Business and Diversion Inoffensive to God

View the original sermon

Although it contains many books on angling's British roots, Milne Special Collections and Archives is particularly rich in the angling literature of the United States. It is to the pulpit of a New Hampshire parson, Joseph Seccombe, that American angling literature can trace its origins. Reverend Seccombe, a Harvard College graduate from Massachusetts, spent the majority of his life as the parish minister of the church in Kingston, NH, until his death in 1760.

A sermon by Rev. Seccombe, titled Business and Diversion inoffensive to God...A Discourse utter’d in Part at Ammauskeeg-Falls, in the Fishing-Season, is the earliest known document pertaining to recreation published during the colonial period of the United States.

Though written in 1739, it was published anonymously in Boston in 1743. The record is considered special not only for its early publication date, but also for the revolutionary content contained within the publication, as it is the first of its kind to advocate the act of fishing for the purposes of sport and recreation on the Sabbath. Rev. Seccombe's groundbreaking sermon challenged the established notion that the Sabbath was to be set aside for rest and prayer by suggesting that the diversion and recreation of pleasure fishing was beneficial to the human spirit.

The full title of the sermon is "Business and diversion inoffensive to God, and necessary for the Comfort and Support of human Society." Rev. Seccombe was an avid fisherman who frequently visited the Amoskeag Falls near Manchester, New Hampshire. Appropriately enough, Rev. Seccombe gave his sermon at a meeting house adjacent to Amoskeag Falls, where he and some of his better-heeled parishioners fished for salmon, herring, alewives, and eels.

Business and Diversion Inoffensive to God is considered to be the rarest and most valuable of American angling books. The Milne Collection contains an original copy, an 1892 reprint, and two limited edition reprints of Rev. Seccombe's sermon.

Historical Sketch of the Sermon

From the 1892 reprint:

"The first printed sermon preached within the limits of what is now Manchester, N. H., was at "Ammuskeeg-Falls, in the Fishing Season, 1739," by Rev. Joseph Seccombe, of Kingston, N. H., a gentleman of good attainments, eccentric habits, and extremely fond of fishing. It was his custom annually, with other gentlemen, to visit the Falls for recreation and diversion. At such times he preached on Sunday to the natives and others settlers and visitors. One of his sermons was printed in Boston in 1743, and dedicated to the "Honourable Theodore Atkinson, Esq.," of Portsmouth, N. H., who was one of his hearers. Copies of the printed discourse have become very scarce, only five perfect ones being known to exist. It has been thought advisable to reprint the same that it may be preserved; hence seventy-five copies have been put into covers for circulation in libraries and among friends to preserve it from oblivion. With the exception of the modern 's' for the former long 'f', the same appears verbatim, literatim, et puntatim."

The quotation on its title-page contains the name "Moniack," of which Potter's "History of Manchester," says, "Moniack, one of the names applied to the Merrimack by the Indians, from the fact that it contained a great many islands. The literal meaning of Moniack is 'Island-place' -- it being a compound word from the Indian nouns Mona (island) and Auke (place)," (p. 721).

"Namaoskeag," or as called by the English, and now written, Amoskeag, has been a noted place for centuries. The terminals oog, ook, and uk, written by the English auke, or ook, were used by the Indians to represent a place or spot of land or water; and eag, eeg, and eek, written by the English eag, eke, and ic, were the terminals used by the Indians, to represent long or extended places of water. Thus Namaos means a fish, and compounded with eag, with the 'k' thrown in for the sake of sound, becomes the Indian derivative noun, Namaoskeag, a long and continued place of water for fish, and was doubtless applied by the Indians to that part of the Merrimack river consisting of falls, rapids, and ripples, extending from the Skowhegan in Merrimack to Turkey Falls in Concord. But as the country became settled, and fish scarce, the 'Namaoskeag' became limited to the rapids in the immediate vicinity of 'Namoaskeag' falls, (pp. 638-639)."

The word has many variations in orthography, among them being, Namoaskeag, Naamkeake, Namaske, Naumkeag, Naimkeak, and several others. (See Potter's "Farmers' Monthly Visitor, 1852-1853.)"