The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

John Freeman Young

Translator of Silent Night, Holy Night
Verses 1, 6 and 3 of Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

John Freeman Young was born October 30, 1820, in Pittston, Maine, the son of John and Emma (Freeman) Young. In 1841, he began a course of studies in science at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, but left after his freshman year. He then converted to the Episcopal Church and began studies at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, graduating in 18451. He was ordained a deacon on April 20, 1845, and a month later, on  May 23, 1845, he was assigned to St. John's Church, Jacksonville, Florida. He was ordained as a priest at St. John's Church, Tallahassee, Florida, on January 11, 1846. At that time, he was one of only two clergymen in active parochial service in the entire state, serving until December 15, 1847.

From Florida, he moved to various posts in Texas (1848-51), Mississippi (1852-3) and Louisiana (1854-55).

Photo Left: Stained glass window of Bishop Young. Photo by Bill Egan. Used with permission. Larger Image.

It should be noted that Rev. Young had an early interest in Church architecture. An example is The Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi, which was constructed in 1848. It is said that he assisted the owner, Margaret Johnstone, in aspects of the design of the chapel.  The first Bishop of Mississippi, Bishop William Mercer Green consecrated the chapel on July 19, 1852.  Bishop Green wrote that a debt was owed to the dedicated labor and elegant taste of Rev. Young. He had also overseen the construction of a gothic style church in Napoleonville, Louisiana in 1854, from "plans obtained from an eminent New York architect," which was described as "the most beautiful edifice of its kind seen in the Southern or Western country" by Bishop Leonidas Polk, first Bishop of Louisiana.

On June 19, 1855, Rev. Young become an assistant minister at Trinity Church, New York City, where he served until his consecration as Bishop of Florida in 1867. During his time in New York, he honed his interests in theology, church architecture, and hymnology, which included collecting and translating the great Christian hymns of various churches.

In in 1859, Rev. Young published a 16-page pamphlet titled Carols For Christmas Tide (New York: Daniel Dana, Jr.2). The first of the seven carols in this pamphlet was his definitive English translation of the great Lower Austrian hymn Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! under the title Silent Night, Holy Night.

(High Resolution: Cover, Silent Night)

In 1860 and 1861, he published Hymns and Music For The Young, Parts 1 and 2, respectively. Part 3 was mentioned in the Preface (dated December 12, 1859) as yet unpublished; it is believed that his "Silent Night" translation was also contained in Part 3. In 1862, he appointed to a "Joint Committee on Hymnody and Metrical Psalmody." He was also served as the secretary of the Russo-Greek Committee of the General Convention, and edited the papers issued by them in furtherance of the intercommunion o the Eastern, Anglican, and American churches.

Much has been made of the fact that Trinity Church in New York City is near the Alexander Hamilton memorial where, in 1839, the Rainer singers of Austria included Stille Nacht in their repertoire. However, it must be remembered that Rev. Young did not serve at Trinity Church until 16 years later, beginning in 1855.

It has also been said that Bishop Young first heard Stille Nacht while he was in England, Europe and Russia in 1863 [actually, in 1864 according to the Papers of the Russo-Greek Committee]. This claim is unsupported since we have recently learned that first publication was in 1859.

As a result of his work with the Russo-Greek Committee, Rev. Young was awarded the degree to S. T. D. (Doctor of Sacred Theology) from Columbia College in 1865.

On July 25, 1867, Rev. Young was consecrated as the second Bishop of Florida by six bishops, the chief being the Presiding Bishop of the Church, the Rt. Rev. John Henry Hopkins, first Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, 1792-1868; (his son would edit a collection of hymns collected by Young, published posthumously in 1887).  Young succeeded the late Bishop Francis Huger Rutledge, who had died November 6, 1866. Bishop Young would hold this post held until his own death from pneumonia in New York City on November 15, 1885.

The church in Florida had been so devastated by the effects of the Civil War that the Committee on the State of the Church wrote that it was a "wonder" that the church in Florida still had "an organized existence at all." Bishop Young described that time as "a struggle for life." But through his diligent efforts, from 1875 to 1885 the church expanded from 20 parishes or missions and 14 clergy at work — to 48 congregations ministered to by 36 clergy.

Bishop Young traveled extensively throughout the diocese on horseback, in buggies and cart, by streamer and sailboat, and sometimes on foot, but going from Jacksonville to Key West might take a month or more. Even so, in 1880 he reported that "eleven churches built or in progress in one year."

