By Katie Curley
NEWBURYPORT — Charlotte Dillard had never heard of Newburyport before she stumbled upon a piece of history that she says will link her to the city for the rest of her life.
"When you find something like this, it's so crazy," Dillard said. "You just never know what God has in mind for you or what is in store for you."
Dillard was in a Goodwill store in Cumming, Ga., with her husband, a brick salesman, on a rainy afternoon two years ago when she stumbled upon a Bible with a peculiar inscription.
"I was looking for old cookbooks but found these two pocket-sized Bibles, which are both sections of one Bible," Dillard said. "It was signed and had an inscription dating to 1830."
Dillard, 59, now living in New Albany, Miss., bought each Bible half, one for $3.03 and the other half for $4.04, and put the combined Bible on a bookshelf at home.
Months later, she came across the combined Bible again while dusting and felt compelled to do some research.
"I went to the computer and just typed in the name in the inscription, John Parker Boyd," Dillard said. "I just sat back in my chair when I saw all the pages come up and said 'Dear Lord, what do I have?'"
Since then Dillard has spent each day researching the origins of Boyd, a brigadier general in the War of 1812.
Born in Newburyport in 1764, Boyd's wife was the sister of the Rev. Paul Coffin of Newburyport, a descendant of Tristram Coffin. Boyd entered the U.S. Navy in 1786, then served as a soldier of fortune in India for several years, in the army of the Nizam (ruler) of Hyderabad. His experience there as a cavalry officer gained him a reputation as a solid command officer.
He returned to Boston in 1808, then commanded a regiment at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, a pivotal engagement against American Indians in which U.S. forces defeated Tecumseh, chief of the Shawnees. The commander of the U.S. troops, Gen. William Henry Harrison, was elected president in 1840, aided by the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."
When the War of 1812 broke out, he was again on the front lines, this time serving as an American commander in the battles that raged across New York state. Most of those battles ended in American defeats.
"He was in the Battle of Crysler and the Battle of Fort George," Dillard said. "This Bible was probably in his pocket during battle."
The first few weathered pages of the Bible are inscribed in thick scrolling black cursive to, "Symphonia A. Little presented by her uncle General Boyd."
Though some of inscription that follows is illegible, Boyd writes, "These holy pages shall bestow on my warm heart a purer glow."
The inscription is dated 1830, the year Boyd died in Boston. The Bible is dated 1810.
Dillard, an independent saleswoman who works out of her home, has been in contact with historians across the country after sending out e-mails looking for more information about the half-Bibles and how they got to Georgia. Though little is known, Dillard has retraced Boyd's family tree and has found some family connections to Georgia and Mississippi, and she sometimes contemplates the idea of writing a book about Boyd.
"There was only one chance in the world this Bible would have found me," Dillard said. "It has so much heart value to me now after all the things I have found out about him like where he died and is buried and his birthplace in Newburyport."
Dillard's nephew is creating a mahogany box with a glass lid in which she will keep the almost 200-year-old Bible. For now, the Bible is in a lockbox at a local bank.
"My husband Tim says John Parker Boyd is the other man in my life," Dillard said. "When I go to heaven, the first people I want to see are my family and second, John Parker Boyd. These Bibles are priceless objects."