Customs of the Early Churches in America
Part V

Collecting taxes was a full time job even in early times, and back then the tax collector was called the tithing-man. He had a varied set of jobs to contend with, even during the Sabbath. There were special fines to collect from people who left their dogs unleashed during the summer Sabbath. Dogs aften were allowed to follow their masters into the church, where a dog fight might uset the quiet of the proceedings.

There were fines for those left burning coals behind in their foot-warmers after the service. The tithing-man was also given a convenient place in the first American churches, and it was his job to keep order.

His badge was a long stick with a rabbit's foot on one end and a fox tail on the other . The heavy end of the stick was used to waken nodding boys, and the faces of slumbering matrons were brushed with the softer end. This was alway good for a laugh, but undo noise was reprimanded by the tithing-man's holding a forefinger across his lips and tapping his stick with the other hand. The "finger-to-the-lips" sign for quiet may well have originated from the church and the tithing-man.

At first, there were square pews, sometimes curtained off to keep the draft out and to keep the body heat in. Bearskins, carpets and blankets were brought into the pews. Fireplaces were built in the center. A caretaker or servant was left in charge to keep the fires going, and coals were continually carried into the church pews to replenish the footstoves there.

Money was never allowed to pass hands on the Sabbath, so food was either paid for during the week or contributed free by the congregation. In either case, the convenience was appreciated because many churchgoers lived so far away that the weekly trip was a brave overnight pilgrimage, which always induced hearty appetites. When there were no Sabbath houses, local homes were usually thrown open for the purpose and many a "house on the green" was known as a Sabbath Day house a century ago.

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