America’s Forgotten Custom of “Pounding” People in Need

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Coal miners buying groceries in company store. Pursglove, West Virginia. Sept. 1938.
Coal miners buying groceries in company store. Pursglove, West Virginia. Sept. 1938.

The idea of giving someone down on their luck a thorough pounding just doesn’t sound very nice; however, once upon a time in American history, “pounding” someone who had fallen upon hard times was not only an incredible act of benevolence, but also a true act of love.

Despite having grown up in Appalachia and having been raised in church, I had never heard of this phrase until just a few years ago, when a woman whom I knew said, “Our church still pounds the preacher every year!”

Upon first hearing this, I wasn’t so sure that pounding the preacher was something that a local church should be bragging about doing until I inquired a bit further — turns out, pounding someone dates back 1800s and can be first traced to America’s Quakers.  The act derives its name, because when a new minister would be sent to a congregation in a new town, the members of the new church would all show up at the preacher’s new home with a pound of various items, such as coffee, sugar, flour or honey.

When dropping off items to help the new clergyman out, congregants would spend time with him, also getting to know his family.

In October 1895, a Pennsylvania newspaper reported news of a recent pounding, “Last evening about forty of the little Junior Christian Endeavors of Pomfret Street AME Church, led by Mrs. MJ Redmad, Miss Maud Cloyd and Mrs. Richard Thompson called at the parsonage to pay their respects to Rev. and Mrs. JH Bell, in a substantial way and soon after they had well filled the table, Mrs. Redman made the presentation address and Mrs. JH Bell responded. IT was very pleasant affair.  After singing a few lovely songs and refreshments the Little Juniors departed with blessings of the past and his wife.”

Over time, the act that was once reserved for preachers and ministers began to find its way into the homes of ordinary people, allowing friends and the community  an opportunity to help them in their hour of need.

At its zenith of popularity, even newlyweds were being showered with gifts, one pound at a time!

Sadly, these days, there aren’t a whole lot of people or churches who still regularly pound people, but as we enter the year 2020 our new year’s resolution is to bring back this forgotten piece of Americana!

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