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The Pilgrim Psalter (originally titled “The Book of Psalms, Englished in Prose and Meter”) was produced by Henry Ainsworth in 1612. Ainsworth was a Hebrew scholar and Bible teacher among the English Separatists in Amsterdam, Holland. The work is called a Psalter because it is a translation of the Hebrew Psalms written between 1010 and 930 BC during the time of David and his son Solomon. Ainsworth’s translations of the Psalms are metrical, poetry set to tunes popular in the Reformation era, and are remembered today for being remarkably faithful to the original Hebrew text. When the English Pilgrims fled to Holland in an attempt to escape religious persecution in England, they adopted this Psalter and they carried it with them on the Mayflower. Here today to share with us the history of the Pilgrim Psalter and the journey it took across the ocean at the start of the 17th century is our guest and historian of the 1612 Psalter, Mary Huffman.  

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Mary Huffman is a music teacher in Montgomery, Alabama. With her background in music, she has reprinted the 1612 Psalter used by the Mayflower Pilgrims in singing and worship. It is her prayer that it will be used of God to raise up a new generation of faithful “Pilgrims” today.  Mary Huffman serves on the board of Plymouth Rock Foundation, a ministry that seeks to preserve and pass on the Pilgrims’ story and heritage and the principles by which they lived. 

I’ll be asking Mary Huffman about:

  • Who was Henry Ainsworth and why was he translating the Psalms into metrical poetry to be used with Reformation tunes? Was he creating a kind of hymnal? 
  • The Psalms are part of the Bible, and are already songs, primarily written by King David, as praises to God. Since the Bible was already translated to English at this point in history in the famous King James version  of the Bible that was published in 1611, Why was Ainsworth translating just the Psalms? Wasn’t that unnecessary since the Hebrew Bible had already been translated? 
  • What were the names of some of the standard Reformation tunes Ainsworth used to base his translations upon? Are there any songs that remain in use today? 
  • …and more!

Get your own 1612 Psalter

The Pilgrim Psalter (originally titled “The Book of Psalms, Englished in Prose and Meter”) was produced by Henry Ainsworth in 1612. Purchase a copy of Henry Ainsworth’s Pilgrim Psalter from the Psalter Company.

Resources Recommended by Our Guest (Expand to See Full List)

Here’s what’s inside this week!

  • Portrait of William Bradford and Company Signing the Mayflower Compact
  • Quotes from Shakespeare’s Plays about Puritans and Hymns
  • First page of “Of Plimoth Plantation”
  • Psalm 1 by Thomas Sternhold., 1628 printing
  • Original Title page of Henry Ainsworth’s Psalter
  • Psalm 1 from the Pilgrim Psalter, scan provided by Mary Huffman for That Shakespeare Life
  • Links to our episode on the First Thanksgiving
  • Listen to Psalm 44, as Mary describes it in today’s conversation (Sound files provided by Mary Huffman)
  • Listen to Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 (Sound files provided by Mary Huffman)
  • “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor,” by William Halsall
  • A reproduction of the Bay Psalm Book
  • Psalm 118 in the Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1564
  • Quotes from Martin Luther and John Calvin about Ainsworth
  • Links to our episode on William Bradford
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!