Yep, we’re currently in the middle of a national emergency. There was an event that happened 178 years ago, which also whipped the nation into a frenzy, but has largely been forgotten.
I recently reviewed a very biased book about the alleged anti-Catholicism of 19th-century American Protestants titled, “The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism” (1938) by Ray Allen Billington. See here. While the book was disappointing as a whole, it did discuss several interesting historical events. One of those was a ceremonial Bible burning in 1842 instigated by Catholic clerics near the northern border of New York State (see map far below).
I don’t have a lot of information about the event, but I was able to patch together the following account with bits and pieces from the internet:
The village of Corbeau (now Coopersville) in the township of Champlain, New York, and five miles from the Canadian border, was originally settled by French-Catholic Canadian refugees who had sided with the American invaders during the assault on Montreal in 1775 during the American Revolutionary War. The refugee population grew even larger following the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-1838. In 1842, representatives of the American Bible Society distributed French-language Protestant Bibles to the inhabitants of the village of Corbeau. Jesuit priest, “father” Telmonde, from Montreal was assigned to the Champlain region and subsequently learned that many of the Catholic villagers of Corbeau had Protestant Bibles in their possession. He immediately demanded that the Catholics surrender their Protestant Bibles. An undetermined number of Bibles, anywhere from one-hundred to three-hundred, were collected, stacked, and duly burned by the Jesuit and his assistants. According to the sworn testimony of one of the participants, there were several private burnings prior to the public ceremonial burning near the Catholic church on October 27, 1842 (see illustration above). The Jesuit’s chief assistant in the Bible burnings was later convicted by the Holy Spirit and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone and joined the Protestant mission at Grande Ligne in Quebec Province. The Champlain Bible Burning enraged the Protestants in the area and Jesuit Telmonde beat a swift retreat back to Montreal. The news of the Bible burning soon spread to all corners of the United States, fomenting great anger among the nation’s Protestants. It was a tremendous scandal. In our current era of spiritual lethargy, it’s difficult for us to relate to the outrage felt by 19th-century American Protestants over the ceremonial burning of Bibles. The Champlain Bible Burning was one of several Catholic provocations that contributed to the rise of nativism in the nation, which eventually culminated in the creation of the American (Know Nothing) Party in the mid-1850s.
Main reference – Dwight, Henry Otis. The Centennial History of the American Bible Society, 1916, pp. 203-204
Catholic clerics certainly aren’t burning Protestant Bibles these days. They have since found that friendly ecumenism is much more effective in advancing Catholicism than militancy. But history holds some valuable lessons.
The Burning of the Bibles: Defence of the Protestant Version of the Scriptures Against the Attacks of Popish Apologists for the Champlain Bible Burners
By John Dowling
Original printing by Nathan Moore, 1843
Kindle edition, HardPress, 2017
I was hoping to find a history of the Champlain Bible Burning and thought I struck gold with this Kindle ebook. Boy, was I fooled. The book is mainly an argument in defense of the superiority of the Protestant King James translation of the Bible in comparison to the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims translation, which would later be discredited and abandoned by Catholics themselves. Following the Bible burning, Catholic clerics had defended the controversial event, claiming that the Protestant Bibles were faulty translations and worthy to be destroyed. Protestant John Dowling wrote this book as a rebuttal. There is very little mentioned in this book about the Bible burning incident itself. HardPress did a lousy job of transferring the original text to ebook. Paragraphs are chopped off and begin again elsewhere. Very sloppy and amateurish.