Sabbath in Puritan New England by Alice Morse Earle

Produced by Distributed Proofreaders PG Editor’s Note: In addition to various other variations of grammar and spelling from that old time, the word “their” is spelled as “thier” 17 times. It has been left there as “thier”. THE SABBATH IN PURITAN NEW ENGLAND by Alice Morse Earle Seventh Edition To the Memory of my Mother.
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Buy it on Amazon Listen via Audible FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by Distributed Proofreaders

PG Editor’s Note: In addition to various other variations of grammar and spelling from that old time, the word “their” is spelled as “thier” 17 times. It has been left there as “thier”.



Alice Morse Earle

Seventh Edition

To the Memory of my Mother.


I. The New England Meeting-House
II. The Church Militant
III. By Drum and Horn and Shell
IV. The Old-Fashioned Pews
V. Seating the Meeting
VI. The Tithingman and the Sleepers VII. The Length of the Service
VIII. The Icy Temperature of the Meeting-House IX. The Noon-House
X. The Deacon’s Office
XI. The Psalm-Book of the Pilgrims XII. The Bay Psalm-Book
XIII. Sternhold and Hopkins’ Version of the Psalms XIV. Other Old Psalm-Books
XV. The Church Music
XVI. The Interruptions of the Services XVII. The Observance of the Day
XVIII. The Authority of the Church and the Ministers XIX. The Ordination of the Minister
XX. The Ministers
XXI. The Ministers’ Pay
XXII. The Plain-Speaking Puritan Pulpit XXIII. The Early Congregations

The Sabbath in Puritan New England.


The New England Meeting-House.

When the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth they at once assigned a Lord’s Day meeting-place for the Separatist church,–“a timber fort both strong and comely, with flat roof and battlements;” and to this fort, every Sunday, the men and women walked reverently, three in a row, and in it they worshipped until they built for themselves a meeting-house in 1648.

As soon as each successive outlying settlement was located and established, the new community built a house for the purpose of assembling therein for the public worship of God; this house was called a meeting-house. Cotton Mather said distinctly that he “found no just ground in Scripture to apply such a trope as church to a house for public assembly.” The church, in the Puritan’s way of thinking, worshipped in the meeting-house, and he was as bitterly opposed to calling this edifice a church as he was to calling the Sabbath Sunday. His favorite term for that day was the Lord’s Day.

The settlers were eager and glad to build their meeting-houses; for these houses of God were to them the visible sign of the establishment of that theocracy which they had left their fair homes and had come to New England to create and perpetuate. But lest some future settlements should be slow or indifferent about doing their duty promptly, it was enacted in 1675 that a meeting-house should be erected in every town in the colony; and if the people failed to do so at once, the magistrates were empowered to build it, and to charge the cost of its erection to the town. The number of members necessary to establish a separate church was very distinctly given in the Platform of Church Discipline: “A church ought not to be of greater number than can ordinarilie meet convenientlie in one place, nor ordinarilie fewer than may convenientlie carry on church-work.” Each church was quite independent in its work and government, and had absolute power to admit, expel, control, and censure its members.

These first meeting-houses were simple buildings enough,–square log-houses with clay-filled chinks, surmounted by steep roofs thatched with long straw or grass, and often with only the beaten earth for a floor. It was considered a great advance and a matter of proper pride when the settlers had the meeting-house “lathed on the inside, and so daubed and whitened over workmanlike.” The dimensions of many of these first essays at church architecture are known to us, and lowly little structures they were. One, indeed, is preserved for us under cover at Salem. The first meeting-house in Dedham was thirty-six feet long, twenty feet wide, and twelve feet high “in the stud;” the one in Medford was smaller still; and the Haverhill edifice was only twenty-six feet long and twenty wide, yet “none other than the house of God.”

As the colonists grew in wealth and numbers, they desired and built better sanctuaries, “good roomthy meeting-houses” they were called by Judge Sewall, the most valued and most interesting journal-keeper of the times. The rude early buildings were then converted into granaries or storehouses, or, as was the Pentucket meeting-house, into a “house of shelter or a house to sett horses in.” As these meeting-houses had not been consecrated, and as they were town-halls, forts, or court-houses as well as meeting-houses, the humbler uses to which they were finally put were not regarded as profanations of holy places.

The second form or type of American church architecture was a square wooden building, usually unpainted, crowned with a truncated pyramidal roof, which was surmounted (if the church could afford such luxury) with a belfry or turret containing a bell. The old church at Hingham, the “Old Ship” which was built in 1681, is still standing, a well-preserved example of this second style of architecture. These square meeting-houses, so much alike, soon abounded in New England; for a new church, in its contract for building, would often specify that the structure should be “like in every detaile to the Lynn meeting-house,” or like the Hadley, Milford, Boston, Danvers, or New Haven meeting-house. This form of edifice was the prototype of the fine great First Church of Boston, a large square brick building, with three rows of windows and two galleries, which stood from the year 1713 to 1808, and of which many pictures exist.

The third form of the Puritan meeting-house, of which the Old South Church of Boston is a typical model, has too many representatives throughout New England to need any description, as have also the succeeding forms of New England church architecture.

The first meeting-houses were often built in the valleys, in the meadow lands; for the dwelling-houses must be clustered around them, since the colonists were ordered by law to build their new homes within half a mile of the meeting-house. Soon, however, the houses became too closely crowded for the most convenient uses of a farming community; pasturage for the cattle had to be obtained at too great a distance from the farmhouse; firewood had to be brought from too distant woods; nearness to water also had to be considered. Thus the law became a dead letter, and each new-coming settler built on outlying and remote land, since the Indians were no longer so deeply to be dreaded. Then the meeting-houses, having usually to accommodate a whole township of scattered farms, were placed on remote and often highly elevated locations; sometimes at the very top of a long, steep hill,–so long and so steep in some cases, especially in one Connecticut parish, that church attendants could not ride down on horseback from the pinnacled meeting-house, but were forced to scramble down, leading their horses, and mount from a horse-block at the foot of the hill. The second Roxbury church was set on a high hill, and the story is fairly pathetic of the aged and feeble John Eliot, the glory of New England Puritanism, that once, as he toiled patiently up the long ascent to his dearly loved meeting, he said to the person on whose supporting arm he leaned (in the Puritan fashion of teaching a lesson from any event and surrounding): “This is very like the way to heaven; ’tis uphill. The Lord by His grace fetch us up.”

The location on a hilltop was chosen and favored for various reasons. The meeting-house was at first a watch-house, from which to keep vigilant lookout for any possible approach of hostile or sneaking Indians; it was also a landmark, whose high bell-turret, or steeple, though pointing to heaven, was likewise a guide on earth, for, thus stationed on a high elevation, it could be seen for miles around by travellers journeying through the woods, or in the narrow, tree-obscured bridle-paths which were then almost the only roads. In seaside towns it could be a mark for for sailors at sea; such was the Truro meeting-house. Then, too, our Puritan ancestors dearly loved a “sightly location,” and were willing to climb uphill cheerfully, even through bleak New England winters, for the sake of having a meeting-house which showed off well, and was a proper source of envy to the neighboring villages and the country around. The studiously remote and painfully inaccessible locations chosen for the site of many fine, roomy churches must astonish any observing traveller on the byroads of New England. Too often, alas! these churches are deserted, falling down, unopened from year to year, destitute alike of minister and congregation. Sometimes, too, on high hilltops, or on lonesome roads leading through a tall second growth of woods, deserted and neglected old graveyards–the most lonely and forlorn of all sad places–by their broken and fallen headstones, which surround a half-filled-in and uncovered cellar, show that once a meeting-house for New England Christians had stood there. Tall grass, and a tangle of blackberry brambles cover the forgotten graves, and perhaps a spire of orange tiger-lilies, a shrub of southernwood or of winter-killed and dying box, may struggle feebly for life under the shadow of the “plumed ranks of tall wild cherry,” and prove that once these lonely graves were cared for and loved for the sake of those who lie buried in this now waste spot. No traces remain of the old meeting-house save the cellar and the narrow stone steps, sadly leading nowhere, which once were pressed by the feet of the children of the Pilgrims, but now are trodden only by the curious and infrequent passer-by, or the epitaph-seeking antiquary.

It is difficult often to understand the details in the descriptions of these early meeting-houses, the colonial spelling is so widely varied, and so cleverly ingenious. Uniformity of spelling is a strictly modern accomplishment, a hampering innovation. “A square roofe without Dormans, with two Lucoms on each side,” means, I think, without dormer windows, and with luthern windows. Another church paid a bill for the meeting-house roof and the “Suppolidge.” They had “turritts” and “turetts” and “turits” and “turyts” and “feriats” and “tyrryts” and “toryttes” and “turiotts” and “chyrits,” which were one and the same thing; and one church had orders for “juyces and rayles and nayles and bymes and tymber and gaybels and a pulpyt, and three payr of stayrs,” in its meeting-house,–a liberal supply of the now fashionable _y_’s. We read of “pinakles” and “pyks” and “shuthers” and “scaffills” and “bimes” and “lynters” and “bathyns” and “chymbers” and “bellfers;” and often in one entry the same word will be spelt in three or four different ways. Here is a portion of a contract in the records of the Roxbury church: “Sayd John is to fence in the Buring Plas with a Fesy ston wall, sefighiattly don for Strenk and workmanship as also to mark a Doball gatt 6 or 8 fote wid and to hing it.” _Sefighiattly_ is “sufficiently;” but who can translate “Fesy”? can it mean “facy” or faced smoothly?

The church-raising was always a great event in the town. Each citizen was forced by law to take part in or contribute to “raring the Meeting hows.” In early days nails were scarce,–so scarce that unprincipled persons set fire to any buildings which chanced to be temporarily empty, for the sake of obtaining the nails from the ruins; so each male inhabitant supplied to the new church a certain “amount of nayles.” Not only were logs, and lumber, and the use of horses’ and men’s labor given, but a contribution was also levied for the inevitable barrel of rum and its unintoxicating accompaniments. “Rhum and Cacks” are frequent entries in the account books of early churches. No wonder that accidents were frequent, and that men fell from the scaffolding and were killed, as at the raising of the Dunstable meeting-house. When the Medford people built their second meeting-house, they provided for the workmen and bystanders, five barrels of rum, one barrel of good brown sugar, a box of fine lemons, and two loaves of sugar. As a natural consequence, two thirds of the frame fell, and many were injured. In Northampton, in 1738, ten gallons of rum were bought for L8 “to raise the meeting-house”–and the village doctor got “L3 for setting his bone Jonathan Strong, and L3 10s. for setting Ebenezer Burt’s thy” which had somehow through the rum or the raising, both gotten broken. Sometimes, as in Pittsfield in 1671, the sum of four shillings was raised on every acre of land in the town, and three shillings a day were paid to every man who came early to work, while one shilling a day was apportioned to each worker for his rum and sugar. At last no liquor was allowed to the workmen until after the day’s work was over, and thus fatal accidents were prevented.

The earliest meeting-houses had oiled paper in the windows to admit the light. A Pilgrim colonist wrote to an English friend about to emigrate, “Bring oiled paper for your windows.” Higginson, however, writing in 1629, asks for “glasse for windowes.” When glass was used it was not set in the windows as now. We find frequent entries of “glasse and nayles for it,” and in Newbury, in 1665, the church ordered that the “Glasse in the windows be … look’t to if any should happen to be loosed with winde to be nailed close again.” The glass was in lozenge-shaped panes, set in lead in the form of two long narrow sashes opening in the middle from top to bottom, and it was many years before oblong or square panes came into common use.

These early churches were destitute of shade, for the trees in the immediate vicinity were always cut down on account of dread of the fierce fires which swept often through the forests and overwhelmed and destroyed the towns. The heat and blazing light in summer were as hard to bear in these unscreened meeting-houses as was the cold in winter.

“Old house of Puritanic wood,
Through whose unpainted windows streamed, On seats as primitive and rude
As Jacob’s pillow when he dreamed, The white and undiluted day.”

We have all heard the theory advanced that it is impossible there should be any true religious feeling, any sense of sanctity, in a garish and bright light,–“the white and undiluted day,”–but I think no one can doubt that to the Puritans these seething, glaring, pine-smelling hothouses were truly God’s dwelling-place, though there was no “dim, religious light” within.

