The Family Bible

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 2, 2016

Prior to easily retrievable birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, and digitized record keeping in general, the family Bible held the ultimate narrative of ancestral history.

They’re a treasure trove for both genealogists and historians. For example, here’s a simple entry in the Lampton family Bible, which was carried from southwest Virginia as the household migrated to eastern Kentucky: “Jane Lampton, born 1803, married John M. Clemens” Lampton and Clemens were the mother and father of Samuel L. Clemens –Mark Twain.

More often than not, the family Bible was the only written record of births, marriages and deaths of loved ones. In addition, between the leaves of this precious possession one could expect to find a wealth of newspaper clippings, letters, photos, and other ephemera pressed for safekeeping over generations of forbears.

It was understood that the book was to be carefully guarded and passed along: “1960 — This Bible goes to Mary Rose. after I am done with it. Momie [sic] Promised it to her. Dad” And: “I wonder how old this old Bible is. Gert gave it to me sometime after Mother Hawkins died. Someday it will be yours. Love, Mother.”

Most family Bibles present dates without any embellishment, but every now and again a quirky personality shines through. The transcriber of Thomas Snelling’s death entry seems obsessively precise in noting the time: “Thomas C Snelling died Dec 25, 1884 half past 1 o’clock and burried ten minuts of 12 the 26″ [original spellings].

It was illegal for any printer in the Colonies to produce the English Bible. Publication of the King James Version of Scripture was controlled by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses as well as other printers licensed by the king.

In response, Colonial printers created a ‘family Bible’ with the addition of record keeping ability to circumvent the copyright restrictions of English law. They frequently included blank pages for multi-generational notes and commentary, as well as engravings and illustrations. These Bibles were sold in inexpensive serial editions.

After the Revolutionary War, the budding American legislature wasn’t any more friendly to Bible printers. “An effort was made in its first Congress to restrict the printing of the [Bible] to licensed houses,” says the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.

However, this political attempt to continue regulated distribution “was cut short by the first amendment to the Constitution, and the book was thrown into the hands of the trade at large, with anything but a beneficial effect on its general integrity.”

Isaac Collins bibleIsaac Collins Bible from 1782; one of only two surviving copies.

England refused to send its former colonies any more Bibles, so demand for the Good Book was high and supply was low. Isaac Collins rose to the challenge in his Trenton, NJ print shop. He pre-sold 3,000 copies before the project was even begun, and by the time the presses stopped, 5,000 copies awaited eager hands.

Rag cotton linen paper was a precious commodity in early America, which forced Collins to resort to wood-pulp paper. His choice of stock was somewhat thicker than that used for books today. The resulting folio had the unintended benefit of more heft, greater durability, and a therefore a built-in likelihood of arriving at heirloom status.

Isaac Collins produced the most influential American Bible from the late 1700’s until the mid 1800’s, originating the “Family Bible” format we’ve come to know today.

source: “Imperial Bibles, Domestic Bodies: Women, Sexuality, and Religion in the Victorian Market” (review): English Studies in Canada – Volume 32, Issue 2-3, June/September 2006, pp. 203-206
The First American Bible, by Margaret T. Hills, American Bible Society, 1968
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, edited by John M’Clintock and James Strong, Vol. I, pg. 563, Baker Book House, 1981

One Response

  • Jay Shepherd says:

    I love those old bibles. My grandmother had a Bible that was passed down from generation to generation, kept a record of everything that’s happened in our family.

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Tsuwe’nähï: A Cherokee Legend Of Pilot Knob

Posted by Dave Tabler | February 1, 2016

In the old town of Känuga, on Pigeon River, there was a lazy fellow named Tsuwe’nähï, who lived from house to house among his relatives and never brought home any game, although he used to spend nearly all his time in the woods.

At last his friends got very tired of keeping him, so he told them to get some parched corn ready for him and he would go and bring back a deer, or else would never trouble them again.

Jeff Thompson, a Cherokee Indian, wearing traditional costume and posed on a rock outcropping overlooking a valley at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo taken 1939.

