|Philadelphia, PA — For many years, visitors to the Betsy Ross House have had the opportunity to see artifacts from Betsy’s life, including her eyeglasses and furniture. However, there has been one treasure that has been hidden away in the archives. Until now.
Beginning on June 9 Betsy’s family Bible, known as the Claypoole Bible, which was Betsy’s final husband’s name, will be on display for one month only. Recently restored, the Bible will be debuted to the public as part of Flag Festival 2019, the annual celebration of National Flag Week held at the House.
“The Bible was donated to the House more than 50 years ago by descendants of Betsy Ross and was displayed at the House many years ago,” said Lisa Moulder, the House’s director. “However, the Bible, which is more than 200 years old, was in such delicate condition that we have been unable to display it in recent years. We are thrilled that partnering with the American Bible Society allowed us to conserve this important piece of history and now to share it with the public.”
The American Bible Society, which is currently constructing the Faith & Liberty Center, a new museum set to open on Independence Mall in 2020, learned of the Bible’s existence from Amy Needle, the CEO of the Betsy Ross House’s parent organization, Historic Philadelphia, Inc. The ABS offered to fund the restoration of the book.
“When we first learned about the Betsy Ross Bible and its historic importance in celebrating and documenting both the life and family tree of this founding figure, our organization was moved to want to help,” said Pat Murdock, director of the Faith & Liberty Center. “American Bible Society’s personal heritage dates back to 1816 and our nation’s founding era, including figures like our founder, the Philadelphian, Elias Boudinot and others like John Jay, our second president, as well as John Quincy Adams and Francis Scott Key, two of the early Vice Presidents and leaders. It was natural therefore for us to find partnership with Historic Philadelphia and the Betsy Ross House, to fund this important restoration, paving the way for millions of annual visitors to Philadelphia to enjoy this historic artifact. We are honored to be a part of this important project.”
The conservation work was performed by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, a top firm in the field, located in Philadelphia. The Bible was in poor condition, having been open to the same page for many years while on display, making the binding fragile and a few of the pages had come loose. The conservation work took more than 50 hours. Pages were cleaned, loose pages were re-inserted, and the binding and spine reinforced with new material. Handwritten notes from the pages were digitized and a special display stand has been created as part of the project.
Printed in 1791, the Bible was a gift from Betsy’s aunt, Sarah Holloway, and contains the family register of births and deaths, carefully recorded by John Claypoole, Betsy’s third husband. The register even contains the time of birth for Betsy’s children, showing how important family was to her and John.
In their affidavits, Betsy’s family recalled seeing Betsy read frequently from this Bible or with it resting on her lap, contemplating. As her eyesight began to fail late in her life, her grandchildren also recalled that their grandmother would ask them to read passages from the Bible aloud to her.
This fascinating piece of history will be displayed in the House’s gallery space. Plans are to exhibit the Bible every year between Flag Week and the Fourth of July.
For more information, call (215) 629-4026 or visit www.historicphiladelphia.org.