There are regrettably few family bibles that we know of that have survived and come to us in the present day. That said, as the story of the Matthew Morry I bible below will show, it is still possible that there are other pertinent bibles or other forms of recording of family records that may be in the hands of family members who do not recognise their importance to others or indeed in the hands of complete strangers who have no way of knowing how important the knowledge of their existence would be to our family history research.
To begin with, until the discovery of the Morry-Sweetland-Silly bible mentioned above, which only came to light on April 6, 2017, we had never known of the existence of a bible pertaining to the early Morrys in England. This is surprising, considered that Matthew Morry was a ship owner and merchant and relatively wealthy for his day. One would have expected there to have been a bible in the home of every family member, in which inscriptions of births, marriage and deaths and other important events would have provided valuable clues on the early family history. Yet to date, this is the only bible of that era that has been uncovered.
Other bibles mentioned below pertain to later generations of the Morrys/Carters, the Bishops/Wheelers or, in one instance at least, to a family that must be related but for whom the connection has yet to be proved. All told, we have in the family only five such bibles — a paltry few considering how many generations have passed since these families first set foot on North American soil.
The Morry-Sweetland-Silly Bible
The Bible of Matthew Morry I, 1810
The story of the discovery of the Matthew Morry I bible, more correctly described as the Morry-Sweetland-Silly bible because of the names of the families contained in the inscriptions inside, it almost too incredible to be believed.
In April 2017, I was in England on a three week research trip in Kew, at the National Archives, and in Exeter, for the Devon-Newfoundland Heritage events and one day of research at the Devon Archives.
On April 6 I took part in a guided tour of Dartmouth. Whilst the other participants were having their lunch, I took advantage of this time to visit for the second time St. Saviour’s church and the churchyard where Mary [Graham] Morry and other family members are buried. I had last visited with Ray and Margaret Dickson on October 28, 2006. Margaret (now deceased) was an avid genealogist and we had met initially online when we discovered that Ray and I share common Morry ancestry. He is, in fact, my 7th cousin! The gravestones of Mary and her brother Christopher Graham are side by side in the churchyard outside the north door.
Chris at the graves of Mary Graham Morry and Christopher Graham and Kin
Photo by Jennie Crisp, April 6, 2017
Whilst paying my respects at the two graves, I noticed a couple of women looking at nearby gravestones and clearly trying to find someone without success so I went over and asked if I might be able to help them. I am not usually so forward, and the chances of my being able to help them find someone in a cemetery I had only visited twice in my life for a total time of less than one hour were incredibly small. I asked what were the names that they were seeking. One of the two said that they were looking for any graves belonging to three families — the Sweetlands, the Sillys and the Morrys! It was as if lightning had suddenly struck me! These are all families in our family history, and moreover, all of those names refer to people associated with the burials I had just visited.
The two ladies, Jennie Crisp and her friend in research Ann, were on a quest to find the people associated with names which appeared in a bible which had come down to her from her great grandparents. But she herself was not related to any of the families she had mentioned. The origins of the old bible she had inherited were a mystery to everyone in her family for the past three generations since, evidently, her great grandparents had never imparted that knowledge to Jennie’s grandparents. So it was that she took this on as a research challenge. And what a magnificent job of sleuthing she had done! As a result of her research, she discovered that her great grandparents had taken in an elderly couple to care for. They were the Reverend John Charles Burch Sanders and his wife Annie Maria. Only later through her research did Jennie learn that Annie Maria’s surname was Sweetland and that provided the clue she needed to begin to unravel the names of those found in the inscriptions in the bible.
Jennie explained that her father, not thinking of the significance of the bible to another family than their own, had begun to add the details on his own family at the end of the earlier inscriptions. But otherwise, all of these inscriptions pertain to the direct descendants of Matthew Morry I via the marriage of his daughter, Priscilla Ann Morry, to William Sweetland. It seems likely, considering the appearance of his name on the spine of the bible, and the date of 1810, that Matthew gave this bible to Priscilla and William on the occasion of their marriage on February 15, 1810 in Dartmouth.
The Morry-Sweetland-Silly Bible Inscriptions
Here is a complete transcript of the inscriptions in the bible. The first inscriptions were written in the hand of William Sweetland himself. Later inscriptions, after he had died and the bible passed to his spinster daughter, were made by Anne Sweetland, the last being in Dartmouth in 1871. The bible would have been well travelled. William Sweetland lived at various times during his marriage and afterwards in Dartmouth, Caplin Bay and Bonavista, where he died. The bible would have then been returned to Anne in Dartmouth and, after her death, it changed hands to her niece Annie Maria [Sweetland] Sanders. She would have carried with her from 1899 when her aunt died until her own death in Paignton in 1927, when it was left in the home of her caregivers, and eventually passed down to Jennie from her parents and grandparents.
Jennie is completing a wonderful and detailed story of the bibles journey through time and the research she has done on those mentioned within its pages. When she has finished her story, with her permission, I will make a copy of it available here.