Jeff Thompson, a Cherokee Indian, wearing traditional costume and posed on a rock outcropping overlooking a valley at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo taken 1939.

They filled his pouch with parched corn, enough for along trip, and he started off for the mountains. Day after day passed until they thought they had really seen the last of him, but before the month was half gone he was back again at Känuga, with no deer, but with a wonderful story to tell.

He said that he had hardly turned away from the trail to go up the ridge when he met a stranger, who asked him where he was going. Tsuwe’nähï answered that his friends in the settlement had driven him out because he was no good hunter, and that if he did not find a deer this time he would never go back again. “Why not come with me?” said the stranger, “my town is not far from here, and you have relatives there.”

Tsuwe’nähï was very glad of the chance, because he was ashamed to go back to his own town; so he went with the stranger, who took him to Tsuwa`tel’da (Pilot knob). They came to a cave, and the other said, “Let us go in here;” but the cave ran clear to the heart of the mountain, and when they were inside the hunter found there an open country like a wide bottom land, with a great settlement and hundreds of people.

They were all glad to see him, and brought him to their chief, who took him into his own house and showed him a seat near the fire. Tsuwe’nähï sat down, but he felt it move under him, and when he looked again he saw that it was a turtle, with its head sticking out from the shell. He jumped up, but the chief said, “It won’t hurt you; it only wants to see who you are.” So he sat down very carefully, and the turtle drew in its head again.

They brought food of the same kind that he had been accustomed to at home, and when he had eaten the chief took him through the settlement until he had seen all the houses and talked with most of the people. When he had seen everything and had rested some days, he was anxious to get back to his home, so the chief himself brought him to the mouth of the cave and showed him the trail that led down to the river. Then he said, “You are going back to the settlement, but you will never be satisfied there any more. Whenever you want to come to us, you know the way.” The chief left him, Tsuwe’nähï went down the mountain and along the river until he came to Känuga.

He told his story, but no one believed it and the people only laughed at him. After that he would go away very often and be gone for several days at a time, and when he came back to the settlement he would say he had been with the mountain people.

At last one man said he believed the story and would go with him to see. They went off together to the woods, where they made a camp, and then Tsuwe’nähï went on ahead, saying he would be back soon. The other waited for him, doing a little hunting near the camp, and two nights afterwards Tsuwe’nähï was back again. He seemed to be alone, but was talking as he came, and the other hunter heard girls’ voices, although he could see no one.

When he came up to the fire he said, “I have two friends with me, and they say there is to be a dance in their town in two nights, and if you want to go they will come for you.” The hunter agreed at once, and Tsuwe’nähï called out, as if to some one close by, “He says he will go.” Then he said, “Our sisters have come for some venison.” The hunter had killed a deer and had the meat drying over the fire, so he said, “What kind do they want?” The voices answered, “Our mother told us to ask for some of the ribs,” but still he could see nothing.

He took down some rib pieces and gave them to Tsuwe’nähï, who took them and said, “In two days we shall come again for you.” Then he started off, and the other heard the voices going through the woods until all was still again.

In two days Tsuwe’nähï came, and this time he had two girls with him. As they stood near the fire the hunter noticed that their feet were short and round, almost like dogs’ paws, but as soon as they saw him looking they sat down so that he could not see their feet.

After supper the whole party left the camp and went up along the creek to Tsuwa`tel’da. They went in through the cave door until they got to the farther end and could see houses beyond, when all at once the hunter’s legs felt as if they were dead and he staggered and fell to the ground. The others lifted him up, but still he could not stand, until the medicine-man brought some “old tobacco” and rubbed it on his legs and made him smell it until he sneezed.

Then he was able to stand again and went in with the others. He could not stand at first, because he had not prepared himself by fasting before he started.

The dance had not yet begun and Tsuwe’nähï took the hunter into the townhouse and showed him a seat near the fire, but it had long thorns of honey locust sticking out from it and he was afraid to sit down.

