THE OUTLINE THESIS SENTENCE: Although life was difficult and the amount of hard work was high, children and adults were able to find time for leisure activities and recreation in Colonial America, and were eventually able to expand on both the amount and forms of entertainment.
I. Most colonial families lived on a farm, and although the children had to help out as much as they could, they found time to enjoy themselves.
A. Children often turned their work or chores into games or challenges to make the time pass more quickly or to make it seem like fun.
1. Children usually had the simplest and most boring jobs, so creating fun out of the work was important.
2. Most families had four to six children so there was usually someone to keep company with.
B. When children did have free time they enjoyed many different games and activities.
1. The children played many outdoor games that their parents and grandparents taught them.
2. Because of their surroundings, colonial children had to make due with what they had and create different games and toys.
II. Adults in Colonial American society had a limited number of forms of recreation at first, but as time went on were able to establish and enjoy different forms of entertainment, most notably sports and theatre.
A. American colonies established laws that prohibited various forms of entertainment.
1. There were laws and ordinances that prohibited drinking, music, and theatre.
2. The only forms of artistic expression were often through religion and the church.
B. As time went on, many colonies eventually eased up on laws or they were simply ignored, allowing new forms of entertainment to be enjoyed in their lives.
1. Sport, both indoor and outdoor became an important part of colonial recreation.
2. In the eighteenth century, the establishment of the theatre was an important step in the evolvement of recreation in Colonial America.
III. Conclusion CHAPTER 1 Children and Recreation in Colonial America When one thinks of Colonial America, too often the thought turns immediately to only religious and agricultural activities. While these were certainly the two most prominent forms of activity for the colonist, there was also time to engage in other experiences. Although life was difficult and amount of hard work was high, children and adults were able to find time for leisure activities and recreation in Colonial America, and were eventually able to expand on both the amount and forms of entertainment available to them.
Most colonial families lived on a farm, and although the children had to help out as much as they could, they found time to enjoy themselves. There was a lot of hard work that had to be done on farms, and even very young children had to help with various chores. Usually, adults left the simplest and most boring chores for the children to do. They ended up performing such tasks as carrying wood, husking corn, gathering berries, leading oxen, carding wool, gathering eggs, and churning butter. (1) Colonial children were often able to turn their work into games or challenges to make the time pass more quickly or to make the work seem like fun. Two children might have a contest to see who could card wool faster or better. Two brothers might challenge each other to see who could carry the most wood, things of this nature. Anything to make the work less dull in nature. (2) Although these activities may seen mundane and simple, one must remember the amount of work these children had to do on a daily basis. Any form of distraction and entertainment was not only 1 2 important, it was necessary.
One advantage that the children had was the average size of the colonial family. "Since most families had five or six children, brothers and sisters always had playmates nearby. If neighbors lived close by, even more children could share the fun and join in the games. Since adults did not have time to watch their children closely, they were often left alone to play in the gardens, fields, and the house when their chores were done." (3) It was in these gardens and fields that the children had to make the most of their surroundings and make due with what they had.
Unlike today, there were no places to purchase toys for children. "Toys had to be found in nature or in the house, or adults and children had to make them. They made dolls from cornhusks and rags. Leftover wood and string were used to make spinning tops." (4) The farms and large areas of woodland enabled colonial children to engage in many outdoor games and activities, many of which are still played today, such as tag, hide-and-seek, and hopscotch. (5) Although the outdoors provided ample space and opportunities for recreation and entertainment for the children, it was not very suitable in the long winters in the New England colonies. Parents and children often played word games and board games to pass the time. One such colonial board game was Nine Men's Morrice. Nine Men's Morrice was a board game that could be played on any surface, which made it ideal. Morrice is a two player game and each player need markers, which could be virtually anything, such as corn, coins, beans, etc. (6) "The object of the 3 game is to make rows of three markers on a line, and to prevent the other player from doing the same." (7) The following is an example of the Nine Men's Morrice game board: Another important area to mention in regards to children is school. Even as schools began to develop in the colonies in the eighteenth century, they did not provide a sense of recreation to those that attended. It was not until the nineteenth century that schools began to incorporate recreation, and even then it was primarily on the college level: (7) As early as 1821, the Salem Latin School opened an outdoor gymnasium with crude equipment and no 4 supervision. In the ten years that followed, outdoor gymnasiums were constructed in many of the eastern colleges (Harvard, Yale, Williams, Amherst, Brown), which introduced physical training in the curriculum and organized many athletic and sporting clubs. Ã¢ÂÂ¦ It was not until nearer in the end of the century, in 1888, that school buildings were opened for recreation purposes in New York and Boston, and school areas were used to any great extent as playgrounds. (8) It is clear that recreation in school was not available to colonial children and young adults. Sports and exercise was not available until after the Colonial Era in America. This reiterates the fact that children, and young adults for that matter, had to find their own forms of recreation because none were provided.
