The Importance of Discovering Lost HistoryApril 7, 2022
If history teaches anything it is that religious freedom isn’t always free and some men and women must risk all to preserve it. This is unfortunately one fact secular history books omit, and it is to the detriment of all society, all students, young and old. One astounding proof of this statement is the Aitken Bible, the story of which is told in A Cause Most Splendid: The Battle for the Bible, which in March was named Best Novel of the Year by the American Family Association.
The Missing Weapon
In July 1777 when the American Revolution was being fought full-bore, Americans were desperate for one crucial weapon: Bibles. Public-school students are taught about the need for cannons, cannonballs, rifles, and gunpowder, and that France came to the rescue with all these supplies as well as soldiers. But Bibles?
Whether or not it is a popular fact, this was a time when the majority of America was Christian. The Bible was used as a textbook to teach religion, history, reading, and writing – subjects of all sorts. Most of all, the Bible spiritually nourished children and adults alike, building faith, and inspiring its readers. Because of this, the shortfall of Bibles for American soldiers was very important.
At this time, the Royal Family alone owned publishing rights to God’s Word, and any printing of the King James Bible without their permission was not only illegal but was considered by King George III to be a personal slap-in-the-face, punishable by imprisonment and hanging. The precedent had been set years earlier by Queen Mary who had both William Tyndale and John Rogers burned at the stake for printing English versions of the Bible.
Nevertheless, Scottish immigrant Robert Aitken, the publisher of The Congressional Journal and Thomas Paine’s renowned book Common Sense, joined four prominent Christian pastors in Philadelphia in petitioning the Continental Congress to print the needed Bibles. Though Congress supported the request, it declined to approve the printing of the Bibles, citing both of lack of funds and the special materials necessary, regardless of the King’s edict.
Aitken’s reply: “My King is the King of Kings. To Him only will I answer.”
And so, history was made. Unfortunately, it is a part of history that has been sorely missing from textbooks. Built on the true story of Aitken, his resolve, and his bravery, A Cause Most Splendid spells out this version of his story:
One Man’s Determination
Aitken was determined to use his own money and print the Bibles. To obtain the precious paper and ink he needed, Aitken sent his 19-year-old apprentice, Alec Craig, to Boston, the only American port not blockaded by the British. Aitken moved to a secret hideaway; sent his wife, Janet, and two youngest children to the countryside for safety; and kept 14-year-old Jane and 10-year-old Robby with him to help with printing. (Jane and Robby became essential to the success of the mission.)
Meanwhile, a livid King George III caught the idea that an American publisher was bent on printing the Scriptures. The king dispatched a command to British Admiral of the Fleet Robert Howe in Rhode Island and his brother, General William Howe, commander of North American troops, now headquartered in Philadelphia.
“Find the scoundrel and deal with him,” the king commanded.
After his troops captured Philadelphia, William Howe, adamant to do the Sovereign’s bidding, launched a search for the unidentified perpetrator—calling him the “Biblio-Ghost”—while his brother sent spies on a ship into Boston.
In Boston’s North End, the apprentice Alec saved Elsie de La Borde from harm during the hellish Guy Fawkes revelry when effigies of the pope and devil are burned every November 5th. Elsie’s father was Charles de La Borde, who was essential in convincing France’s King Louis XVI to support the Revolution. Here begins the subplot of romance involving the Protestant American, Alec, and the Catholic French girl, Elsie, whose father’s provision of arms and ammunition is critical to the Americans’ military success.
Important Historical Heroes
A Cause Most Splendid brings real-life heroes into the plot, including firebrand Sam Adams; Ben and Sally Burdick, proprietors of the Green Dragon Tavern, home to the famous Sons of Liberty; several pastors, including Boston’s Samuel Cooper and Philadelphia’s William White, Francis Alison, William Marshall, and Patrick Allison; and the Frenchman who helped arm the revolutionary troops, Charles de La Borde; the brothers Howe; and Robert Aitken’s family, including Jane, who became the first female to publish the Bible in America.
At the end of the Revolution, it was suggested to General George Washington that every discharged soldier be given a copy of Aitken’s Bible. By that time, two-thirds of the army had been discharged, so Washington said, “It would have pleased me well if Congress had been pleased to make such an important present to the brave fellows who have done so much for the security of their country’s rights and establishment.”
Chases, skirmishes, confrontations, jailings, and interrogations—danger of all sorts—chronicle this uplifting and inspiring story from America’s early history that Wallbuilders have unearthed, and can be found and read in A Cause Most Splendid: The Battle for the Bible. As Elk Lake Publishing, Inc. publisher, Deb Haggerty, said: “With a dearth of Christian-based history books, we believe Christian schools and homeschooling groups need this sort of education.”
The real people involved win our admiration and give us pause to ponder this important question: If Christians today were faced with the same risks as Robert Aitken faced in 1777 – the printing and distributing of Bibles could cost us our freedom and our lives – how would we respond?
More About the Author: Mark Alan Leslie
Having written four historical novels as well as five contemporary works of fiction, including True North: Tice’s Story, my historical novel about the Underground Railroad that earned Featured Book status from Publisher’s Weekly, I was happy to read American Family Association’s AFA Journal call me “a seasoned wordsmith… in the class with John Grisham or other secular novelists touted for producing today’s best fiction.” A Cause Most Splendid: The Battle for the Bible is available at ElkLakePublishing.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine bookstores. The cost is $14.95. Check out my website for more details.