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: www.massbible.org.

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Location: Newton Centre, MA, United States

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mr. Oliver Holden

While many of our founders focused on the spoken word, Oliver Holden’s life revolved around music and hymnody. He was born in Shirley, Massachusetts on September 18, 1765. He moved from there with his parents in 1786 (after serving a year as a marine) to help rebuild Charlestown after the British had burned that city. He acquired the carpenter’s trade and also dealt in real estate.


Who knows if he sang while he hammered and sawed, but his musical talent had become evident enough that when George Washington paid a visit to Boston, it was twenty-four year old Oliver Holden who wrote the music and lyrics to an ode and then trained a choir to sing it at the Old State House for the occasion.


A member of the Baptist church in Charlestown for a time, Mr. Holden soon grew to find them too lax for his taste. So he literally and almost single-handedly built a new “Puritan Church,” which he pastored for 15 years.


While not doing that, he opened a music store and became a prominent Mason. Although in 1792 he published “America’s Harmony,” a collection of songs for religious occasions, he is best known as the composer of the Coronation tune used for the hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” the earliest American hymn tune still in general use. Oliver Holden died in Charlestown on September 4, 1844.

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