5 CHAPTER 2 The Development of Popular Adult Entertainment in Colonial America Adults in Colonial American society had a limited number of options for recreations from the colonies' beginnings, but this eventually changed as time went on. The colonists had to fight and break strict law and ordinances in order to gain the freedoms of entertainment they desired. As time went on they were able to establish and enjoy recreational activities, most importantly sports and theatre.
The first obstacle the colonists encountered in their pursuit of recreation and entertainment were the laws set up by the colonies. A good example is the Connecticut Blue Laws, "enacted by the people of the 'Dominion of New Haven,' became known as the blue laws because they were printed on blue paper." (9) This document includes specific laws which restrict a colonists' leisure and recreation: No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep homes, cut hair, or shave on the Sabbath Day.
Whoever brings cards or dice into the dominion shall pay a fine of five pounds.
No one shall eat mince pies, dance, play cards, or play any instrument of music except the drum, trumpet, or jewsharp. (10) Laws such as these were also commonplace in the early settlements such as Virginia and New England. Because survival depended on hard work, the early settlers enforced rules against idleness. "Governor Endicott of the Massachusetts Bay 6 colony decreed that 'no person shall spend his time unprofitably,' whereas the Virginia Assembly, early in the seventeenth century, issued the edict that persons found idle could be bound over for work." (11) It is clear that recreational activities appeared difficult to enjoy in the early settlements.
"Notwithstanding efforts to have a society devoted wholly to work, colonial Americans found ample and diverse ways for amusement. Colonial authorities banned many games and sports in order to discourage gambling and distraction from one's occupational calling." (12) Still, although these Sabbath laws that curtailed recreation were clear, they were often disobeyed and even in Puritan New England they were often not honored. (13) Two examples of this tavern dancing and celebrations associated with the Christmas holiday.
"The Puritans condemned tavern dancing but otherwise did not attempt to abolish this recreation. Puritan ministers Cotton Mather and Increase Mather held mixed dancing, with the 'unchast touches and gesticulations,' in disfavor." (14) As time passed dancing schools were advertised in all the colonial newspapers and dancing assemblies became a popular attraction. (15) Colonial governments, even the Purtians, held and promoted festivities go with major holidays, but not Christmas. Even though Christmas was prohibited throughout Puritan New England, it was universally celebrated in the eighteenth century. (16) Tavern dancing brings us to possibly the most popular form of entertainment in Colonial America - sport. Sport in Colonial America can be separated into two categories: Indoor or tavern sports and outdoor sports. Both forms were quite popular 7 with the colonists and had many different types of activities. The tavern is often thought to only include drinking and socializing, but much else occurred there, as well: Amusements common to all the colonies were those associated with the taverns. The bans upon unlawful games imposed by the Puritans have already been noted as indicating diversions which the colonists in New England surreptitiously enjoyed even in the seventeenth century. In later years there was a progressive relaxation in the enforcement of these rulesÃ¢ÂÂ¦.The tavern was a social center, primarily for drinking, but also for all manner of popular pastimes. (17) There were many indoor games that colonists played inside taverns or parlors. Cards, backgammon, chess, dominoes, and dice were the most popular. Some taverns even held bowling and shuffleboard indoors. Interestingly, most local governments imposed fines on taverns that allowed those under the age of twenty-one to gamble. (18) For most of the common settlers and yeoman that had more recreational time, the love of sports that was so prevalent in England was beginning to take hold in America. (19) By the eighteenth century most of the early settlers were becoming comfortable with the forests and lands around them. As a result hunting and fishing 8 became a popular sport. "The wealth of game drew out the townsman as well as the farmer, the New Englander as well as the Carolinian." Fox hunting also came over with the settlers from England, as well as horse racing. (20) Horseracing was actually quite prevalent, especially in New York and the South as early as the seventeenth century. "Toward the close of the century Long Island was drawing an increasing number of pleasure-seekers. Hempstead and Salisbury Plains attracted fashionable crowds to the horse-races which had been held there every season since 1665." (21) In the South, Virginia held quarter-mile races on narrow paths throughout the seventeenth century. By the 1730's they held actual course races. Many planters also had their own tracks; often holding races to accompany large picnics. (22) Overall, outdoor sport was extremely popular in many forms throughout the American Colonies.
"As the economic security of the little communities that stretched along the eastern fringe of America from Maine to South Carolina gradually increased, colonial life took on many new aspects. The opening of the eighteenth century marked a far departure from the first days of settlement." (23) This newfound economic security brought a new form of leisure and entertainment to America - the theatre.