Tsuwe’nähï told him not to be afraid, so he sat down and found that the thorns were as soft as down feathers. Now the drummer came in and the dancers, and the dance began. One man followed at the end of the line, crying Kû! Kû! all the time, but not dancing. The hunter wondered, and they told him, “This man was lost in the mountains and had been calling all through the woods for his friends until his voice failed and he was only able to pant Kû! Kû! and then we found him and took him in.”

When it was over Tsuwe’nähï and the hunter went back to the settlement. At the next dance in Känuga they told all they had seen at Tsuwa`tel’da, what a large town was there and how kind everybody was, and this time–because there were two of them–the people believed it.

Now others wanted to go, but Tsuwe’nähï told them they must first fast seven days, while he went ahead to prepare everything, and then he would come and bring them. He went away and the others fasted, until at the end of seven days he came for them and they went with him to Tsuwa`tel’da, and their friends in the settlement never saw them again.


Source: “Myths of the Cherokee,” by James Mooney, Bureau of American Ethnology, 19th Annual Report to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Congressional Serial Set, publ. by US Government Printing Office, 1900

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Father went to the county seat and bid in a pauper

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 29, 2016

In that back country in the 1870’s money was very scarce. Just how scarce we people of this day can hardly realize. Most trade in the store was exchange of goods for farm produce – eggs, butter, poultry, hides, feathers, ginseng, yellow root, etc. In order to get some real money Father went to the county seat, Sandy Hook (then called Martinsburg), and bid in a pauper.

The county had no poor farm those days and so the county officials let the paupers out to live at the homes of whoever of responsibility made the lowest bid for the pauper’s keep. I do not remember the amount Father was to receive for keeping this pauper but it was pitifully small.

The pauper’s name was Steve Hacker. He was of fine physique, about 6 feet tall and muscular. He had a reputation of being a bully in the vicinity where he had lived, but had had an accident which left him paralyzed from his waist down. Having no one or property to support him, and not being able to work, he was adjudged a pauper.

At the time he came to us he was maybe 30 years old and a handsome man – black hair and eyes and dark complexion.

Though for a time we got along very well with Mr. Hacker, his having lived an active life up to his accident, the quiet of his confinement to his bed and chair palled on him, so naturally he wanted out and was restless and cross toward us children when he didn’t get out. When helped to his feet he could stand and with a crutch and a cane – sometimes two crutches – he could walk a little by dragging his feet.

To get him outside took someone’s time, which was not always convenient, and when out he seemed to try to get in some situation that would require help, and then got angry if the help was slow in coming. This did not help matters any.

One day because help was slower than he wanted it in coming he threw his heavy cane with an iron tip at brother Jack, but Jack was alert and dodged it. Jane and I soon learned to keep out of his reach, for he would strike our heads with his knuckles or cane when Father and Mother were not present.

One day the family left Jane and me with Mr. Hacker and went to the cornfield to work – a very unsafe thing to do. We played around out of his reach until about the middle of the forenoon, when in some way Mr. Hacker managed to get on his feet and reach his crutches, and drag out to the yard gate, and through it and on a few steps to the little creek that ran by, and out to the deepest place, and then deliberately fell backward in the water and called to us to call the folks to come and get him out. Jane went and called them and Jack and Morgan Brickey came and lifted him up and helped him to the house and dressed him in dry clothes.

The next year one of our neighbors bid Mr. Hacker in, and he remained in our neighborhood until his death several years later. He became a changed man and left a neighborhood of friends when he died. What a pity that men like that cannot, or could not then, have work that they could use their physical and mental energy.

The Journal of William Franklin Mason
(b 1872, Horton Flats, Elliott County, KY)
Online at

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Lengthiest murder trial in WV history begins

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 28, 2016

When non-union miners in Mingo County, WV went on strike for the right to join the United Mine Workers in the spring of 1920, mine guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency evicted miners from their company-owned houses. After twelve Baldwin-Felts men arrived in Matewan, chief of police Sid Hatfield encouraged townspeople to arm themselves. The situation exploded into a gunfight in which seven detectives and four townspeople were killed, including Matewan’s mayor, Cable Testerman.

