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!
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.