Why was so much attention paid to
seating people in the meeting house? Here is what Henry Burt said:
Seating the People in the
"The selectmen and the deacons or a committee appointed
by the selectmen, determined the order in which the seats in the
meeting-houses in New England, in the early settlement, should be
occupied, Ability and general regard, as well as wealth, had much
to do with the order of selection. The women, as a rule, do not
appear to have been assigned to particular seats, but occupied, in
another part of the house, such as suited their own preferences.
The lists still preserved, which give the order of seating the men and
boys in Springfield, do not indicate any great regard for those having
the largest possessions. At Northampton, "age and estate"
determined the order, and to some extent that might have prevailed
here." (p. 126, vol. 1)
What did these town officials do?
Sealer of Leather
The leather sealer was the town officer who had authority to see
that all sales of leather were made honestly as to quality and quantity.
The sealer of leather was authorized to put his "seal" or
stamp of approval on items he inspected, tested and certified.
A fence-viewer was responsible for
inspecting new fences and settling disputes over trespassing by escaped
Surveyor of Highways
"..By 1638 the General Court, the Colony's legislative
body, ordered that roads between Hartford and Windsor be laid out, and in
1640, that roads between the early towns be maintained. Soon thereafter,
the construction, care and maintenance of highways was formally placed on
the towns by the General Court, primarily to ensure the care of the route
between the Connecticut Colony in Windsor and the Massachusetts Bay Colony
in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This route was used by Connecticut Colony
founder Reverend Thomas Hooker and his assistant Samuel Stone in 1636. In
1643, the Court ordered each Municipality to appoint two officials, known
as surveyors, who were given the power to "call out every Teeme and
person fitt for labour, in their course, one day every yeare, to mend said
highwayes wherein they are to have a spetiall to those Common wayes which
are betwixt Towne and Towne." This compulsory labor statute was
enlarged in the 1650 Code of Laws, which authorized financial Penalties on
those men who failed to meet their annual road work obligation of two days
work a year: "if any refuse or neglect to attend the service in any
manner aforesaid He shall forefeit for every dayes neglect of a mans worke
two shillings sixpence, and of a Teame, sixe shillings . . ." This
act formalized a custom that dated at least from medieval England. It
would continue to remain in effect until the nineteenth century, providing
the main source of workers for road and bridge construction.
Bridges were also under the jurisdiction of the General
Court. In 1651, the Court resolved that a bridge should be built over
the Connecticut River at Hartford (although such a bridge was not to be
built until 1810). Throughout the seventeenth century, the Court ordered
that bridges be built in a variety of locations."
A tithing man was a parish officer
elected annually to preserve good order in the church during divine
service, to make complaint of any disorderly conduct, and to enforce the
observance of the Sabbath.
("Until 1823, our church had its tithing men, equipped with a two
foot long black staff with a brass knob on one end and a foxtail or
rabbit's foot on the other. The knob was used to awaken men by tapping
them on the head and to correct wicked boys. Women were awakened
brushing the foxtail or rabbit's foot against their faces. Normally
there were two tithing men but in 1815, 21 were chosen - apparently
there was a strong need for discipline"- Source: First Parish history at
"When the early colonists came to America they set
up forms of local government to which they had been accustomed, and the
office of clerk was one of the first to be established. When the
colonists first settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, they quickly appointed
a person to act as recorder. That person kept all the vital records
for birth, marriages and deaths for the church, as well as various other
records of appointments, deeds, meetings, and the election of officers at
the annual town meeting.
Indeed, in Massachusetts, the town clerk was one of the
earliest offices established in colonial towns. The settlers were
well aware of the importance of keeping accurate written records of their
agreements and actions including grants of land, regulations governing
animals, the collection of taxes and the expenditure of town funds.
The person given the responsibility for recording these
orders was also often given others duties, such as sweeping the
meeting-house and selling the seats, ringing the bell, and paying the
bounty for jays and blackbirds whose heads were presented to him by the
citizens. By the middle of the 17th century, the title town clerk
appears in town records and this title has continued to the present."
(Source: City of Pittsburgh, PA. See more about the history of the Town Clerk