Curtains and window-blinds were unknown, and the sunlight streamed in with unobstructed and unbroken rays. Heavy shutters for protection were often used, but to close them at time of service would have been to plunge the church into utter darkness. Permission was sometimes given, as in Haverhill, to “sett up a shed outside of the window to keep out the heat of the sun there,”–a very roundabout way to accomplish a very simple end. As years passed on, trees sprang up and grew apace, and too often the churches became overhung and heavily shadowed by dense, sombre spruce, cedar, and fir trees. A New England parson was preaching in a neighboring church which was thus gloomily surrounded. He gave out as his text, “Why do the wicked live?” and as he peered in the dim light at his manuscript, he exclaimed abruptly, “I hope they will live long enough to cut down this great hemlock-tree back of the pulpit window.” Another minister, Dr. Storrs, having struggled to read his sermon in an ill-lighted, gloomy church, said he would never speak in that building again while it was so overshadowed with trees. A few years later he was invited to preach to the same congregation; but when he approached the church, and saw the great umbrageous tree still standing, he rode away, and left the people sermonless in their darkness. The chill of these sunless, unheated buildings in winter can well be imagined.

Strange and grotesque decorations did the outside of the earliest meeting-houses bear,–grinning wolves’ heads nailed under the windows and by the side of the door, while splashes of blood, which had dripped from the severed neck, reddened the logs beneath. The wolf, for his destructiveness, was much more dreaded by the settlers than the bear, which did not so frequently attack the flocks. Bears were plentiful enough. The history of Roxbury states that in 1725, in one week in September, twenty bears were killed within two miles of Boston. This bear story requires unlimited faith in Puritan probity, and confidence in Puritan records to credit it, but believe it, ye who can, as I do! In Salem and in Ipswich, in 1640, any man who brought a living wolf to the meeting-house was paid fifteen shillings by the town; if the wolf were dead, ten shillings. In 1664, if the wolf-killer wished to obtain the reward, he was ordered to bring the wolf’s head and “nayle it to the meeting-house and give notis thereof.” In Hampton, the inhabitants were ordered to “nayle the same to a little red oake tree at northeast end of the meeting-house.” One man in Newbury, in 1665, killed seven wolves, and was paid the reward for so doing. This was a great number, for the wary wolf was not easily destroyed either by musket or wolf-hook. In 1723 wolves were so abundant in Ipswich that parents would not suffer their children to go to and from church and school without the attendance of some grown person. As late as 1746 wolves made sad havoc in Woodbury, Connecticut; and a reward of five dollars for each wolf’s head was offered by law in that township in 1853.

In 1718 the last public reward was paid in Salem for a wolf’s head, but so late as the year 1779 the howls of wolves were heard every night in Newbury, though trophies of shrivelled wolves’ heads no longer graced the walls of the meeting-house.

All kinds of notices and orders and regulations and “bills” were posted on the meeting-house, often on the door, where they would greet the eye of all who entered: prohibitions from selling guns and powder to the Indians, notices of town meetings, intentions of marriage, copies of the laws against Sabbath-breaking, messages from the Quakers, warnings of “vandoos” and sales, lists of the town officers, and sometimes scandalous and insulting libels, and libels in verse, which is worse, for our forefathers dearly loved to rhyme on all occasions. On the meeting-house green stood those Puritanical instruments of punishment, the stocks, whipping-post, pillory, and cage; and on lecture days the stocks and pillory were often occupied by wicked or careless colonists, or those everlasting pillory-replenishers, the Quakers. It is one of the unintentionally comic features of absurd colonial laws and punishments in which the early legal records so delightfully abound, that the first man who was sentenced to and occupied the stocks in Boston was the carpenter who made them. He was thus fitly punished for his extortionate charge to the town for the lumber he used in their manufacture. This was rather better than “making the punishment fit the crime,” since the Boston magistrates managed to force the criminal to furnish his own punishment. In Shrewsbury, also, the unhappy man who first tested the wearisome capacity and endured the public mortication of the town’s stocks was the man who made them. He “builded better than he knew.” Pillories were used as a means of punishment until a comparatively recent date,–in Salem until the year 1801, and in Boston till 1803.

Great horse-blocks, rows of stepping-stones, or hewn logs further graced the meeting-house green; and occasionally one fine horse-block, such as the Concord women proudly erected, and paid for by a contribution of a pound of butter from each house-wife.

The meeting-house not only was employed for the worship of God and for town meetings, but it was a storehouse as well. Until after the Revolutionary War it was universally used as a powder magazine; and indeed, as no fire in stove or fireplace was ever allowed within, it was a safe enough place for the explosive material. In Hanover, the powder room was in the steeple, while in Quincy the “powder-closite” was in the beams of the roof. Whenever there chanced to be a thunderstorm during the time of public worship, the people of Beverly ran out under the trees, and in other towns they left the meeting-house if the storm seemed severe or near; still they built no powder houses. Grain, too, was stored in the loft of the meeting-house for safety; hatches were built, and often the corn paid to the minister was placed there. “Leantos,” or “linters,” were sometimes built by the side of the building for use for storage. In Springfield, Mr. Pyncheon was allowed to place his corn in the roof chamber of the meeting-house; but as the people were afraid that the great weight might burst the floor, he was forbidden to store more than four hundred bushels at a time, unless he “underpropped the floor.”

In one church in the Connecticut valley, in a township where it was forbidden that tobacco be smoked upon the public streets, the church loft was used to dry and store the freshly cut tobacco-leaves which the inhabitants sold to the “ungodly Dutch.” Thus did greed for gain lead even blue Connecticut Christians to profane the house of God.

The early meeting-houses in country parishes were seldom painted, such outward show being thought vain and extravagant. In the middle of the eighteenth century paint became cheaper and more plentiful, and a gay rivalry in church-decoration sprang up. One meeting-house had to be as fine as its neighbor. Votes were taken, “rates were levied,” gifts were asked in every town to buy “colour” for the meeting-house. For instance, the new meeting-house in Pomfret, Connecticut, was painted bright yellow; it proved a veritable golden apple of discord throughout the county. Windham town quickly voted that its meeting-house be “coloured something like the Pomfret meeting-house.” Killingly soon ordered that the “cullering of the body of our meeting-house should be like the Pomfret meeting-house, and the Roff shal be cullered Read.” Brooklyn church then, in 1762, ordered that the outside of its meeting-house be “culered” in the approved fashion. The body of the house was painted a bright orange; the doors and “bottom boards” a warm chocolate color; the “window-jets,” corner-boards, and weather-boards white. What a bright nosegay of color! As a crowning glory Brooklyn people put up an “Eleclarick Rod” on the gorgeous edifice, and proudly boasted that–Brooklyn meeting-house was the “newest biggest and yallowest” in the county. One old writer, however, spoke scornfully of the spirit of envious emulation, extravagance, and bad taste that spread and prevailed from the example of the foolish and useless “colouring” of the Pomfret meeting-house.

Within the meeting-house all was simple enough: raftered walls, sanded floors, rows of benches, a few pews, and the pulpit, or the “scaffold,” as John Cotton called it. The bare rafters were often profusely hung with dusty spiders’ webs, and were the home also of countless swallows, that flew in and out of the open bell-turret. Sometimes, too, mischievous squirrels, attracted by the corn in the meeting-house loft, made their homes in the sanctuary; and they were so prolific and so omnivorous that the Bible and the pulpit cushions were not safe from their nibbling attacks. On every Sunday afternoon the Word of God and its sustaining cushion had to be removed to the safe shelter of a neighboring farmhouse or tavern, to prevent total annihilation by these Puritanical, Bible-loving squirrels.

The pulpits were often pretentious, even in the plain and undecorated meeting-houses, and were usually high desks, to which a narrow flight of stairs led. In the churches of the third stage of architecture, these stairs were often inclosed in a towering hexagonal mahogany structure, which was ornamented with pillars and panels. Into this the minister walked, closed the door behind him, and invisibly ascended the stairs; while the children counted the seconds from the time he closed the door until his head appeared through the trap-door at the top of the pulpit. The form known as a tub-pulpit was very popular in the larger churches. The pulpit of one old, unpainted church retained until the middle of this century, as its sole decoration, an enormous, carefully painted, staring eye, a terrible and suggestive illustration to youthful wrong-doers of the great, all-seeing eye of God.

As the ceiling and rafters were so open and reverberating, it was generally thought imperative to hang above the pulpit a great sounding-board, which threatened the minister like a giant extinguisher, and was really as devoid of utility as it was curious in ornamentation, “reflecting most part an empty ineffectual sound.” This great sound-killer was decorated with carved and painted rosettes, as in the Shrewsbury meeting-house; with carved ivy leaves, as in Farmington; with a carved bunch of grapes or pomegranates, as in the Leicester church; with letters indicating a date, as, “M. R. H.” for March, in the Hadley church; with appropriate mottoes and texts, such as the words, “Holiness is the Lords,” in the Windham church; with cords and tassels, with hanging fringes, with panels and balls; and thus formed a great ornament to the church, and a source of honest pride to the church members. The clumsy sounding-board was usually hung by a slight iron rod, which looked smaller still as it stretched up to the high, raftered roof, and always appeared to be entirely insufficient to sustain the great weight of the heavy machine. In Danvers, one of these useless though ornamental structures hung within eighteen inches of the preacher’s nose, on a slender bar thirty feet in length; and every Sunday the children gazed with fascinated anticipation at the slight rod and the great hexagonal extinguisher, thinking and hoping that on this day the sounding-board would surely drop, and “put out” the minister. In fact, it was regarded by many a child, though this idea was hardly formulated in the little brain, as a visible means of possible punishment for any false doctrine that might issue from the mouth of the preacher.

Another pastime and source of interest to the children in many old churches was the study of the knots and veins in the unpainted wood of which the pews and galleries were made. Age had developed and darkened and rendered visible all the natural irregularities in the wood, just as it had brought out and strengthened the dry-woody, close, unaired, penetrating scent which permeated the meeting-house and gave it the distinctive “church smell.” The children, and perhaps a few of the grown people, found in these clusters of knots queer similitudes of faces, strange figures and constellations, which, though conned Sunday after Sunday until known by heart, still seemed ever to show in their irregular groupings a puzzling possibility of the discovery of new configurations and monstrosities.

The dangling, dusty spiders’ webs afforded, too, an interesting sight and diversion for the sermon-hearing, but not sermon-listening, young Puritans, who watched the cobwebs swaying, trembling, forming strange maps of imaginary rivers with their many tributaries, or outlines of intersecting roads and lanes. And if little Yet-Once, Hate-Evil, or Shearjashub chanced, by good fortune, to be seated near a window where a crafty spider and a foolish buzzing fly could be watched through the dreary exposition and attempted reconciliation of predestination and free will, that indeed were a happy way of passing the weary hours.


The Church Militant.

For many years after the settlement of New England the Puritans, even in outwardly tranquil times, went armed to meeting; and to sanctify the Sunday gun-loading they were expressly forbidden to fire off their charges at any object on that day save an Indian or a wolf, their two “greatest inconveniencies.” Trumbull, in his “Mac Fingal,” Avrites thus in jest of this custom of Sunday arm-bearing:–

“So once, for fear of Indian beating, Our grandsires bore their guns to meeting,– Each man equipped on Sunday morn
With psalm-book, shot, and powder-horn, And looked in form, as all must grant,
Like the ancient true church militant.”

In 1640 it was ordered in Massachusetts that in every township the attendants at church should carry a “competent number of peeces, fixed and compleat with powder and shot and swords every Lords-day to the meeting-house;” one armed man from each household was then thought advisable and necessary for public safety. In 1642 six men with muskets and powder and shot were thought sufficient for protection for each church. In Connecticut similar mandates were issued, and as the orders were neglected “by divers persones,” a law was passed in 1643 that each offender should forfeit twelve pence for each offence. In 1644 a fourth part of the “trayned hand” was obliged to come armed each Sabbath, and the sentinels were ordered to keep their matches constantly lighted for use in their match-locks. They were also commanded to wear armor, which consisted of “coats basted with cotton-wool, and thus made defensive against Indian arrows.” In 1650 so much dread and fear were felt of Sunday attacks from the red men that the Sabbath-Day guard was doubled in number. In 1692, the Connecticut Legislature ordered one fifth of the soldiers in each town to come armed to each meeting, and that nowhere should be present as a guard at time of public worship fewer than eight soldiers and a sergeant. In Hadley the guard was allowed annually from the public treasury a pound of lead and a pound of powder to each soldier.

