J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Israel Litchfield and “the Space for the Singers”

At Walking the Berkshires, Tim Abbott just posted several excerpts from the diary of Israel Litchfield, a young sergeant from Scituate during the busy winter of 1774-75. The diary shows the process of organizing militia companies, including learning new drills, electing officers, and gathering and making equipment.

So what was on Sgt. Litchfield’s mind on 10 Apr 1775? The important issue of who sat where in the town’s new meetinghouse. The previous 4 December, Litchfield had written, “the Carpenters have got all the pews Sat up and Some of the Seats the Space for the Singers was erected Last week.” But who sat where was an issue of great importance in colonial New England; assigned pews were valuable real estate.
in the Evening I went to Mr. Willm. Haydens In order to meet the Rest of the propretors to Settle Some affairs Relative to faceing & Seeting our Selves

they got the Vote for the Singers to face the minister when they Sang and We Chose out of the Body a Committee Consisting of the following Gentlemen to wit Capt. Insign Otis Messrs: Wm. Hayden Lawrence Litchfield Nemiah Merritt Joshua Otis & Benja. Bailey

they made their Report to the body wich was accepted (mind by the way that before this Comittee went out we had agreed that five of the Bass & five of the tennor Do Set in a Seet) the Report of the Comittee is as follows towards the weomen Viz at the right hand Was Seated mr. Wm: Haydon Next to him Viz at his Left hand Mr. James Turner Junr. Next mr. Joshua otis Junr.

at the right Hand of the Bafs mr. Hayward pierce next Capt. Infign Otis next Daniel Litchfd., Next my Self next Elisha Lappum these are to fill the fore Seet

after the meeting broke up I went home with Abednego Wade
So Litchfield, still in his early twenties and unmarried, at least knew where he would sit.

Israel Litchfield’s diary was published in a family history in 1906 and in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register in 1975. If I remember, I’ll post extracts about how he viewed the start of the war in the spring.

[The thumbnail above shows Scituate’s First Parish today. The meetinghouse that Israel Litchfield knew was destroyed in a fire in 1879, but a pulpit and communion table survived.]

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