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.

Posts tagged “United States

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.


Of Presidents and King James Bibles: Ronald Reagan

Ronald and Nancy Reagan with Jane Weinberger, chair of Folger trustees, at the Folger 50th anniversary. Photo: Bruce Wodder

Ronald Wilson Reagan, who died on June 5 in 2004, was one of numerous American presidents sworn in on a King James Bible, a tradition begun (as noted in an earlier post) by none other than George Washington. In Reagan’s case, as in many others, the Bible in question offers us something of a snapshot of American social history and family life, or at least the life of a particular family.

The Bible Reagan used, plainly visible in an inauguration photograph in the Historic American Bibles feature of the Manifold Greatness website, was his mother’s Bible. A relatively slender, much worn copy, it is known today as the Wilson Bible after the maiden name of his mother, Nelle Wilson Reagan. President Reagan used the same Bible for both of his inaugurations, and also spoke about it in a Mother’s Day radio address in 1983.

To make sure it was a King James Bible, rather than another English Bible translation, we checked with the curators at the Reagan Presidential Library. We were delighted when they quickly e-mailed us a scan of the title page, which confirms its use of the “Text of the Authorized Version,” another term for the King James Bible, and provides other interesting details as well.

Clearly meant as a family Bible (“for every home,” as stated on the title page), this King James Bible was published by John Dickson Publishing Company of Chicago under the title The New Indexed Bible. Like many family Bibles sold for the purpose, it included numerous additional educational features, including not only the promised indexes—biographical, geographic, historical, and “teaching”—but pronunciation guides and photographs of biblical locations. (For more on the phenomenon of family Bible publishing in the 1800s and early 1900s, see our feature on Family Bibles.)

As with many family Bibles, however, what was apparently most treasured were not those extra features included by the publisher, but rather the handwritten notes added over time. Of this Bible, President Reagan said in his radio comments, “it has its flyleaf filled with important events, its margins are scrawled with insights and passages underlined for emphasis. My mother, Nelle, made all those marks in that book.”