No details that could add to safety on the Sabbath were forgotten or overlooked by the New Haven church; bullets were made common currency at the value of a farthing, in order that they might be plentiful and in every one’s possession; the colonists were enjoined to determine in advance what to do with the women and children in case of attack, “that they do not hang about them and hinder them;” the men were ordered to bring at least six charges of powder and shot to meeting; the farmers were forbidden to “leave more arms at home than men to use them;” the half-pikes were to be headed and the whole ones mended, and the swords “and all piercing weapons furbished up and dressed;” wood was to be placed in the watch-house; it was ordered that the “door of the meeting-house next the soldiers’ seat be kept clear from women and children sitting there, that if there be occasion for the soldiers to go suddenly forth, they may have free passage.” The soldiers sat on either side of the main door, a sentinel was stationed in the meeting-house turret, and armed watchers paced the streets; three cannon were mounted by the side of this “church militant,” which must strongly have resembled a garrison.

Military duty and military discipline and regard for the Sabbath, and for the House of God as well, did not always make the well-equipped occupants of these soldiers’ seats in New Haven behave with the dignity and decorum befitting such guardians of the peace and protectors in war. Serious disorders and disturbances among the guard were reported at the General Court on June 16, 1662. One belligerent son of Mars, as he sat in the meeting-house, threw lumps of lime–perhaps from the plastered chinks in the log wall–at a fellow-warrior, who in turn, very naturally, kicked his tormentor with much agility and force. There must have ensued quite a free fight all around in the meeting-house, for “Mrs. Goodyear’s boy had his head broke that day in meeting, on account of which a woman said she doubted not the wrath of God was upon us.” And well might she think so, for divers other unseemly incidents which occurred in the meeting-house at the same time were narrated in Court, examined into, and punished.

In spite of these events in the New Haven church (which were certainly exceptional), the seemingly incongruous union of church and army was suitable enough in a community that always began and ended the military exercises on “training day” with solemn prayer and psalm-singing; and that used the army and encouraged a true soldier-like spirit not chiefly as aids in war, but to help to conquer and destroy the adversaries of truth, and to “achieve greater matters by this little handful of men than the world is aware of.”

The Salem sentinels wore doubtless some of the good English armor owned by the town,–corselets to cover the body; gorgets to guard the throat; tasses to protect the thighs; all varnished black, and costing each suit “twenty-four shillings a peece.” The sentry also wore a bandileer, a large “neat’s leather” belt thrown over the right shoulder, and hanging down under the left arm. This bandileer sustained twelve boxes of cartridges, and a well-filled bullet-bag. Each man bore either a “bastard musket with a snaphance,” a “long fowling-piece with musket bore,” a “full musket,” a “barrell with a match-cock,” or perhaps (for they were purchased by the town) a leather gun (though these leather guns may have been cannon). Other weapons there were to choose from, mysterious in name, “sakers, minions, ffaulcons, rabinets, murthers (or murderers, as they were sometimes appropriately called) chambers, harque-busses, carbins,”–all these and many other death-dealing machines did our forefathers bring and import from their war-loving fatherland to assist them in establishing God’s Word, and exterminating the Indians, but not always, alas! to aid them in converting those poor heathen.

The armed Salem watcher, besides his firearms and ammunition, had attached to his wrist by a cord a gun-rest, or gun-fork, which he placed upon the ground when he wished to fire his musket, and upon which that constitutional kicker rested when touched off. He also carried a sword and sometimes a pike, and thus heavily burdened with multitudinous arms and cumbersome armor, could never have run after or from an Indian with much agility or celerity; though he could stand at the church-door with his leather gun,–an awe-inspiring figure,–and he could shoot with his “harquebuss,” or “carbin,” as we well know.

These armed “sentinells” are always regarded as a most picturesque accompaniment of Puritan religious worship, and the Salem and Plymouth armed men were imposing, though clumsy. But the New Haven soldiers, with their bulky garments wadded and stuffed out with thick layers of cotton wool, must have been more safety-assuring and comforting than they were romantic or heroic; but perhaps they too wore painted tin armor, “corselets and gorgets and tasses.”

In Concord, New Hampshire, the men, who all came armed to meeting, stacked their muskets around a post in the middle of the church, while the honored pastor, who was a good shot and owned the best gun in the settlement, preached with his treasured weapon in the pulpit by his side, ready from his post of vantage to blaze away at any red man whom he saw sneaking without, or to lead, if necessary, his congregation to battle. The church in York, Maine, until the year 1746, felt it necessary to retain the custom of carrying arms to the meeting-house, so plentiful and so aggressive were Maine Indians.

Not only in the time of Indian wars were armed men seen in the meeting-house, but on June 17, 1775, the Provincial Congress recommended that the men “within twenty miles of the sea-coast carry their arms and ammunition with them to meeting on the Sabbath and other days when they meet for public worship.” And on many a Sabbath and Lecture Day, during the years of war that followed, were proved the wisdom and foresight of that suggestion.

The men in those old days of the seventeenth century, when in constant dread of attacks by Indians, always rose when the services were ended and left the house before the women and children, thus making sure the safe exit of the latter. This custom prevailed from habit until a late date in many churches in New England, all the men, after the benediction and the exit of the parson, walking out in advance of the women. So also the custom of the men always sitting at the “head” or door of the pew arose from the early necessity of their always being ready to seize their arms and rush unobstructed to fight. In some New England village churches to this day, the man who would move down from his end of the pew and let a woman sit at the door, even if it were a more desirable seat from which to see the clergyman, would be thought a poor sort of a creature.


By Drum and Horn and Shell.

At about nine o’clock on the Sabbath morning the Puritan colonists assembled for the first public service of the holy day; they were gathered together by various warning sounds. The Haverhill settlers listened for the ringing toot of Abraham Tyler’s horn. The Montague and South Hadley people were notified that the hour of assembling had arrived by the loud blowing of a conch-shell. John Lane, a resident of the latter town, was engaged in 1750 to “blow the Cunk” on the Sabbath as “a sign for meeting.” In Stockbridge a strong-lunged “praying” Indian blew the enormous shell, which was safely preserved until modern times, and which, when relieved from Sunday use, was for many years sounded as a week-day signal in the hay-field. Even a conch-shell was enough of an expense to the poor colonial churches. The Montague people in 1759 paid L1 10s. for their “conk,” and also on the purchase year gave Joseph Root 20 shillings for blowing the new shell. In 1785 the Whately church voted that “we will not improve anybody to blow the conch,” and so the church-attendants straggled to Whately meeting each at his own time and pleasure.

In East Hadley the inhabitant who “blew the kunk” (as phonetic East Hadleyites spelt it) and swept out the meeting-house was paid annually the munificent sum of three dollars for his services. Conch-blowing was not so difficult and consequently not so highly-paid an accomplishment as drum-beating. A verse of a simple old-fashioned hymn tells thus of the gathering of the Puritan saints:–

“New England’s Sabbath day
Is heaven-like still and pure,
When Israel walks the way
Up to the temple’s door.
The time we tell
When there to come
By beat of drum
Or sounding shell.”

The drum, as highly suitable for such a military people, was often used as a signal for gathering for public worship, and was plainly the favorite means of notification. In 1678 Robert Stuard, of Norwalk, “ingages yt his son James shall beate the Drumb, on the Sabbath and other ocations,” and in Norwalk the “drumb,” the “drumne,” the “drumme,” and at last the drum was beaten until 1704, when the Church got a bell. And the “Drumber” was paid, and well paid too for his “Cervices,” fourteen shillings a year of the town’s money, and he was furnished a “new strong drumme;” and the town supplied to him also the flax for the drum-cords which he wore out in the service of God. Johnson, in his “Wonder Working Providence,” tells of the Cambridge Church: “Hearing the sound of a drum he was directed toward it by a broade beaten way; following this rode he demands of the next man he met what the signall of the drum ment; the reply was made they had as yet no Bell to call men to meeting and therefore made use of the drum.” In 1638 a platform was made upon the top of the Windsor meeting-house “from the Lanthornc to the ridge to walk conveniently to sound a trumpet or a drum to give warning to meeting.”

Sometimes three guns were fired as a signal for “church-time.” The signal for religious gathering, and the signal for battle were always markedly different, in order to avoid unnecessary fright.

In 1647 Robert Basset was appointed in New Haven to drum “twice upon Lordes Dayes and Lecture Dayes upon the meeting house that soe those who live farr off may heare the more distinkly.” Robert may have been a good drummer, but he proved to be a most reprehensible and disreputable citizen; in the local Court Records of August 1, 1648, we find a full report of an astounding occurrence in which he played an important part. Ten men, who Avere nearly all sea-faring men,–gay, rollicking sailors,–went to Bassctt’s house and asked for strong drink. The magistrates had endeavored zealously, and in the main successfully, to prevent all intoxication in the community, and had forbidden the sale of liquor save in very small quantities. The church-drummer, however, wickedly unmindful of his honored calling, furnished to the sailors six quarts of strong liquor, with which they all, host and visitors, got prodigiously drunk and correspondingly noisy. The Court Record says: “The miscarriage continued till betwixt tenn and eleven of the clock, to the great provocation of God, disturbance of the peace, and to such a height of disorder that strangers wondered at it.” In the midst of the carousal the master of the pinnace called the boatswain “Brother Loggerheads.” This must have been a particularly insulting epithet, which no respectable boatswain could have been expected quietly to endure, for “at once the two men fell fast to wrestling, then to blowes and theirin grew to that feircnes that the master of the pinnace thought the boatswain would have puled out his eies; and they toumbled on the ground down the hill into the creeke and mire shamefully wallowing theirin.” In his pain and terror the master called out, “Hoe, the Watch! Hoe, the Watch!” “The Watch made hast and for the present stopped the disorder, but in his rage and distemper the boatswaine fell a-swearinge Wounds and Hart as if he were not only angry with men but would provoke the high and blessed God.” The master of the pinnace, being freed from his fellow-combatant, returned to Basset’s house–perhaps to tell his tale of woe, perhaps to get more liquor–and was assailed by the drummer with amazing words of “anger and distemper used by drunken companions;” in short, he was “verey offensive, his noyes and oathes being hearde to the other side of the creeke.” For aiding and abetting this noisy and disgraceful spree, and also for partaking in it, Drummer Basset was fined L5, which must have been more than his yearly salary, and in disgrace, and possibly in disgust, quitted drumming the New Haven good people to meeting and moved his residence to Stamford, doubtless to the relief and delight of both magistrates and people of the former town.

Another means of notification of the hour for religious service was by the use of a flag, often in addition to the sound of the drum or bell. Thus in Plymouth, in 1697, the selectmen were ordered to “procure a flagg to be put out at the ringing of the first bell, and taken in when the last bell was rung.” In Sutherland also a flag was used as a means of announcement of “meeting-time,” and an old goody was paid ten shillings a year for “tending the flagg.”

Mr. Gosse, in his “Early Bells of Massachusetts,” gives a full and interesting account of the church-bells of the first colonial towns in that State. Lechford, in his “Plaine Dealing,” wrote in 1641 that they came together in Boston on the Lord’s Day by “the wringing of a bell,” and it is thought that that bell was a hand-bell. The first bells, for the lack of bell-towers, were sometimes hung on trees by the side of the meeting-houses, to the great amazement and distress of the Indians, who regarded them with superstitious dread, thinking–to paraphrase Herbert’s beautiful line–“when the bell did chime ‘t was devils’ music;” but more frequently the bells were hung in a belfry or bell-turret or “bellcony,” and from this belfry depended a long bell-rope quite to the floor; and thus in the very centre of the church the sexton stood when he rung the summons for lire or for meeting. This rope was of course directly in front of the pulpit; and Jonathan Edwards, who was devoid of gestures and looked always straight before him when preaching, was jokingly said to have “looked-off” the bell-rope, when it fell with a crash in the middle of his church.

At the first sound of the drum or horn or bell the town inhabitants issued from their houses in “desent order,” man and wife walking first, and the children in quiet procession after them. Often a man-servant and a maid walked on either side of the heads of the family. In some communities the congregation waited outside the church door until the minister and his wife arrived and passed into the house; then the church-attendants followed, the loitering boys always contriving to scuffle noisily in from the horse-sheds at the last moment, making much scraping and clatter with their heavy boots on the sanded floor, and tumbling clumsily up the uucarpeted, creaking stairs.

