Bowdoin was founded not as a denominational college but to educate the sons of Maine (women weren't matriculated until 1970) without the necessity of a long and expensive journey to Massachusetts. Nevertheless, the Congregational clergy were active and influential in the new College. Many of the early presidents and faculty members were Congregationalists, and many works by Congregationalists have been part of the Library since the College's founding. Beyond books on religion from the Bowdoin bequest and other early imprint collections, more than 650 titles are contained under the general subject of religion.
The spread of the Unitarian movement in Massachusetts and Maine led to a majority of these liberal Congregationalists on Bowdoin's Board of Trustees, while orthodox Congregationalists made up the majority of the Board of Overseers. Although very many of the works on religion are by orthodox Congregationalists, there are also many volumes pertaining to Unitarianism in the collections. A collection of Joseph Priestley's works came from George Thacher (1754-1824), a Bowdoin Overseer, 1806-1818, and a staunch Unitarian, as was Priestley.
Library bookplate view of the Bowdoin College Chapel
- Joseph Priestley Collection:
- The Priestley collection contains 125 volumes of the works of the eighteenth-century Anglo-American theologian, scientist and educator. First and subsequent editions of most of his writings are present, including his Defenses of Unitarianism (1788), Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion (1782), and Familiar Lectures (1790).
- The earliest printed editions of the Bible owned by the College, although incomplete, are those of 1485 and 1487 with Nicholas de Lyra's commentary. Among the many others are the 1577 Geneva version, commonly called the Breeches Bible for the text in Genesis 3:07 on Adam's dress; both 1611 issues of the King James or Authorized Bible, known as the He and She Bibles because of the incorrect reading "he" in Ruth 3:15, corrected to "she" in the second issue; the 1657 Walton Polyglot Bible; and John Baskett's 1717 edition, containing so many typographical errors that it is sometimes called a Baskett-full of errors, but also called the Vinegar Bible for the false reading of "Vineyard" in the running title for Luke 20.
Perhaps because of the many nineteenth-century Bowdoin graduates who became missionaries, the College owns approximately fifty foreign language Bibles published by the American Bible Society, the British & Foreign Bible Society and other missionary groups for use in proselytizing among non-Christian peoples. The translations include the whole Bible, single testaments or single books translated into Cherokee, Chinese, Cree, Dazak, Hawaiian, several Inuit languages, Malay, Micmac, Mpongwe, Nagree, Ojibwa, Samoan, Siamese, Zulu, and other languages. Foremost among them are the first and second editions of Eliot's Indian Bible in the Massachusett tongue, first published from 1661 to 1663.
- Shaker Collection:
- Because of the nearby Shaker settlement located at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, Bowdoin has a small collection of thirty-four publications of or about this communal religious sect. Works by Henry C. Blinn, A.G. Hollister and Richard McNemar are included.
- Information about Frank W. Sanford, his Holy Ghost and Us Society, and the members' residence called Shiloh and located at Durham, Maine, is accompanied by incomplete runs of several periodical publications of the society. They include The Everlasting Gospel, The Golden Trumpet, Tongues of Fire, and The Truth.
- Swedenborg, Swedenborgianism and the Church of the New Jerusalem:
- The published works of Emmanuel Swedenborg, some in very early eighteenth century editions, are accompanied by works on Swedenborgianism and the New Jerusalem Church. There are more than seventy-five titles, most acquired from the Cleaveland and Chandler families of Brunswick, Maine, including several that were written or published by members of those families, and through the gifts of Benjamin Fiske Barrett (1808-1892), a member of Bowdoin's Class of 1832, who was a Swedenborgian clergyman and president of the Swedenborg Publishing Society, 1872-1892. Further information about Barrett and his family is available in the Hubbard Family Papers (M95).
- Unitarian-Universalist Material:
- Besides a small collection of leaflets, clippings, photographs, and other ephemeral material relating to Unitarian-Universalists in Maine (especially Brunswick), the collections also contain approximately thirty titles, including a run of the beginning volumes of the first series of the American Universalist Association's Tracts (ca. 1825).
See also related manuscript holdings: