One of the first things any visitor to Athens maynotice coming into town off of Ohio Rt. 682 is a vintage log house sitting justnear the bridge over the Hocking River.
It’s called the Silas Bingham house, and is describedas the oldest house in Athens, having been relocated twice, once from SouthCollege Street to East State and then from East State Street to where itcurrently sits. Bingham was one of Athens’ earliest residents, and he served asa deputy sheriff.
On Tuesday, Athens obtained another piece of itsearly history when the descendants of Silas’ brother, Alvan, presented theAthens County Historical Society & Museum with the Bingham family Bible.
Alvan had been commissioned as a magistrate in theearly days of the city of Athens, and served as the first judge of AthensTownship. Alvan and Silas, originally from Connecticut, fought in theRevolutionary War and originally settled in Marietta before being sent toAthens in 1797 by Gen. Rufus Putnam. when Ephraim Cutler, another magistrate,got to town, just a little later than the Binghams, Alvan and he wouldoccasionally hold court together.
In one such instance, according to a story from abook, “History of Athens, Ohio,” provided by the museum, a trial was held whereseveral disorderly locals threatened violence, vowing to put an end to thecourts when they were ordered to leave. the judges issued warrants and orderedthe sheriff to arrest the men and take them to Marietta.
Silas Bingham arrested the men but instead of takingthem to Marietta, which had a reputation for strict justice, he offered them analternative. he told them that the court in Athens could be lenient if theybegged forgiveness on their knees before the magistrates. and they did.
Before his death at the age of 87 in 1841, AlvanBingham would serve as the county’s first treasurer, as a county commissioner,judge of the Athens County Court of Common Pleas and be elected as overseer ofthe poor in Athens Township.
Before birth certificates and state-issuedidentification cards, the only way people had to prove who their family was andwho they were was a written log in the family Bible. Family Bibles were handeddown from generation to generation – a prized heirloom of solemn import.
On Tuesday, Alvan Bingham’s descendants produced thefamily Bible, and it has now been entered officially into Athens Countyhistorical record.
The Bible was found through the efforts of BrockBierman, whose wife Lisa is a descendant of Bingham. Bierman, who said he’sbeen doing genealogy work as a hobby for many years, was doing research on hiswife’s family. during that research, through Ancestry.com, he found Jenny Hand,another Bingham descendant who happened to be in possession of the family Bible.
It came to her, she said, through the Hunt sidefamily, which became related to the Binghams through marriage.
“Brock contacted Jenny and talked about how theremight be a desire to have this (bible) returned to Alvan Bingham’s home, whichwas here for so many years,” said museum Director Ron Luce. “Jenny has beengracious enough to say that she would like to have this bible returned, here tothe (museum), where it will stay, hopefully forever, and be a meaningful partof our history.”
The Hunt family was also on hand for the donation.
Brock Beirman told about how he has discovered duringhis extensive genealogy work that the story goes back even further, to some ofthe earliest and most famous European settlers in the Americas.
“As I did the research, Alvan Bingham is actually adirect descendant of (early Massachusetts settler) Myles Standish,” he said.”And I was actually able to acquire all the documents, and my wife (Lisa) isnow a member of the Mayflower Society through Myles Standish, through AlvanBingham.”
Bierman attributed his success in tracing thegenealogy and finding out about the bible to the technology that Ancestry.comafforded him.
“Twenty years ago this wouldn’t be possible,” hesaid.
Bierman said he has also been able to obtain a copyof Alvan Bingham’s Revolutionary War pension file.
“In that pension file is a Bible record,” he said.”They had to prove who their family was, so they just ripped the page out ofthe (family) Bible. and in the National Archives is a page from this Bible.”
Bierman said that you can compare a scan of the pageonline to the rip in the bible and see how it fits.
“We need to get a copy of that and get it onarchive-safe paper and insert it into that space, somehow,” Luce affirmed.
Luce thanked the family for the generosity of theirdonation.
Hand said that she’s sure the family’s ancestors arevery happy the family Bible is back in Athens.
“They’re probably jumping for joy,” she said.