In other churches the members of the congregation seated themselves in their pews upon their arrival, but rose reverently when the parson, dressed in black skull-cap and Geneva cloak, entered the door; and they stood, in token of respect, until after he entered the pulpit and was seated.

It was also the honor-giving and deferential custom in many New England churches, in the eighteenth century, for the entire congregation to remain respectfully standing within the pews at the end of the serice until the minister had descended from his lofty pulpit, opened the door of his wife’s pew, and led her with stately dignity to the church-porch, where, were he and she genial and neighborly minded souls, they in turn stood and greeted with carefully adjusted degrees of warmth, interest, respect, or patronage, the different members of the congregation as they slowly passed out.


The Old-Fashioned Pews.

In the early New England meeting-houses the seats were long, narrow, uncomfortable benches, which were made of simple, rough, hand-riven planks placed on legs like milking-stools. They were without any support or rest for the back; and perhaps the stiff-backed Pilgrims and Puritans required or wished no support. Quickly, as the colonies grew in wealth and the colonists in ambition and importance, “Spots for Pues” were sold (or “pitts” as they were sometimes called), at first to some few rich or influential men who wished to sit in a group together, and finally each family of dignity or wealth sat in its own family-pew. Often it was stipulated in the permission to build a pew that a separate entrance-door should be cut into it through the outside wall of the meeting-house, thus detracting grievously from the external symmetry of the edifice, but obviating the necessity of a space-occupying entrance aisle within the church, where there was little enough sitting-room for the quickly increasing and universally church-going population. As these pews were either oblong or square, were both large and small, painted and unpainted, and as each pewholder could exercise his own “tast or disresing” in the kind of wood he used in the formation of his pew, as well as in the style of finish, much diversity and incongruity of course resulted. A man who had a wainscoted pew was naturally and properly much respected and envied by the entire community. These pews, erected by individual members, were individual and not communal property. A widow in Cape Cod had her house destroyed by fire. She was given from the old meeting-house, which was being razed, the old building materials to use in the construction of her new home. She was not allowed, however, to remove the wood which formed the pews, as they were adjudged to be the property of the members who had built them, and those owners only could sell or remove the materials of which they were built.

Many of the pews in the old meeting-houses had towering partition walls, which extended up so high that only the tops of the tallest heads could be seen when the occupants were seated. Permissions to build were often given with modifying restrictions to the aspiring pew-builders, as for instance is recorded of the Haverhill church, “provided they would not build so high as to damnify and hinder the light of them windows,” or of the Waterbury church, “if the pues will not progodish the hous.” Often the floor of the pews was several inches and occasionally a foot higher than the floor of the “alleys,” thus forming at the entrance-door of the pew one or two steps, which were great stumbling-blocks to clumsy and to childish feet, that tripped again when within the pew over the “crickets” and foot-benches which were, if the family were large, the accepted and lowly church-seats of the little children. Occasionally one long, low foot-rest stretched quite across one side of the pew-floor. I have seen these long benches with a tier of three shelves; the lower and broader shelf was used as a foot-rest, the second one was to hold the hats of the men, and the third and narrower shelf was for the hymn-books and Bibles. Such comfortable and luxurious pew-furnishings could never have been found in many churches.

An old New Englander relates a funny story of his youth, in which one of these triple-tiered foot-benches played an important part. When he was a boy a travelling show visited his native town, and though he was not permitted to go within the mystic and alluring tent, he stood longingly at the gate, and was prodigiously diverted and astonished by an exhibition of tight-rope walking, which was given outside the tent-door as a bait to lure pleasure-loving and frivolous townspeople within, and also as a tantalization to the children of the saints who were not allowed to enter the tent of the wicked. Fired by that bewildering and amazing performance, he daily, after the wonderful sight, practised walking on rails, on fences, on fallen trees, and on every narrow foothold which he could find, as a careful preparation for a final feat and triumph of skill on his mother’s clothes-line. In an evil hour, as he sat one Sunday in the corner of his father’s pew, his eyes rested on the narrow ledge which formed the top of the long foot-bench. Satan can find mischief for idle boys within church as well as without, and the desire grew stronger to try to walk on that narrow foothold. He looked at his father and mother, they were peacefully sleeping; so also were the grown-up occupants of the neighboring pews; the pew walls were high, the minister seldom glanced to right or left; a thousand good reasons were whispered in his ear by the mischief-finder, and at last he willingly yielded, pulled off his heavy shoes, and softly mounted the foot-bench. He walked forward and back with great success twice, thrice, but when turning for a fourth tour he suddenly lost his balance, and over he went with a resounding crash–hats, psalm-books, heavy bench, and all. He crushed into hopeless shapelessness his father’s gray beaver meeting-hat, a long-treasured and much-loved antique; he nearly smashed his mother’s kid-slippered foot to jelly, and the fall elicited from her, in the surprise of the sudden awakening and intense pain, an ear-piercing shriek, which, with the noisy crash, electrified the entire meeting. All the grown people stood up to investigate, the children climbed on the seats to look at the guilty offender and his deeply mortified parents; while the minister paused in his sermon and said with cutting severity, “I have always regretted that the office of tithingman has been abolished in this community, as his presence and his watchful care are sadly needed by both the grown persons and the children in this congregation.” The wretched boy who had caused all the commotion and disgrace was of course uninjured by his fall, but a final settlement at home between father and son on account of this sacrilegious piece of church disturbance made the unhappy would-be tight-rope walker wish that he had at least broken his arm instead of his father’s hat and his mother’s pride and the peace of the congregation.

The seats were sometimes on four sides of these pews, but oftener on three sides only, thus at least two thirds of the pew occupants did not face the minister. The pew-seats were as narrow and uncomfortable as the plebeian benches, though more exclusive, and, with the high partition walls, quite justified the comment of a little girl when she first attended a service in one of these old-fashioned, square-pewed churches. She exclaimed in dismay, “What! must I be shut up in a closet and sit on a shelf?” Often elderly people petitioned to build separate small pens of pews with a single wider seat as “through the seats being so very narrow” they could not sit in comfort.

The seats were, until well into this century, almost universally hung on hinges, and could be turned up against the walls of the pew, thus enabling the standing congregation to lean for support against the sides of the pews during the psalm-singing and the long, long prayers.

“And when at last the loud Amen
Fell from aloft, how quickly then
The seats came down with heavy rattle, Like musketry in fiercest battle.”

This noise of slamming pew-seats could easily be heard over half a mile away from the meeting-house in the summer time, for the perverse boys contrived always in their salute of welcome to the Amen to give vent in a most tremendous bang to a little of their pent up and ill-repressed energies. In old church-orders such entries as this (of the Haverhill church) are frequently seen: “The people are to Let their Seats down without Such Nois.” “The boyes are not to wickedly noise down there pew-seats.” A gentleman attending the old church in Leicester heard at the beginning of the prayer, for the first time in his life, the noise of slamming pew-seats, as the seats were thrust up against the pew-walls. He jumped into the aisle at the first clatter, thinking instinctively that the gallery was cracking and falling. Another stranger, a Southerner, entering rather late at a morning service in an old church in New England, was greeted with the rattle of falling seats, and exclaimed in amazement, “Do you Northern people applaud in church?”

In many meeting-houses the tops of the pews and of the high gallery railings were ornamented with little balustrades of turned wood, which were often worn quite bare of paint by childish fingers that had tried them all “to find which ones would turn,” and which, alas! would also squeak. This fascinating occupation whiled away many a tedious hour in the dreary church, and in spite of weekly forbidding frowns and whispered reproofs for the shrill, ear-piercing squeaks elicited by turning the spindle-shaped balusters, was entirely too alluring a time-killer to be abandoned, and consequently descended, an hereditary church pastime, from generation to generation of the children of the Puritans; and indeed it remained so strong an instinct that many a grown person, visiting in after life a church whose pews bore balustrades like the ones of his childhood, could scarce keep his itching fingers from trying them each in succession “to see which ones would turn.”

These open balustrades also afforded fine peep-holes through which, by standing or kneeling upon “the shelf,” a child might gaze at his neighbor; and also through which sly missiles–little balls of twisted paper–could be snapped, to the annoyance of some meek girl or retaliating boy, until the young marksman was ignominiously pulled down by his mother from his post of attack. And through these balustrades the same boy a few years later could thrust sly missives, also of twisted paper, to the girl whom he had once assailed and bombarded with his annoying paper bullets.

Through the pillared top-rail a restless child in olden days often received, on a hot summer Sabbath from a farmer’s wife or daughter in an adjoining pew, friendly and quieting gifts of sprigs of dill, or fennel, or caraway, famous anti-soporifics; and on this herbivorous food he would contentedly browse as long as it lasted. An uneasy, sermon-tired little girl was once given through the pew-rail several stalks of caraway, and with them a large bunch of aromatic southernwood, or “lad’s-love” which had been brought to meeting by the matron in the next pew, with a crudely and unconsciously aesthetic sense that where eye and ear found so little to delight them, there the pungent and spicy fragrance of the southernwood would be doubly grateful to the nostrils. Little Missy sat down delightedly to nibble the caraway-seed, and her mother seeing her so quietly and absorbingly occupied, at once fell contentedly and placidly asleep in her corner of the pew. But five heads of caraway, though each contain many score of seeds, and the whole number be slowly nibbled and eaten one seed at a time, will not last through the child’s eternity of a long doctrinal sermon; and when the umbels were all devoured, the young experimentalist began upon the stalks and stems, and they, too, slowly disappeared. She then attacked the sprays of southernwood, and in spite of its bitter, wormwoody flavor, having nothing else to do, she finished it, all but the tough stems, just as the long sermon was brought to a close. Her waking mother, discovering no signs of green verdure in the pew, quickly drew forth a whispered confession of the time-killing Nebuchadnezzar-like feast, and frightened and horrified, at once bore the leaf-gorged child from the church, signalling in her retreat to the village doctor, who quickly followed and administered to the omnivorous young New Englander a bolus which made her loathe to her dying day, through a sympathetic association and memory, the taste of caraway, and the scent of southernwood.

An old gentleman, lamenting the razing of the church of his childhood, told the story of his youthful Sabbaths in rhyme, and thus refers with affectionate enthusiasm to the old custom of bringing bunches of esculent “sallet” herbs to meeting:–

“And when I tired and restless grew, Our next pew neighbor, Mrs. True,
Reached her kind hand the top rail through To hand me dill, and fennel too,
And sprigs of caraway.

“And as I munched the spicy seeds,
I dimly felt that kindly deeds
That thus supply our present needs, Though only gifts of pungent weeds,
Show true religion.

“And often now through sermon trite
And operatic singer’s flight,
I long for that old friendly sight, The hand with herbs of value light,
To help to pass the time.”

Were the dill and “sweetest fennel” chosen Sabbath favorites for their old-time virtues and powers?

“Vervain and dill
Hinder witches of their ill.”

And of the charmed fennel Longfellow wrote:–

“The fennel with its yellow flowers
That, in an earlier age than ours, Was gifted with the wondrous powers,
Lost vision to restore.”

And traditions of mysterious powers, dream-influencing, spirit-exorcising, virtue-awakening, health-giving properties, hung vaguely around the southernwood and made it specially fit to be a Sabbath-day posy. These traditions are softened by the influence of years into simply idealizing, in the mind of every country-bred New Englander, the peculiar refreshing scent of the southernwood as a typical Sabbath-day fragrance. Half a century ago, the pretty feathery pale-green shrub grew in every country door-yard, humble or great, throughout New England; and every church-going woman picked a branch or spray of it when she left her home on Sabbath morn. To this day, on hot summer Sundays, many a staid old daughter of the Puritans may be seen entering the village meeting-house, clad in a lilac-sprigged lawn or a green-striped barege,–a scanty-skirted, surplice-waisted relic of past summers,–with a lace-bordered silk cape or a delicate, time-yellowed, purple and white cashmere scarf on her bent shoulders, wearing on her gray head a shirred-silk or leghorn bonnet, and carrying in her lace-mitted hand a fresh handkerchief, her spectacle-case and well-worn Bible, and a great sprig of the sweet, old-fashioned “lad’s-love.” A rose, a bunch of mignonette would be to her too gay a posy for the Lord’s House and the Lord’s Day. And balmier breath than was ever borne by blossom is the pure fragrance of green growing things,–southernwood, mint, sweet fern, bayberry, sweetbrier. No rose is half so fresh, so countrified, so memory-sweet.

