John Wyeth (1770–1858) was a printer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who is best-known for printing Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second (Harrisburg, PA: 1813), which marks an important transition in American music. Like the original Repository of 1810, Part Second used the four-shape system of Little and Smith in The Easy Instructor (Philadelphia, PA: 1801) to appeal to a wider audience; but its pioneering inclusion American folk tunes influenced all subsequent folk hymn, camp meeting, and shape note collections. Musicologist Warren Steel sees Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second as marking "the end of the age of New England composer-compilers (1770-1810) and the beginning of the age of southern collector-compilers (1816-1860)."[1]

John Wyeth
portrait of John Wyeth
Born(1770-03-31)March 31, 1770
DiedJanuary 23, 1858(1858-01-23) (aged 87)


John Wyeth was born on March 31, 1770 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Ebenezer Wyeth, II, who fought at Bunker Hill,[2] and Mary Wyeth, and the younger brother (by 12 years) of Joshua Wyeth who at the age of 16 participated in the Boston Tea Party.[3][4] He learned printing through an apprenticeship. He worked as a printer in Santo Domingo. With the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, he moved to Philadelphia, and finally settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1792 he became the publisher of a newspaper, The Oracle of Dauphin (Dauphin County).[5] The following year he was appointed postmaster by George Washington, but in 1798 John Adams, who saw a conflict of interest in having a newspaper man also act as postmaster, dismissed him, although they were both Federalists.

There is no record of Wyeth having any musical training or activity, but he discovered a market for tunebooks (with printed music) of sacred music at a time when "hymnal" referred to a book with words only. In 1810 when he published Joseph Doll's Der leichte Unterricht in der Vokal Musik for the German-speaking market, and Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, for moderate evangelical Christians. In 1813 he published a Second Part of the Repository of Sacred Music, containing songs for Methodists and Baptists. In 1818 he published Choral Harmonie enthaltend Kirchen-Melodien for German Lutherans.[6]

His wife was Louisa Wyeth (Weiss), together they had three children.[7] His son Louis Wyeth (1812–1889) became a county judge of Marshall County, Alabama.[8] After retiring, he moved to Philadelphia, where he died on January 23, 1858.[4]

Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part SecondEdit

Although published in the north, Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second (1813), had a profound influence on Southern shape note tune-books. Of the 41 folk-hymns introduced here, 10 were used by Ananias Davisson in the Kentucky Harmony (1816), 20 by William Walker in the Southern Harmony (1835), and six in the Sacred Harp (1844).[9] The tune, now known as "Nettleton," with the words "Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing" first appears here on page 112 in two parts (tenor and bass); it is now used in 397 hymnals.[10]

One element of Part Second, the appearance of English hymnody, such as the ten tunes attributed to Martin Madan, was part of an on-going trend in the northern states,[11] but ignored by Southern tunebook compilers, who increasingly turned to regional folk tunes as sources of inspiration.

Lack of musical trainingEdit

John Wyeth describes his musical qualifications in the last sentence of the Preface to the first part of the Repository:

In short, if many years attention to the charms of church music, if an extensive acquaintance with the taste of teachers of the first emininence in the United States, and with the possession of some thousand pages of selected music to cull from, be considerations, which may added to the merit of the editor's undertaking...[12]

Wyeth does not claim any musical training or attendance at one of the singing schools typical of the time; he limits himself to (1) liking church music; (2) knowing the "taste" of teachers (but not studying under them), and (3) owning a collection of books from which to cull. Musicologist Irving Lowens suggests that his motivations may have been strictly business.[13] Ross Ellison mentions the shrewdness in discovering a newly emerging musical market (revival music and camp meeting songs) as the significance of Wyeth's his contribution to American music.[14] Warren Steel qualifies this assessment by drawing attention to the fact that Wyeth grew up in the Boston-Cambridge area at a time when singing-schools were popular, and when William Billings and others were creating American choral music.[1] The lack of musical skills did not matter for the original Repository, in which Wyeth merely reprinted material from earlier, successful publications. The innovative aspects of Part Second are attributed Elkanah Kelsey Dare, who was hired as music-editor, and contributed 16 of his own compositions (his entire known work). Dare may have been assisted by others, but their names have not been recorded.


  • Graydon, Alexander (1811). Memoirs of a Life, Chiefly Passed in Pennsylvania, Within the Last Sixty Years; With Occasional Remarks Upon the General Occurrences, Character and Spirit of that Eventful Period. Harrisburg: John Wyeth. OCLC 13597246.
  • Wyeth, John (1813). Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second. Harrisburg: John Wyeth. OCLC 20911454.


  1. ^ a b David Warren Steel, "John Wyeth and the Development of Southern Folk Hymnody", Music from the Middle Ages Through the 20th Century: Essays in Honor of Gwynn McPeek, Carmelo P. Comberiati and Matthew C. Steel, eds. (London: Gordon & Breach, 1988), pp. 357-374. Available on-line at Steel. "John Wyeth and the Development of Southern Folk Hymnody". Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  2. ^ "Ellen Lueck, Sacred Harp Singing In Europe: Its Pathways, Spaces, And Meanings" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  3. ^ Boston Tea Party Historical Society. "Account by Joshua Wyeth". Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  4. ^ a b Egle, William Henry (1883). "John Wyeth". History of the counties of Dauphin and Lebanon. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck. pp. 554–5.
  5. ^ "The first number of The Oracle of Dauphin and Harrisburg Advertiser was issued October 20, 1792, by John W. Allen and John Wyeth." Anonymous (October 1886). "The First Newspaper Published in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 10 (3): 251–255. JSTOR 20083145. The bulk of the article relates to The Harrisburgh Journal and the Weekly Advertiser, which preceded the Oracle of Dauphin as the first Harrisburgh newspaper.
  6. ^ "Ellen Lueck, Sacred Harp Singing In Europe: Its Pathways, Spaces, And Meanings" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  7. ^ "Geni: John Wyeth". Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  8. ^ "Biography: Louis Weiss Wyeth born June 20, 1812'". Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  9. ^ Recordings of one such anonymous folk tune, "Vienna" (p. 105 in Part Two) can be found on YouTube by searching for "Shenandoah Harmony 321b Vienna".
  10. ^ "Hymn Tune: Nettleton". Retrieved 15 December 2019. Note that the tune name used in the Repository is "Hallelujah," which, being used in countless other tunes, was replaced by a distinctive name at some later time.
  11. ^ Irving Lowens, "Introduction" to Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second Irving Lowens, ed. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1964), p. xiv.
  12. ^ "John Wyeth, "Preface" Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music". Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  13. ^ Irving Lowens, "Introduction" to Wyeth's Repository of Sacred Music, Irving Lowens, ed. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1974), p. vii.
  14. ^ "John Wyeth has earned a niche in the history of American music not because he was a musician, but rather because he was a shrewd enough publisher to recognize the cultural and musical forces at work in Pennsylvania..." Ross W. Ellison, "John Wyeth, Early American Tunebook Publisher", The American Music Teacher, Vol. 25, No. 1, (Sep 1, 1975), p. 22.

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