Sunday Observances

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Francis Underwood was born in 1825 and grew up in the small New England town of Enfield, Massachusetts. He left Enfield to become a well−known editor and writer in Boston. When he was in his sixties, he wrote Quabbin: The Story of a Small Town, which described many aspects of life in Enfield in the 1830s and 1840s as he remembered them.

Transcription of Primary Source

Preparations for the day of rest were begun the day previous. Farmers made ready, as far as possible, for the care of their animals, and got a supply of wood into the house. Women baked bread and prepared dishes, and attended to darning and mending, so as to leave a minimum of work for the holy day. In the evening the Bible lessons were studied, and at the close diligent children were allowed roasted apples and fresh cider.

In the morning the household was called betimes*, and all underwent an energetic scrubbing; after which special attention was paid to frizzled hair, and putting on clean clothing. After breakfast came prayers, and then the young people read the Bible or studied the Catechism for an hour. The morning service was at half−past ten o’clock, and lasted until noon, or a little later. Afterward came the Sunday−school; and the lessons, with comments and exhortations*, occupied an hour. Then those who lived near enough to the meeting−house* hurried home for a lunch. This consisted of bread and milk, or bread and butter, with a section (60 [degrees]) of pie, and some fruit preserves or apple−sauce. Those who lived at a distance brought luncheon baskets, and ate (solemnly) sitting in their pews, or, in cold weather, by the stoves. The afternoon service began at two o’clock, and lasted an hour and a half. Then there was a dispersion, for there was nothing more to be done at the meeting−house. Not that the observances were finished, by any means. Arriving home, each family sat down between four and five o’clock to a repast, mostly cold, the principal dish having been cooked the day before. At seven o’clock there was a prayer−meeting in a hall illumined by smoky whale−oil lamps; and this continued according to circumstances,—such as the number and length of the prayers, and the fervor and fluency of exhortation. There was no rule of procedure, and a favorite hymn might be expected at any moment.

All the intervals between services were occupied by religious reading or study. When night fell at last, it seemed to children that the bell in the meeting−house steeple had been ringing all day; that services had been going on all day, and that they had read the Bible and Catechism all day.


  • betimes − in good time, early
  • exhortations − preaching to encourage good deeds and thoughts
  • meeting−house − a building that functioned primarily as a church for worship services but was also used as a Town Hall for civic functions such as Town Meetings.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
“Sunday Observances,” in Quabbin, the Story of a Small Town
Francis W. Underwood
Lee and Shepard
Place of Publication: 
Boston, MA
Old Sturbridge Village