His activities in his Diocese was not limited to building churches and congregations. Shortly after his consecration, Bishop Young purchased the former home of Confederate General Joseph Finegan, turning it into an exclusive girls' school known as the Bishop's School or St. Mary's Priory in Fernandia (later moved to Jacksonville). Coincidentally, General Finegan is also buried in the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville. Bishop Young also set up a boys' school in Jacksonville, St. John's Male Academy under the patronage of St. John's Church, in 1869. In that same year, he took part in the revival of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.

His early interest in church architecture also reaped great benefits to his Diocese. While at Trinity Church in New York, Bishop Young met Richard Upjohn, the architect who had designed New York's Trinity Church. Upjohn had published a book containing detail plans and instructions with which small congregations could build churches. Gothic in style, they looked like a church and felt like a church. In Florida many churches were built in Upjohn's Carpenter Gothic style throughout his diocese. Trinity Episcopal Church in Melrose, FL is an example of this style of architecture; you can find a line drawing of the church at their website, the History of Trinity Episcopal Church. The church was build in 1885-86.

In Key West, Bishop Young organized the first Episcopal church exclusively for blacks, St. Paul's. He also established a Spanish language parish for Cuban immigrants, St. John's. As a result of his two visits to Cuba, that country became an important missionary field for the Episcopal Church in the United States. It was during this time that it is believed that Bishop Young published a pamphlet which contained a series of twenty-five hymns in the Spanish language, with tunes.

During a visit to New York, Bishop Young was stricken with pneumonia and died very suddenly at aged 65, on Sunday, November 15, 1885.3 His funeral was conducted in St. John’s, Jacksonville, on November 18, and he was buried in Old City Cemetery, Jacksonville, Florida. His wife would be buried next to him after her death in 1914 (presumably his second wife, Mary)4.

Two years after his death, the cornerstone to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church was laid. The church was a memorial to Bishop Young, and the land upon which the Church was built was a gift from J. N. C. Stockton, Bishop Young's brother-in-law. Now a National Register site, it is currently the home of the Jacksonville Historical Society. For an interior and exterior photograph of the church, see: Weddings & Parties.

In an article written by Bill Egan in 2003, it appears that the graves of Bishop and Mrs. Young have fallen into serious disrepair. Egan reported that the monument has acquired more of a tilt along with more grit and grime, that Mrs. Young's tombstone lies broken on the ground, and that fire ants are building a colony around the sinking slab over Bishop Young's grave. Photographs can be seen online at A Grave in Need.

According to Egan, during a visit to St. Augustine's Trinity Episcopal Parish, the new Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Florida seemed dismayed when he viewed photos of the Young cemetery plot. Bishop Samuel J. Howard stated "I'll look into this." Bishop Howard also indicated that he would check on the availability of private donations or historical grants to restore the Young grave site.

Egan indicated that Bishop Howard mentioned that he and Bishop Young shared a similar background. "We both came to Florida from Trinity Church," Bishop Howard said while looking at an album of photos and stories about Young. Bishop Young was the assistant rector at Trinity Church from 1860 to 1867 and Bishop Howard was the vicar at Trinity from 1997 until his recent move to Jacksonville, according to Egan. Bishop Howard was consecrated at Saint John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville on November 1, 2003 and was instituted as bishop of the diocese on January 29, 2004. In addition, both men were educated at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.

Egan also noted that while the graves of Mohr and Gruber are the site of annual Christmas services, the grave of Bishop Young is virtually unvisited. He wrote "While Christmas pilgrims flock to the well-kept graves of Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, the Austrian originators of the world's best-loved carol, Bishop Young's final resting place has been neglected and ignored by people in Jacksonville and the Episcopal Church."

He added that for the past two years, greens were placed on Young's monument in Jacksonville during the Christmas season by a representative of the Silent Night Society of Salzburg, Austria.

On July 14, 2004, Mr. Egan posted the following note on the Christmas International Group at Yahoo:

During the Christmas season [2003], I wrote an article for the "Saint Augustine Record" about the terrible condition of the gravesite of the man who translated "Stille Nacht" into "Silent Night."

Several weeks ago I visited the cemetery again and was happy to see that the monument had been cleaned and that Mrs. Young's gravestone was once again standing after being almost buried in the dirt for a few decades. It was a surprise to find that it wasn't a dark color - but white marble with a beautiful lily carved into the back of it.

