A book more than 400 years old has returned home to the Albemarle for a brief time, celebrating not only this region, but also its owner George Durant.
The book is the Durant bible. It was published in 1599 and brought to the colonies from England by Durant sometime in 1658.
The bible will be on display at Museum of the Albemarle now through Sept. 30. It’s on loan from the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It will also be the centerpiece of George Durant Day at the museum set for Sunday at 2:15 p.m. The event will feature a talk by Elizabeth City State University history department chair Rebecca Seaman, Ph.D., on the influence of Durant on this region.
According to MOA collections specialist Clay Swindell, this is the first time the bible has been made available to the public.
The bible was at one time thought to be the oldest book in the state. Swindell says while it is likely one of the oldest in the state, other books have been dated prior to Durant’s arrival here.
It is, however, the book with the longest direct association with a North Carolina family.
The bible will be housed in a glass case in the museum’s “Our Story” exhibit. It will be placed open to one of two sections, either the first page of the New Testament or the first page of the second portion of the Old Testament, just before Psalms.
The bible itself is beautifully crafted. It is leatherbound but no one can be certain whether it is the original cover or not. The pages are expertly printed and possess woodcut illustrations, indicating that it was likely an expensive bible for its time.
On the first page of the of the second portion, the bible has genealogical notes written on it. Members of the Durant family have access to the bible when it’s in Chapel Hill, however collections specialists there have made separate notes of Durant’s notations for those seeking to do research. This assists in the conservation of the centuries old book.
Swindell say a book such as this is kept in low light and in a climate controlled environment.
It’s also significant because the book has been used to swear in North Carolina dignitaries over the years. UNC chancellors Michael K. Hooker and Paul Hardin have formally taken office, swearing on this bible.
The bible was brought to the museum by Durant decedents to celebrate his legacy and to be a part of the Design Event being held at Cobb Point to benefit Arts of the Albemarle.
The Design Event is being held at the Horsley House on Rivershore Road, the site of the Culpeper Rebellion. Durant figures prominently in that colonial tax rebellion.
According to Swindell, Durant was a vocal opponent of unfair British taxation on the exportation of locally produced goods under the Navigation Act. Essentially, the act limited free trade for the colonists.
Along with John Culpeper, Durant spoke out against the unfair treatment of colonial merchants and growers. Swindell says Durant was targeted for arrest by Deputy Governor Thomas Miller at the customhouse located at Cobb Point.
But Durant and Culpeper turned the tables on Miller and captured him. Miller is reported to have been held captive in a shack located on the current site of the Old Brickhouse, upriver from Cobb Point.
Durant and his Bible had first landed in Virginia. He would later come to the Albemarle region, then known as Roanoke, at the behest of Nathaniel Batts in 1661.
According to information provided by Museum of the Albemarle, Durant and his wife joined John Harvey (Harvey’s Point), John Battle, Thomas Relfe, Roger Williams, Thomas Jarvis and John Jenkins.
Many of these men bought land in Perquimans County. The area where Durant settled is known today as Durant’s Neck.
Seaman, who will speak at the museum Sunday, points out that Durant and his contemporaries left a lasting legacy of “rugged individualism” here in the northeast corner of the state. These men, she explains, chose to come here for the sake of making their own way and living by their rules, and when the British came to call and impose their own rules on them, these men rebelled.
“And I still see that in this area right here, these people doing their own little thing,” says Seaman.
MOA admission is free. For more information, contact MOA at 252-335-1453.