The Bonniwell Bible comes home to Mequon

It may not look like much on the outside. It’s old. Not very big. Whole pages are missing, others are damaged. The binding is worn.

Bonniwell Bible, front cover. Photo credit: Kendalyne Gentile, 2022

But this modest book was—for over 300 years—the family Bible for Mequon’s pioneer Bonniwell family, their ancestors and descendants. And last month, the Bible’s most recent owner, Bonniwell descendant Kendalyne Gentile, generously gave the Bible and other Bonniwell family documents to the Jonathan Clark House Museum where they will form an important part of our permanent collection.

A unique artifact

Since its acquisition by the Friends in 2012, the Jonathan Clark House has been brought to life with a beautiful collection of period furnishings and accessories. Yet very few of these artifacts actually belonged to the Clarks or their neighbors. The Bonniwell Family Bible is a notable exception.

Early this spring, following up on clues from a 1996 Tampa, Florida, newspaper article (which I had first noticed online in 2008), family chronicler George B. Bonniwell and I were able to work together and locate the “lost” Bonniwell family Bible. After a brief series of emails and phone conversations, the Bible’s current owner, Alfred Bonniwell descendant Kenadlyne Gentile, graciously agreed that the Jonathan Clark House Museum would be an ideal permanent home for the Bible and other historic Bonniwell documents. And that is why, on a very hot July 23, 2022, the Friends of the Jonathan Clark House held a small celebration at the museum to receive Kendalyne’s special donation.

Left to right: family historian George Bonniwell, JCH Friends president Linda Chay, JCH executive director Dana Hansen, donor Kendalyne Gentile, Cedarburg Youth Historian McKenna Chay, JCH co-curators Nina Look & Fred Derr, and JCH historian Reed Perkins at Bonniwell Bible donation event, JCH Museum, July 23, 2022. Photo credit: Jean Hill.

Thanks to Nina Look’s efforts, the event also included a bit of a Bonniwell family reunion, including family historian and chronicler George Bonniwell and his wife Char, and other members of the family from near and far.

Photo credit: Jean Hill, 2022.

Some of the Bonniwell relatives in attendance included Chris Bonniwell, Charles Bonniwell, Kendalyne Gentile and George Bonniwell.

A very old book

This Bible uses the Geneva translation, and includes the Apocrypha, two concordances and, I believe, two versions of the Psalms. It was printed in London circa 1580–1620, by Christopher Barker or possibly his associates, or his successor, Robert Barker. We know this because Barker’s “printer’s device”—a sort of “corporate logo” of the Elizabethan Era—is found on several pages of the book; this one, for example, was printed at the end of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament:

Bonniwell Family Bible, Ende of the Prophets, showing Barker’s large device. Photo credit Kendalyne Gentile, 2022.

As with most English Geneva Bibles of this era, the scriptures are printed in “Black Letter” type (what we might call “Gothic”), and the surrounding commentaries are in a simpler Roman font.

Whose Bible?

The Bonniwell family do not appear to be the original owners of the book. In fact, it appears that there may have been at least two owners before the Bonniwells. The oldest dated inscription found so far is written at the conclusion of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. It surrounds an engraving of the Royal Arms with an inscription in ink that appears to say 1631 / Mathi Bromom followed (or interspersed) by three letters that look like eþe. I’m not yet sure if eþe is a separate word, an acronym, or perhaps the ending of Mr. Bromom’s first name, perhaps Mathieþe (i.e. Matthie or Mathias or similar)?

And the lower margin of one of the pages in “The Second Table” of concordances is inscribed [J]ohn Golding / [Hi]s Book / 1665. The Bonniwell familly lived in Sutton Courtney, Berkshire, England from the 1540s through the 1660s. My very preliminary research suggests various Golding (also Goulding, Goldring, etc.) families may have lived in the general vicinity of the Bonniwells at this time. Much more research needs to be done before we can make any connections between John Golding and the Bonniwell family.

Based on the inscriptions I have seen so far, the Bible has been in the Bonniwell family since at least 1697, when a family member recorded: James Bonniwell was / Bornd Deseember the 27 / 1697. And “our” Bonniwells were in possession of the family Bible no later than 1795 when someone wrote this on one of the blank pages:

Photo credit: Kendalyne Gentile, 2022.

Among the other random doodles we find WBonniwell / June 3 1795 / His Book / Chatham Kent. This is almost certainly William T. B. Bonniwell, the future husband of Eleanor Hills, and father of Mequon’s many Bonniwell settlers. He was only 13 years old in 1795, and the writing looks reasonably accomplished for that age, if not quite as elegant as it would become. Another William Bonniwell signature on this page is dated 1798 and is in a much more polished hand.

Why is an old family Bible such an important book?

We believe the Bible came to Mequon with the Bonniwells in 1839. Like many old family Bibles, it contains hand-written birth, marriage. death, and other unique historical records of the family dating from the late-1600s through the early-1900s. For many years it belonged to Alfred and Sarah (Turck) Bonniwell. Sarah was Mary (Turck) Clark’s youngest sister; Alfred was the Clarks’ brother-in-law. It’s likely that this Bible accompanied the Bonniwell family throughout the 1840s and ‘50s as they worshiped with members of the Clark, Turck and other neighbor families at the nearby Bonniwell School. We have already discovered unique records of the Bonniwell family in this Bible, and there are many pages of genealogical inscriptions that I have not been able to study yet.

The Bonniwell Family Bible is a unique and irreplaceable part of Bonniwell—and Mequon—history. We are deeply grateful to the Bible’s most recent owner and caretaker, Kendalyne Gentile, and her family for their generous donation of this very special piece of local history, and we look forward to displaying and interpreting the Bonniwell Bible for generations of interested history lovers. I will be traveling to the Clark House to examine the Bible, research its publication history, record its inscriptions, and inventory the contents of the loose Bonniwell family papers that were kept in the book over the decades.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is a very big deal for the Clark House Museum and for Mequon history, and I look forward to sharing many more Bonniwell Bible discoveries with you in the months ahead.

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NOTES & ACKNOWLEGEMENTS:

• Much of the text of today’s post began life as a short essay, “The Historic Bonniwell Family Bible,” that I wrote for the Bible’s donation celebration, July 23, 2022. I have revised and updated some of the information from that initial essay.

• Many thanks to Clark House executive director Dana Hansen, co-curators Nina Look & Fred Derr, and event sponsors Linda Chay & Harold Krantz for putting together the excellent, festive, July 23rd event.

• In the months before July 23rd, Kendalyne Gentile patiently answered my requests for more photos of the Bible and the family documents. This allowed me to get a head start on researching the Bible’s publication history and some of the family inscriptions in the book. I appreciate her assistance, and the permission to use her photos on this blog and at the Jonathan Clark House Museum.

• Thanks also to JCH photographer Jean Hill for her excellent photographs and permission to publish them on Clark House Historian.

• A special tip of the hat to George Bonniwell, author of the invaluable The Bonniwells: 1000 Years, for his friendly and expert collaboration on a variety of genealogical and historical questions and, especially, for locating Kendalyne Gentile and the Bonniwell Bible and papers. Thanks, George!

• And in case you were wondering, the “History Mystery” inscription that I discussed and transcribed earlier this year here, here and here did, indeed, come from the Bonniwell Bible. Click the links for the full story.

One thought on “The Bonniwell Bible comes home to Mequon

  1. Pingback: Back to School, 1831: JMC in Stanstead? | Clark House Historian

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