What Is the Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647?

The Old Deluder Act was a piece of legislation written into the Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England in 1647. As explained by Mass Moments, the Act required any Massachusetts town with more than 50 households to appoint a town teacher. Towns with more than 100 households were required to set up a grammar school for the town’s children.

The text of the Old Deluder Act, as provided by the Constitution Society, claims that Satan tries “to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue.” The original settlers of Massachusetts believed that children needed to learn how to read the Bible to receive salvation, according to Mass Moments.

Prior to the Act, families were responsible for educating their own children. Mass Moments explains that the Old Deluder Act shifted the responsibility of education to the town. However, the Act was not strictly enforced and records show that some towns were “shamefully neglectful” about providing education, explains Mass Moments. Any town that failed to provide the required education facilities had to pay a fine of five pounds to a neighboring school for each year until the town instituted its own teacher or school. Many towns preferred to pay the fine rather than comply with the law.