Certificate of Membership in the American Bible Society for John Blount Miller, a slaveholder in Sumterville, South Carolina
Certificate of Membership in the American Bible Society for John Blount Miller, a slaveholder in Sumterville, South Carolina

Certificate of Membership in the American Bible Society for John Blount Miller, a slaveholder in Sumterville, South Carolina

New York City: American Bible Society, 1835. Unbound.

This certificate, which measures 10.5” x 16.75”, was sent as a stampless folded letter. It bears a manuscript “25” rate marking (the cost to deliver single-sheet mail over 400 miles) as well as “paid” manuscript and hand-stamped markings. An annotation in the lower left corner reads, “Single Mail”. It is postmarked with a red, circular New York handstamp dated March 24. The certificate recognizes Miller’s contribution of $30 which made him eligible for membership. The document is signed by John Cotton Smith as president and J.C. Brigham as the corresponding secretary. It is in nice shape. Very good. Item #009353

The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 during the “Second Great Awakening” along with a number of other benevolent associations (e.g. the American Anti-Slavery Society and the American Temperance Union), with an intention of providing a Bible to everyone living with in the United States. It became quite popular and influential, attracting most of its members from Congregational and Presbyterian churches in the northeast. By the 1830s, the society had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance an ambitious distribution program.

As the abolition movement gained momentum, it began to criticize the society—as well as most religious denominations and associations—for not aggressively working to outlaw slavery and immediately emancipate all slaves. In the case of the American Bible Society, this criticism took the form of the “Bibles for Slaves” campaign which demanded that the society ensure its Bibles were placed in the hands of all—but especially southern—slaves. Although the society’s board expressed sympathy to the abolitionist cause, it maintained that its organizational charter required it to distribute its Bibles through affiliated chapters, and it could not force those affiliates to provide Bibles to slaves. Eventually, the Bibles for Slave campaign petered out and the abolitionists split into to camps, one group of traditionalists who wanted to continue to work with churches and religious organization to advance their cause, and the Garrisonians who shifted their focus to political anti-slavery tactics and activities.

John Blount Miller was a prominent South Carolina lawyer and planter who owned the Cornhill Plantation and approximately 35 slaves. It’s unrecorded, but unlikely, he provided his slaves with society Bibles.

J. C. Brigham, the society’s corresponding secretary was a former missionary who in 1824 had made a legendary trip across South America from Buenos Aires to the Pacific Ocean ministering to the needs of the Araucanian Indians.

John Cotton Smith was an important Connecticut lawyer and politician who was also one of the earliest members of the American Antiquarian Society, having been elected for membership in 1813.

American Bible Certificates are rather scarce. As of 2019 none are available for sale in the trade. OCLC shows only one institutional holding, and Rare Book Hub and Worthpoint identify only three that have come up for sale.

Price: $200.00

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