Prince, Thomas Library of the Old South Church

H.21.4: The Eliot Indian Bible
The so-called Eliot Indian Bible (H.21.4)

(Rare Books & Manuscripts)

The Thomas Prince Collection and Library of the Old South Church -- usually just referred to as the Prince Collection -- is a group of approximately 3,500 books and 950 manuscripts assembled primarily by Old South pastors Thomas Prince (1687-1758) and Joseph Sewall (1688-1769).

One of the few colonial American libraries to survive largely intact, the Prince Collection is a major resource for studies in the history of early New England. It is also an important resource for historians of the colonial American book. The collection preserves rare and sometimes unique pieces of evidence from the earliest presses in British North America, while contemporary inscriptions, annotations, and marginalia document the reception and circulation of texts in Boston, New England, and throughout the early modern Atlantic world.

Holdings are particularly rich in early New England history and literature, along with theological works of the 17th and 18th centuries. Among other highlights, it includes the Bay Psalm Book, opens a new window (1640), and John Eliot's Indian Bible, opens a new window (1663), with many other editions representative of both the varied outputs of the early Cambridge and Boston presses, and of the intellectual life of colonial New England.

Platform of Church Discipline (Boston: John Foster, 1680), from the prince collection (H.24.61-62)
Platform of Church Discipline (Boston: John Foster, 1680), from the prince collection (H.24.61-62)

Throughout the collection, evidence of book production and readerly intervention is rich and varied. Early Boston bookbinders are particularly well represented, with specimens from the workshops of Edmund Ranger and John Ratcliffe, among others. Contemporary bindings made with recycled paper preserve many fragments of early manuscripts and printed books. Many volumes, too, are annotated by successive generations of owners, while duplicate copies held throughout the collection facilitate close comparison and bibliographic study. 

In addition to printed materials, the collection also contains a significant body over manuscripts, including a major collection of historical papers gathered and preserved by Prince himself. These manuscripts include papers of the Mather family, papers of the Cotton family, a group of papers relating to both the Cotton and Prince families, opens a new window, papers of the Hinckley family, and papers related to the case of Torrey v. Gardner (1734).

Information and online access

  • The BPL research guide for this collection contains a detailed history of the collection, information about how to search for materials, links to related BPL collections, and other useful resources.