“The practice of intrusting to a beadle or some official the duty of awakening sleeping members of a congregation, seems to have prevailed in America more than two centuries ago. In 1646, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Whiting was minister of Lynn, Massachusetts. One Obadiah Turner kept a journal at that time, from which we give the following amusing extract: ‘1646, June the 3d. Allen Brydges hath bin chose to wake the sleepers in meeting and being much proud of his place, must need have a fox taile fixed to the end of a long staff, wherewith he may brush the faces of them that have naps in time of discourse; likewise a sharp thorne, wherewith he may prick such as be moste sounde. On the laste Lord his day, he strutted about the meeting-house, he did spy Mr Tomkins sleeping with much comforte, his head kept steadie by being in the corner, and his hand grasping the rail. And soe spying Allen did quicklie thrust his staff behind Dame Ballard, to give him a grievous prick upon the hand. Whereupon Mr Tomkins did spring up much above the floor, and with terrible force strike his hand against the wall, and also, to the great wonder of all, prophainlie exclaim in a loud voice: “Buss the woodchuck!” he dreaming, as it seemed, that a woodchuck had seized and bit his hand. But on comeing to know where he was, and the great scandall he had committed, he seemed much abashed but did not speak. And I think he will not soone againe go to sleep in meeting. The women may sometimes sleep and none know it, by reason of their enormous bonnets. Mr Whiting does pleasantly say that from the pulpit, he does seem to be preaching to stacks of straw, with men jotting here and there among them.” 1
1 Chambers, William and Robert Chambers, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature Science and Arts, Volume 59, Issue 1, pages 217-218 (bold type is my addition)
I had to reshare this amusing story told at the dinner I attended at Midwestern Roots 2014. For whatever reason, the image of of Mr. Tomkins being “rudely awakened” and shouting “Buss the woodchuck!” in church kept me quite entertained!
And now, every time I hear the song “Rock the Casbah,” I replace the lyrics with “Buss the woodchuck!”