ELIAS BOUDINOT (1740-1821) – First President of the American Bible Society

Our monthly Gideon Newark Blitz planning meetings take place at the Santa Isabel Lutheran Church, 908 East Jersey Street, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Interestingly, at 1073 East Jersey Street in Elizabeth (across Routes 1 & 9), stands Boxwood Hall, a New Jersey state historic site and the one-time residence of Elias Boudinot, a Revolutionary War patriot and the first president of the American Bible Society (1816-1821).

Elias Boudinot was born in Philadelphia in 1740, a descendant of French Huguenots (Protestants). He studied law, entered the legal profession, and commenced his practice in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey. In 1772, he began serving as a member of the board of trustees of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).

With the hostilities with England, the mother country, developing, Mr. Boudinot sided with the Patriot cause. He served as commissary general of prisoners (1776-1779) in the Revolutionary Army. He served several years in the Continental Congress, and as its president (1782-1783) signed the treaty of peace with England in 1783.

In 1789, he was a member of a committee that met President-elect George Washington to escort him on the final leg of his journey to his inauguration in New York City. (Washington stopped for lunch at Boxwood Hall on April 23, 1789, on his way to his inauguration.) Boudinot served three terms in the U.S. Congress (1789-1795), and then became the Director of the Federal Mint in Philadelphia (1795-1805).

Outspoken regarding public issues of his day, he wrote the book The Age of Revelation in response to the religiously unorthodox Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. He argued for the rights of black and American Indian citizens.

He was selected president of the American Bible Society at its founding in 1816. He considered this “the greatest honor” to be conferred on him in his earthly life. He stated:

“I am so convinced that the whole of this business [distributing Bibles in America] is the work of God himself, by his Holy Spirit, that even hoping against hope I am encouraged to press on through good report and evil report, to accomplish his will on earth as it is in heaven. So apparent is the hand of God in this disposing the hearts of so many men, so diversified in their sentiments as to religious matters of minor importance, and uniting them as a band of brothers in this grand object that even infidels are compelled to say, “It is the work of the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes!” Having this confidence, let us go on and we shall prosper.”

He also put his money behind his words. He made the American Bible Society a gift of $10,000 to its treasury, and $1,000 toward the erection of a depository, all of which helped put that Society on a sound financial and operational footing. In his will, he even bequeathed $200 so that poor, old people could buy eyeglasses to read the Holy Scriptures! I believe Elias Boudinot is now among that “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews chapter 12, looking on, urging us on, as we go about our work of Bible distribution in the early 21st century, as he and others did in the early 19th century. The fact that we are about to conduct a Bible blitz in New Jersey’s largest city would have made him very happy.

P.S. He would have made a good Gideon!
By the way, you can take a tour of Boxwood Hall. The guide, Ms. Katherine Craig, gives an excellent presentation, including, if you wish, samples of Mr. Boudinot’s strong religious sentiments. Phone (908) 282-7617.

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