Although William Billings apparently never set foot west of the Massachusetts State line, we should remember that directions are relative terms. To most Europeans of the eighteenth century, Massachusetts was both west enough and wild enough for anybody’s taste!
Originally trained as a leather-tanner, and apparently self-taught as a musician, Billings became a respected composer and singing teacher in the late 1760s. The “wild” idiosyncrasies and theoretical “mistakes” common in his rough-hewn style frequently depart from more polished European models. This led to Billings falling into disfavor when 19th century American movements sought to “reform” their hymn repertoire. Like many other American originals of the later 1700s, including, of course, the American independence movement itself, Billings lived and worked in Boston.