Matewan WVOne week after the shootings, Hatfield and Testerman’s widow, Jessie, were caught in a Huntington hotel and charged with “improper relations.” Having already bought a license, the couple was married upon their release from jail the next day.

The trial of Sid Hatfield and twenty-two other defendants for the murder of one of the detectives, Albert Felts, began on January 28, 1921. Some forty armed Baldwin-Felts agents lined the streets of Williamson that morning to influence the pro-union jury. At trial time, the affair with Mrs. Testerman speak well for Hatfield’s character.

Sid HatfieldBut the evidence failed to bring convictions against him and the other men accused of the killings in Matewan. The 20-some defendents were acquitted of the charges in what was the lengthiest murder trial in the state’s history.

Realizing the impossibility of gaining a conviction in southern West Virginia, Baldwin-Felts gunmen prevented Sid Hatfield from standing trial in an unrelated case in McDowell County later that year. A few months after the verdict, several Baldwin-Felts agents shot and killed Hatfield and another defendant, Ed Chambers, on the courthouse steps in Welch. This sparked an armed march on southern West Virginia by union miners, which ended with the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Again, despite numerous eyewitness accounts, accused murderers went free. Baldwin-Felts agents C. E. Lively, “Buster” Pence, and Bill Salter were acquitted of the Hatfield and Chambers murders on the grounds of self defense, although neither victim was armed.


9 Responses

  • […] Matewan […]

  • Sara says:

    My Grandfather was part of this trial I have a copy of the transcripts,and at one point he was sentenced to 99 years later dropped

  • Doug Estepp says:

    Sara, I would love to talk to you. I have Sid Hatfield’s police badge. I also have Albert and Lee Felts’ Baldwin Felts badges. Please e-mail me at Thanks!

  • Erik says:

    I am really enjoying this part of American history. What courage it took Sid Hatfield to stand up for the miners to arrest the Baldwin Felts detectives. A lot of innocent miners and family died with no justice for them. What a terrible time. Sid Hatfield and Ed Chambers stood their ground against the bully coal mining company. As for me the miners are great American heros.

  • Liz Bortniak says:

    Doug and Sara, please let me know if there is any way to get a copy of the transcript or a picture of the badges. My husband and I just purchased T.L. Felts home in Galax. We are wanting to collect related historical items. My email is Thanks for any info!

  • Martin Lopez says:

    Enjoyed reading your piece on the trial of the Mingo County miners. I’ve heard a story that the town where the trial was held didn’t welcome the trail or the miners. That there was disdain generally for the men on trail, but that over the many weeks the families of the accused took to playing baseball to while away the time. And that gradually some townspeople joined in on the games, and that the sport helped mend the divide somewhat. Have you heard about this aspect of the story?


  • Brandon Johnston says:

    My grandfather recently passed away, and I received the family genealogy books for his mother’s side of the family, who were Livelys. Turns out that C.E Lively was my grandfather’s uncle, and there is a little bit of information on him in the books. I’m just starting to research him on my own; it is becoming more and more interesting!

  • […] the comments below an article about the 1920 shoot-out and trial in Matewan, W.Va., for instance, this exchange took […]

  • Dale Meadows says:

    It is a damned shame that C.E. Lively has any descendants, anywhere! He was a murderous, 2-faced, floor flushing, traitorous, criminal piece of garbage, who personified everything that is wrong and corrupt about West Virginia, and always has been! I am certain that he instilled these same character flaws in ALL of his descendants as well, so they are no better! I won’t have a Lively descendant on one of my jobs, near my home, or in the same county knowingly. Same goes for anyone related to Mr. Baldwin or Mr. Felts. If they were all to be purged from the midst of human kind, it could be filed under “Did man kind a favor!” There is NEVER a sliding scale of INTEGRITY, and these people never had any! The same goes for their descendants; they can’t pass down what they never possessed!

