A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Faith & Freedom Friday: Pew Rental


Prayer Benches, 1816. RIHS 2008.132.1-2

These two prayer benches (or kneeling benches) belonged to John Snow of Providence, where he used them in the Second Congregational Church on Weybosset Street. The congregation was formed and met in 1743, a product of the Great Awakening that swept New England in the 1730s and 1740s. The current meetinghouse was built in 1809, and took its name from the Beneficent Congregational Society formed in 1785 to raise an endowment for the aid of the congregation.

The benches were given to the RIHS in 2008 by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which was undergoing reorganization and deaccessioning items not relevant to their mission. Because of the label pasted to the underside of the stools, the Museum donated them to the RIHS.
With a little detective work in the RIHS Library, we were able to find two John Snows in Providence who were candidates for pew ownership, but we still didn’t know which church. And was he John Snow, or John B. Snow, lawyer with Burges and Snow?

MSS 419 Volume 23, Pew Tax Account Book

MSS 419 Volume 23, Pew Tax Account Book

In the records of the First Congregational Society (MSS 419), Volume 23 is the Pew Tax Account Book, 18165-1826. And that’s where I found John Snow and pew 45. On October 28, 1816, John Snow’s pew on the lower floor of the Beneficent Congregational Church was appraised at $300, and he gave $40 for choice.
Snow had been a member of the church since 1769; he was born on June 26 of that year, and baptized on August 7, recorded in the list of members of the Beneficent Congregational Church (MSS 291, folder 3). We still don’t know what his profession yet, but now we know he used these benches in Pew 45 on the lower floor of the Beneficent Congregational Church from 1816 on.
~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections


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