The large monument is still tilted forward so that's my next project - to get someone to put it upright again.

Editor's Note: I do not know who performed this service, but my hat is off to them!  Good job and thank-you! And thanks, Bill, for bringing this matter to everyone's attention.

For more information about Bishop Young, including a photograph of his sadly neglected grave in Jacksonville, Florida, see Bill Egan's A Christmas Tale of Three Cities and A Grave In Need. An article written by Caroline Gabsewics entitled Downtown holds a piece of ‘Silent Night’ history appeared in the Jacksonville, FL, Financial News and Daily Record on December 16, 2005, and provided additional details. According to a post at the Christmas International group in early 2008, the Diocese Historian has been appointed to have repairs made to the graves of Bishop and Mrs. Young.

Grave of Bishop Young. Photograph courtesy of Bill Egan, Christmas Historian, August 2005.

Grave stone of Mrs. Young. Photograph courtesy of Bill Egan, Christmas Historian, August 2005.

The Translation Of Stille Nacht

The exact date of Bishop Young's translation of Stille Nacht is unknown but likely occurred between 1855 and 1859 while he was an assistant at Trinity Church in New York City. As noted above, a recently discovered pamphlet by Rev. Young titled Carols for Christmas Tide and published in 1859 includes, as its first carol,5 his famous translation: "Silent Night! Holy Night!"

Previously, most sources believed that first publication Bishop Young's version occurred in 1863 (which was also the year of the death of Franz Gruber) in The Sunday-School Service and Tune Book: Selected and arranged by John Clark Hollister6 (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1863; hymn #15, page 34). Below the title, a single line of text gave the only attribution: "From the Third (unpublished) Part of 'Hymns and Music for the Young.' By permission of the Author."7 However, Rev. Young's name did not appear on the page; neither did the names of Mohr or Gruber. This would be a harbinger; Young's relationship to his famous translation would remain unknown until Underwood's 1957 article. Hollister accurately reprinted the music and the translation; this would not always be true, as evidenced above. Hymns and Music For The Young - Part First was published in 1860. Part Second was published a year later, 1861.

But although Young's name did not appear on the "Silent Night" page, it did appear on another, All Thy Works, O Heavenly Father - Part Second. In addition to these hymns, Hollister reproduced three other hymns from Young's Hymns and Music For The Young:

These three have only the following attribution: "From 'Hymns and Music for the Young,' by permission of the author."

Another early publication of Young's translation was in A. B. Goodrich's A New Service And Tune Book For Sunday Schools (New York: Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society, 1863, New Edition, Enlarged, 1866), # 147, p. 133. There was no attribution. However, on the page that contained "Wonderful Night" (#151, p. 140), Goodrich wrote the following: "This, and No. 147, are inserted with the approval of the Rev. J. F. Young, D. D. by whom these delightful carols were first arranged for the children of the Church in this country." There was no other attribution.

"Silent Night" was also published in Charles L. Hutchins, Sunday School Hymnal and Service Book (Medford, MA: 1871) according to The New Oxford Book of Carols (1992). While I have been unable to locate a copy of Hutchins' 1871 edition, however, I did acquire a copy of the 1892 edition of Hutchins' Sunday School Hymnal. This volume, however, did not contain Young's "Silent Night." Rather, it included two versions of Jane Montgomery Campbell's "Holy Night! Peaceful Night!" (#495) and "Holy Night! Peaceful Night!" (under the title "Silent night! peaceful night!" #499). Hutchins did include Young's "Silent Night" in his Carols Old and Carols New (1916, #28, see left, as well as other versions).

After Young's death in 1885, Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr., published a collection of Young's translated hymns under the title Great Hymns of the Church (New York, 1887), which included Silent Night, Holy Night, with attribution to "Rev. J. F. Young." Rev. Hopkins is best remembered as the author of We Three Kings Of Orient Are. According to Rev. Hopkins, a few days before his death, Bishop Young "expressed the desire that, should he leave the work incomplete, it should be put into my hands to see through the press." See: Preface - Great Hymns of the Church, and additional notes in Hymns and Music For The Young - Part One - J. Freeman Young.

