The famous Bay Psalm Book was purchased by nearly every household between 1640 and 1650.
In 1682 one bookseller in Boston imported 3,421 books from one English dealer to satisify a population of 75,000 people. This is equivalent to ten million today. Other booksellers imported also, to serve the 75,000 then living in the northern colonies. (J.D. Hart, p15)
The religion of the Calvinist Puritans demanded that they be literate. Since male literacy in England was about 40%, the migrants who banded together to settle in New England did so based on their common beliefs. They came here as readers and writers, believing written words to be important.
From 1650 onward, almost all New England towns passed laws requiring the maintenance of reading and writing schools. Larger towns included grammar and arithmetic also.
To exist was to exist in print. Learning meant book learning, a moral and intellectual imperative.
In 1736, booksellers advertised availability of the Spectator, the Tattler, Steele’s Guardian, Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Pope’s Homer, Swifts writings, and Dryden’s Fables.
Summarized from N. Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death, Viking Penguin, NY 1986, pp 31-34.
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