The benches and the pew-seats in the old churches were never cushioned. Occasionally very old or feeble women brought cushions to meeting to sit upon. It is a matter of recent tradition that Colonel Greenleaf caused a nine days’ talk in Newbury town at the beginning of this century when he cushioned his pew. The widow of Sir William Pepperell, who lived in imposing style, had her pew cushioned and lined and curtained with worsted stuff, and carpeted with a heavy bear-skin. This worn, faded, and moth-eaten furniture remained in the Kittery church until the year 1840, just as when Lady Pepperell furnished and occupied the pew. Nor were even the seats of the pulpit cushioned. The “cooshoons” of velvet or leather, which were given by will to the church, and which were kept in the pulpit, and were nibbled by the squirrels, were for the Bible, not the minister, to rest upon.

In many churches–in Durham, Concord and Sandwich–the pews had swing-shelves, “leaning shelves,” upon which a church attendant could rest his paper and his arm when taking notes from the sermon, as was at one time the universal custom, and in which even school-boys of a century ago had to take part. Funny stories are told of the ostentatious notes taken by pompous parishioners who could neither write nor read, but who could scribble, and thus cut a learned figure.

The doors of the pews were usually cut down somewhat lower than the pew-walls, and frequently had no top-rails. They sometimes bore the name of the pew-owner painted in large white letters. They were secured when closed by clumsy wooden buttons. In many country congregations the elderly men–stiff old farmers–had a fashion of standing up in the middle of the sermon to stretch their cramped limbs, and they would lean against and hang over the pew door and stare up and down the aisle. In Andover, Vermont, old Deacon Puffer never let a summer Sunday pass without thus resting and diverting himself. One day, having ill-secured the wooden button at the door of his pew, the leaning-place gave way under his weight, and out he sprawled on all-fours, with a loud clatter, into the middle of the aisle, to the amusement of the children, and the mortification of his wife.

Thus it may be seen, as an old autobiography phrases it, “diversions was frequent in meeting, and the more duller the sermon, the more likely it was that some accident or mischief would be done to help to pass the time.”


Seating the Meeting.

Perhaps no duty was more important and more difficult of satisfactory performance in the church work in early New England than “seating the meeting-house.” Our Puritan forefathers, though bitterly denouncing all forms and ceremonies, were great respecters of persons; and in nothing was the regard for wealth and position more fully shown than in designating the seat in which each person should sit during public worship. A committee of dignified and influential men was appointed to assign irrevocably to each person his or her place, according to rank and importance. Whittier wrote of this custom:–

“In the goodly house of worship, where in order due and fit, As by public vote directed, classed and ranked the people sit; Mistress first and goodwife after, clerkly squire before the clown, From the brave coat, lace embroidered: to the gray frock shading down.”

In many cases the members of the committee were changed each year or at each fresh seating, in order to obviate any of the effects of partiality through kinship, friendship, personal esteem, or debt. A second committee was also appointed to seat the members of committee number one, in order that, as Haverhill people phrased it, “there may be no Grumbling at them for picking and placing themselves.”

This seating committee sent to the church the list of all the attendants and the seats assigned to them, and when the list had been twice or thrice read to the congregation, and nailed on the meeting-house door, it became a law. Then some such order as this of the church at Watertown, Connecticut, was passed: “It is ordered that the next Sabbath Day every person shall take his or her seat appointed to them, and not go to any other seat where others are placed: And if any one of the inhabitants shall act contrary, he shall for the first offence be reproved by the deacons, and for a second pay a fine of two shillings, and a like fine for each offence ever after.” Or this of the Stratham church: “When the comety have Seatid the meeting-house every person that is Seatid shall set in those Seats or pay Five Shillings Pir Day for every day they set out of There seats in a Disorderly Manner to advance themselves Higher in the meeting-house.” These two church-laws were very lenient. In many towns the punishments and fines were much more severe. Two men of Newbury were in 1669 fined L27 4s. each for “disorderly going and setting in seats belonging to others.” They were dissatisfied with the seats assigned to them by the seating committee, and openly and defiantly rebelled. Other and more peaceable citizens “entred their Decents” to the first decision of the committee and asked for reconsideration of their special cases and for promotion to a higher pew before the final orders were “Jsued.”

In all the Puritan meetings, as then and now in Quaker meetings, the men sat on one side of the meeting-house and the women on the other; and they entered by separate doors. It was a great and much-contested change when men and women were ordered to sit together “promiscuoslie.” In front, on either side of the pulpit (or very rarely in the foremost row in the gallery), was a seat of highest dignity, known as the “foreseat,” in which only the persons of greatest importance in the community sat.

Sometimes a row of square pews was built on three sides of the ground floor, and each pew occupied by separate families, while the pulpit was on the fourth side. If any man wished such a private pew for himself and family, he obtained permission from the church and town, and built it at his own expense. Immediately in front of the pulpit was either a long seat or a square inclosed pew for the deacons, who sat facing the congregation. This was usually a foot or two above the level of the other pews, and was reached by two or three steep, narrow steps. On a still higher plane was a pew for the ruling elders, when ruling elders there were. The magistrates also had a pew for their special use. What we now deem the best seats, those in the middle of the church, were in olden times the free seats.

Usually, on one side of the pulpit was a square pew for the minister’s family. When there were twenty-six children in the family, as at least one New England parson could boast, and when ministers’ families of twelve or fourteen children were far from unusual, it is no wonder that we find frequent votes to “inlarge the ministers wives pew the breadth of the alley,” or to “take in the next pue to the ministers wives pue into her pue.” The seats in the gallery were universally regarded in the early churches as the most exalted, in every sense, in the house, with the exception, of course, of the dignity-bearing foreseat and the few private pews.

It is easy to comprehend what a source of disappointed anticipation, heart-burning jealousy, offended dignity, unseemly pride, and bitter quarrelling this method of assigning scats, and ranking thereby, must have been in those little communities. How the goodwivcs must have hated the seating committee! Though it was expressly ordered, when the committee rendered their decision, that “the inhabitants are to rest silent and sett down satysfyed,” who can still the tongue of an envious woman or an insulted man? Though they were Puritans, they were first of all men and women, and complaints and revolts were frequent. Judge Sewall records that one indignant dame “treated Captain Osgood very roughly on account of seating the meeting-house.” To her the difference between a seat in the first and one in the second row was immeasurably great. It was not alone the Scribes and Pharisees who desired the highest seats in the synagogue.

It was found necessary at a very early date to “dignify the meeting,” which was to make certain seats, though in different localities, equal in dignity; thus could peace and contented pride be partially restored. For instance, the seating committee in the Sutton church used their “best discresing,” and voted that “the third seat below be equal in dignity with the foreseat in the front gallery, and the fourth seat below be equal in dignity with the foreseat in the side gallery,” etc., thus making many seats of equal honor. Of course wives had to have seats of equal importance with those of their husbands, and each widow retained the dignity apportioned to her in her husband’s lifetime. We can well believe that much “discresing” was necessary in dignifying as well as in seating. Often, after building a new meeting-house with all the painstaking and thoughtful judgment that could be shown, the dissensions over the seating lasted for years. The conciliatory fashion of “dignifying the seats” clung long in the Congregational churches of New England. In East Hartford and Windsor it was not abandoned until 1824.

Many men were unwilling to serve on these seating committees, and refused to “medle with the seating,” protesting against it on account of the odium that was incurred, but they were seldom “let off.” Even so influential and upright a man as Judge Sewall felt a dread of the responsibility and of the personal spleen he might arouse. He also feared in one case lest his seat-decisions might, if disliked, work against the ministerial peace of his son, who had been recently ordained as pastor of the church. Sometimes the difficulty was settled in this way: the entire church (or rather the male members) voted who should occupy the foreseat, or the highest pew, and the voted-in occupants of this seat of honor formed a committee, who in turn seated the others of the congregation.

In the town of Rowley, “age, office, and the amount paid toward building the meeting-house were considered when assigning seats.” Other towns had very amusing and minute rules for seating. Each year of the age counted one degree. Military service counted eight degrees. The magistrate’s office counted ten degrees. Every forty shillings paid in on the church rate counted one degree. We can imagine the ambitious Puritan adding up his degrees, and paying in forty shillings more in order to sit one seat above his neighbor who was a year or two older.

In Pittsfield, as early as the year 1765, the pews were sold by “vandoo” to the highest bidder, in order to stop the unceasing quarrels over the seating. In Windham, Connecticut, in 1762, the adoption of this pacificatory measure only increased the dissension when it was discovered that some miserable “bachelors who never paid for more than one head and a horse” had bid in several of the best pews in the meeting-house. In New London, two women, sisters-in-law, were seated side by side. Each claimed the upper or more dignified seat, and they quarrelled so fiercely over the occupation of it that they had to be brought before the town meeting.

In no way could honor and respect be shown more satisfactorily in the community than by the seat assigned in meeting. When Judge Sewall married his second wife, he writes with much pride: “Mr. Oliver in the names of the Overseers invites my Wife to sit in the foreseat. I thought to have brought her into my pue. I thankt him and the Overseers.” His wife died in a few months, and he reproached himself for his pride in this honor, and left the seat which he had in the men’s foreseat. “God in his holy Sovereignty put my wife out of the Fore Seat. I apprehended I had Cause to be ashamed of my Sin and loath myself for it, and retired into my Pue,” which was of course less dignified than the foreseat.

Often, in thriving communities, the “pues” and benches did not afford seating room enough for the large number who wished to attend public worship, and complaints were frequent that many were “obliged to sit squeased on the stairs.” Persons were allowed to bring chairs and stools into the meeting-house, and place them in the “alleys.” These extra seats became often such encumbering nuisances that in many towns laws were passed abolishing and excluding them, or, as in Hadley, ordering them “back of the women’s seats.” In 1759 it was ordered in that town to “clear the Alleys of the meeting-house of chairs and other Incumbrances.” Where the chairless people went is not told; perhaps they sat in the doorway, or, in the summer time, listened outside the windows. One forward citizen of Hardwicke had gradually moved his chair down the church alley, step by step, Sunday after Sunday, from one position of dignity to another still higher, until at last he boldly invaded the deacons’ seat. When, in the year 1700, this honored position was forbidden him, in his chagrin and mortification he committed suicide by hanging.

The young men sat together in rows, and the young women in corresponding seats on the other side of the house. In 1677 the selectmen of Newbury gave permission to a few young women to build a pew in the gallery. It is impossible to understand why this should have roused the indignation of the bachelors of the town, but they were excited and angered to such a pitch that they broke a window, invaded the meeting-house, and “broke the pue in pessis.” For this sacrilegious act they were fined L10 each, and sentenced to be whipped or pilloried. In consideration, however, of the fact that many of them had been brave soldiers, the punishment was omitted when they confessed and asked forgiveness. This episode is very comical; it exhibits the Puritan youth in such an ungallant and absurd light. When, ten years later, liberty was given to ten young men, who had sat in the “foure backer seats in the gallery,” to build a pew in “the hindermost seat in the gallery behind the pulpit,” it is not recorded that the Salem young women made any objection. In the Woburn church, the four daughters of one of the most respected families in the place received permission to build a pew in which to sit. Here also such indignant and violent protests were made by the young men that the selectmen were obliged to revoke the permission. It would be interesting to know the bachelors’ discourteous objections to young women being allowed to own a pew, but no record of their reasons is given. Bachelors were so restricted and governed in the colonies that perhaps they resented the thought of any independence being allowed to single women. Single men could not live alone, but were forced to reside with some family to whom the court assigned them, and to do in all respects just what the court ordered. Thus, in olden times, a man had to marry to obtain his freedom. The only clue to a knowledge of the cause of the fierce and resentful objection of New England young men to permitting the young women of the various congregations to build and own a “maids pue” is contained in the record of the church of the town of Scotland, Connecticut. “An Hurlburt, Pashants and Mary Lazelle, Younes Bingham, prudenc Hurlburt and Jerusha meachem” were empowered to build a pew “provided they build within a year and raise ye pue no higher than the seat is on the Mens side.” “Never ye Less,” saith the chronicle, “ye above said have built said pue much higher than ye order, and if they do not lower the same within one month from this time the society comitte shall take said pue away.” Do you wonder that the bachelors resented this towering “maids pue?” that they would not be scornfully looked down upon every Sabbath by women-folk, especially by a girl named “meachem”? Pashants and Younes and prudenc had to quickly come down from their unlawfully high church-perch and take a more humble seat, as befitted them; thus did their “vaulting ambition o’erleap itself and fall on the other side.” Perhaps the Salem maids also built too high and imposing a pew. In Haverhill, in 1708, young women were permitted to build pews, provided they did not “damnify the Stairway.” This somewhat profane-sounding restriction they heeded, and the Haverhill maids occupied their undamnifying “pue” unmolested. Medford young women, however, in 1701, when allowed only one side gallery for seats, while the young men were assigned one side and all the front gallery, made such an uproar that the town had to call a meeting, and restore to them their “woman’s rights” in half the front gallery.