This was the last time that the name of John Freeman Young was associated with his famous translation for 70 years. During that period, authorship of this most popular English translation was credited to "Anonymous." But in 1957 that Young's name was re-associated with his translation. It was the Rev. Byron Edward Underwood, the Episcopalian Rector of St. Ann's Episcopal Church, Revere, Mass., who published an article in the October, 1957 issue of The Hymn, the official publication of the Hymn Society of America that revealed the identity of Young as the author. The title of the article was "Bishop John Freeman Young: Translator of 'Stille Nacht.'" It appeared on pages 123-130.

Rev. Underwood carefully traced the publication of "Silent Night, Holy Night" from 1863 to 1957, noting that since the appearance of Great Hymns in 1887, Young's name was nowhere associated with the famous hymn. He indicated that this omission would be corrected with the 1958 publication of The Pilgrim Hymnal.

On May 17, 2007, William Egan posted his translation of the three verses not translated by Bishop Young (i.e., verses 3, 4, and 5). This translation was made at the request of Austria's Silent Night Society. The translation, and a recording (using Gruber's original tune), can be found at the Christmas International Group at His posting was message #6320 under the title “Silent Night - The Other Three Verses” ( ). Mr. Egan's translation is included on the page that contains the translation by John Freeman Young (link above; inclusion with the kind permission of Mr. Egan).

Other Information About Bishop Young:

The Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill holds a collection of papers from Bishop Young. The collection is described as letters chiefly concerning church matters in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and elsewhere, but concerning other matters as well. Topics of letters include living conditions in Florida in 1848, the establishment of an Episcopal school for girls in San Francisco, 1854, and a yellow fever epidemic in Louisiana, 1855. For more information, see the John Freeman Young Papers page.

The Maryland Diocesan Archives in Baltimore, MD also holds some of Bishop Young's papers.

There is a biography with a portrait of Bishop Young at the website of The Episcopal Diocese of Florida. See: The Rt. Rev. John Freeman Young, Second Bishop of Florida.

If you have any additional information about Bishop Young, or a portrait of him that I could post on this site, please .


1. According to a letter dated 22 March 1957 from the Rev. Carleton Barnwell to Rev. Byron Underwood, Rev. Young could not have received a degree from Virginia Theological Seminary, since that institution did not seek and was not granted the authority to issue degrees until 1910.  Return

2. After examining Young's Hymns and Music For The Young - Part First, it would appear that Dana might have been the printer, rather than the publisher. Hymns and Music For The Young - Part 1 was published by The Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society (New York). The printer, Dana, secured the copyright in 1860 in the same manner as he secured the copyright for Carols For The Christmas in 1859. Return

3. Bishop Young traveled extensively during his time as Bishop; in addition to parish visits, he frequently attended the meetings of the Diocesan Council in Tallahassee, and the the meetings of the General Convention and of the Foreign Missionary Committee in New York City. He also made two visits to Cuba.  Return

4. His first wife was Miss Harriet Ogden of New York City. I do not know when or where they were married, although the dates 1855-1867 are likely, as they correspond to the years that Young lived in New York. She died on January 9, 1877, ten years after he became the second Bishop of Florida. In 1879, he married Mrs. Mary Stuart (Stockton) Finley, who passed away in 1914. Mary was the sister of John N. C. Stockton and Telfair Stockton of Jacksonville, men prominent in the history and development of Florida. Return

5. The other six carols in this publication include: "Earth Today Rejoices," "Good Christian Men Rejoice," "Here Is Joy For Every Age," "Earthly Friends Will Change And Falter," "Royal Day That Chasest Gloom," and "Good King Wenceslas." Return

6. At the time, Mr. Hollister was Superintendent of the Sunday-School of St. Paul's Church, New Haven, CN. Return

7. Rev. Byron Edward Underwood was a former traveling scholar in Denmark on the American-Scandinavian Foundation. He had done hymnological and musical research in the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and France. He translated a large number of carols, 24 of which appeared in Swedish Christmas, by Tre Tryckare, Gothenburg, 1954.  Return


I'm following up on the question of when Bishop Young was first assigned as an assistant minister to the Rector of Trinity Church, New York. The biography at the Diocese of Florida has the date of assignment as of 1860. I would ordinarily take this to be the authoritative word. However, two other sources either imply or state that the date of assignment was 1855.

Pennington wrote:

In 1855, Mr. Young reported 26 communicants at Christ Church... Shortly afterwards, Mr. Young resigned, and was transferred to the Diocese of New York. There he became assistant at Trinity Church, New York, where he served until his election to the office of Bishop.”

