The New England Primer

Rare artifacts, CT


Massachusetts Sabbath School Society

This little book, first published in Boston ca. 1688, had an outsize impact on history: the Library of Congress named it one of the Books The Shaped America.

It was the lesson book that taught generations of colonists to read. Everyone used it – it is estimated that as many as 6 million copies were printed between 1690 and 1830. And everyone published it – some 450 printers, including Benjamin Franklin.

Over time there were changes such as removing the portrait of George III after the revolution and softening (or reviving) the harshest Puritan language, but these pages show that its basic lessons about the alphabet and religious messaging stayed the same.

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