Closer Look

Family Bibles leave a lasting legacy

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Robert Shook

Many settlers to the Western North Carolina left their native lands to escape religious persecution. Many were of English, German, Scottish, and Irish descent. 

The beautiful, fertile land with its many natural resources provided them an opportunity for settlers to better themselves and have a new start, without the heavy hand of a government or a church controlling them. And, many were people of great faith. Each family typically brought along one of their most prized possessions, the family Bible. Their Bibles, in fact, were not only a source of comfort and strength, but a means of preserving family records. Bibles were packed and protected for their long journeys into the Appalachian Mountains. 

FAMILY BIBLES have been treasure troves of family histories containing records of births, deaths, marriages, land purchases, and more.

Macon County Historical Museum has been entrusted to the care and preservation of some of these family heirlooms. Most are stored in archival boxes in climate-controlled rooms. Currently, we have: the Thomas Shepherd Bible, circa 1795, and the Jacob Fouts Sr. Bible, which is printed in German. 

The Fouts family arrived in Macon County around 1835, from Ashe County, N.C. They settled in Iotla Valley (where some descendants still reside). 

We also have the James Eli Roper Bible, dated 1817. The Roper family came to Macon County from Burke County, N.C., in 1840. In addition, we have the Gillespie Bible, also printed in German. 

Often, and still, families’ important dates are documented in their Bibles: births, deaths, marriages, land purchases, and more. They serve as the family’s official historical record. 

THE MACON County Historical Museum is in possession of several family Bibles, including the Jacob Fouts Sr. Bible, which is printed in German.

Each of these family Bibles leaves a legacy for generations to come. They inspired me to pen this poem in honor of the families they represent: 

The Legend

They span of time had left its mark on the old man’s face,

From years of working in the sun and wind, but at 90 it’s no disgrace.

He never traveled far from his old mountain home,

His dear wife passed last summer, and the children are all grown.

He didn’t go to college or run for President;

He lived and worked on a small farm, to him that was heaven sent.

The house that he lived in was simple, made from logs,

The only company he had these days, were two old yellow dogs.

I stopped by to see my Grandpa, to visit an hour or two,

He talked of God and Grandma, just like I knew he would do.

Grandpa was sharp for a man his age, for his knowledge and wisdom I was so amazed.

I turned to him and asked, Pa, what is your greatest accomplishment?”

He pointed to an old worn-out Bible on the shelf, and I knew what he meant.

He said, “Son, some leave behind money, others lands and homes for looks,

But for me, I want to leave behind the legend of that book.”

ROBERT SHOOK is curator of the Macon County Historical Museum
Robert Shook, a native of Macon County, is the curator and director of the Macon County Historical Museum on Main Street in Franklin. He is also a poet.