Tithing men were in action in the Rindge Congregational Church, starting from 1766 and up through 1835. One would probably assume that the tithing men were men who tithed, or possibly men who enforced tithing within the community. Tithing, as we now commonly know it, is the giving of one tenth of our “increase” (our income) back to God (the Church). However, history tells us a different story about the who and the why of tithing men.
Let’s start with the who. In colonial New Hampshire, the towns had elected positions for tithing men. Tithing men could be thought of as the Sabbath Patrol or Church Police. Their tasks were varied, and they included detaining and arresting people who were traveling on roads on the Sabbath (Sundays), unless specifically going to church, attending to the sick, or doing charitable work. Additionally, they policed the church, waking up those found dozing in the pews and quieting rowdy children during church services. Some towns also used tithing men for collecting taxes that were mandated in support of the church and the minister, although Rindge history does not specify this as a duty of our tithing men. They also were expected to take note of idle or disorderly people and swearers. Some of the towns used their tithing men for keeping dogs out of the Meeting House during services.
The why of tithing men stems from the earliest days of colonial New England when church attendance was mandatory. Imagine that today. The Puritans who left England in the 1600s, for what was to become the Massachusetts Bay Colony, were the seed that eventually became the Congregational Church. They held strong beliefs that they had a covenant with God to enforce proper behavior. This led to the formation of various behavioral laws to regulate members of the community.
Among these regulatory laws were the Blue Laws. These were laws that specifically referred to enforcing proper behavior on the Christian Sabbath. Blue Law Sabbath regulations were originally established in colonial Virginia in the 1620s and were enacted throughout the entire New World. The Blue Laws outlawed trade or commerce on Sundays. There was to be no public entertainment or meetings, aside from church services, which were held in the morning and afternoon. Rindge history, by the way, also references two different times for church services in our earliest years. In addition, travel on Sundays was banned and violators could be fined or arrested by civil authorities, such as the tithing men. Interestingly, some say that the Blue Laws were called that because they were written on blue paper.
In Rindge, the duties of tithing men appear to have focused on two main areas: patrolling the roads; and policing the church services to prevent unnecessary noise and movement, as well as keeping people awake. As for the dog removers, Rindge considered the position of Tithing Man to be a prestigious one, and therefore, selected a different committee of men for dog removal from the Meeting House since that activity was less distinguished. In patrolling the roads, tithing men in some towns were authorized to place arrested Sabbath travelers and unruly youth into stocks (wooden devices that locked the arms and head of a person for humiliating display in a public place). The construction of these devices was actually proposed at one time in Rindge, and the town voted to approve them; however, the building expense was to be provided by the individuals in favor of stocks and not from the town’s funds. Due to this, the proposal was dropped and our Sabbath breakers were not confined in stocks.
In 1814, Rindge and several local towns voted to enforce more strict Sabbath laws. It was decided that, starting in 1815, Rindge would have a team of twelve tithing men who would patrol the area roads and clamp down more severely on unauthorized Sunday travel. They detained many travelers and teamsters (those who were driving a team of horses or oxen), and some of these people were actually confined overnight and not released until Monday morning. There was negative reaction to this extreme treatment and the number of arrests, so the next year, the team of tithing men was reduced to only two: one in the southwest corner of town and the other in the northeast corner. This resulted in a large reduction in arrests, which was the intention.
Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
Tithing Men 1766-1835
First Congregational Church
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461
United Church of Christ