One of the most famous legends of Tuscarawas Valley history involves the Bloody Bible, which today can be found at the Newcomerstown Olde Main Street Museum. However, it had a long journey and interesting story before arrival there for safekeeping.
The story centers around John Early, who grew up in Harrison County, lived a happy life, and enjoyed the music of the violin, which he played very well. After meeting a Methodist circuit rider, John Early was converted to Christianity and gave up his violin playing as “the devil was in it.” At that point, he moved just south of Newcomerstown in a beautiful log house.
Traveling Methodist preachers were welcome at his home and eventually, John donated land to have a Methodist Episcopal Church built on the boundary line of Tuscarawas and Guernsey County. There was also room for a church cemetery. In 1853, when Early died, he was one of the first people buried in the cemetery on the west side of the meeting house. His tombstone can still be found there today.
The story of the Bloody Bible begins before the start of the Civil War and after the death of John Early. When members of Early’s Church came to the log meeting house in early May to attend their usual Sabbath School, prayer, and class services, what they found when they opened the door was forever impressed on their minds.
Sometime since the previous Sabbath, a terrible deed had been done. Someone decided to mock God by offering a lamb as sacrifice upon the altar of the church. Then they sprinkled the pages of the Bible with the blood of the lamb causing blood to drip down the altar and cover the floor. The lamb was still there beside the Bible when they entered.
It was later discovered that the deed was done by three young men called “Sons of Belial” who met at Whiskey Springs. They liked to play tricks on neighbors and for some reason especially the Early family. His cornfield had been destroyed, a new plow wrecked, and horses tied to the edge of a cliff so they fell to their death. They later told people they had stolen the sacrificed lamb that was a pet of a young crippled boy in the Early family.
When the young boys did this terrible deed, one young man shouted for John Early to rise from his grave. A pillar of fire arose in the door of the church and swept down the aisle. One of the boys was not able to see or speak, had to be carried to his home a mile away, and was in a stupor for much of his life. The others could barely stand to live with the guilt. But no charges were filed as the church people agreed, “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.”
The story was first written by Solomon Mercer in the Cambridge Jeffersonian on April 20, 1899. He had a personal interest in the story as his father, James Mercer, lived in the northwestern part of Guernsey County in Wheeling Township. His neighbor was John Early.
Mercer remembered this tale well as he was there when it happened. Everyone was headed to Sunday School that morning in their best church dress. When they entered the church, the smell of the killed lamb was so strong that no services were held there that day. Mercer even remembers his father and another family member carrying the lamb between two sticks out the church door.
For many years, Jim Rogers of Orrville kept the Bible in his home under glass in a special table he had built. He had received guardianship of the Bible from his wife’s aunt. At the age of 92, Jim wasn’t well and asked the Newcomerstown Museum if they would display the Bible there. It was added to their collection in June of 2020 after being gone from Newcomerstown for 150 years.
At the age of 10 in 1964, young Chris Hart saw the Bloody Bible on display in the window of Newcomerstown News on Main Street during their Sesquicentennial. As he looked at the Bible through the window, he thought, “That would make a great story.” Today he tells that story to organizations around the area as he portrays one of the young men who played havoc with the church that night.
The Bloody Bible was featured in the book, “Tales of the Buckeye Hills” by Lonzo Green, a retired Methodist minister, and that book is also on permanent display. He tells the story of Early’s Church and the circumstances of the Bloody Bible in the first chapter of his book. His story ends with this quote from the page that was opened in the blood-soaked Bible:
“Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth,
that shall he also reap.”
Sometime in the near future, plan to visit Olde Main Street Museum at 213 W. Canal Street, Newcomerstown to see a replica of an early 1900s village. They built an entire village inside a building! While there be sure to see that popular legend in Tuscarawas Valley history…the Bloody Bible.
Olde Main Street Museum can easily be found from I-77 in Ohio by taking exit 65 for US 35 to the west. In two miles turn left on Pilling Street, then quickly turn right on East Canal Street. You will find the museum on the left hand side about a mile down Canal Street.