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The Psalms of David, Carried in a Rhode Island Revolutionary War Unit in 1776
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Bibles, psalm books, or other printed works carried during the Revolution are rare on the market. This edition appears to be scarce: the last offering we find was by Goodspeed’s in 1934.

[REVOLUTIONARY WAR; RHODE ISLAND]. ISAAC WATTS. Book. The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament: and Applied to the Christian State and Worship (title supplied). Norwich, [Connecticut]: Alexander Robertson, James Robertson, and Trumbull, 1774. Approx. 300 pp., 3 x 5 x 1¼ in.

Inventory #24693       ON HOLD

Inscribed at Newport, R.I.: “Steel not this Book For / For fear of Shame For underneath thair is / Oners Name David Sayles Ensign / NewPoart May 6 Day AD 1776 / Nicholas Jencks His work.”

Two days prior to this inscription, Rhode Island became the first of the thirteen colonies to renounce its allegiance to George III. Sayles and Jencks are two of the oldest colonial families in Providence County, Rhode Island. The light strikethrough to parts of the inscription could indicate that Jencks subsequently purchased this work from Sayles.

David Sayles (1755-1820) was a great-great-great-grandson of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams. Sayles was commissioned an ensign in Col. Babcock’s regiment on January 15, 1776, and promoted to lieutenant in Col. Christopher Lippitt’s regiment later that year. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in Col. Angell’s regiment on January 1, 1777, in Captain David Dexter’s company and promoted to first lieutenant on June 12, 1777. Sayles received a promotion to captain of the Rhode Island regiment on May 1, 1782. He resigned on March 17, 1783, and returned to Rhode Island. He was an early member of the Society of the Cincinnati and a Mason.

Nicholas Jencks (1750-1819) was born in Smithfield, Rhode Island. His ancestor, a cutler from Sheffield, England, settled in Providence, and was employed at the Saugus Ironworks in Massachusetts, where he is said to have cut the dies for the Pine Tree Shillings. Jencks served as a sergeant in David Dexter’s company in Colonel Christopher Lippitt’s regiment in 1776, then in Colonel John Topham’s regiment in 1779. He moved to New York state in 1796.

Contains several intriguing homespun cloth fragments used as bookmarks. One is a plain linen* and another a deep navy blue which may well be a scrap from a Continental uniform. With a third fragment and a loop of thick thread. A thin splint of wood and a printed fragment (likely from an early page of this book) are also used. Original sheep binding; hinge joints intact; easily handled and sound. Lacks upper half of title page through and page 10, and some loss to final leaf of the Index.

*Curiously, this plain fabric reminds us of the uniforms worn by the First Rhode Island Regiment, a unit of African American soldiers for which Sayles would become an officer.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), an English minister, produced more than 750 hymns. Here, he presents the psalms in various poetical forms to be sung according to common meter, long meter, short meter, etc. Watts first published his Psalms of David in 1719. Benjamin Franklin produced the first American edition in 1729. Initially selling poorly, churches and individuals eventually began to demand it, and several editions came out before the Revolutionary War. Afterwards, some of Watts’ language about loyalty to Great Britain and the king was removed for Americanized editions starting in 1781.[1]

[1] Louis F. Benson, “The American Revisions of Watts’s ‘Psalms,’” Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society 2 (June 1903), 18-19.

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