Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Making an Offer for the Stockbridge Bible

Are you sick of reading about the Stockbridge Bible yet?

Will Garrison, Historic Resources Manager for The Trustees of Reservations, sent me the notes of a lecture that he gave at the Algonkian Peoples Conference at Albany, New York in the spring of 2007. I've put together a timeline based on those lecture notes:

August 1929: Mabel Choate learns of the Stockbridge Bible from her employee, Virginia Baughman.

Summer-fall 1929: Choate hires Ruth Gaines to be an agent and consultant.

November 1929:

*Choate writes to Gaines on November 7th: "I think you know very well what I should like: any articles which would be suitable for my museum, or any papers, or other things in connection with the early Stockbridge Indians, and their first Missionary, John Sergeant."

*Gaines writes to Choate on November 10th: That she was leaving New York's Grand Central Station for Shawano County, Wisconsin. Somehow she knew that Paul Warner, a collector from Chicago, was also on the trail.

The Museum of the American Indian in New York City: On hearing about of the existence of the Stockbridge Mohicans' tribal Bible, Mabel Choate hired Ruth Gaines, a librarian at the museum, to be her agent and consultant.

Despite her serious interest in the Stockbridge Bible and despite the competition, including offers discussed in the previous post, it was April, 1930, and Mabel Choate still had not made an offer to purchase the two historic volumes. Jameson "Sote" Quinney had passed on and the Stockbridge Bible was being kept at the First National Bank of Shawano (see photo). Members of the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church considered the Bible to be church property. But most of the Stockbridge Mohicans had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the Bible that they understood to be tribal property.

In an April 28th letter to "Miss Choate," Fred Westfall explained that he believed the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church would soon "cease as an organization." He said he foresaw a "scramble for the...possession" of the Stockbridge Bible and the Communion set that was associated with it.

Rev. Westfall felt the best way to preserve the Christian heritage of the Stockbridge Mohicans was to send the historic Bible to Mabel Choate's new museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Unlike some others, I don't think of Fred Westfall as a villain; perhaps his biggest fear was that some white person having no association with the history of the Stockbridge Mohicans would wind up with the Stockbridge Bible. He was far from being the only person in the area who was unaware that tribal members would work together towards a remarkable political reorganization a few years later. In his April 28th letter he noted "the young men are scattering," as a result of a loss of employment in the local lumber industry. As described in an earlier post, Westfall took the Stockbridge Bible from the home of Sote Quinney's widow because he'd heard a rumor that some kind of a dealer "was out canvassing the Indians." Undoubtedly the continued poverty of the Indians made them more vulnerable to cash offers.

After mentioning the two white ministers that had already apporached him regarding the sacred volumes, Westfall told Choate that the "Stockbridge [Massachusetts] Museum is the logical place for them." He added, "I think it would be wise for you to make an offer for them."

1 comment :

John Umland said...

i'm not sick of this story.
God is good