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

Rev. John Farrar

At the time of our founding, Mr. Farrar was the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard College, assuming that position in 1807 when the former Hollis Professor, fellow founder Samuel Webber, became Harvard’s President. In fact, of the ten formal professors at Harvard in 1810, four of them (plus, of course, Harvard’s President) were founders of the Massachusetts Bible Society.

Mr. Farrar was born in Lincoln, Mass. on July 1, 1779 and, yes of course, he graduated from Harvard in 1803. But for his theological training, Mr. Farrar jumped ship to the more conservative Andover Seminary.

Of his strict upbringing, a tribute to him in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences recalls that as a young man he went out dancing and on the way home was thrown from his horse, breaking his arm. He kept his secret throughout the night. When the next day the pain was so great that he let his secret be known, his parents confirmed that his broken arm was a just chastisement for an errant child.

Although licensed to preach, he felt the disputes within the Congregational church too acutely to accept a position and instead became a Greek tutor at Harvard. He then was granted the Hollis chair, where he remained until illness forced his resignation in 1836. His book, Elements of Algebra was used as a text at Harvard and the US Military Academy as well as a number of other institutions.

He published his observations of the Great Comet of 1811, a comet that was observable by the naked eye for 260 days, a record held until the appearance of Hale-Bopp in 1997. Along with many other MBS founders, Mr. Farrar was an original member of the Christian Examiner Society. John Farrar died in Cambridge on May 8, 1853.

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