Monday, September 7, 2009

The Stockbridge Bible is Sent Back to Massachusetts

Pictured below is the inscription that Captain Thomas Coram wrote in both volumes of the Stockbridge Bible (the two inscriptions are not worded exactly the same, however).
There's a great temptation to think of the Stockbridge Bible as nothing more than a crumb that fell from the British table. I understand the basis of that line of reasoning myself. A series of wars in the 1700's had the British competing with the French for control of much of North America. The British and French were the world's superpowers and Stockbridge, Massachusetts just happened to be strategically located from a military standpoint.

But at least some of the British were genuinely excited about the success of the mission town from a religious/spiritual point of view. I like to think of the gift of the Stockbidge Bible in that context.

We are now up to the point where Mabel Choate, after consulting an expert on the matter, makes an offer of $1000 for the two-volume Bible and the communion set that has been associated with it. If you account for inflation, she was offering roughly $13,000 in today's money for the relics. It wasn't a ripoff.

Or was it?

It was a "good faith" transaction as far as the people involved were concerned. In fact, later claims that the deal was conducted "privily" only seem to reflect the bias of those who didn't belong to the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church. (Then again, that was the vast majority of the tribe.)

In the words of Captain Coram's inscription, the Stockbridge Bible was given to "the Indian Congregation."

To members of the Sergeant Memorial Church that meant it was church property. To Lutheran members of the tribe with an awareness of the tribe's church history, that same phrase meant the Stockbridge Bible was tribal property. In my own mind I have gone back and forth many times on this issue. It is a question that would have certainly come into play if ownership of the Bible had ever been contested in a court of law.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The bottom line is that the members of the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church voted unanimously to accept Mabel Choate's offer.

And so the Stockbridge Bible was sent back to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to sit in Mabel Choate's Mission House Museum.

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