Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Old Bible Yields New Discoveries: Part I

The collection at Clarke House Museum contains a large family bible, acquired in 1983, which was a gift from the Evanston Historical Society as NSCDA-IL sought items to fill the period rooms being restored on the museum's first floor. The bible, published 1835 by H. & E. Phinney, Coopertsown, New York, came to the museum with no provenance. The accession record gives little more than a brief physical description and notes the bible “contains family records of the Solmes family, residence unknown”. No research was ever done on the Solmeses and the bible became an overlooked fixture on the parlor étagère, blending into the overall exhibit.
A Canadian family's history is hidden between the pages of an overlooked artifact on display at Clarke House Museum.
  Solmes Family Bible in the collection of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois at Clarke House Museum.

During a recent collections inventory it was discovered that the Solmes bible contained more than just the family record. At the front of the bible, glued inside the cover, were two blue and gold foil heraldic shields next to which was written “Barker Family Crest.” On the opposite fly leaf, written in pencil, “D. B. Solmes Book Feb, 8th 1869”. Tucked between its pages, untouched for decades, were an 1851 memory verse slip from the Wesleyan-Methodist Church, several c.1880 newspaper clippings of sermons by Rev. Dr. Talmage of Brooklyn, New York ; and a letter dated October 8, 1880; and — all clues to the story of D. B. Solmes and his family.

Treasures found just inside the front cover. Above: Text next to the shields reads "Coat of Arms or Crest of the Barker family." Below: "David Barker Solmes Book Feb 8th 1869" written in pencil on the fly leaf.  Someone, perhaps a child, attempted to replicate the capital "D".

Part I:  The Barker-Solmes Family
David Barker Solmes, the owner of the bible, was born May 20, 1817 in Solmesville, Ontario, Canada to Richard Solmes (1787-1867) and Lydia Cronk Barker (1783-1851). He was named for his maternal grandfather, David Barker (1730-1821), a native of "New Port," Rhode Island. The elder David had grown up on a120-acre New Port estate, the second generation of Barkers to be born in the colonies. He married Lydia Shove (1746-1804), also a Rhode Islander, on March 11, 1762 in Swansea, Bristol County, Massachusetts. The couple set up house back in New Port where they welcomed their first nine children: Samuel Shove (1763), Asa (1765), Edward (1766), David (1768), Pheobe (1770), James (1772), Elizabeth (1774), Sarah (1776; delivered in Dartmouth, Massachusetts), and Rebecca (1779). The growing family moved to Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York around 1780 where son Abraham (1781) and daughter Lydia Cronk (1783), the mother of David Barker Solmes, were born.

David Barker (1737-1821), colonial loyalist and maternal grandfather of the bible's original owner David Barker Solmes. Sketch is believed to have been based on a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Photo courtesy of the Barker family page on RootsWeb.

David Barker was a loyal subject of the British Crown and a devout member of the Anglican church. During the Revolutionary War, Barker supplied provisions to the British forces. Once this act was discovered, his property in Poughkeepsie, New York was confiscated by supporters of independence. Barker decided to join Major VanAlstine's party of Loyalists and remove to Canada in 1783 at the age of 51. His wife and the elder children accompanied him and the family departed from New York harbor September 8, 1783. The journey to an unsettled part of the Canadian countryside would be long and arduous. Fearing for the well-being of their younger children, the Barkers left them in the care of with relatives in the newly formed United States. Lydia Cronk Barker, just a year old when her family emigrated to Canada,  was one of the children left behind. According to family history she and her siblings grew up in either Poughkeepsie, New York or New Fairfield, Connecticut. The Barkers' last child, a son named Caleb (1786), was born two years after the family had settled into their new home in Ontario.

Although his property in Poughkeepsie, New York had been confiscated, Barker still had substantial means.  He brought seventeen thousand dollars with him and, although being near the point of embarrassment when he left New York, was able to bring along some valuable family heirlooms  including a Scotish-made clock and cabinet with secret drawers. These both are still owned by Barker descendants today. Each member of Major VanAlstine's party received 200 acres of land which they drew by ballot. David Barker's allotment was an area in Adolphustown, Lennox-Addington County, Ontario located between Hay Bay and the Bay of Quinte in the third concession, which became known as Barker's Point (now Thompson's point). David Barker first built a small log house, then erected a larger home along with other outbuildings which is believed to still stand today.

An early 20th century photograph of what is believed to be the Barker home in Ontario, Canada built c.1785-90.  
Photo courtesy of the Barker family page on RootsWeb.

