Object of the Month: ‘The Washington Bible’
Each month we like to shine a spotlight onto one of the more unusual objects we have on display. For May 2017 we’re delving deep into the past, with one of the oldest objects in our collection.
This Masonic Bible is also known as ‘The Washington Bible’ and is 305 years old. It’s quite an unimposing object, and sadly it’s often overlooked by visitors who don’t realise it has such an intriguing and tumultuous past. Since its manufacture in London in 1712, the bible has been at the centre of intrigue: it has travelled the world, been captured by enemy forces and even returned under truce.
The story begins with the 46th Regiment of Foot, an antecedent regiment of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. In 1778, during the American War of Independence, the 46th Regiment of Foot were conducting an amphibious attack on the town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Bible was rescued from the burning house of Benjamin West, and remained with the regiment until their baggage train was lost. The Bible was returned to the regiment by the Americans under a flag of truce at the end of the war, and it travelled the world with the 46th Regiment until 1805, when it was again captured, this time by the French in Dominica. Incredibly, another truce was called and the bible was once again returned to the regiment.
If the history of this book was not already colourful enough, the possible connection to George Washington (1732-1799) adds another layer of intrigue. It is claimed that the Bible was used in a Masonic ceremony by Washington when he swore his ‘Oath of Obligation’ before signing the flysheet as an ‘apprentice Mason’. However, in 1907 the Bible was being returned to its mahogany case after being displayed to guests of the Second Battalion of The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, when it was declared that the flyleaf bearing the signature had been torn out.
The Washington Bible is on display in the first-floor gallery, and we’re asking visitors to come and judge for themselves whether it was once in the hands of the first President of The United States!
To read about last month’s Object of the Month, click here: April 2017 – Boer War Ostrich Eggs
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