William Jenks, the noted American scholar and clergyman, was born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Samuel and Mary Haynes Jenks in 1778. He studied at the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1797. Jenks held pastorates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was ordained at the Congregational Church in Bath, Maine, in 1805. There he also served as an army chaplain for the Bath Light Infantry (1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, of the 11th Division) during the War of 1812 and was a professor of Oriental Language and English at Bowdoin College from 1812-1816. Jenks next returned to Boston where he taught privately and was active in a number of humanitarian reform efforts, such as founding a mission for seamen and opening the Mariner's Church on Central Wharf. Jenks was also the chaplain for the Massachusetts senate from 1827-1828.
Between 1826 and 1845, Jenks was the pastor for the Green Street Church; he augmented his ministry through his religious and political writings. His theses include the important Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible, 6 vols. (1835-1838), the anti-Jeffersonian Memoir of the Northern Kingdom (1808), and Bible Atlas and Gazetteer (1847). Jenks received many honorary degrees, including a doctorate of divinity from Harvard Divinity School (1845). Although Jenks was best known for his biblical and oriental scholarship, his interests were far ranging. He was a founder of the American Antiquarian Society and the American Oriental Society, and a prominent member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Jenks married Betsey Russell (1783-1850) of Boston in 1799; they had 16 children: Elizabeth Russell, Theodore, Sarah Judith, Frederick Craigie, Joseph William, John Henry, Francis Haynes, Russell Edward, Harriet Newell, Mary Susanna, Mary Elizabeth, Lemuel Pope, Cornelia Hood, Nathaniel Frederick, Adeline Matilda, and Craigie Phillips. William Jenks died in 1866.