Family Artifact – Oliver Brown’s Bible

At the John Brown Remembered Academic Symposium held at Harpers Ferry, WV in October 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting Ian Barford. Ian is an actor, documentary film maker, and the proud father of twins! Last week, Ian traveled to Texas to do interviews for the documentary he is currently working on about John Brown. He traveled to Austin first to interview my good friend Evan Carton, author of Patriotic Treason. He then drove up to Allen to interview me. While he was here I showed him my prized family artifact – Oliver Brown’s Bible that he carried throughout his years in Kansas.
The Bible is small, 2 1/2 inches x 3 1/2 inches and just over an inch thick. Just the right size to be carried in an inside pocket of a wool overcoat. The cover is black leather embossed with an ornate design. On the spine, the words Holy Bible are embossed in gold. For a book that is over one hundred sixty years old, the binding is realitively tight, the cover only slightly torn.

On the inside back cover the following is written in pencil, in an ornate old-timey script:

This Bible was carried all through the Kansas troubles by Oliver Brown.

On the left hand inside back page is written the name of the original owner of the Bible, Oliver Brown, in ink and in a beautiful calligraphic hand. 
But it is what can be found on the front inside cover that makes this Bible so valuable to me personally —  in pencil, written over and over again, in the handwriting of a young girl perfecting her signature, is the name Annie Brown. It makes me smile to think of young Annie, my great-great grandmother, scrounging around for a piece of paper to practice her penmanship on, and noticing a clean white space inside the cover of big brother’s Bible. The temptation was more than she could resist. I imagine that she got into a great deal of trouble when it was discovered that she used the inside cover of the Lord’s word for her penmanship practice.
Annie had the Bible in her possession when she moved to California in 1863, and it is one of the items that escaped the fire that distroyed her house and most of her belonging in 1896. Annie passed the Bible to her granddaughter Beatrice Cook Keesey, my grandmother.
Faintly written on the title page is 19-14 Psalms. I looked up the verse – “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.”  Hmm, I wonder who found this verse so compelling that they wrote it in the front of the Bible?
I decided to look through the Bible and see what other verses were highlighted or underlined. Between the pages of Bible I found the following pieces of paper:
  • Within the book of Judes Chapter XX, an undated, un-sourced newspaper clipping of a lovely poem called “After the Funeral” I have transcribed it at the end of this posting. On the reverse of the poem are news bites from a California paper. I was not able to find any of the articles on-line.
  • Within the book of II Chronicles, chapter XXIV, an undated, un-sourced newspaper clipping of a strange little petition (poem) that begins “My little boy, six years of age, brought me yesterday a ‘reward of merit’ from his teacher….”. I have transcribed it at the end of this posting also. On the reverse of the petition are reviews of 2 newly published books. I looked up “Double Play: or, How Joe Hardy Chose His Friends” by William Everett and found that it was published in 1871.
  • Also in II Chronicles, chapter XXIV, a scrap of lined stenopad paper with 1 Kings 8:5-6 written on it. The handwritting looks like it could be my grandmothers? The verses read: “And King Soloman and all the congretation of Israell, that were assembled unto him, were with him before the ark, scrafincing sheep and oxen, that could not be told nor numbered for multitude. And the Priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the LORD unto his place, into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubims.”
  • Within the book of Psalms, chapter LXXXIII, is a 1-inch square piece of perferated paper cross-stitched with a cross and ivy. I do not know who did the cross-stitching. Perforated paper cross-stitching became popular in the mid 1800s in America.
  • Within the book of St. John, chapter XVI, is another scrap of lined paper with Acts 1:4 written on it. Again, the writing looks very similar to my grandmothers.“And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.”
  • Within the book of Romans, chapter XV, is a scrap of fabric, a rough triangle 3-inches by 1 1/2 inches, grey with tiny black cross shapes.  Is there some sinifigance to this scrap of fabric – is it a piece from a much loved dress? A blouse? A tie? A dolls blanket? Or was it just something handy to use as a book mark?  
  • Within the book of I Corinthians, chapter XV, is a small collection envelope. The front of the envelope reads: “For Our Vacation Church School. This school is open to all boys and girls without tuition fee. The cost however and average of operating the scholl is about twenty-five cents a week for each pupil, On Thursday of each week an opportunity to given the partents to contribute to this fund as they feel able. FREE WILL OFFERING – BRING TO SCHOOL FRIDAY”  I have no idea what church this is from or the date it was acquired. 
  • Within the book of Ephesians, chapter III, is a small piece of pinkish paper with a fortune. It reads “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger. – Prov. XV, I.”
 It is amazing that so many interesting pieces of history, and so many unanswered questions can be found in such a small book. 
The Poems

