Steven T. Byington (1869 – 1957)


Steven T. ByingtonSteven Tracy Byington (birthname Stephen) (December 10, 1869 – October 12, 1957) was a noted intellectual, translator, and American individualist anarchist. He was born in Westford, Vermont, and later moved to Ballardvale section of Andover, Massachusetts. A one-time proponent of Georgism, he converted to individualist anarchism after associating with Benjamin Tucker. He was a firm believer in the promotion of individualist anarchism through education. He said “Anarchism has undertaken to change men’s minds in one point by removing their faith in force” (Quasi-Invasion and the Boycott in Liberty, X, 2). He began a “Letter Writing Corps” in 1894 which targeted specific individuals, including newspapers, to familiarize others with the philosophical doctrine. He is known for translating two important anarchist works into English from German: Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own and Paul Eltzbacher’s Anarchism; exponents of the anarchist philosophy (also published by Dover with the title The Great Anarchists: Ideas and Teachings of Seven Major Thinkers).

Byington was a cum laude graduate of the University of Vermont in 1891 and a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa. He was considered a master of at least twelve languages, including classical languages. Paul specifically mentions his “some ability” in Arabic and Zulu, plus European languages.[1] His writings included observations on new forms and changed usage of English words, publishing 25 articles in the journal American Speech from 1926-1946. However, he had a “handicap of speech” which made preaching difficult so despite his seminary training, he spent many years working as a proofreader.

Over the course of sixty years he translated the Bible from original texts and entitled it The Bible in Living English. It was published posthumously in 1972 in New York by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. He published a review of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the English translation usually associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses, in The Christian Century magazine, November 1, 1950, in which he indicated the translation was “well supplied with faults and merits.”


Steven T. Byington

From the Andover Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 1988

Steven T. Byington, a tall man with a flowing beard, was a scholar who was also a translator and proofreader for Ginn and Company, a Boston publisher, for thirty-eight years. He was born in Westford, Vermont on December 10, 1869 the son of the Rev. and Mrs. George Phelps Byington.

In 1891 he graduated from the University of Vermont where he studied many languages. At the age of thirteen he had decided to translate the Bible into modern English so he attended Union Theological School for further study of Biblical languages. Speaking or reading twelve languages fluently, he studied Zulu and Arabic "for pleasure." About 1898 he began translating in earnest. This took almost sixty years to complete with most of the work being done on the train commuting to Boston.

He held various church offices, serving as clerk of the Ballard Vale Congregational Church for thirty-two years. He would bring his Bible translations to the Bible Class so the members could read and comment on them.

He was well-known as the "Sage of Ballard Vale" to the many readers of the Boston Globe column "What People Talk About," for he had contributed many letters. He covered various subjects from Social Security, Russia, legal rights to why an ostrich hides its head in the sand.

Mr. Byington climbed mountains for a hobby. In August 1954 he made his annual trip to Mt. Mansfield in Vermont with the Rev. Phillip Kelsey, a former pastor of the Ballard Vale Congregational Church, who said he "set a steady pace." They took the Cliff Trail - quite a feat at the age of eighty-five.

Steven never married. He lived for many years with his mother and his sister, Martha, Ballard Vale librarian, in the stone house on High Street. The rooms were lined with shelves of books of many languages and games to entertain the children whom they loved to have visit them.

Mr. Byington died on October 12, 1957, his life's work "The Bible in Living English" completed but not yet published. After his death the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania turned over the publication rights to the same society of New York for a first printing of 100,000 copies made in 1972.