Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Family Bibles in Mississippi

A richly illustrated family Bible. Courtesy William Carey University.

Manifold Greatness arrived at the William Carey University Library in Hattiesburg, MS , in January. One of the highlights of the exhibition to date has been a “Family Bibles Road Show.” The program featured a workshop on the care and preservation of family Bibles. Community members brought about a dozen family Bibles to be photographed for the exhibit. These treasured heirlooms, held together with tape, bound with faded ribbon, or enclosed in a box, were carefully opened and examined. And what interesting things we discovered!

Two of the Bibles contained Family Temperance Pledge documents, designed to be signed by family members who “solemnly promise by the grace of God to abstain from the use of all intoxicating drinks as a beverage.” Neither of the Family Temperance Pledge documents in our Bibles was signed, but we heard rumors of a temperance pledge in another family Bible which was signed by two individuals, who, upon further reflection or perhaps after a nice apertif, crossed out their names!

Family Temperance Pledge, unsigned. Courtesy of William Carey University.

 Another family Bible, an 1815 American imprint, had multiple pages of family birth, death, and marriage dates. Clearly visible water stains in the text were explained by a family legend, which held that the ancestor who acquired the Bible was forced to flee from pursuing Indians as he returned home with his new purchase. At the height of the chase, he dropped his Bible into the creek, but fortunately, was able to retrieve it.

Still another family Bible was noted to have won the Highest Prize Diploma of Merit at the International Cotton Exposition in Atlanta in 1881. And another, found in the Clarence Dickinson Collection in the William Carey University Library, was Dickinson’s family Bible. Dickinson, who was a pioneer in the training of church musicians in the early 20th century, was a cousin of poet Emily Dickinson.

The “Road Show” revealed fascinating local lore in family Bibles.  Photographs of these treasured Bibles have become a popular supplement to the Manifold Greatness panels at William Carey University. 

Sherry Laughlin is Director of Libraries at William Carey University.

5 responses

  1. WJ Burris

    I have an old Temperance Bible of my grandmother’s ( DF Foil) family. It is not in very good condition but has births of the 15 children and deaths. Does not have signatures on the temperance pledge. I saw comment online that the Bibles were published in 1892. Do you have any information concerning date. Publishing date on this Bible is torn out. Thanks.

    June 22, 2012 at 2:49 am

    • The Bible sounds like remarkable piece of family history! To find out more about the possible publication date, you may want to check Margaret T. Hills (ed.), The English Bible in America. Hills’s book provides information on thousands of individual American Bible editions. You could also consult an antiquarian book dealer. The website of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America offers a list. Good luck!

      June 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm

  2. john

    I have this bible with the names signed, im really trying to get information on its value if anybody can help with tharlt

    May 9, 2013 at 1:04 am

  3. Hi John! Here are some suggestions from a page on our website, :

    “A family Bible may have great personal or religious value, but most are not worth much as rare books. If you think you have an edition of some value, seek expert help. Libraries will not provide appraisals of books. Instead, you might check for a secondhand or antiquarian book dealer near you. The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America offers an online list.”

    The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America website is at the link in our earlier reply here:

    Hope this helps!

    May 9, 2013 at 1:19 am

    • William J. Burris

      Will there be another session on preservation of family Bibles at Wm Carey? I live fairly close to Hattiesburg and my family Temprance Bible is getting in pretty bad shape. Bill B

      May 9, 2013 at 2:34 am

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