In Hawthorne's 'Main Street' I came across the following passage:

there goes the tithingman, lugging in a couple ot small boys, whom he has caught at play beneath God's blessed sunshine, in a back lane. What native of Naumkeag, whose recollections go back more than thirty years, does not still shudder at that dark ogre of his infancy, who perhaps had long ceased to have an actual existence, but still lived in his childish belief; in a horrible idea, and in the nurse's threat, as the Tidy Man!

I've worked out that a 'tithingman' had something to do with a system of 'frankpledge'

I've also found an obscure reference to practices in New England that mentions a 'Tidy Man' in a negative sense whereas all the other references in an ngram search for the period come up with positive connotations.

What exactly was a Tidy Man? How were tithings and frankpledge systems organised? Why would Tidy Men be seen as equivalents of what we would know as Bogey Men? And how might they all connect?

  • I have flagged for a moderator to consider moving this to english.stackexchange.com. It is really more about the usage and meaning of an English phrase than about history. Mar 9, 2014 at 19:27
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    @PieterGeerkens I agree it's got crossover potential, but it's the historical context, particularly the aspects of how frankpledge aystems worked that interest me. As long as someone somewhere can answer the questions, it doesn't matter where you put it. Thanks. Mar 9, 2014 at 20:11
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    I don't think anyone can answer the question on the historical perspective while we are trying to understand the actual meaning and usage of the phrase. I cannot find anything in the OED that addresses this usage, and the phrase seems to have no meaning when interpreted literally. Mar 9, 2014 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


From the OED under Tithingman we find a usage evidenced in the 1677 Laws of Massachusetts 23 May:

To prevent ... Prophanation of the Sabbath ... Tithing-man or -men shall ... have power in the absence of the Constable to apprehend all Sabbath breakers.

and again 1895 A.B. Hart Forums(NY) May 377:

The interference with Sunday travel of the Tithingmen of the Puritan Connecticut towns.

As little boys were probably amongst the most enthusiastic Sabbath breakers, the jump from Bogeyman to Tithingman seems a straightforward one to make, and the further jump from Tithingman to Tidy Man similarly obvious as juvenile abbreviation.

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