Friday, February 6, 2009

Ainsworth Psalter

Henry Ainsworth, English Congregationalist, wrote the psalter that was used on the Mayflower and at Plymouth, Massachusetts by the Pilgrims. Later, the first book published in America would be another psalter, the Bay Psalm Book, but when the Pilgrims first sang psalms in the New World, the lines came from the Ainsworth Psalter, titled The Book of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Metre with Annotations.

An extract from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish:

So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his errand;
Came to an open space, and saw the disk of the ocean,
Sailless, sombre and cold with the comfortless breath of the east-wind;
Saw the new-built house and people at work in a meadow;
Heard, as he drew near the door, the musical voice of Priscilla
Singing the hundredth Psalm, the grand old Puritan anthem,
Music that Luther sang to the sacred words of the Psalmist,
Full of the breath of the Lord, consoling and comforting many.
Then, as he opened the door, he beheld the form of the maiden
Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a snow-drift
Piled at her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle,
While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in its motion.
Open wide on her lap lay the well-worn psalm-book of Ainsworth,
Printed in Amsterdam, the words and the music together,
Rough-hewn, angular notes, like stones in the wall of a churchyard,
Darkened and overhung by the running vine of the verses.
Such was the book from whose pages she sang the old Puritan anthem,
She, the Puritan girl, in the solitude of the forest,
Making the humble house and the modest apparel of home-spun
Beautiful with her beauty, and rich with the wealth of her being!

Psalm 100 in fact (along with Psalm 23) can be heard sung today on a cd from Plimoth Plantation. The words are as follows:

Shout to Jehovah, all the earth,
Serve ye Jehovah with gladness;
before him come with singing mirth
Know that Jehovah he God is.
It's he that made us, and not we;
his folk, and sheep of his feeding.
O with confession enter ye his gates,
his courtyards with praising:
Confess to him, bless ye his name.
Because Jehovah he good is:
his mercy ever is the same
and his faith, unto all ages.


  1. I am glad to hear that my ancestors, Alden and Mullins, may have been believers! I am going to send my nana a link to this blog post. Do you know whether Longfellow himself was a believer? He is also in our ancestry line, though I don't know if directly or just that we both connect to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.

  2. That is a great connection you have. Longfellow was descended from Puritans but he himself, according to his daughter, was a lifelong Unitarian, as well as a great poet.