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King James Bible removed from HMS Java

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This King James Bible was removed from HMS Java after the British ship’s capture by USS Constitution on December 29, 1812. Following a ship’s surrender, it was common practice for the captors to scour the enemy’s decks for battle souvenirs to take home. This book was apparently taken from a mess chest by Dulany Forrest, a midshipman on Constitution.

The battle was a close fought and bloody action between the two ships, with the British suffering 23 killed and 101 wounded. After removing the British crew, Commodore William Bainbridge of Constitution determined that he could not get Java back to an American port. A demolition party lit fires in Java’s hold around noon on December 31 to burn the ship, but not before Forrest purloined the Bible as his souvenir.

A bookplate on the pastedown reads “Kissam,” indicating that Forrest later passed the bible on to U.S. Naval Surgeon Benjamin P. Kissam, whose granddaughters later donated the book to USS Constitution. The endpaper is inscribed in ink: “Dulany Forrest’s Book/ Coast of Brazil/ December 29th/ 1812,” and in a different hand, “This book was taken/ from the British frigate/ Java when she was/ Captured by the U. States/ frigate Constitution/ Commanded by Commodore/ William Bainbridge/ Dec. 29th 1812.” Opposite the title page is the inscription “Mess No. 17.” This edition was printed by John Smith for Cambridge University in London, England.

Creator
John Smith

Date Created
early 19th century

Medium
Paper, Ink, Leatherbound

Dimensions
[H]8 5/8 in. [W]6 in. [D]3 1/8 in.

Catalog Number
123.1

Credit Line
Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston Loan

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