This first one is about a mother that has lost her newborn. Annie, her daughter Bertha, and her daughter Beatrice all experienced this loss first hand. I wonder which one of these brave women cut this poem from the paper and saved it in the bible, and did it bring some closure or understanding to them to read this touching poem?

How can I pass this night of loneliness,
  Of Sorrow, and or rest that is not rest?
How can I teach my restless arms to know
  There is no chold to slumber on my breast?
How can I, with the waiting cradle near,
Teach my poor hear that baby is not here?

Oh! in the world there are this very night
  Mothers whose arms are full of happiness!
And dainty cribs, whose pillows white as snow
  Many a little golden head doth press.
And there are lullibies, sweet lullabies,
To woo soft slumber into baby-eyes.

And I – it is not very long ago –
  Ah me! not long ago since also I
Could take my little child within my arms.
  And sing with happy heart a lullaby,
While near my side the cradle-pillow white
Waited it tiny burden for the night.

Last night. Oh! sad last night! and little one
  Was still with me, but not upon my breast.
I only knelt beside the little crib
  And wept because my darling in her rest
Was whiter than the snow, and still, and cold!
The baby whom I never more should hold.

To-day they laid her ‘neath the daisied ground
  Oh, God! to think that she is sleeping there,
Beyond the reach of loving mother-arms!
  Beyond the reach of mother’s warchful care
Back to my arms their loving burden bring:
Once more my lips their slumber song would 


A Petition, with this prefix: “My little boy, six years of age, brought me yesterday a ‘reward of merit’ from his teacher, and said ‘Little mamma, keep my ticket for me; and If I ask God every night to make me good, I’ll get another next week – won’t I?’

“Oh, mamma!” (and he gently came and nestled at my side). “Dear mamma, keep my ticket, and be very sure you hide it, please, where naughty fingers cannot find it to destroy.” And his arms were clasped around me, my gentle, noble boy.

“And, mamma, – little mamma,” (and his voice to wishpers grew,) “if I’ll be good to Johnnie, to my papa, and to you, – “If I’ll ‘notice little sister,’ and ‘member ’bout my hat, will I get another ticket, say, mamma, just like that?

“And say my ‘Now I lay me,’ very slow, and always let my brother have the nicest place, and kiss you ‘fore I get in my trundle near the cradle, where little sister lies, I’ll get another ticket if I’m good? You know I tries.”
As I clasped him to my bosom, the tears my eyelids wet: I told my boy of Jesus, and I bade him ne’er forget  that He loved good little children. “Pray, darling, while He’s near: Ask Him to make you ‘good,’ my child: He turns no deaf’ning ear.”

Father, I tremble often as I meet these earnest eyes: through the burden’s sweet, ’tis heavy: to nurture such a prize. As this, fair, pure, spotless child, I must pure and spotless be: Help, Father, that I bring It unpolluted unto Thee.

Thou, “who gavest to my guiding hand this wand’rer” to lead through paths that oft are lone and dark, where feet so often bleed, bruised and pierced by cruel thorns, oh, leave me not alone. To guide him to those gates of pearl, Thou he must lean upon.