Monday, September 28, 2009

Fight for the Stockbridge Bible: The Long Standoff

This photo of Mabel Choate's inscription in the Stockbridge Bible was taken by Jeff Siemers, in October, 2003, with the permission of the Arvid E. Miller Museum staff.

In recent posts I've portrayed individuals associated with The Trustees of Reservations between 1975 and the 1980's as stubborn and even insensitive, but the Trustees truly were legally bound to keep the contents of the Mission House Museum that was founded by Mabel Choate. The two-volume Stockbridge Bible, of course, was one of the contents of that museum. While it could be argued that Mabel Choate acquired the Bible illegally, the Stockbridge Mohicans don't appear to have done a sufficient job of making that point. In fairness to the Trustees of Reservations at that time, I should point out that in all the documents that I have read and re-read, the Stockbridge Mohicans didn't acknowledge the Trustees' legal obligation towards the Stockbridge Bible until 1989.

The Trustees of Reservations did offer members of the tribe an opportunity to visit them in Massachusetts for the purpose of presenting whatever evidence they had that the two-volume Bible should be sent back to the tribe. I have an undated photocopy of a list of evidence that tribal members apparently drew up in the early to mid-1980's. While the list gives many sources which verify that the Indians once owned the Stockbridge Bible, no part of the list addresses the question of the legality of the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church's sale of the that Bible to Mabel Choate.

Members of the Bible Return Committee and the Trustees of Reservations each knew enough about the Stockbridge Bible to understand their own viewpoint. Both sides had essentially dug in their heels and the only communications between them for several years were conducted by lawyers.

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