Latta, James (1732-1801)

James Latta was a defender of the Imitations of Dr. Watts, and an opponent to the exclusive use of the Psalms in worship.

“James Latta was born in Ireland in 1732, the son of Rev. James Latta and his wife Mary Alison. He came to America at an early age with his parents, who settled near Elkton, Maryland. After his mother’s brother, Rev. Francis Alison, opened an Academy near New London, Delaware, young Latta became a student at his uncle’s school. He and classmate Hugh Williamson would have the distinction of being members of the first graduating class of both Rev. Alison’s Academy (which would evolve into the University of Delaware) and the College of Philadelphia.

Latta and Williamson entered the College of Philadelphia in 1754, graduating with the Class of 1757. From 1755-1759, the younger James Latta was a Latin tutor in the Academy, both as an undergraduate and while studying theology with Dr. Francis Alison.

In 1758, Latta was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and in the following year was ordained and appointed to the destitute settlements of Virginia and Carolina. In 1761, he became pastor of a church at DeepRun, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he was stationed until 1770. In that year, Latta resigned in order to assume the charge of Chestnut Level, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which he retained until his death in 1801. Latta was the Third Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and the author of A Discourse of Psalmody (1794) [a work in favor of the Imitations of Dr. Watts and against exclusive Psalmody] and other various published writings.

During the American Revolution Latta served as a private and a chaplain in the Pennsylvania Militia. He was married to Mary McCalla. He died at Chestnut Level, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1801. In 1940, his original diploma was presented to the University in commemoration of its bicentennial by James Latta, a direct descendant.”

Image of James Latta's original 1757 diploma from the CollegeA.B. Diploma Awarded to James Latta in 1757, one of the first diplomas awarded by the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and therefore one of the first diplomas awarded by the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences

From the University of Pennsylvania archives


4 thoughts on “Latta, James (1732-1801)”

  1. I am not really sure now if Latta was an exclusive Psalmist. I can’t find any of his written work on the web. Several references I have seen are describing him as a faithful Psalmist, while others seem to say otherwise. I listed him as one of the biographies because he authored a work called A Discourse on Psalmody 1794 that I thought was speaking in favor of EP. If anyone knows anything about this work please let me know.

    Eventually, I want to have biographies of those who have published works in opposition to EP, so Latta may be our first.

  2. I don’t know about Latta, but this isn’t the only case of someone sounding EP but not being EP. Thomas Manton argues exactly like an EPer with “psalms, psalms, and psalms”; Jesus and the apostles only singing from the Book of Psalms; and the verse in James also referring to the Psalms. Yet, he states at the beginning of his discourse that they would sing a hymn if it be carefully prepared and received by the church. All I can say is: odd. =/ I wonder what his reasoning was?

  3. I’ve heard criticism of Manton’s view and sometimes it is used as evidence that the Westminster Divines were not EP. Manton’s view is not surprising to me. I see it more and more as I look through the older writings on Psalmody. I don’t really think the battle lines were drawn then like they are now. Today it’s pretty clear what happens when the Psalms go up against an endless wave of manmade hymns…the Psalms lose. I don’t think the Reformers and the Westminster Divines even conceived what we see in our age. Calvin gave us the Geneva Psalter, but even he did not express the EP position like we do today. He wasn’t vocal enough on the issue, primarily because he didn’t know he needed to be.

    This is one of the reasons why we need to draw a hard line on Psalmody today. We do know what we are up against. We do know the outcome of history. We need to take a valiant stand against manmade hymnody, one that some of our forefathers sadly did not take.

  4. OK, so it looks like he was one of a group of opponents to the EP movement in his day…there really isn’t much out there on these guys. Gilbert McMaster says the following…

    “The introduction, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, of an Imitation of the Book of inspired Psalms, accompanied by hymns of mere human composure, into the public worship of the church, and the reasons of their introduction, in place of the inspired songs of Zion; calculated, as was foreseen, to banish, by supplanting, those inspired songs from the public Psalmody of the house of God, gave occasion to much dissatisfaction in the several departments of the great Presbyterian family. In vindication of this innovation of a new collection of sacred songs in place of those given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, various writers appeared as advocates.*

    * Of these the Rev. James Latta, D.D., a gentleman of reputation as a scholar and divine, was among the first and ablest. His “Discourse on Psalmody” was extensively read. To it we may repeatedly refer. This production was accompanied, or followed, by others, such as the “Discourse” on the same subject by the Rev. Mr. Freeman, and another by the Rev. Mr. Black, carrying out the leading thoughts of Dr. Latta. At a later period, on the same subject appeared “The Science of Praise,” by the Rev. Mr. Baird; and still later, “Strictures on an Apology for the Book of Psalms,” by the Rev. Henry Ruffner, and ” Hints on the Church’s Psalmody,” printed in Carlisle, Pa., but anonymous. In another field of controversy, since that time, the reputed author of these “Hints” has had some notoriety.”

    Thank you Mr. McMaster for clearing that up for us.

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