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Men used to bring their saddles into the church

Posted by Dave Tabler | January 27, 2016

jan loveday dickensPlease welcome guest author Jan Loveday Dickens. Jan is an artist and educator who celebrates her Appalachian roots. Her interest in local history was first sparked by a high school English assignment to research her community’s past and culture back in the late 1970s when the Foxfire series was so popular.

Jan’s efforts expanded to genealogy, which she has pursued since that time, honing her research skills as she continued her education with a bachelor of fine arts degree and a master’s in teaching. She eventually began to share her adventures online via her Passed and Presence blog, which is “dedicated to the memory of those who have passed before us and to the presence of those who bless us today.”

Jan’s career at various colleges and universities that embrace their own Appalachian foundations provided her access to academic programs and lectures that spurred greater curiosity, insights, and reflection. Her experience includes involvement in promotion of the arts, revitalization of downtown areas, the preservation of historic places, and publication of various articles and books, such as a history of Milligan College. She more recently returned to the classroom in her hometown, where she teaches art and history and was the recipient of the 2014 award for Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities for Tennessee.


Everyone loves a mystery. Sometimes solving a history mystery is a serendipitous event!

This drawing of Mt. Harmony Baptist Church was based on Luther's description and drawn by his son, Dr. D. F. Johnson, retired University of Northern Colorado art professor.

This drawing of Mt. Harmony Baptist Church was based on Luther’s description and drawn by his son, Dr. D. F. Johnson, retired University of Northern Colorado art professor.

While researching my East Tennessee church’s past, I came across a couple of photocopied pages referencing titles of material that appeared to include information from the late 1800s about my church.

I did an online search for the mentioned author and the titles, only to find that no physical or digital copy I could get my hands on seemed to exist. The material was written by Luther Ray Johnson (1880-1960), who had grown up in my community.

He had then become a preacher as a young adult and moved to Kansas. The titles were referenced by his son, D. F., in a book of family history that alluded to larger collections of details about my community. But what and where were they?

I began by looking in the McClung Historical Collection of our Knox County public library system, but even the professionals there could not help me find the mysterious volumes. I also called libraries, archives, and historical societies in Kansas, to no avail.

When I finally found a Kansas phone listing for a D.F. Johnson, I was doing the math as I dialed the number, knowing the man I was looking for would be quite advanced in age. I called the number off and on for months, but I had no option to leave a message, and no one ever answered. When I eventually got a “discontinued service” alert, I was deflated, but I shifted my search to other names of people in Kansas who might be related. Please note the very common last name: Johnson!

Imagine my elation when I finally connected with the correct Dr. Johnson’s son! Yes, he told me his father was still living independently and was mentally sharp at the age of 94. With my subsequent phone call to Dr. Johnson began a friendship I treasure.

He was happy to hear from someone in his father’s beloved hill country, a place that had held a cherished mystique for the family because of his father’s often-told adventures there. He explained that the two referenced volumes of his father’s [copyrighted] memoirs were hardbound and on a shelf in his bookcase, but he was happy to share them with me.

The next thing I knew, he had entrusted them to me through the mail, and I was in temporary possession of more than 600 typewritten pages of wonderful stories that were often related to familiar families and places in my community! I was quite anxious until I could safely return them, but I first obtained his permission to have them copied for local collections.

His father’s words took me to a time in my area of Appalachia when basic education was a luxury, hard physical labor was the norm for country folks, and things like steamboats, bicycles, and trains held a novel allure. He also spoke of homemade rabbit traps, drafty log cabins, typical gardening techniques, challenging farm chores, quaint medicinal cures, and simple elements of faith, all included within stories of everyday experiences, complete with names and specific locations.

Luther Ray Johnson, the author of the memoirs.

Luther Ray Johnson, the author of the memoirs.

I live less than two miles from the farm where his family lived, so because of his stories I began to see my surrounding landscape through new eyes.

The river spot where two young boys were tempted by the majestic spray from a steamboat’s churning wheel that filled their boat and drowned them, is just behind my house.

The gravel pike on which Luther and his father drove their horse and wagon to take vegetables to the market is today a paved road I travel almost daily. The location of the ferry they used now has a bridge I have always taken for granted.

