J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Francis Merrifield’s Bible

Earlier this spring the Bonhams auction house offered for sale a Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1755. What made this particular Bible so notable were the handwritten inscriptions:
[On the reverse of the title page] Cambridge, Jun 17 1775. I desire to bless God for his Kind aperince in delivering me and sparing my life in the late battle fought on Bunker’s Hill. I desire to devote this spared life to His glory and honour. In witness my hand, Francis Merrifield.

[Inside the inside back cover] 1775. Cambridge, June 17th. A batel fought on bunkers hill, on Saterday in the afternoon, which lasted an hour and a quarter, two men were wounded, and
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the number of my gun, one hundred eighty three, 183, the seventeenth Rigement, 17.
Francis Merrifield (1735-1814) was a corporal in Capt. Nathaniel Wade’s company in April, a sergeant in August. That unit was part of Col. Moses Little’s regiment, raised in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Merrifield was a veteran, having been part of an expedition to Canada in 1758; by one accounting, he was the oldest man in his company.

According to local historians, in later life Merrifield “used to describe the battle [of Bunker Hill] and the approach of the regulars. ‘When they got so near we could fairly see them, they looked too handsome to be fired at, but we had to do it.’”

Bonhams added, “The specification of his flintlock’s number clearly indicates that, next to this Bible itself, it was Merrifield's most treasured possession.” Perhaps, but Merrifield might just have wanted to get that property back. He had to loan a gun to Nathaniel Lakeman of Capt. Abraham Dodge’s company, probably at the end of 1775 when he left the army. That fall some of the regiment’s officers had told the commander-in-chief “we Shall be able to Serve the common Cause better out of the Army the ensuing Compaign than in it.”

With the Bible is a printed description, perhaps from the Sunday School Times. It quotes three verses said to be written somewhere inside:
O for a strong and lasting faith
To credit what the Almighty saith;
To embrace the message of his Son,
And call the joys of heaven my own.

My spirit looks to God alone;
My strength and refuge is his throne.
In all my fears, in all my straits,
My soul on His salvation waits.

Nothing but glory can suffice
The appetite of grace;
I wait, I long with restless eyes,
Longing to see thy face.

As witness my hand,
Francis Merrifield.
Some of those lines appear in different hymns by the Rev. Lowell Mason (1792-1872) while others date from the eighteenth or even seventeenth centuries. Merrifield, a deacon, seems therefore to have written down verses which meant the most to him.

Francis Merrifield’s Bible was bought by the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia for a total price of $161,000. It will be on display when that museum opens next year.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

The Museum of the American Revolution just announced that it will open on 19 Apr 2017.