The New-England Primer was one of the first textbooks used in U.S. public schools. It cost two to four pence and was commonly found in colonial households. The first U.S. edition was most likely printed by Benjamin Harris of Boston before 1687, and it was reprinted consistently for the next 150 years. Although its authorship is unknown and its contents occasionally changed across editions, The New-England Primer always contained core elements used to teach literacy and Christian morals, explicitly embedding Protestant Christianity in the curriculum. The earliest existing version in print is the 1727 edition; others have been lost to time.

History and Context

The first primers were called “primary manuals” and contained prayers for Christian church services. As England became more Protestant than Catholic and as ...

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