The Catholick Christian Instructed in the Sacraments, Sacrifice, Ceremonies and Observances of the Church. By way of question and answer. Richard Challoner.

The First Roman Catholic Catechism Published in the United States

The Catholick Christian Instructed in the Sacraments, Sacrifice, Ceremonies and Observances of the Church. By way of question and answer.

Philadelphia: Printed by and for C. Talbot, in Front-Street, editor of Reeve’s History of the Bible, 1786.

First American Edition. [2],ii,264 pp. (errors in pagination). 1 vols. 12mo. The First Roman Catholic Catechism Published in the United States. Contemporary sheep boards, rebacked, some losses to the leather on the boards, small void to the lower portion of the front free endpaper, early ink notations and crossouts on the endpapers. Provenance: Edward Mattingly (signature dated 1796 on the title) ESTC W26648; Evans 19546; Parsons, Catholic Americana 57. See Griffin, "Christopher Talbot, the First Catholic Publisher in the United States" in Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, Vol. 15, No. 2 (June 1904) pp. 121-124. Item #320009

The publisher's note on the verso of the title reads: "The following work was first published in England, in order to explain the doctrines and ceremonies of the Catholic Church and to vindicate the same from the misrepresentations of its adversaries in that kingdom. The benevolent zeal of the pious author, it is hoped, will be sufficient to recommend it to the Catholic reader in America."

Publication in America of such a catechism was first proposed by printer Robert Bell in Philadelphia in 1774. The only known copy of A Manual of Catholic Prayers (Philadelphia: Bell, 1774; i.e. Evans 13588) at the John Carter Brown Library is preceded by a prospectus for this work. Evidently Bell and the other Philadelphia and Maryland booksellers promoting the work could not assemble the 500 subscribers which the prospectus required for printing to begin and the project abandoned.

Printer Christian Talbot renewed interest in publication sometime in 1785, and announced the work as "this day published" in the January 4, 1786 issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Herald, priced 5 shillings. Talbot had arrived in Philadelphia in 1784 from Dublin, becoming America's first Catholic printer. Evidently, he was not terribly successfull from a commercial sense, publishing only two other books under his own name. He entered into a partnership with Mathew Carey and William Spotswood following the publication of The Catholick Christian, which lasted until 1787. In 1797, Talbot's heirs sent via Robert Molyneaux seventy remaining copies of the Catholick Christian to Rev. William Dubough of Georgetown College. What became of those copies is unknown.

At the time of publication just following the end of the American Revolution, the Roman Catholic population in the United States was extremely small, consisting of approximately one percent of the total population, with most living in Maryland or Pennsylvania. Baltimore would become the first diocese in the United States in 1789 and Carey would publish the first Catholic bible the year following with fewer than 500 subscribers.

All 18th century American Roman Catholic material is rare, but this first catechism is particularly scarce. Only two copies of The Catholick Christian are recorded in ESTC, located at AAS and Notre Dame; we know of but one other defective example in private hands; we find no complete example in the auction records.

This example with provenance to Revolutionary war soldier Edward Mattingly (c. 1752-1821), of St. Mary's County, Maryland. This copy is referenced by Griffin as being within the collection of the American Catholic Historical Society. However, books from the Society were transferred to the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary sometime around 1930, and many works were sold or given away. The Seminary has no record of accessioning this copy.

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