The Ann [Coulman] Winsor Bible
Ann (or Anne) [Coulman] Winsor, ca 1880
From the Collection of the late Vic [Le Messurier] Badcock
The bible passed down through the Le Messurier line that originally belonged to Ann [née Coulman] Winsor, proves that not all old family bibles are to be trusted and to be considered as a primary source for family history research. This ancient and huge old bible, which is now in the possession of Gordon Badcock, Ann’s 2nd great grandson, in St. John’s, contains four pages of inscriptions made down through the years by a number of family members who have one thing in common – they apparently had no great concern for the accuracy of the information they were recording!
I viewed this bible for the first and only time in the summer of 2013 on my usual summer visits home to Newfoundland. For some reason, I seem to have not made a photograph of the exterior of the bible, which is very impressive, not only because of its massive size, but also because of its wonderfully ornate embellishments and its perfect condition. It has obviously been treasure and well looked after over the years. But, as indicated above, the inscriptions it contains are much less impressive. I also failed to take note of the date of publication, but believe that it would have been in the mid to late 1800s, partially explaining why the data are frequently wrong. If I am right, the first entries were made by Ann Coulman (1807-1905) herself, and she would have been quite old when she made the first transcriptions, thus failing memory would have been an explanation for errors.
Inscriptions in the Ann [Coulman] Winsor Bible
The inscriptions appear to have been the work of three or possibly four hands. I suspect the first inscriptions were made by Ann herself, partly because the date of her marriage is accurate. One would expect a woman to know the precise date that she was married. Unfortunately, from that point forward, almost all the dates recorded, no matter in which hand, are wrong, or at least there is no consistency between right and wrong information and therefore none of the writing in any of the hands is to be credited without verification against a proven source. Sometimes only the day is wrong but sometimes the month and year are wrong too. The names appear to be spelled correctly at least, for the most part. Since there are three or four people responsible for the inscriptions, it is actually quite remarkable that they were all consistently inaccurate in recording these events. Fortunately, there are other sources to turn to which are in agreement on the facts.
Ann lived to be 98 and apparently, despite her failing memory for dates, she was of clear mind into her old age. Her great granddaughter, Victoria Mary Frances [Le Messurier] Badcock, quite probably the last person to record inscriptions in the bible, seems to have inherited not only her great grandmother’s aversion to accuracy of details but also her longevity (she died just short of her one hundredth birthday) and her vitality, as she was spry and clear of mind to the end.
I have not bothered to transcribe these inscriptions because of the risk of some unsuspecting reader thinking that the data are accurate.
The Sooley (Sooly) Bible
The Sooley Family Bible, published 1869
Here is another curiosity in terms of its history, but also its relevance to the family.
This tiny bible came down to me from my mother, Evelyn Mary [Wheeler] Morry. By the time I became aware of its existence, shortly before she died, Mom had dementia and was not able to provide me with any details on its origins. Indeed, she did not seem to know whether it was via her father’s or mother’s line that it came to her. That at least was easy to determine, because her father’s line, the Wheelers and Gosses, were both longstanding families in the Torbay Rd. and Torbay village areas and the Sooleys, as recorded a number of times in the bible, were of Heart’s Delight. And this is where the initial confusion arose. Since research to date does not show the name Sooley as part of the heritage of either of Mom’s grandparents, Jacob Bishop and Jane Chislett, both of whom came from the Heart’s Delight area, and since we do not know the maiden names of wither Jacob or Jane’s mothers, it is conceivable that either one of them could have been a Sooley, thus explaining, at least in part, how this bible wound up in the family.
The main inscriptions inside describe the all too brief lives of Anna Sooley and her sister Lucy. But the name inside the cover is that of Nathaniel Crocker, also of Heart’s Delight, and no amount of research has ever been able to locate a person of this name, nor to show how he may have been related to the Sooleys, or the Bishops or Chisletts for that matter. It was relatively easy to find Anna and Lucy and their parents in existing church records in the Heart’s Delight area and even to locate their graves in one of the cemeteries in that area. But, although DNA evidence may hold the final clue, so far it is only my conjecture that Jane Chislett’s mother, Susannah, was a Sooley. If so, Anna and Lucy were about the right age to be either her nieces or even her younger sisters. But that does not explain why their father, William, who in this scenario would have been either the brother or the father of Susannah, would have given their bible to Jane rather than holding onto it as a keepsake and reminder of the his daughters who died in their teens. Perhaps it came down to her when William and his wife Mary died in 1878 and 1880 respectively. The possibility also exists that one of our family simply picked up the bible where it had been mislaid at church perhaps. But if so, the failure to track down the rightful owners would have shown an amazing thoughtlessness, considering the heart-rending inscriptions inside the bible. We may never know the truth of the matter.
Inscriptions in the Sooley Bible
Here is a complete transcript of the inscriptions in this bible.
One more possible clue to the connection of this bible to the Bishop-Chislett line was discovered in 2013. A fragment of a page which also evidently came from a bible, but not this one, since there is no evidence of a page being missing from it, was discovered inserted within the pages of a bible that was known to belong to Jacob Bishop. Jacob Bishop’s bible (see the next entry) is in the possession of John Wheeler (Jacob’s great grandson) in Flatrock.
