The Original Website: the Family Bible

By Frances Hallam Hurt

Possibly the world's original website was early family Bibles. The births and marriages listed in old Bibles fan out in all directions, the earlier the Bible the more numerous the ramifications, with cousins to the Nth degree turning up across the world. Several such Bibles were displayed recently at a meeting of the Pittsylvania Historical Society.

Aubrey Bennett was amazed to find himself, for example, a 40th cousin of Princess Diana along with all the other members of his generation of the Spencer-Barksdale family in Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties. This news came out of the Spencer-Barksdale Bible of 1800 in which the birth in 1890 of his grandfather, Herbert Spencer, was listed.

Bennett, a travel agent and genealogy buff, came by the Bible in true story-book fashion. In hot pursuit of his ancestors, he poured over marriages, births, deaths and wills in the Pittsylvania County clerk's office. He was a very familiar figure to then clerk Sam Swanson. Bennett worked across the street at old Planters Bank (now Wachovia). One day he received a call from Swanson asking him to step across the street as he might be of help to a gentleman from the Bahamas who was researching the Spencers.

So he stepped across the street and for the first time met Bill Spencer. For Spencer, it must have been like finding a pot of gold at the end of a genealogical rainbow. He returned a number of times to work with Bennett, but gave no indication of what he planned to do with the Spencer-Barksdale Bible. Since Spencer had children of his own, Bennett had no thought of owning it.

One day in 1988, however, he was notified to meet a certain plane in Raleigh. Out came a lawyer for the Spencer family who handed Bennett the Spencer-Barksdale Bible, too precious to be sent any other way. It had been willed to him by Bill Spencer.

The oldest Pittsylvania County Bible, owned for more than 200 years by the same family living on pretty much the same red Pittsylvania soil, is the Hubbard Bible, 1757 — ten years before Pittsylvania County was born. The Hubbard homeplace, with the name Hubbard on the chimney plaster, stood on the original farm until a few years ago when old age claimed it.

The Bible came straight down the family to Barbara Hubbard Pickeral. For reasons of safety, it is now kept in a glass case in the County Line Christian Church.

The progenitor of the family was Joseph Hubbard of Amelia. Hubbards were already farming tobacco in Pittsylvania when Joseph gave the Bible to his son John and his bride Heziah Pigg. Mrs. Pickeral surmises that it may have been a wedding present as John and Heziah are the first names listed.

Another old family Bible which has spent more than 200 years in the family is that of the Bookers. Dated 1790, the Bible was printed in Scotland. It is now in the possession of Mrs. Luther Payne whose husband's mother was a Booker. Owned originally by Richard and Elizabeth Booker, the Bible lists the deaths of all 10 of their children. The Paynes still farm the original Booker land where a very old dwelling still stands, but barely.

The Mahan family Bible, now in the possession of Verne Anderson whose mother was a Mahan, apparently was first owned by the Craft family. Its first entry was that of Philip Craft, born 1775 whose birth was also recorded in Christ Lutheran Church in York, PA. His marriage to Nancy Parker in 1798 is also recorded. His small brick house stands at Redeye, restored by Henry and Margaret Hurt. Other births and dates listed are somewhat confusing to make out as some names were inserted later. The Craft Bible became the Mahan Bible after John Craft's daughter Mary married Abner Mahan.

Some rollicking tales are connected to the Shorter family Bible now in the possession of Shelia Shorter Craddock. The Bible itself is dated 1850, but an ornate hand makes a first entry of a birth in 1810. Entries were maintained through her father's generation, but now they go on computer.

The first Shorters held forth in Sago, right on the edge of Franklin County. There the family had a store to make mincemeat out of so-called all-service stores. This store not only sold food and livestock supplies, but doubled as a funeral home with caskets made to size. It concentrated on blacksmithing to shoe horses and repair wagons. When horseless carriages got started, so did the Shorters. They are still running garages today.

A number of other Bibles were displayed, but they were not rooted in Pittsylvania County. The most curious item was a massive volume from the 1600s printed in archaic Dutch. It was titled “The Book of Martyrs” with hair-raising illustrations of how they died. Long in the Grubb family, it is in the possession of Mark Grubb. The family also owns the original sheepskin land grant to their property.

A comparatively modern note is also struck — a huge gold tooled leather Bible rich in illustrations. It was a wedding gift of Henry Burnett to his bride in 1898, now owned by Henry Burnett, Jr.


Books by Frances Hallam Hurt

(Available from the sponsor.)

An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County, VA

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County

Other Books Concerning Pittsylvania County History

(Available from the sponsor.)

History of Pittsylvania County, VA

Clement: History of Pittsylvania County

Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Melton: Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Melton: Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Melton: Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Melton: Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (Dover)

Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina

Tales About People in a Small Town

Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town

Frances Hallam Hurt's online articles are posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.