“FRANCIS BAILEY/The First/American New Churchman/1784/The First/American Publisher/of the Writings of/EMANUEL SWEDENBORG/1787/A bright example of active love/and of doing good to others” (Francis Bailey tombstone).
Francis Bailey, Revolutionary War printer and New Churchman, was a remarkable individual. He was born in 1744 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, displaying a special talent for mechanics at an early age. In his twenties he decided he wanted to learn the art of printing, but was not willing to apprentice; instead, he spent three weeks learning the basics from his friend Peter Miller, at the Ephrata Cloister religious community. He quickly set up a printing shop in Lancaster, later moving his business to Philadelphia in 1778. He was appointed printer to the State of Pennsylvania and began to edit a daily paper titled The Freeman’s Journal.(Click on “I accept these terms” to see a painting of Bailey in the Cincinnati Art Museum.)
Bailey was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church when James Glen of Scotland came to America in 1784 and delivered a series of lectures on Emanuel Swedenborg at Bells Book Store in Philadelphia. A number of Swedenborg’s books arrived in Philadelphia from England after Glen had already left the city, and Bailey ended up buying some of them. Becoming convinced of the truth of Swedenborg’s teachings, Bailey used his profession to produce the first publication of a New Church work in America, A Summary View of the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Church (1787). In 1789 he sent out a proposal for publishing True Christian Religion serially; he obtained about fifty subscribers, including Benjamin Franklin, a fellow Philadelphia printer. Two other signers of the Declaration of Independence were also subscribers: Robert Morris and Thomas McKean. After the first serial was printed the number of subscribers declined, so Bailey decided to issue one thousand copies of the first volume at his own expense (See The New Jerusalem Church Repository: for the years 1817 & 1818, pp. 326-328). In 1792 he published The Doctrine of Life followed by Conjugial Love in 1796.
Bailey returned to his family estate in Lancaster in 1799, planning to retire, but was appointed by his friend, Thomas McKean, then Governor of Pennsylvania, to be the official printer for the laws of the state (The New Jerusalem Church Repository, p. 328). Soon after this he returned to Philadelphia to spend the later years of his life. He remained committed to the cause of spreading the teachings of the New Church, becoming a member of “The American Society for Disseminating the Doctrines of the New Jerusalem Church” in 1816. The New Jerusalem Church Repository, the journal in which his memorial was printed, was the product of this society. In January of 1817, the last year of his life, the New Jerusalem Temple, the first New Church place of worship in Philadelphia, was dedicated (see photo). The present writers do not know if Bailey attended this dedication, but he certainly would have been fully informed of the events, and no doubt took pride in this important step for the New Church in Philadelphia. During his last years in Philadelphia he suffered financial reversals and,
“was obliged to witness the entire loss of his once large property. In this, and the many other trials he had to endure, he manifested a firmness and resignation not to be described; to use his own words, ‘I never courted the smiles of Fortune, and her frowns have no power to dismay me.’ His constant expression, on every new trial, was, ‘It is but a new modification of Divine Love, to bring us nearer to himself.’ His earthly treasure was to him always a secondary consideration. . . . His liberality and benevolence were not confined to sect or nation; all who were in want, to him were friends, and often was he saluted in the streets with terms of grateful remembrance, by those whom he had befriended. . . . In his last illness, though at times suffering acute bodily pain, he was never heard to utter a complaint; but always answered the inquiries of his friends cheerfully; saying, ‘I am gradually wearing away, but am well both in mind and body, not anxious to leave this world, but quite willing’ (The New Jerusalem Church Repository: for the years 1817 & 1818, p. 328).
Photos: The photograph of Francis Bailey’s tombstone was taken by Michael Pitcairn in the 1970s in the Upper Darby New Church cemetery, and is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The engraving of an early printing press is in the public domain and is available at Wikimedia. The illustration of the New Jerusalem Temple is from the frontispiece of The New Jerusalem Church Repository, April, 1817.
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