111 W. Montgomery Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850
The Bibles Collection at Montgomery History
Over the past 50 years, Montgomery History has been privileged to be the recipient of more than 40 family Bibles, prayer books, and hymnals. The collection is diverse, with publication dates ranging from 1723 to 1916, and features exquisite examples of printing, binding, and illustration. Most of the Bibles include handwritten family records, and some include photographs, glued-in obituaries and newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia. Many of the original owners of the Bibles were related or connected in one way or another. All of the Bibles are quite fragile, with broken bindings, loose or detached covers, torn pages, and foxing—all signs of age, use, and the environmental conditions in which the Bibles may have been stored prior to donation.
While we consider each Bible in our collection to be special with distinctive features, several Bibles stand out and deserve special mention. [Note that the Bibles listed below include links to Montgomery History’s collections catalog where you will find the names of individuals recorded in the Bibles, when legible.]
Jonathan Willson Family Bible – This is the oldest Bible in our collection, dating back to 1723. It is one of three Willson (or Wilson) Bibles in our collection and, according to Montgomery History records, was passed down through the Willson and Waters families of the Clarksburg area. The Bible was printed in England by John Baskett, printer to the King. It has a plain, handsewn brown leather cover. It features woodcut illustrations at the beginning of each book of the Bible, as well as more elaborate inserted, foldout maps of biblical lands. Although the Bible does not include dedicated family record pages, family records were written on the blank side of the New Testament title page, where Jonathan Willson eloquently wrote:
“Be it Remembered that on the 12th Day of May anno Domini 1737 I Jonathan Willson Inter-married with my Wife Martha the Daughter of Capt John Brisco Late of Charles County Deceas’d and on the 6th Day of May following, my wife Martha was Delivered of a Man Child whom God preserv’d and was Baptized the 15th Day of the Same Month by the Name of John, and I Beseech God of his Mercy to Bless John Willson.”
The Bible is also unique in that the family records are listed along with what appears to be records of enslaved individuals. For example: “Hannah’s Child Leah was born at the middle of April 1751. Moll’s Child Basil was born the 21st Day of September 1751. Charity’s Child Chloe the 2nd Day of December 1751.”
Chiswell Family Bible – Printed in 1816, this is the only complete Bible we have in our collection produced by well-known Philadelphia printer, Mathew Carey. The Bible features a plain handsewn leather cover and exquisite woodcut illustrations. It is the Bible of the Chiswell family of the Poolesville area. Like the Jonathan Willson Bible, this Bible is rather unique in that it not only includes information about the Chiswell family on the family record pages, but it also contained a blank page on which birth information was recorded for enslaved individuals from about 1824 to 1850. Unfortunately, the page is now detached from the Bible and has tears and apparent water damage.
Moore (or Moor) Family Bible – This Bible is truly a special part of our collection, as it once belonged to the descendants of Lucinda (Lucy) Jackson Moore, formerly enslaved by the Beall family. On dedicated family record pages, the Bible contains birth and death records for Lucy’s five children, four of whom, like their mother, were born into slavery. The Bible comprises two volumes, featuring beautifully embossed red with gold covers and exquisitely detailed engravings. The Bible was printed by George Virtue, a prominent London printer, who also had a publishing house in New York. Unfortunately, the Bible contains no publication date; however, based on the printer and the illustrations, we believe it was printed in the mid to late nineteenth century. (See also “A Fine Collection,” posted February 1, 2011.)
Getzendanner Family Bible – Published in 1870, this Bible likely belonged to Joseph T. Getzendanner, born in Rockville in 1817, or his daughter Maud by his third wife. Maud was married to Charles C. Waters, and they resided in the Germantown area at “Pleasant Fields” in what is now known as the Waters House. The Getzendanner Bible is a fine example of Gutjahr’s idea of “inserting oneself” into the narrative. The Bible includes several completed family record pages, spanning the years 1817 to 1934. It also includes two unlabeled photographs of a young man and young woman; a 1909 obituary for Captain W.H. Getzendanner, who was born in Maryland and moved to Texas; and two locks of hair. Given the Bible’s carved leather cover and numerous engraved and lithographic illustrations, it’s not hard to imagine this Bible being prominently displayed at “Pleasant Fields” at one time.
Waters Family Bible – This was the Bible of Zadock Waters and his ancestors. Waters was born in the Germantown area; he was the son of Basil Waters and Anne Pottinger Magruder. Zadock married Mary Hood and lived most of the remainder of his life in Carroll County. According to an inscription on the inside cover of the Bible, Zadock gave the Bible to his son, Hood Waters, in January 1890. The Bible was printed in 1839 by Thomas Mason and George Lane for the Methodist Episcopal Church. Like the Getzendanner Bible, the Waters Bible is a wonderful example of how families attempted to insert themselves into the narrative. The Bible contains numerous glued-in obituaries, handwritten notes, and other ink and pencil notations.
Tschiffely Family Bible – Published in 1870, this is one of the fancier Bibles in our collection, with a raised, gold embossed cover; gold edge gilding; and numerous color accents and illustrations. The Bible belonged to Mary T. Magruder Tschiffely, a gift from her husband, Wilson B. Tschiffely. Wilson was the son of Frederick Tschiffely who owned what is now the Kentlands in Gaithersburg. The Bible contains records for the children of Mary and Wilson.
Henderson Family Bible – This Bible may also be known as the Bickford Family Bible based on inscriptions in the front cover documenting its more recent ownership by the Bickford family. Printed in 1875 in Washington, DC, this Bible reflects how Bible publishing evolved over time, reaching beyond the scriptures to inform and engage readers in other ways. This particular Bible contains 2,000 illustrations, some elaborately colored, using the latest methods for the times. The cover of the Bible has a gold-embossed leather cover and contains two metal closure clasps. The contents include a dictionary, history of the books in the Bible, and descriptions and maps of biblical locations. In addition to family record pages, which contain information about the Henderson, Bickford, Welsh, and Wilson families, the Bible contains several photographs on allotted pages.
Other Bibles in our collection that contain family records include:
Check out our online catalog at Montgomery History to search our full collection of Bibles, prayer books, and hymnals. Our vertical family files at the Jane C. Sween Research Library also contain photocopies of family records pages from our Bibles collection. To view original Bibles, please contact the Archivist/Librarian; many of the Bibles in our collection are quite fragile, and access may be restricted for conservation reasons.