His tale of fearing an encounter with the “ghost mule” of his era’s folklore led me to a friend’s family farm, known only to the old-timers as Mule Hollow. Now we know why.

And what of the church where Luther and I have both been members? Though the oldest church records have only a few names and dates and are totally void of information for decades, Mr. Johnson’s memoirs are a treasure trove of details!

He writes, “The rural church in my early days was extremely democratic. Often the church building suffered for want of a housekeeper: someone to sweep its floor, dust its furniture, lock its door, ring its bell, make its fires, and look after things generally so that worship might be conducted ‘in decency and in order.’

“Since there was no person in charge of these duties, often the sanctuary was unpresentable on meeting days…. Men used to bring their saddles into the church and pile them down in the rear to prevent molestation by mischievous boys. One might go from the service to find a stirrup cut off from his saddle, or the saddle loosed and turned around on the horse, or the stirrups locked together under the horse.

He might even find a great gash cut in the saddle. Now and then there would be a theft of a good saddle. Sometimes the horse would be turned loose, and he would be found at home waiting to get into the stable. Or a man might go out to find the wheels of his buggy reversed or staggered; but of course he could not take the buggy into the church.”

He continues, “Boys sometimes stood at the church windows in summer and smoked cigarettes and purposely blew the smoke into the room to annoy the people. Boys would sit a while in church and then get up and go out to the disturbance of the services. They spat on the floor and walls of the building until there were ugly streaks and spots on the walls and sickening puddles on the floor. In the wet weather great clots of mud were carried in and scuffed off on the floor, and when these dried, they were crushed into dust making a terrible condition.

“Boys whittled on the pews, cut their names on the backs of the benches or whittled on sticks while the preacher delivered his message. Whittling and chewing tobacco was a common pastime even at church.

“This was not confined to the unregenerate youth, but even old men, maybe deacons, would engage in this dawdle as they sat on the rail fence waiting for Sunday school to be out and for the bell to ring for ‘church’ – whittling, chewing tobacco and telling jokes or talking generally about everything and everybody, maybe never referring to the church or its activity at all.

“Then when the big bell sounded its solemn tones, these men would click the blades of their knives, slowly come down from the fence, and saunter into the church for the preaching.” He even witnessed preachers who would rinse their mouths with water, spit on the floor in the presence of the people, preach for an hour, and return the following month without consequence!

As in many country churches, its door was never locked and sometimes it stood open during the week. Occasionally, youngsters would step in and ring the bell for fun, just to make the community wonder what was happening! In winter, logs were never ready for the stove and had to be fetched from the woods while the women sat and shivered.

Luther recounted an incident when two dogs fought for a spot near the stove during the service, until his father carried the main offender by the legs like a rabbit to the door and slung it out into the yard where it landed with a thud and a yelp! The other dog comfortably remained in his warm spot, the preacher continued his sermon despite lingering snickers, and a fellow (whom his father once had caused to be arrested for disturbing public worship) threatened to call the law. He said the event was talked about for years.

Swan Pond Creek runs lower left corner to upper right corner, past the Mt. Harmony Church, as shown in this 1895 map.

Swan Pond Creek runs lower left corner to upper right corner, past the Mt. Harmony Church, as shown in this 1895 map.


Another story told of the day a member was retrieved from the service by a neighbor, leaving the wife to ride home with friends in their wagon, only to find the two men grieving over the couple’s log home, which was in ashes. I realized that my parents had bought our farm from the same family’s descendants! I learned about the appearances, personalities, and habits of our early pastors, some for whom I had previously had only initials and a last name. His words also gave me an inside look at the aspects of regular services and revival meetings and led me to the swimming hole in the nearby creek, where baptisms were held.

It was a different time in our Appalachian community, and his memoirs helped to put flesh on the bones of our church’s portrait! What would we know about it if Luther hadn’t continued to love and long for the mountains he had left behind?

So… keep telling the stories. Collect them. Write them down. Celebrate them, for they are stepping stones to the past and a part of our own foundations!



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