Infants were brought to church in their mothers’ arms, and on summer days the young mothers often sat at the meeting-house door or in the porch,–if porch there were,–where, listening to the word of God, they could attend also to the wants of their babes. I have heard, too, of a little cage, or frame, which was to be seen in the early meeting-houses, for the purpose of holding children who were too young to sit alone,–poor Puritan babies! Little girls sat with their mothers or elder sisters on “crickets” within the pews; or if the family were over-numerous, the children and crickets exundated into “the alley without the pues.” Often a row of little daughters of Zion sat on three-legged stools and low seats the entire length of the aisle,–weary, sleepy, young sentinels “without the gates.”

The boys, the Puritan boys, those wild animals who were regarded with such suspicion, such intense disfavor, by all elderly Puritan eyes, and who were publicly stigmatized by the Duxbury elders as “ye wretched boys on ye Lords Day,” were herded by themselves. They usually sat on the pulpit and gallery stairs, and constables or tithingmen were appointed to watch over them and control them. In Salem, in 1676, it was ordered that “all ye boyes of ye towne are and shall be appointed to sitt upon ye three pair of stairs in ye meeting-house on ye Lords Day, and Wm. Lord is appointed to look after ye boyes yt sitte upon ye pulpit stairs. Reuben Guppy is to look and order soe many of ye boyes as may be convenient, and if any are unruly, to present their names, as the law directs.” Nowadays we should hardly seat boys in a group if we wished them to be orderly and decorous, and I fear the man “by the name of Guppy” found it no easy task to preserve order and due gravity among the Puritan boys in Salem meeting. In fact, the rampant boys behaved thus badly for the very reason that they were seated together instead of with their respective families; and not until the fashion was universal of each family sitting in a pew or group by itself did the boys in meeting behave like human beings rather than like mischievous and unruly monkeys.

In Stratford, in 1668, a tithingman was “appointed to watch over the youths of disorderly carriage, and see that they behave themselves comelie, and use such raps and blows as in his discretion meet.”

I like to think of those rows of sober-faced Puritan boys seated on the narrow, steep pulpit stairs, clad in knee-breeches and homespun flapped coats, and with round, cropped heads, miniature likenesses in dress and countenance (if not in deportment) of their grave, stern, God-fearing fathers. Though they were of the sedate Puritan blood, they were boys, and they wriggled and twisted, and scraped their feet noisily on the sanded floor; and I know full well that the square-toed shoes of one in whom “original sin” waxed powerful, thrust many a sly dig in the ribs and back of the luckless wight who chanced to sit in front of and below him on the pulpit stairs. Many a dried kernel of Indian corn was surreptitiously snapped at the head of an unwary neighbor, and many a sly word was whispered and many a furtive but audible “snicker” elicited when the dread tithingman was “having an eye-out” and administering “discreet raps and blows” elsewhere.

One of these wicked youths in Andover was brought before the magistrate, and it was charged that he “Sported and played and by Indecent Gestures and Wry Faces caused laughter and misbehavior in the Beholders.” The girls were not one whit better behaved. One of “ye tything men chosen of ye town of Norwich” reported that “Tabatha Morgus of s’d Norwich Did on ye 24th day February it being Sabbath on ye Lordes Day, prophane ye Lordes Day in ye meeting house of ye west society in ye time of ye forenoone service on s’d Day by her rude and Indecent Behaviour in Laughing and Playing in ye time of ye s’d Service which Doinges of ye s’d Tabatha is against ye peace of our Sovereign Lord ye King, his Crown and Dignity.” Wanton Tabatha had to pay three shilings sixpence for her ill-timed mid-winter frolic. Perhaps she laughed to try to keep warm. Those who laughed at the misdemeanors of others were fined as well. Deborah Bangs, a young girl, in 1755 paid a fine of five shillings for “Larfing in the Wareham Meeting House in time of Public Worship,” and a boy at the same time, for the same offence, paid a fine of ten shillings. He may have laughed louder and longer. In a law-book in which Jonathan Trumbull recorded the minor cases which he tried as justice of the peace, was found this entry: “His Majesties Tithing man entered complaint against Jona. and Susan Smith, that on the Lords Day during Divine Service, they did _smile_.” They were found guilty, and each was fined five shillings and costs,–poor smiling Susan and Jonathan.

Those wretched Puritan boys, those “sons of Belial,” whittled, too, and cut the woodwork and benches of the meeting-house in those early days, just as their descendants have ever since hacked and cut the benches and desks in country schoolhouses,–though how they ever eluded the vigilant eye and ear of the ubiquitous tithingman long enough to whittle will ever remain an unsolved mystery of the past. This early forerunning evidence of what has become a characteristic Yankee trait and habit was so annoyingly and extensively exhibited in Medford, in 1729, that an order was passed to prosecute and punish “all who cut the seats in the meeting-house.”

Few towns were content to have one tithingman and one staff, but ordered that there should be a guardian set over the boys in every corner of the meeting-house. In Hanover it was ordered “That there be some sticks set up in various places in the meeting-house, and fit persons by them and _to use them_.” I doubt not that the sticks were well used, and Hanover boys were well rapped in meeting.

The Norwalk people come down through history shining with a halo of gentle lenity, for their tithingman was ordered to bear a short, small stick only, and he was “Desired to use it with clemency.” However, if any boy proved “incoridgable,” he could be “presented” before the elders; and perhaps he would rather have been treated as were Hartford boys by cruel Hartford church folk, who ordered that if “any boye shall be taken playing or misbehaving himself in the time of publick worship whether in the meeting-house or about the walls he shall be examined and punished at the present publickly before the assembly depart.” Parson Chauncey, of Durham, when a boy misbehaved in meeting, and was “punched up” by the tithingman, often stopped in his sermon, called the godless young offender by name, and asked him to come to the parsonage the next day. Some very tender and beautiful lessons were taught to these Durham boys at these Monday morning interviews, and have descended to us in tradition; and the good Mr. Chauncey stands out a shining light of Christian patience and forbearance at a time when every other New England minister, from John Cotton down, preached and practised the stern repression and sharp correction of all children, and chanted together in solemn chorus, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”

One vicious tithingman invented, and was allowed to exercise on the boys, a punishment which was the refinement of cruelty. He walked up to the laughing, sporting, or whittling boy, took him by the collar or the arm, led him ostentatiously across the meeting-house, and seated him by his shamefaced mother on the women’s side. It was as if one grandly proud in kneebreeches should be forced to walk abroad in petticoats. Far rather would the disgraced boy have been whacked soundly with the heavy knob of the tithingman’s staff; for bodily pain is soon forgotten, while mortifying abasement lingers long.

The tithingman could also take any older youth who misbehaved or “acted unsivill” in meeting from his manly seat with the grown men, and force him to sit again with the boys; “if any over sixteen are disorderly, they shall be ordered to said seats.” Not only could these men of authority keep the boys in order during meeting, but they also had full control during the nooning, and repressed and restrained and vigorously corrected the luckless boys during the midday hours. When seats in the galleries grew to be regarded as inferior to seats and pews on the ground floor, the boys, who of course must have the worst place in the house, were relegated from the pulpit stairs to pews in the gallery, and these square, shut-off pews grew to be what Dr. Porter called “the Devil’s play-houses,” and turbulent outbursts were frequent enough.

The little boys still sat downstairs under their parents’ watchful eyes. “No child under 10 alowed to go up Gailary.” In the Sutherland church, if the big boys (who ought to have known better) “behaved unseemly,” one of the tithing-men who “took turns to set in the Galary” was ordered “to bring Such Bois out of the Galary & set them before the Deacon’s Seat” with the small boys. In Plainfield, Connecticut, the “pestigeous” boys managed to invent a new form of annoyance,–they “damnified the glass;” and a church regulation had to be passed to prevent, or rather to try to prevent them from “opening the windows or in any way damnifying the glass.” It was doubtless hot work scuffling and wrestling in the close, shut-in pews high up under the roof, and they naturally wished to cool down by opening or breaking the windows. Grown persons could not inconsiderately open the church windows either. “The Constables are desired to _take notic_ of the persons that open the windows in the tyme of publick worship.” No rheumatic-y draughts, no bronchitis-y damps, no pure air was allowed to enter the New England meeting-house. The church doubtless took a vote before it allowed a single window to be opened.

In Westfield, Massachusetts, the boys became so abominably rampant that the church formally decided “that if there is not a Reformation Respecting the Disorders in the Pews built on the Great Beam in the time of Publick Worship the comite can pul it down.”

The fashion of seating the boys in pews by themselves was slow of abolishment in many of the churches. In Windsor, Connecticut, “boys’ pews” were a feature of the church until 1845. As years rolled on, the tithingmen became restricted in their authority: they could no longer administer “raps and blows;” they were forced to content themselves with loud rappings on the floor, and pointing with a staff or with a condemning finger at the misdemeanant. At last the deacons usurped these functions, and if rapping and pointing did not answer the purpose of establishing order (if the boy “psisted”), led the stubborn offender out of meeting; and they had full authority soundly to thrash the “wretched boy” on the horse-block. Rev. Dr. Dakin tells the story that, hearing a terrible noise and disturbance while he was praying in a church in Quincy, he felt constrained to open his eyes to ascertain the cause thereof; and he beheld a red-haired boy firmly clutching the railing on the front edge of the gallery, while a venerable deacon as firmly clutched the boy. The young rebel held fast, and the correcting deacon held fast also, until at last the balustrade gave way, and boy, deacon, and railing fell together with a resounding crash. Then, rising from the wooden debris, the thoroughly subdued boy and the triumphant deacon left the meeting-house to finish their little affair; and unmistakable swishing sounds, accompanied by loud wails and whining protestations, were soon heard from the region of the horse-sheds. Parents never resented such chastisings; it was expected, and even desired, that boys should be whipped freely by every school-master and person of authority who chose so to do.

In some old church-orders for seating, boys were classed with negroes, and seated with them; but in nearly all towns the negroes had seats by themselves. The black women were all seated on a long bench or in an inclosed pew labelled “B.W.,” and the negro men in one labelled “B.M.” One William Mills, a jesting soul, being asked by a pompous stranger where he could sit in meeting, told the visitor that he was welcome to sit in Bill Mills’s pew, and that it was marked “B.M.” The man, who chanced to be ignorant of the local custom of marking the negro seats, accepted the kind invitation, and seated himself in the black men’s pew, to the delight of Bill Mills, the amusement of the boys, the scandal of the elders, and his own disgust.

Sometimes a little pew or short gallery was built high up among the beams and joists over the staircase which led to the first gallery, and was called the “swallows’ nest,” or the “roof pue,” or the “second gallery.” It was reached by a steep, ladder-like staircase, and was often assigned to the negroes and Indians of the congregation.

Often “ye seat between ye Deacons seat and ye pulpit is for persons hard of hearing to sett in.” In nearly every meeting a bench or pew full of aged men might be seen near the pulpit, and this seat was called, with Puritan plainness of speech, the “Deaf Pew.” Some very deaf church members (when the boys were herded elsewhere) sat on the pulpit stairs, and even in the pulpit, alongside the preacher, where they disconcertingly upturned their great tin ear-trumpets directly in his face. The persistent joining in the psalm-singing by these deaf old soldiers and farmers was one of the bitter trials which the leader of the choir had to endure.

The singers’ seats were usually in the galleries; sometimes upon the ground floor, in the “hind-row on either side.” Occasionally the choir sat in two rows of seats that extended quite across the floor of the house, in front of the deacons’ seat and the pulpit. The men singers then sat facing the congregation, while the women singers faced the pulpit. Between them ran a long rack for the psalm-books. When they sang they stood up, and bawled and fugued in each other’s faces. Often a square pew was built for the singers, and in the centre of this enclosure was a table, on which were laid, when at rest, the psalm-books. When they sang, the choir thus formed a hollow square, as does any determined band, for strength.