The page fragment is badly tattered but the writing is clearly in the same hand as the initial inscriptions in the Sooley bible and I believe therefore that it was written by Anna Sooley.
Here is a Word file containing images of the 2-sided page fragment, a transcription of the words, and my speculation on the possible implications of this page fragment appearing in the bible of Jacob Bishop.
Coming down closer to our own time, there are two family bibles from the era of our great grandparents which contain transcripts pertaining to the births, marriages and deaths of family members. Although more recent family bibles exist, none of them found so far contain such valuable information. First, the Jacob Bishop bible mentioned above.
The Jacob Bishop Bible
Jacob Bishop and His Bible
Sadly, neither this bible nor that of Joseph Wheeler (see next entry), which belonged to the great grandparents of the Wheeler-Bishop line contain much in the way of valuable information on family history. Though disappointing, the disappointment is offset to some extent by the fact that other sources of information, including the personal recollections of family members, have filled in most of the details.
Inscriptions in Jacob Bishop’s Bible
The inscriptions in this bible appear to have been written by two people, most likely Jacob Bishop himself, and later, after his death, by his daughter Sarah Minnie [Bishop] Wheeler, whom I assume inherited his bible, or possibly her brother Jose (Joseph) Bishop, with whom Jacob’s wife Jane, who survived him, lived in her declining years.
Here is a Word file I wrote some years ago containing the entire collection of inscriptions within the bible and my speculation on the author of some of the inscriptions.
The most curious thing about the inscriptions in the bible is the account of the loss of the LILLY. I have no idea of what relevance this was to Jacob Bishop. Much later in life he was the Inspector of Wharves and Bridges for the Dominion of Newfoundland, but at the time of this disaster he would have only been 34 and I do not know what occupation he held at the time. It is possible that he was involved in the rescue in some capacity (was he perhaps employed as a lightkeeper at Pt. Amour Light? was he in the Royal Navy and on board the LILY?) but there is no historical evidence of this. Here us an account of this marine disaster from the website http://www.pointamourlighthouse.ca/
The 19th and 20th centuries carried with them much activity relating to maritime history. The people who have worked and lived at the lighthouse in Point Amour have witnessed several marine disasters over this time, and have played a key role in some of the rescue missions.
On September 16, 1889, the 720 ton British Naval vessel, HMS Lily, was attempting to intercept a mail ship en-route from Montreal to Great Britain. Powered by sails and engines, the Lily had left Brig Bay, Newfoundland, and was steaming into Forteau Bay in a thick blanket of fog when it ran aground near Point Amour. The nearby fog horn could not be heard above the roar of the sea and the noise of confusion aboard the boat. Thomas Wyatt, the light-keeper at the time, along with his assistants, heard the firing of the guns from the distressed ship, and ran to assist with the rescue. Although the ship was only 150 feet from shore, seven men lost their lives in the heavy sea. As the Lily sank to the bottom, with only its masts above the ocean, Thomas Wyatt got a line to the ship and rescued four men who were clinging on to the gear. The British Admiralty credited Mr. Wyatt as being a hero, and presented him with a clock in appreciation of his help with the rescue, and his care of the survivors of HMS Lily.
The Joseph Wheeler Bible
Joseph Wheeler and his Bible
The last of the bibles containing inscriptions of interest to the family history that are currently in the hands of family members is that of Joseph Wheeler, the other great grandfather of the Wheeler-Bishop line. This bible was passed down to my grandfather, John Thomas Carr Wheeler, and his grandson, John Wheeler in Flatrock, is the person in whose care it resides.
While Jacob’s writing indicates that he was not perfectly literate, despite the senior government position he eventually assumed, Joseph Bishop was first and foremost a farmer and sometimes gardener for the gentry and was not well educated, as his spelling and writing indicate. This is not to demean the man in any way. By all accounts, he was a lovely man and mom was very fond of him. It is just that most people not employed in business in those days were generally fishermen or farmers and therefore the need for an education was not perceived.
Pages of Joseph Wheeler’s Bible Containing Inscriptions
Unfortunately, as the images above show, some child (I hope it was not me) vandalized the inscribed pages of this bible long ago. But the damage is not so severe that the inscriptions cannot be made out.
Here is a complete transcript of the inscriptions contained in the Joseph Wheeler Bible.
Sarah Weston Carter Bible at the Newfoundland Museum
These are all the family bibles for which I currently am able to provide either photographs or a transcript of inscriptions or both. However, I know that there is at least one other family bible out there (the bible of Sarah Weston Carter who married Benjamin Sweetland Morry is in the Ferryland Museum) and I suspect there may be several more, though there whereabouts are unknown. Bibles were essential in every home in Newfoundland in days gone by and it was customary to record family births, marriages and deaths in the family bible. And no one ever throws away a bible /It therefore stands to reason that others exist somewhere. I hope that in time others will come to light in as miraculous and unexpected a manner as that Matthew Morry I did this year.