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, June 18, 2009

Mr. William Hilliard

When MBS founder and Harvard President Samuel Webber wrote his best-selling Mathematics textbook, it was William Hilliard who printed it. Mr. Hilliard’s father was the Rev. Timothy Hilliard, the minister of the First Parish Church in Cambridge. Before that, Rev. Hilliard pastored on the Cape, and young William was born in Barnstable in 1779, moving to Cambridge when he was five years old.

Although his father, two brothers, and two sons all attended Harvard, William went straight to the printing press to apprentice in the craft. By the time he was 24 years old, Thomas Jefferson had sought him out to buy books for the University of Virginia.

With a shop in Boston and family ties to Harvard, in 1802 the Harvard Corporation sought out William Hilliard to be the printer for their newly established University Press, the first such venture in the United States. Hilliard continued to operate both his own venture and the University Press.

In Max Hall’s Harvard University Press: A History, Willard is described as “innovative, ambitious, restless, prickly, civic-minded, and church-minded.” A deacon in the First Church in Cambridge, he was apparently also quite capable of delivering a speech, as he gave at least one address to the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association on October 4, 1827. He held municipal offices and served once or twice in the legislature. William Hilliard died April 30, 1836.

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