From English to Algonquian: Early New England Translations

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Marmaduke Johnson

Marmaduke Johnson (d. 1674)

Printer Samuel Green struggled to operate the press at Cambridge due to his lack of training and practical knowledge of the trade. Yet, it was on this press that John Eliot needed his Bible to be printed.  Both Green and Eliot knew that producing such a work would prove a difficult task, and it was one that Green was not prepared to tackle alone. And so, in 1658, Eliot penned a letter to the treasurer of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England:

I shall not trouble you with anything at present save this one business of moment, touching the printing of the bible in the Indian language…that yourselves might be moved to hire some honest young man, who hath skill to compose, (and the more skill in other parts of the work, the better) send him over as your servant, pay him there to his content, or engage payment, let him serve you here in New-England at the press in Harvard College, and work under the College printer, in impressing the Bible in the Indian language, and with him send a convenient stock of paper to begin withal.

In response to Eliot’s plea for a skilled printer, the society agreed to send Marmaduke Johnson to Cambridge on a three-year contract. In June 1660, Johnson arrived in Boston aboard the Prudent Mary and headed to Cambridge to begin working with Samuel Green.

Green and Johnson worked together to print the Algonquian Bible as well as more than forty other works. Their working relationship was initially productive, but relations between the two printers soured in 1662. After parting ways with Green, Johnson set up a rival printing operation in Cambridge and after a decade of legal issues, Johnson eventually set up a printing shop in Boston in 1674 only to die later that same year.