Two years ago, I was in the midst of developing content for the Manifold Greatness website. During that summer, I also embarked on a cross-country road trip that had been on my bucket list for years. I drove from Washington, DC, south to Texas, then north to Montana, and then all the way back.
In the weeks leading up to my departure I spent hours thinking about what I would need and what should make the final cut for my packing list. I was traveling relatively light, my goal more in line with being a modern-day pioneer than with bringing along every comfort of home. I had camping gear, an ultra-light stove, a laptop and camera to record my experiences, and a few choice books. One of them was a copy of the King James Bible.
As an earlier post noted, many settlers carried family Bibles with them as they traveled westward. For my own personal journey, I wanted a book that reflected that period and the leaps of faith that traveling to a new destination required.
Admittedly, I did not own a copy of the King James Bible before my trip. And I wasn’t looking for just any copy – I wanted one that had existed in the 1870s and 1880s, the heyday of the Western frontier. In order to find one, I visited antique book stores and browsed online.
I finally located the Bible that would travel nearly 6,000 miles with me at an antiquarian bookseller based in New York City. (Thank you, AbeBooks.) It had been printed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1858. Inside, a woman has signed her name. Part of the signature is difficult to read, but it looks like “Mrs. Anne Pattison.”
With its tooled black leather binding and a perfect size for transporting, I was instantly convinced that I had found the right Bible. The little book piqued my curiosity as well. Who was Anne Pattison, and how had her book come to the United States? Had she herself moved to America? Was it passed along through a family member? Or was it merely another old book traveling between sellers’ inventories?
Regardless of how it got here, having it with me seemed fitting. One evening at a campground in Oklahoma, as the families around me were settling in for the night, I took it out and read a passage. 140 years ago, had someone done the same? Holding that artifact in my hands, I felt uncannily connected to the past, and to my pioneer doppelganger, if she had existed.
If you’d like to know more about my 2010 roadtrip, please visit my trip blog, the Outside Fringe, here.
Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website. She is a communications associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library.