Underwood was more direct:

On 19 June 1855 the Vestry of Trinity Parish, New York City, elected Mr. Young as one of three “assistant ministers” to the rector, the Rev. Dr. William Berrian (1787-1862), their salaries being $1,500 each. He was assigned to St. John’s Chapel. (A History of the Parish of Trinity Church, in the City of New York, etc., Part V, N.Y. 1950, p. 26-8.)

Research on this question will continue.


I had previously been under the mistaken impression that Bishop Young had been the author of the hymn "Wonderful Night." However, in Great Hymns of the Church, credit for the lyrics is given to Dr. Joh. Frederick Meyer (1772-1848); the translation was provided by the Rev. Milo Mahan, D. D.; the tune "Christmas Eve" was composed by Dr. Conrad Kocher.


  • About Germany,

  • Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols (London: Penguin, 1999)

  • Rev. Susie Cashion, Carols of Christmas, A Sermon, First Presbyterian Church, Lawton, OK, December 14, 2003 3rd Sunday of Advent

  • Bill Cawthon, The Song of Salzburg, December 15, 2003, at Promotex Online

  • The Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi

  • Bill Egan, A Grave in Need at St, A Christmas Tale of Three Cities, and his contributions to the Christmas International Group at, of which he is the moderator.

  • Ernest K. Emurian, Stories of Christmas Carols (Cedar Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, Revised and Enlarged Edition, 1958)

  • Caroline Gabsewics, Downtown holds a piece of ‘Silent Night’ history, the Jacksonville, FL, Financial News and Daily Record, December 16, 2005.

  • Gassner, Josef, “Franz Xaver Gruber's manuscripts of Silent Night, Holy Night, with a short history of the carol,” from Alois Schmaus and Lenz Kriss-Rettenbeck, Silent Night, Holy Night: History and Circulation Of A Carol (Innsbruck-Munich: University Press, 1968).

  • The German Way

  • The History of Trinity Episcopal Church.

  • Keyte and Parrott, eds., The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), citing Dr. Joseph [Josef] Gassner, Silent Night, Holy Night: History and circulation of a carol, 1968, for having disposed of many myths concerning the carol.

  • Library of Congress, American Memory, Historic American Buildings Survey, St. Andrew's Parish Episcopal Church (1887) (

  • Charles Litrico, Joseph Finegan: Fernandina's Confederate General

  • Larry Marietta's Music Notes from Sunday Morning Services at FCCB, December 21, 2003

  • Maryland Diocesan Archives [Page has disappeared]

  • Papers of the Russo-Greek Committee-1 and Papers of the Russo-Greek Committee-2; includes an account of the visit to England, Europe and Russian by Rev. John Freeman Young circa 1864.

  • Pennington, Edgar Legare, "John Freeman Young, Second Bishop of Florida," (Hartford, Conn.: Church Missions Publishing Co., 1939). This detailed, 63-page biography emphasizes his service as Bishop of Florida, 1867-1885, but makes little mention of his musical endeavors, and no mention of Silent Night. There was, unfortunately, no photograph or drawing of Bishop Young. The majority footnotes were to Diocese of Florida Convention Journals. No other published biography was mentioned. No other biography is listed in WorldCat.

  • The Rt. Rev. John Freeman Young, Second Bishop of Florida, a biography with a portrait of Bishop Young at the website of The Episcopal Diocese of Florida. Accessed February 27, 2008.

  • Studwell, William E., The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995)

  • Underwood, Byron Edward, "Bishop John Freeman Young: Translator of 'Stille Nacht'", The Hymn (official publication of The Hymn Society of America, October 1957, pp. 123-130)

  • Jan Warner and Glenn S. Smith, Shadows of a Chapel (Madison, MS: The Directors Group, 1994).

  • J. Freeman Young, ed., Carols for Christmas Tide (New York: Daniel Dana, Jr., 1859)

  • J. Freeman Young, ed., Hymns and Music For The Young - Part 1 (New York: The Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society, 1860)

  • J. Freeman Young, ed., Hymns and Music For The Young - Part 2 (New York: The Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society, 1861)

  • John Freeman Young, Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 & edited Stanley L. Klos, 1999 Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

  • John Freeman Young, The Cyberhymnal

  • John F. Young, The Hymnuts

  • John Freeman Young Papers, The Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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