The Smeall Family Bible

Numerous enquiries relating to local history and archaeology are sent to Renfrewshire Local History Forum website. The Forum also on occasion receives remarkably interesting information and artefacts from the enquirers. One of the most interesting of these was from Barbara Triplett-Decrease from Michigan. The enquiry had a remarkable outcome.

Barbara had acquired an old family Bible, printed by Mark Baskett in 1763, with births and marriages of a Paisley family surnamed Smeall / Smail. The earliest entry was the birth of James Smeall on 23rd March 1761. James was the eldest of a family of eight children born between 1761 and 1783. A later family member, Thomas Smeall, married Jane Watson in Thread Street, Paisley, in 1820. Their son, Robert Smeall, born in Paisley in 1830, emigrated to America and married Sarah Lawson (b 1845) in Stonnington, Connecticut, in 1866. The last of the many entries in the Bible is the birth of Thomas and Jane’s third child in Stonnington in 1873.

The Bible itself, being a Baskett Bible, is of some historical significance. The Baskett family were printers to the king. John Baskett, said to be ‘the greatest monopolist of Bibles that ever lived’, set up in business in Oxford in 1713. His earliest published bible sells today for up to £40,000. After John’s death in 1742, his sons Thomas and Richard took over the business. In 1761, his grandson, Mark, continued business until 1769 when he sold out to another printer. Baskett Bibles were published in Oxford, London and for a short time in Edinburgh

Barbara had attempted to find descendants of the Smeall family in Canada and U.S.A. without success. Because the family could not be traced, she was keen that the Bible should be returned to Paisley and she sent it to the Forum. One of our members, Peter Crawford, contacted Paisley Heritage Centre staff, who were keen to accept the Bible and offered to have it rebound. On 19th September, 2016, Barbara visited Paisley and, at a ceremony held in Paisley Heritage Centre, she formally presented the Bible to Provost Anne Hall. The beautifully rebound Bible is now an item in Renfrewshire Archives collection.

© 2018 Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum