Friday, September 18, 2009

Miller to the Trustees: You Have Our Bible

This photo of the first volume of the Stockbridge Bible was taken by Jeff Siemers with permission of the staff of the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library-Museum in the fall of 2003.
After Mabel Choate died, the Mission House Museum and its contents became the legal responsibility of The Trustees of Reservations. As you'll remember from my previous post, some of the tribe's young people, after seeing the Stockbridge Bible, decided that the tribe should try to get it back. Tribal Council Chairman Leonard Miller took that idea seriously and on August 27, 1975, wrote a letter to The Trustees of Reservations. Miller wrote:

The Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe has knowledge of your possession of our Tribal Bibles presented to us by the Prince of Wales to be forever in our possession.
Miller also asserted that the two volumes had been obtained in an "illegal" transaction and asked that the request for them be considered "at the earliest convenience."

By the time that letter was written, however, the request to get the Stockbridge Bible returned to the tribe had already been made informally. In fact, the issue had already been discussed by the Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts. The local newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, printed an article about it on the day before Miller wrote his letter. The paper quoted Andrew Mack, the chairman of the Local Committee of the Trustees:

It is appropriate to have the Bible in the Mission House where Mr. Sergeant received the Indians.... As far as we know, over the years, as long as we've had the Bible, the Indians were satisfied.

Maybe he didn't realize that John Sergeant's wife Abigail had the Mission House designed so that the Indians could be required to use the back door when they wanted to visit with their missionary. In light of that fact, and in light of how the important the Bible had been to the tribe for so many years, I think Mr. Mack's comments were both ignorant and insensitive.

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