Law, Andrew, 1749-1821

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The grandson of a colonial governor of Connecticut, Andrew Law was born in Milford, Connecticut, and studied divinity at Rhode Island College (Brown University) and Yale before obtaining a license to preach in 1776. Although ordained in 1787 for both Congregational and Presbyterian congregations, he had already embarked on a musical career that would make him one of America's most prolific, most widely traveled composers of the day.

As early as 1770, Law offered instruction in violin and flute, and while still an undergraduate, he began directing a singing school, compiling his first tune book in 1777. His Select Harmony (Cheshire, Conn., 1779) became one of the most popular American tune books of its day, and was the first to combine English and American psalmodists in roughly equal proportions. His brother William, a printer in Cheshire, became Andrew's publisher, and issued a second edition of Select Harmony in 1782, followed in the next year by two works, A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship and The Rudiments of Music . With their appearance, Andrew Law began to travel widely across the country, teaching from his works, establishing singing schools in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Between 1789 and 1792, he conducted schools in Alexandria, Virginia and Baltimore, while overseeing a staff of younger singing masters who covered the rural reaches of the middle south. Almost single-handedly through Law's influence, the musical traditions of New England began effectively to penetrate southward.

Law's grandiose plans for the south never materialized into the success that provided a livelihood, and after the collapse of his efforts in 1793, he returned to Connecticut. Ambitious and litigious by nature, he engaged in a series of lawsuits accusing other composers of piracy, and after announcing a preference for European music, spent several years promulgating his ideas in New England and the Mid-Atlantic States. He also fearlessly, but unsuccessfully, championed a staffless shape-notation for his tune books that, because he refused to have his works published in other formats, ultimately limited his sales and income. He continued to write and publish until his death in 1821.

From the guide to the Andrew Law papers, Law, Andrew, 1775-1840, 1775-1821, (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Law family. Law family papers, 1779-1858. Connecticut Historical Society
creatorOf Ward, R. D. [Two Revolutionary hymns]. Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library
creatorOf Andrew Law papers, Law, Andrew, 1775-1840, 1775-1821 William L. Clements Library
referencedIn Massenet, Jules, 1842-1912. General Collection manuscript music miscellany, [ca. 1600-ongoing]. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn General Collection manuscript music miscellany, [ca. 1600-ongoing] Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Mangler, Joyce Ellen, 1933- . Andrew Law and the business of singing, 1962. Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn Stuart, George E. George E. Stuart collection of archaeological and other materials, 1733-2006. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Bales, Richard, 1915-1998. Three songs of early America : [transcribed] for small orchestra / by Richard Bales. Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bales, Richard, 1915-1998. person
associatedWith Law family family
associatedWith Mangler, Joyce Ellen, 1933- . person
associatedWith Stuart, George E. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Music--Instruction and study
Music--18th century


Birth 1749-03-21

Death 1821-07-13



Ark ID: w6qj8395

SNAC ID: 13098627