A 1772 Bible passes through many hands

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The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments … Edinburgh : Printed by Alexander Kincaid, 1772, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, NY, 1960.12747.1

There are a number of things that can rightly be associated with Elder Frederick William Evans in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection. We have presented two – a garden fork and a cane that were used by Elder Frederick. In the library there are numerous newspaper articles and pamphlets he wrote, manuscript journals and essays, a dozen or so photographs of the Elder, and of course, each and every building (with the exception of the 1829 Brethren’s Workshop) now standing at Mount Lebanon’s North Family was built after his Shaker life began there in 1830. If he was not the “architect” for the 1859 Great Stone Barn, it was, for certain, a manifestation of his concept of a modern large-scale dairy barn. Now, we present what we have always called “Elder Frederick’s Bible.”

The Bible, an unpaginated duodecimo volume, was printed by Alexander Kincaid – “His Majesty’s (i.e., King George III) Printer” – in Edinburgh in 1772. Clearly printed long before Elder Frederick’s birth on June 8, 1808, the Bible likely belonged to the Elder’s mother, Sarah Wight Evans. The book, although it appears to be in its original leather binding, has had its front paste-down and free end paper replaced. On the front past-down leaf is glued a scrap of paper bearing the inscription, “Sarah Wight, her book,  January 15th. 1782.” On the free end paper there is another scrap with the inscription – with a bit of guessing at deteriorated script – “1804 June 22d were Married George Evans to Sarah Wight – She Died alf past six O-clock mor [i.e., morning] June 13th, 1811. Her[?] Father Died July 29, 1814.” Another inscription on that same scrap of paper, in a different hand, reads, “Proctor Sampson From F. W. Evans 1831.” On the back paste-down cover is a listing of some of the children of George and Sarah Evans. The two most relevant inscriptions include, “Bromyard [Herefordshire ]1805 March 25 was born George Henry Evans Son of George and Sarah Evans at Eleven O’Clock at night. Godfather, Rob’t Cox and Samuel Fincher – God Mother Sarah Evans,” and Bromyard [Herefordshire ] 1808 June 9th was born Frederick William Evans quarter before one o’clock in the day. Godfathers Thos. Jones and James Barburton, God Mothers Mrs. Burnell and Miss Deacker.” The other two inscriptions are for Cecelia Coningsby Evans, Elder Frederick’s sister who died only months after Frederick was born and his younger brother Charles Evans who died in 1810. Both of these scraps appear to have been salvaged from the original end papers and remounted on the new ones. 

Although we call it “Elder Frederick’s Bible,” it appears that he possessed it for a shorter period than any of the other people with whom it is associated. When Elder Frederick’s mother died he was eventually taken to live with relatives at Chadwick Hall southeast of Birmingham, England. Just prior to his twelfth birthday he was retrieved by his father and his brother George Henry and brought to the United States. It seems doubtful that his father would have given him his mother’s Bible when he was eleven. In our last article we mentioned that Elder Frederick traveled back to England in 1887. He had also made a missionary trip there in 1871. He was an old hand at ocean crossings: in the spring of 1829, just prior to his coming to unite with the North Family, he had sailed to England and visited his family at Chadwick Hall. He returned to New York in January 1830. It is reasonable to think that either Frederick’s father gave him the Bible when he became an adult or that it had been left in England and his relatives gave it to him when he visited.

However he came to have his mother’s Bible, shortly after he became a Shaker he gave the Bible to Brother Proctor Sampson, a substantial force and eventually a family elder at the North Family. Brother Proctor was about sixty when he received the Bible and Frederick was a mere three years younger than Brother Proctor’s son Joseph, who had died at the age of twenty. Brother Proctor had come to the North Family in 1814, bringing his son Adam (renamed Joseph) and daughter Rachael with him. Joseph went to live at the Church Family, where he died in 1825. A year after receiving the Bible, Brother Proctor was appointed to stand with Elder Richard Bushnell in the Elders’ Order of the North Family. In 1847, seventy-five year old Proctor went to reside at the Church Family where he died in 1855. The Bible must have remained in that family. When the remnants of Mount Lebanon publications and written records were gathered together and transferred to the Canterbury Shakers, the Bible appears to have been among those materials. It was included (No. 255 in the Reference Section) by Elder Irving Greenwood and Sister Aida Elam in a Catalogue of Shaker Literature compiled in 1936. The Bible returned to New York when it was purchased in 1960 by John S. Williams, Sr., for the museum.