niece of John Hancock, Mr. Withington was first Rev. Withington, ordained in 1798 to the pulpit in Plympton, Mass. After three years, ill-health forced him to resign his pulpit and profession at which time he entered the life of business with the firm of Withington & Emery, specializing in goods from the West Indies. That would have meant molasses, rum, and sugar. It is unknown whether the firm ever engaged in the additional slave trading so often associated with such ventures.

Mr. Withington also conducted a private school in Boston where he helped to school Wendell Phillips, the son of founder John Phillips. In 1822 he moved to Vermont and later to Montreal. He returned to Boston in 1827 where he remained until his death on April 6, 1831.

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Mr. Sidney Willard

The son of Harvard President Joseph Willard, Sidney Willard was born in Beverly on Sept. 19, 1780, graduated from Harvard in 1798, and prepared for ministry. During his time at Harvard he had been the librarian, a position he continued after his graduation. (Harvard Library is pictured here.) He was approved as a preacher in 1801, and was invited to settle in Wiscasset, but refused that call. He was not ever settled in a church, having his heart set on college employment.

In 1806 he moved from his position as librarian to the Hancock Professor of the Hebrew and other Oriental Languages. While often peripheral in today’s curriculum, a Hebrew oration at commencement was required at Harvard until 1817. A book of Harvard Reminiscences speaks of his teaching: “No man could have shown more patience than he manifested in the class-room: but nine-tenths of his pupils studied Hebrew solely because they were going to be ministers, and it was then discreditable to a minister to be utterly ignorant of Hebrew; while the general endeavor was to minimize the knowledge of it to the lowest degree.” While the Hebrew grammar he wrote was light-years better than the previous standard, the same source also records, “But the proportion of grateful students — I will not say scholars — in the Hebrew tongue was, and I suppose still is, less than the one thankful leper bore to the ten that were cured.”

Latin was also added to his curriculum in 1827, and with a burden too overwhelming, he resigned his professorship four years later. He also spent three years as mayor of Cambridge and was several times a member of the House of Representatives. A member of the Anthology Society, he also started the North American Review and the American Monthly Review. Sidney Willard died on December 6, 1856.

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Rev. Samuel Webber, DD

When the names of our founders were recorded on July 6, 1809, Rev. Webber’s name headed the list. Himself a 1784 Harvard graduate, he was ordained a Congregational minister in 1787. In 1806 he was selected as the thirteenth President of Harvard College, thrown into the conflict between founders Eliphalet Pearson and Henry Ware and their various supporters.

Before ascending to the presidency of the college, Rev. Webber had been the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, writing a book on mathematics that served for many years as the only textbook on the subject in New England. He also had served on the commission that drew the boundaries between the U.S. and the surrounding British Provinces, boundaries that were later recognized by the Treaty of Paris. He was the Vice President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Rev. Webber was born in Byfield, Mass. Jan. 13, 1760 and died suddenly on July 17, 1810 at just 51 years of age, after which fellow founder John Thornton Kirkland succeeded him as Harvard’s President. Founder Henry Ware gave his eulogy.

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