Although theatrical performances were indeed held throughout the eighteenth century, they did not occur without the usual trouble and prohibition under Colonial laws. As late as "1750 the General Court of Massachusetts passed an act prohibiting stage plays and theatrical entertainment of any kind. On May 31, 1759, the House of Representatives in the Colony of Pennsylvania passed a law forbidding the showing 9 and acting of plays under a penalty of 500 pounds." (24) Despite this hostility toward the theatre, stage performances were given quite frequently, even by special permission from the local authorities. In all probability these laws were simply ignored in many of the large towns. (25) The first regular theatre was built and performances given in Williamsburg, Virginia as early as 1716. There was also acting in New York around this time, as well. "It is likely that there were scattered dramatic performances of a sort in all the Colonies many years before we have any records of them, particularly in the South where the prejudice against the stage was less violent than in the NorthÃ¢ÂÂ¦.In the South the Colonists had imported a taste for the drama together with their other English customs." (26) A major contribution of the theatre in America was its effect on music in the colonies. "Theatrical performances greatly enriched the colonial music experience. Rarely did a program not have songs and dances. Theatrical performance usually had opening and closing music and music at intermission intended for setting atmosphere and background." (27) This was a tremendous step from the years of religious and church music that was the mainstay of colonial life.
The entertainment of the theatre eventually became a strong feature of the city's recreational life. New York's first permanent theatre was erected in 1767, but plays were held as early as 1716. The popularity is "attested by advertisements warning patrons to send their servants by four in the afternoon to reserve their places for them," indicating that these performances were selling out. (28) 10 CHAPTER 3 Conclusion It is clear to the observer that life in Colonial America was arduous for both the children and adults. Even though this is true to the fullest extent, these colonists were not without their leisure time. This leisure time afforded to them brought about many different recreational activities and forms of entertainment previously discussed.
"The settlers who planted the first English colonies in America had the same instinctive drive for play that is the common heritage of all mankind. It suffered no sea change in the long and stormy crossing of the Atlantic." (29) The beginning was very difficult, as survival was at the forefront of the colonies. The laws the local governments enacted reflected this, and all idleness was forbidden to all, whether in the north or south.
It was from these beginnings that American recreation grew to the varied and full activities we know today. They naturally open any record that would attempt to trace its growth and expansion under the changing conditions of American life. But it would be placing a greatly exaggerated emphasis on these simple sports and festivities to imagine that they were everyday occurrences. The first settlers actually had very little time or opportunity to play. Harsh circumstances 11 fastened upon them the necessity for continual work. (30) This was the reality of Colonial America. Even as the colonists were able to enjoy more recreation in the eighteenth century, life was by no means easy. As they were able to adapt to their surroundings, improve their economic standing, and break free from many of the restraints opposed upon them by colonial governments, they were able to enjoy their recreational time in more ways and in more entertaining ways than previously afforded them.
12 ENDNOTES (1) Ann McGovern. If You Lived in Colonial Times. (NY: Scholastic, 1964), 37.
(2) McGovern, 39.
(3) Benjamin G. Rader. American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports. (Lincoln: U.of Nebraska, 1999), 212.
(4) Rader, 203.
(5) No author, "Amusements in Colonial New England," The Noah Webster Homepage, http://www.ctstateu.edu/noahweb.org (12 November 2001).
(6) No author, (12 November 2001).
(7) Reynold Edgar Carlson, Theordore R. Deppe, and Janet R. MacLean.
Recreation in American Life. (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1972), 36.
(8) Carlson, 36.
(9) No author, "Connecticut Blue Laws," The American Colonist's Library, http://personal.pitnet.net/primarysources/bluelaws.html (29 October 2001).
(10) No author, (29 October 2001).
(11) Carlson, 32.
(12) Harry M. Ward. Colonial America: 1607-1763, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1991), 171.
(13) Ward, 173.
(14) Ward, 173.
(15) Ward, 173.
13 (16) Ward, 171.
(17) Rhea Foster Dulles. A History of Recreation: America Learns to Play, (New York: Meredith, 1965), 34.
(18) Ward, 173.
(19) Dulles, 22.
(20) Herbert Manchester. Four Centuries of Sport in America, (New York: Bronx, 1968), 76.
(21) Dulles, 52.
(22) Manchester, 133.
(23) Dulles, 22.
(24) Arthur Hornblower. A History of the Theatre in America, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1919), 22.
(25) Hornblower, 22.
(26) Hornblower, 21.
(27) Ward, 306.
(28) Dulles, 54.
(29) Dulles, 3.
(30) Dulles, 4.