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Learning to Sing: Presbyterian hymnals and psalters

In the beginning, Presbyterian governing bodies in America left the decision of whether to sing hymns or psalms up to individual congregations. As a result, Presbyterian churches across the young United States used a variety of psalters and hymnals in their worship. During this period, most psalms were “sung” in a “metered” rhythm using psalters which contained words but rarely music.

Isaac Watts. The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship. London: 1772.
Initially published in 1719, this work was one of the most commonly used psalters in the British Colonies and the United States. Frequently adapted, revised, and amended, it is the basis of numerous variations. This volume contains not only the text of the psalms, but also singing instructions, a list of first lines, a topical index, and tunes.

A collection of hymns by William Cowper and John Newton, Olney Hymns served not only as a hymnal but also as a devotional book. It greatly influenced other hymn writers, and its use crossed all denominational lines.
John Newton. Olney Hymns in Three Books. Burlington [VT]: Isaac Neale, 1795.

Timothy Dwight. The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New-Testament, and Applied to the Christian Use and Worship by I.Watts. D.D. A new edition…. New Brunswick [NJ]: A Blauvelt, 1804.
Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) is one of the most notable names of early American hymnology. A chaplain in the United States Army, Dwight later served as president of Yale College. This volume, used almost exclusively in Connecticut, is one of the numerous variations on Watts' Psalms of David.

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