A generous father, Barker gave each of his daughters, whether married or single, a large farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Daughter Lydia Cronk Barker eventually joined the family in Ontario and married her first husband Rueban Cronk who died sometime before 1814, giving her no children. At age thirty-one Lydia married Richard Solmes (1787-1867), a local farmer, on November 16, 1814. Richard and Lydia set up housekeeping in the village of Solmesville, part of Sophiasburg, Prince Edward County, Ontario. The couple welcomed their first three children: Rueban Cronk (1815), David Barker (1817), and Mary (1819). In 1821, the patriarch of the family, grandfather David Barker, died at his home at Barker's Point at age ninety-one. Two years later, Richard and Lydia Solmes completed their own family with the birth of daughter Lydia Margaret in 1823.
Monument to David Barker and Lydia Shrove erected by the United Empire Loyalists in the Old Meeting House Yard of the Adolphustown Friends. Photo courtesy of the Barker family page on RootsWeb.

David Barker Solmes  grew up to become a farmer and member of the Wesleyan-Methodist Church. He married Susan Lazier (1818-1853) on October 2, 1838 at Prince Edward Island, Ontario. The bible was probably presented to the couple as a wedding gift. On September 14, 1841 David and Susan welcomed their first child, a daughter, named Olive Rebecca. The young Solmes family attended the Wesleyan-Methodist Church in Demorestville, a small village of 300 within the township of Sophiasburg, Prince Edward County, Ontario. The congregation sat under the spiritual instruction of Irish-born minster Reverend William Pooley (1820-1896). [Learn more about Rev. Pooley and the Solmes family's spiritual life in Part 2.]

Susan and David welcomed a son, David Bishop Solmes, January 12, 1853. Unfortunately, baby David only lived five months and fourteen days, dying June 26, 1853. His mother, Susan Lazier Solmes passed away just two months later on August 8th. Left a widower with a twelve-year-old daughter, David Barker Solmes was remarried June 15, 1854 to Mary Eliza Stimson (1832-1900) in Hallowell, Ontario. The couple had seven children: Sarah Jane (1854), Jennie (1856) Rueban Clayton (1858), Franklin Stephenson (1860), a son with initials JWM (1860), Lillian M. (1863) and Richard Russell (1866). David Barker Solmes died at age eighty-two in Solmesville, where he had spent his entire life, on January 30, 1900. His widow, Mary Eliza, lived just six more years before passing away April 14, 1906.

The Solmes family bible passed to David Barker Solmes’ eldest daughter, Olive Rebecca Solmes. She is the addressee of the 1880 letter found within its pages and probably the one who tucked the Talmage sermons inside for safekeeping. [More on these items in Part 3]. It is yet unknown how the bible made its way to Illinois and into the collection of the Evanston Historical Society. The only connection to the Chicago area found to date is through Lydia Margaret Solmes Caniff, David's younger sister, who died in Chicago April 24, 1900. Lydia is probably the "Auntie Caniff" referred to in the 1880 letter written to Olive. The bible has a $5.00 price mark on its fly leaf and may have been picked up at a sale before it was accessioned into the Evanston Historical Society's collection.

Today, the Solmes family bible is on exhibit in the Clarke House Museum parlor. The bible's family registers and other contents can be viewed in person by appointment. If you have additional information on David Barker Solmes and/or his descendants, please contact Clarke House Museum at


  1. What a great job of sleuthing, Becky. I love to read about the back story of the items in the house and a bible is such a rich and personal family treasure. Thanks!

  2. Wow! This is so stunning. I do enjoyed your post and it has a valuable content. My pleasure to came across here in your post only to find out how amazing this Clark house museum is. Big thanks.

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  5. It is a sad thing for the museum to abandon its blog, especially when it answers a question sought since 1973 if not the past one hundred years.

    My family has been seeking information on our own family bible, and the images you've shown match it EXACTLY, the only version we've found just like it. The research into the publisher finally helped us identify that information as the title pages were lost to time.

    I was eager to find out about Part II in this story as my family (and the bible) also were in Ontario not far from the Solmes family, and I was excited to find that connection as well. But this is the last post on this site.

    Did you move to another service or publishing platform. Many have abandoned blogspot for a variety of good reasons. A forwarding site announcement would be very helpful. If not, please publish part 2 and reignite this site. Your museum has so much to offer to help us learn more about our world and lives. Thank you.


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