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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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Enoch Brooks’s Curious Bible

On 1 May 1785, Enoch and Hannah Brooks of Princeton, Massachusetts, had a son. The couple already had children Elisha (born in 1772), John (1774), Ezra (1776), Samuel (1779), and Hannah (1781).

Enoch Brooks had been the town’s assessor for four years before becoming its treasurer from 1780 until 1816, with only a couple of years off. He had also been a minuteman in 1775 and at some point a militia officer.

The Brookses named their new baby Enoch, after his father. (Another son, Stephen, would come in 1787.)

As little Enoch approached his fourth birthday, someone bought him a very special present: a copy of A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, or, Select Passages in the Old and New Testaments, Represented with Emblematical Figures, for the Amusement of Youth.

On the first page someone wrote in large, clear letters:
Enoch Brooks’
March, 13th. 1789.
As shown on the interior page above, this book retold stories from the Bible in rebus form. Isaiah Thomas had issued it from his Worcester press in 1788, copying a volume published in London five years before. (The British edition had in turn been modeled on German picture Bibles, which went back to the late 1600s.)

To create his edition, Thomas had to collect or commission 500 small woodcuts—more than had appeared in any other American book up to that time. But he could reuse those illustrations in other publications. Thomas found children’s books blending entertainment and instruction to be a lucrative field in the new American republic. Ultimately he published more than a hundred titles, most copied like this one from British originals.

Only four copies of Thomas’s Curious Hieroglyphick Bible are known to have survived the little hands of their early owners. Enoch Brooks’s copy is now at the Library of Congress, digitized for all.

As for young Enoch Brooks himself, he grew up in Princeton, married Polly Gregory in 1816, and had children of his own. Like his father, he held town office. He died in 1859. His wife lived until the age of ninety-nine, dying in 1890. Their gravestones stand side by side in Princeton’s Meetinghouse Cemetery.

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