One other seat in the old Puritan meeting-house, a seat of gloom, still throws its darksome shadow down through the years,–the stool of repentance. “Barbarous and cruel punishments” were forbidden by the statutes of the new colony, but on this terrible soul-rack the shrinking, sullen, or defiant form of some painfully humiliated man or woman sat, crushed, stunned, stupefied by overwhelming disgrace, through the long Christian sermon; cowering before the hard, pitiless gaze of the assembled and godly congregation, and the cold rebuke of the pious minister’s averted face; bearing on the poor sinful head a deep-branding paper inscribed in “Capitall Letters” with the name of some dark or mysterious crime, or wearing on the sleeve some strange and dread symbol, or on the breast a scarlet letter.

Let us thank God that these soul-blasting and hope-killing exposures–so degrading to the criminal, so demoralizing to the community,–these foul, in-human blots on our fair and dearly loved Puritan Lord’s Day, were never frequent, nor did the form of punishment obtain for a long time. In 1681 two women were sentenced to sit during service on a high stool in the middle alley of the Salem meeting-house, having on their heads a paper bearing the name of their crime; and a woman in Agamenticus at about the same date was ordered “to stand in a white sheet publicly two several Sabbath-Days with the mark of her offence on her forehead.” These are the latest records of this punishment that I have chanced to see.

Thus, from old church and town records, we plainly discover that each laic, deacon, elder, criminal, singer, and even the ungodly boy had his alloted place as absolutely assigned to him in the old meeting-house as was the pulpit to the parson. Much has been said in semi-ridicule of this old custom of “seating” and “dignifying,” yet it did not in reality differ much from our modern way of selling the best pews to whoever will pay the most. Perhaps the old way was the better, since, in the early churches, age, education, dignity, and reputation were considered as well as wealth.


The Tithingman and the Sleepers.

The most grotesque, the most extraordinary, the most highly colored figure in the dull New England church-life was the tithingman. This fairly burlesque creature impresses me always with a sense of unreality, of incongruity, of strange happening, like a jesting clown in a procession of monks, like a strain of low comedy in the sober religious drama of early New England Puritan life; so out of place, so unreal is this fussy, pompous, restless tithingman, with his fantastic wand of office fringed with dangling foxtails,–creaking, bustling, strutting, peering around the quiet meeting-house, prodding and rapping the restless boys, waking the drowsy sleepers; for they slept in country churches in the seventeenth century, notwithstanding dread of fierce correction, just as they nod and doze and softly puff, unawakened and unrebuked, in village churches throughout New England in the nineteenth century.

This absurd and distorted type of the English church beadle, this colonial sleep banisher, was equipped with a long staff, heavily knobbed at one end, with which he severely and pitilessly rapped the heads of the too sleepy men, and the too wide-awake boys. From the other end of this wand of office depended a long foxtail, or a hare’s-foot, which he softly thrust in the faces of the sleeping Priscillas, Charitys, and Hopestills, and which gently brushed and tickled them into reverent but startled wakefulness.

One zealous but too impetuous tithingman in his pious ardor of office inadvertently applied the wrong end, the end with the heavy knob, the masculine end, to a drowsy matron’s head; and for this severely ungallant mistake he was cautioned by the ruling elders to thereafter use “more discresing and less heist.”

Another over-watchful Newbury “awakener” rapped on the head a nodding man who protested indignantly that he was wide-awake, and was only bowing in solemn assent and approval of the minister’s arguments. Roger Scott, of Lynn, in 1643 struck the tithingman who thus roughly and suddenly wakened him; and poor sleepy and bewildered Roger, who is branded through all time as “a common sleeper at the publick exercise,” was, for this most naturally resentful act, but also most shockingly grave offence, soundly whipped, as a warning both to keep awake and not to strike back in meeting.

Obadiah Turner, of Lynn, gives in his Journal a sad, sad disclosure of total depravity which was exposed by one of these sudden church-awakenings, and the story is best told in the journalist’s own vivid words:–

“June 3, 1616.–Allen Bridges hath bin chose to wake ye sleepers in meeting. And being much proude of his place, must needs have a fox taile fixed to ye ende of a long staff wherewith he may brush ye faces of them yt will have napps in time of discourse, likewise a sharpe thorne whereby he may pricke such as be most sound. On ye last Lord his day, as hee strutted about ye meeting-house, he did spy Mr. Tomlins sleeping with much comfort, hys head kept steadie by being in ye corner, and his hand grasping ye rail. And soe spying, Allen did quickly thrust his staff behind Dame Ballard and give him a grievous prick upon ye hand. Whereupon Mr. Tomlins did spring vpp mch above ye floore, and with terrible force strike hys hand against ye wall; and also, to ye great wonder of all, prophanlie exclaim in a loud voice, curse ye wood-chuck, he dreaming so it seemed yt a wood-chuck had seized and bit his hand. But on coming to know where he was, and ye greate scandall he had committed, he seemed much abashed, but did not speak. And I think he will not soon again goe to sleepe in meeting.”

How clear the picture! Can you not see it?–the warm June sunlight streaming in through the narrow, dusty windows of the old meeting-house; the armed watcher at the door; the Puritan men and women in their sad-colored mantles seated sternly upright on the hard narrow benches; the black-gowned minister, the droning murmur of whose sleepy voice mingles with the out-door sounds of the rustle of leafy branches, the song of summer birds, the hum of buzzing insects, and the muffled stamping of horses’ feet; the restless boys on the pulpit-stairs; the tired, sleeping Puritan with his head thrown back in the corner of the pew; the vain, strutting, tithingman with his fantastic and thorned staff of office; and then–the sudden, electric wakening, and the consternation of the whole staid and pious congregation at such terrible profanity in the house of God. Ah!–it was not two hundred and forty years ago; when I read the quaint words my Puritan blood stirs my drowsy brain, and I remember it all well, just as I saw it last summer in June.

Another catastrophe from too fierce zeal on the part of the tithingman is recorded. An old farmer, worn out with a hard Saturday’s work at sheep-washing, fell asleep ere the hour-glass had once been turned. Though he was a man of dignity, for he sat in his own pew, he could not escape the rod of the pragmatical tithingman. Being rudely disturbed, but not wholly wakened, the bewildered sheep-farmer sprung to his feet, seized his astonished and mortified wife by the shoulders and shook her violently, shouting at the top of his voice, “Haw back! haw back! Stand still, will ye?” Poor goodman and goodwife! many years elapsed ere they recovered from that keen disgrace.

The ministers encouraged and urged the tithingmen to faithfully perform their allotted work. One early minister “did not love sleepers in ye meeting-house, and would stop short in ye exercise and call pleasantlie to wake ye sleepers, and once of a warm Summer afternoon he did take hys hat off from ye pegg in ye beam, and put it on, saying he would go home and feed his fowles and come back again, and maybe their sleepe would be ended, and they readie to hear ye remainder of hys discourse.” Another time he suggested that they might like better the Church of England service of sitting down and standing up, and we can be sure that this “was competent to keepe their eyes open for a twelvemonth.”

All this was in the church of Mr. Whiting, of Lynn, a somewhat jocose Puritan,–if jocularity in a Puritan is not too anomalous an attribute to have ever existed. We can be sure that there was neither sleeping nor jesting allusion to such an irreverence in Mr. Mather’s, Mr. Welde’s, or Mr. Cotton’s meetings. In many rigidly severe towns, as in Portsmouth in 1662 and in Boston in 1667, it was ordered by the selectmen as a proper means of punishment that a “cage be made or some other means invented for such as sleepe on the Lord’s Daie.” Perhaps they woke the offender up and rudely and summarily dragged him out and caged him at once and kept him thus prisoned throughout the nooning,–a veritable jail-bird.

A rather unconventional and eccentric preacher in Newbury awoke one sleeper in a most novel manner. The first name of the sleeping man was Mark, and the preacher in his sermon made use of these Biblical words: “I say unto you, mark the perfect man and behold the upright.” But in the midst of his low, monotonous sermon-voice he roared out the word “mark” in a loud shout that brought the dozing Mark to his feet, bewildered but wide awake.

Mr. Moody, of York, Maine, employed a similar device to awaken and mortify the sleepers in meeting. He shouted “Fire, fire, fire!” and when the startled and blinking men jumped up, calling out “Where?” he roared back in turn, “In hell, for sleeping sinners.” Rev. Mr. Phillips, of Andover, in 1755, openly rebuked his congregation for “sleeping away a great part of the sermon;” and on the Sunday following an earthquake shock which was felt throughout New England, he said he hoped the “Glorious Lord of the Sabbath had given them such a shaking as would keep them awake through one sermon-time.” Other and more autocratic parsons did not hesitate to call out their sleeping parishioners plainly by name, sternly telling them also to “Wake up!” A minister in Brunswick, Maine, thus pointedly wakened one of his sweet-sleeping church-attendants, a man of some dignity and standing in the community, and received the shocking and tautological answer, “Mind your own business, and go on with your sermon.”

The women would sometimes nap a little without being discovered. “Ye women may sometimes sleepe and none know by reason of their enormous bonnets. Mr. Whiting doth pleasantlie say from ye pulpit hee doth seeme to be preaching to stacks of straw with men among them.”

From this seventeenth-century comment upon the size of the women’s bonnets, it may be seen that objections to women’s overwhelming and obscuring headgear in public assemblies are not entirely complaining protests of modern growth. Other records refer to the annoyance from the exaggerated size of bonnets. In 1769 the church in Andover openly “put to vote whether the parish Disapprove of the Female sex sitting with their Hats on in the Meeting-house in time of Divine Service as being Indecent.” The parish did Disapprove, with a capital D, for the vote passed in the affirmative. There is no record, however, to tell whether the Indecent fashion was abandoned, but I warrant no tithingman was powerful enough to make Andover women take off their proudly worn Sunday bonnets if they did not want to. Another town voted that it was the “Town’s Mind” that the women should take off their bonnets and “hang them on the peggs,” as did the men their headgear. But the Town’s Mind was not a Woman’s Mind; and the big-bonnet wearers, vain though they were Puritans, did as they pleased with their own bonnets. And indeed, in spite of votes and in spite of expostulations, the female descendants of the Puritans, through constantly recurring waves of fashion, have ever since been indecently wearing great obscuring hats and bonnets in public assemblies, even up to the present day.

The tithingman had other duties than awakening the sleepers and looking after “the boyes that playes and rapping those boyes,”–in short, seeing that every one was attentive in meeting except himself,–and the duties and powers of the office varied in different communities. Several of these officers were appointed in each parish. In Newbury, in 1688, there were twenty tithingmen, and in Salem twenty-five. They were men of authority, not only on Sunday, but throughout the entire week. Each had several neighboring families (usually ten, as the word “tithing” would signify) under his charge to watch during the week, to enforce the learning of the catechism at home, especially by the children, and sometimes he heard them “Say their Chatachize.” These families he also watched specially on the Sabbath, and reported whether all the members thereof attended public worship. Not content with mounting guard over the boys on Sundays, he also watched on weekdays to keep boys and “all persons from swimming in the water.” Do you think his duties were light in July and August, when school was out, to watch the boys of ten families? One man watching one family cannot prevent such “violations of the peace” in country towns now-a-days. He sometimes inspected the “ordinaries” and made complaint of any disorders which he there discovered, and gave in the names of “idle tiplers and gamers,” and he could warn the tavern-keeper to sell no more liquor to any toper whom he knew or fancied was drinking too heavily. Josselyn complained bitterly that during his visit to New England in 1663 at “houses of entertainment called ordinaries into which a stranger went, he was presently followed by one appointed to that office who would thrust himself into his company uninvited, and if he called for more drink than the officer thought in his judgment he could soberly bear away, he would presently countermand it, and appoint the proportion beyond which he could not get one drop.” The tithingman had a “spetial eye-out” on all bachelors, who were also carefully spied upon by the constables, deacons, elders, and heads of families in general. He might, perhaps, help to collect the ministerial rate, though his principal duty was by no means the collecting of tithes. He “worned peple out of ye towne.” This warning was not at all because the new-comers were objectionable or undesired, but was simply a legal form of precaution, so that the parish would never be liable for the keeping of the “worned” ones in case they thereafter became paupers. He administered the “oath of fidelity” to new inhabitants. The tithingman also watched to see that “no young people walked abroad on the eve of the Sabbath,”–that is, on a Saturday night. He also marked and reported all those “who lye at home,” and others who “prophanely behaved, lingered without dores at meeting time on the Lordes Daie,” all the “sons of Belial strutting about, setting on fences, and otherwise desecrating the day.” These last two classes of offenders were first admonished by the tithingman, then “Sett in stocks,” and then cited before the Court. They were also confined in the cage on the meeting-house green, with the Lord’s Day sleepers. The tithingman could arrest any who walked or rode at too fast a pace to and from meeting, and he could arrest any who “walked or rode unnecessarily on the Sabath.” Great and small alike were under his control, as this notice from the “Columbian Centinel” of December, 1789, abundantly proves. It is entitled “The President and the Tything man:”–

“The President, on his return to New York from his late tour through Connecticut, having missed his way on Saturday, was obliged to ride a few miles on Sunday morning in order to gain the town at which he had previously proposed to have attended divine service. Before he arrived however he was met by a Tything man, who commanding him to stop, demanded the occasion of his riding; and it was not until the President had informed him of every circumstance and promised to go no further than the town intended that the Tything man would permit him to proceed on his journey.”

