Customs of the Early Churches in America
Part III

    Some People Brought Their Own Arm Rests

The face that children were taken to church to be baptized the Sunday following their birth, even in winter, is typical of early religion. If the church happened to be nearby, it would be bad enough, but there were often long rides by sled to the unheated church, which sometimes actually caused the child to "die of baptism."

On January 22nd, 1694, Judge Sewall wrote, "A very extraordinary Storm by reason of the falling and driving of Snow. Few women could get to the Meeting. A child named Alexander was baptized in the afternoon." He did not however, record Alexander's death a week later.

The "hardest seats in the world" were church seats. Cushions were frowned on as improper for use in church, and some of the early carpenters found play for their sense of humor by billing for "church planks of ye softest pine for comfort."

Arm rest eliminated some discomfort during the tedious all-day services, but few churches supplied them. There are still many wooden arm rests with names carved upon them, indicating that owners often left their arm rests in the pews rathter than carry them between home and church.

There must have been many things taken to church, what with foot warmers, pillows, blankets, arm rests, often spittooons and other conveniences. One church built in 1848 by the whaling men of Sag Harbor, Long Island, was equipped with a brass spittooon in each of its mahogany-trimmed pews.

Excerpted by Maury Tosi
From Eric Sloane's booklet American Yesterday (1956)