It’s almost summer! Usually, that means fun-filled, family vacations to the beach or abroad, but due to COVID-19, our plans to venture out have been significantly impacted. Fortunately, if you take a trip back in time to 18th century America, you don’t have to leave your home to have some good, old-fashioned colonial fun!
Imagine sitting inside, with nothing to do but house chores or indoor activities (wait — we’ve been doing that anyway, so I’d say we are used to it!). But in the colonial era, Americans didn’t have access to the internet or video games (for obvious reasons), so how did they spend their time when they couldn’t meet up for game night, or play hopscotch with their friends? For starters, most adults devoted more time to productive work rather than recreational or leisurely activities. From routine and complex tasks, to religious prayer, to furthering their education or studies, the amount of time spent socializing with friends, playing games, or imbibing at the local tavern varied at any given time. And, depending on their social standing and where they lived, people had fun in different ways, from sewing and cooking, to community-wide events like barn raisings (when community members assisted in the construction of a neighbor’s barn) and (sadly) cockfighting. For men and women alike, working, whether for business or in house, always came first.
Recreational activities often included team sporting events, board games, gambling (though frowned upon for the ladies!), card games, and much more. Children would partake in a variety of fun activities that kids today still play, including tag, hopscotch, and leapfrog. Kite flying and playing with corn husk dolls were also very popular. After a fun night of rolling hoops or hide-and-seek, children would either attend school or help work the fields before seeing friends again. But work doesn’t have to be boring, and these kids knew that! Instead of working the day away, many would try to make a game out of their daily chores through friendly competition (who can carry more wood?!), or singing mathematical equations (maybe that’s not so much fun?). Some children, particularly young girls, would try to further their education in their free time by learning how to read and write, especially since literacy was considered a specialized skill and was often only taught to boys.
When game nights or outdoor celebrations were cancelled due to bad weather, many took their festivities inside where they would share stories, whether fact or fiction, of legends and their ancestry, some being passed down through generations.
When all else failed, colonists resorted to their one true favorite pastime — listening or practicing music. Since it was the most common, accessible, and accepted activity among all ages and genders, music played a significant role in colonial American life. Singing songs, playing the fife, or simply dancing to music was considered one of the most fun and entertaining activities among colonists in the 18th century. (I guess dancing around the house is passed down through generations!)
Picture your ancestors gathering around an open hearth, telling stories, enjoying a frothy beer or sipping wine, and playing an entertaining round of charades. To me, that sounds like a whole lot of fun, and while we are all still stuck inside, why not give it a try (even if it’s via Zoom!) for old times’ sake?