Various were the subterfuges to outwit the tithingman and elude his vigilance on the Sabbath. We all remember the amusing incident in “Oldtown Folks.” A similar one really happened. Two gay young sparks driving through the town on the Sabbath were stopped by the tithingman; one offender said mournfully in excuse of his Sabbath travel, “My grandmother is lying dead in the next town.” Being allowed to drive on, he stood up in his wagon when at a safe distance and impudently shouted back, “And she’s been lying dead in the graveyard there for thirty years.”

Thus it may be seen that the ancient tithingman was pre-eminently a general _snook_, to use an old and expressive word,–an informer, both in and out of meeting,–a very necessary, but somewhat odious, and certainly at times very absurd officer. He was in a degree a constable, a selectman, a teacher, a tax-collector, an inspector, a sexton, a home-watcher, and above all, a Puritan Bumble, whose motto was _Hie et ubique_. He was, in fact, a general law-enforcer and order-keeper, whose various duties, wherever still necessary and still performed, are now apportioned to several individuals. The ecclesiastical functions and authority of the tithingman lingered long after the civil powers had been removed or had gradually passed away from his office. Persons are now living who in their early and unruly youth were rapped at and pointed at by a New England tithingman when they laughed or were noisy in meeting.


The Length of the Service.

Watches were unknown in the early colonial days of New England, and for a long time after their introduction both watches and clocks were costly and rare. John Davenport of New Haven, who died in 1670, left a clock to his heirs; and E. Needham, who died in 1677, left a “Striking clock, a watch, and a Larum that dus not Strike,” worth L5; these are perhaps the first records of the ownership of clocks and watches in New England. The time of the day was indicated to our forefathers in their homes by “noon marks” on the floor or window-seats, and by picturesque sundials; and in the civil and religious meetings the passage of time was marked by a strong brass-bound hour-glass, which stood on a desk below or beside the pulpit, or which was raised on a slender iron rod and standard, so that all the members of the congregation could easily watch “the sands that ran i’ the clock’s behalf.” By the side of the desk sat, on the Sabbath, a sexton, clerk, or tithingman, whose duty it was to turn the hour-glass as often as the sands ran out. This was a very ostentatious way of reminding the clergyman how long he had preached; but if it were a hint to bring the discourse to an end, it was never heeded; for contemporary historical registers tell of most painfully long sermons, reaching up through long sub-divisions and heads to “twenty-seventhly” and “twenty-eighthly.”

At the planting of the first church in Woburn, Massachusetts, the Rev. Mr. Symmes showed his godliness and endurance (and proved that of his parishioners also) by preaching between four and five hours. Sermons which occupied two or three hours were customary enough. One old Scotch clergyman in Vermont, in the early years of this century, bitterly and fiercely resented the “popish innovation and Sabbath profanation” of a Sunday-school for the children, which some daring and progressive parishioners proposed to hold at the “nooning.” This canny Parson Whiteinch very craftily and somewhat maliciously prolonged his morning sermons until they each occupied three hours; thus he shortened the time between the two services to about half an hour, and victoriously crowded out the Sunday-school innovators, who had barely time to eat their cold lunch and care for their waiting horses, ere it was time for the afternoon service to begin. But one man cannot stop the tide, though he may keep it for a short time from one guarded and sheltered spot; and the rebellious Vermont congregation, after two or three years of tedious three-hour sermons, arose in a body and crowded out the purposely prolix preacher, and established the wished-for Sunday-school. The vanquished parson thereafter sullenly spent the noonings in the horse-shed, to which he ostentatiously carried the big church-Bible in order that it might not be at the service of the profaning teachers.

An irreverent caricature of the colonial days represents a phenomenally long-preaching clergyman as turning the hour-glass by the side of his pulpit and addressing his congregation thus, “Come! you are all good fellows, we’ll take another glass together!” It is recorded of Rev. Urian Oakes that often the hour-glass was turned four times during one of his sermons. The warning legend, “Be Short,” which Cotton Mather inscribed over his study door was not written over his pulpit; for he wrote in his diary that at his own ordination he prayed for an hour and a quarter, and preached for an hour and three quarters. Added to the other ordination exercises these long Mather addresses must have been tiresome enough. Nathaniel Ward deplored at that time, “Wee have a strong weakness in New England that when wee are speaking, wee know not how to conclude: wee make many ends before wee make an end.”

Dr. Lord of Norwich always made a prayer which was one hour long; and an early Dutch traveller who visited New England asserted that he had heard there on Fast Day a prayer which was two hours long. These long prayers were universal and most highly esteemed,–a “poor gift in prayer” being a most deplored and even despised clerical short-coming. Had not the Puritans left the Church of England to escape “stinted prayers”? Whitefield prayed openly for Parson Barrett of Hopkinton, who could pray neither freely, nor well, that “God would open this dumb dog’s mouth;” and everywhere in the Puritan Church, precatory eloquence as evinced in long prayers was felt to be the greatest glory of the minister, and the highest tribute to God.

In nearly all the churches the assembled people stood during prayer-time (since kneeling and bowing the head savored of Romish idolatry) and in the middle of his petition the minister usually made a long pause in order that any who were infirm or ill might let down their slamming pew-seats and sit down; those who were merely weary stood patiently to the long and painfully deferred end. This custom of standing during prayer-time prevailed in the Congregational churches in New England until quite a recent date, and is not yet obsolete in isolated communities and in solitary cases. I have seen within a few years, in a country church, a feeble, white-haired old deacon rise tremblingly at the preacher’s solemn words “Let us unite in prayer,” and stand with bowed head throughout the long prayer; thus pathetically clinging to the reverent custom of the olden time, he rendered tender tribute to vanished youth, gave equal tribute to eternal hope and faith, and formed a beautiful emblem of patient readiness for the last solemn summons.

Sometimes tedious expounding of the Scriptures and long “prophesying” lengthened out the already too long service. Judge Sewall recorded that once when he addressed or expounded at the Plymouth Church, “being afraid to look at the glass, ignorantly and unwittingly I stood two hours and a half,” which was doing pretty well for a layman.

The members of the early churches did not dislike these long preachings and prophesyings; they would have regarded a short sermon as irreligious, and lacking in reverence, and besides, would have felt that they had not received in it their full due, their full money’s worth. They often fell asleep and were fiercely awakened by the tithingman, and often they could not have understood the verbose and grandiose language of the preacher. They were in an icy-cold atmosphere in winter, and in glaring, unshaded heat in summer, and upon most uncomfortable, narrow, uncushioned seats at all seasons; but in every record and journal which I have read, throughout which ministers and laymen recorded all the annoyances and opposition which the preachers encountered, I have never seen one entry of any complaint or ill-criticism of too long praying or preaching. Indeed, when Rev. Samuel Torrey, of Weymouth, Massachusetts, prayed two hours without stopping, upon a public Fast Day in 1696, it is recorded that his audience only wished that the prayer had been much longer.

When we consider the training and exercise in prayer that the New England parsons had in their pulpits on Sundays, in their own homes on Saturday nights, on Lecture Days and Fast Days and Training Days, and indeed upon all times and occasions, can we wonder at Parson Boardman’s prowess in New Milford in 1735? He visited a “praying” Indian’s home wherein lay a sick papoose over whom a “pow-wow” was being held by a medicine-man at the request of the squaw-mother, who was still a heathen. The Christian warrior determined to fight the Indian witch-doctor on his own grounds, and while the medicine-man was screaming and yelling and dancing in order to cast the devil out ol the child, the parson began to pray with equal vigor and power of lungs to cast out the devil of a medicine-man. As the prayer and pow-wow proceeded the neighboring Indians gathered around, and soon became seriously alarmed for the success of their prophet. The battle raged for three hours, when the pow-wow ended, and the disgusted and exhausted Indian ran out of the wigwam and jumped into the Housatonic River to cool his heated blood, leaving the Puritan minister triumphant in the belief, and indeed with positive proof, that he could pray down any man or devil.

The colonists could not leave the meeting-house before the long sen ices were ended, even had they wished, for the tithingman allowed no deserters. In Salem, in 1676, it was “ordered by ye Selectmen yt the three Constables doe attend att ye three greate doores of ye meeting-house every Lordes Day att ye end of ye sermon, both forenoone and afternoone, and to keep ye doores fast and suffer none to goe out before ye whole exercises bee ended.” Thus Salem people had to listen to no end of praying and prophesying from their ministers and elders for they “couldn’t get out.”

As the years passed on, the church attendants became less referential and much more impatient and fearless, and soon after the Revolutionary War one man in Medford made a bargain with his minister–Rev. Dr. Osgood–that he would attend regularly the church services every Sunday morning, provided he could always leave at twelve o’clock. On each Sabbath thereafter, as the obstinate preacher would not end his sermon one minute sooner than his habitual time, which was long after twelve, the equally stubborn limited-time worshipper arose at noon, as he had stipulated, and stalked noisily out of meeting.

A minister about to preach in a neighboring parish was told of a custom which prevailed there of persons who lived at a distance rising and leaving the house ere the sermon was ended. He determined to teach them a lesson, and announced that he would preach the first part of his sermon to the sinners, and the latter part to the saints, and that the sinners would of course all leave as soon as their portion had been delivered. Every soul remained until the end of the service.

At last, when other means of entertainment and recreation than church-going became common, and other forms of public addresses than sermons were frequently given, New England church-goers became so restless and rebellious under the regime of hour-long prayers and indefinitely protracted sermons that the long services were gradually condensed and curtailed, to the relief of both preacher and hearers.


The Icy Temperature of the Meeting-House.

In colonial days in New England the long and tedious services must have been hard to endure in the unheated churches in bitter winter weather, so bitter that, as Judge Sewall pathetically recorded, “The communion bread was frozen pretty hard and rattled sadly into the plates.” Sadly down through the centuries is ringing in our ears the gloomy rattle of that frozen sacramental bread on the Church plate, telling to us the solemn story of the austere and comfortless church-life of our ancestors. Would that the sound could bring to our chilled hearts the same steadfast and pure Christian faith that made their gloomy, freezing services warm with God’s loving presence!

Again Judge Sewall wrote: “Extraordinary Cold Storm of Wind and Snow. Blows much more as coming home at Noon, and so holds on. Bread was frozen at Lord’s Table. Though ‘t was so cold John Tuckerman was baptized. At six o’clock my ink freezes, so that I can hardly write by a good fire in my Wives chamber. Yet was very Comfortable at Meeting.” In the penultimate sentence of this quotation may be found the clue and explanation of the seemingly incredible assertion in the last sentence. The reason why he was comfortable in church was that he was accustomed to sit in cold rooms; even with the great open-mouthed and open-chimneyed fireplaces full of blazing logs, so little heat entered the rooms of colonial dwelling-houses that one could not be warm unless fairly within the chimney-place; and thus, even while sitting by the fire, his ink froze. Another entry of Judge Sewall’s tells of an exceeding cold day when there was “Great Coughing” in meeting, and yet a new-born baby was brought into the icy church to be baptized. Children were always carried to the meeting-house for baptism the first Sunday after birth, even in the most bitter weather. There are no entries in Judge Sewall’s diary which exhibit him in so lovable and gentle a light as the records of the baptism of his fourteen children,–his pride when the child did not cry out or shrink from the water in the freezing winter weather, thus early showing true Puritan fortitude; and also his noble resolves and hopes for their future. On this especially cold day when a