In colonial Pennsylvania, people lived very differently than most of us do today. Still, cultures all have their own forms of entertainment, and people in colonial Pennsylvania engaged in various forms of amusement. Some of these activities have survived until contemporary times, while others are now rare. Still others were forbidden at times, because of strict ideas about what activities were acceptable. Regardless, even many of these forbidden activities became more and more popular and remain part of American culture today.
The colonial period lasted from 1681 to 1776 in Pennsylvania. Many of Pennsylvania's settlers were Quakers, and there were also many Dutch settlers as well as people of other nationalities. During this time, many people's strict religious beliefs kept them from participating in certain pastimes such as gambling, horse racing, singing, dancing, and play-acting. However, colonists still participated in many other forms of entertainment.
In colonial Pennsylvania, children's games and toys were simple and taught them useful skills, as history teacher Kristin Carolla says. Some of these games are still popular today, like leap frog, marbles, and hopscotch. Others survived until recent times, like blind man's bluff and pick up sticks. Blind man's bluff is much like Marco Polo. It is a game of tag in which the person who is "It" can't see the other players. Puzzles, tops, Jacob's ladders, and dolls made from rags and cornhusks were common toys, says Carolla, and girls would often make their own dolls to practice sewing. Jacob's ladder is a simple toy made from wood and ribbons. It is made from six wooden blocks that are strung together. When one block is pushed, that causes the entire chain of blocks to move.
Other common games that were played by people of all ages included fox and geese, checkers, and hull, gull, how many, according to the book "Home Life in Colonial Days." People often used kernels of corn as counting pieces, says this book. In fox and geese, a board game, one player (the fox) tries to "eat" the other players (the geese), who try to trap the fox. In hull, gull, how many, players would try to guess how many of something (like kernels of corn) another player holds in her hands. Of course, children enjoyed spending time exploring and playing outdoors too. Boys generally had more freedom to do this than girls. They were encouraged to hunt, fish, and explore. Girls typically spent more time in the home, because they were learning to embody the traditional role of wife and mother.
Books such as Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, and Gulliver's Travels were popular among both children and adults, says Alice Morse Earle in "Child Life in Colonial Days." Books written for children, she says, were hard to come by in the early days of the colonies. Jest books were popular among children and adults, however. These books were filled with amusing stories and riddles, Morse Earle says. Riddles, she adds, were a popular pastime for children. In 1744, she states, the book publisher John Newberry began bringing children's literature to the colonies, which then gained popularity. Young people also enjoyed interpreting their dreams, says Morse Earle, especially when children's literature was scarce.
Taverns were becoming more and more popular, say the authors of "Home Life in Colonial Days." The authors add that tavern owners had to follow strict rules, though. Often, games, singing, and dancing were forbidden. These activities were often seen as a waste of time, or as encouraging unruly behavior.
As the website www.theatrehistory.com says, many colonists frowned upon theatre because they felt it was a waste of time at best. However, performances still happened from time to time. In 1759, the website says, a new law forbade theatrical performances, but it's likely that play-acting still happened secretively from time to time.
Children in colonial Pennsylvania celebrated Halloween much like kids do today. They would dress up in scary costumes and collect treats--but unlike most children today, their reason for dressing up was to scare away evil spirits, as the website "Colonial Kids: A Celebration of Life in the 1700s" says. First Skating Day was another important day in the world of a colonial child, says the website. This was the first winter day when children did not have to go to school, and could spend the day playing outside. Kids would also celebrate April Fool's Day, and Dutch families would decorate eggs on Easter. Additionally, says Morse Earle, some colonists enjoyed painting on glass as a leisure pursuit.
Melanie J. Martin specializes in environmental issues and sustainable living. Her work has appeared in venues such as the Environmental News Network, "Ocean" magazine and "GREEN Retailer." Martin holds a Master of Arts in English.