Stephen Jenks – Singing Master

Religion in Family History

Stephen Jenks was an early American composer of sacred music, a compiler of tunebooks and a traveling music teacher.

Stephen was born on March 17, 1772 in Gloucester, Rhode Island to John Jenks and Lydia Bucklin. John and Lydia are my 6th Great Grandparents. Stephen’s older sister Anna married my 5th Great Grandfather, Joseph Braman.

When very young, the Jenks family moved to Ellington, Connecticut where Stephen grew up. He then moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut where he married Hanna Dauchy. Stephen’s first tunebook, The New-England Harmonist, was published in 1799. This was the first of more than ten tunebooks that he compiled. The tunebooks would contain both Jenks’ original compositions and those of other composers. I searched through and was able to find one of his tunebooks. Show below is the title page from The Delights of Harmony.

Delights of Harmony - Stephen Jenks - Psalm Tunes - Norfolk Compiler - Shape Note Singing - Sacred Harp

Title Page

I really enjoyed looking through the tunebook. One of the features of the tunebook was a section that instructs the singer on the ‘Concise Rules of Psalmody’.

Delights of Harmony - Stephen Jenks - Psalm Tunes - Norfolk Compiler - Shape Note Singing - Sacred Harp - Singing Rules

Concise Rules of Psalmody

In addition to compiling and publishing the tunebooks, Stephen was also a singing master. He would travel to different areas of New England to teach singing schools, promote his tunebooks and collect subscriptions for further compilations.

Here is a page from The Delights of Harmony that shows one of Jenks’ works. I chose this one for the name Tolland. Several of my ancestors are from Tolland, Connecticut.
Delights of Harmony - Stephen Jenks - Psalm Tunes - Norfolk Compiler - Shape Note Singing - Sacred Harp - Tolland - Tunebooks

Jenks moved to Thompson, Ohio near the end of the 1820’s. He continued to write, but no longer published his work. I have a copy of Stephen Jenks, Collected Works which is edited by David Warren Steel and is part of a series on American Music. Dr. Steel teaches at the Univeristy of Mississippi. Some of the information in this post comes from the biographical section in his book.

Some of the songs that Jenks composed are still sung by Sacred Harp singers in the South. The Sacred Harp singers sing a cappella and arrange their groups in a hollow square with each side assigned to one of the four parts. Several of Jenks’ works are included in their song book, The Sacred Harp. The song book uses shape notes for the musical notation.

Whenever I run across a song book that I have not seen before, I always look through it to see if I can find any songs by my 5th Great, Great-uncle. I have found them in several old songbooks. Someday I may transcribe one of his works into shape notes and teach it to the members of the congregation I worship with.


This post is part of a series on Religion in Family History. See also:

Religion in Family History

Amish in California?

The Light in the Forest

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