In Colonial times, American childhood, as we know it today, did not exist. Children were important to their families, but were valued for their economic worth to their family and community. They were expected to take on adult responsibilities as soon as possible. At six years of age, boys were "breeched": their dresses and stays were removed and they put on adult clothes. Depending on their social status, they might have gotten their heads shaven and been fitted with powdered periwigs. Either way, from that point on, they were young adults and were expected to behave as such.
Between infancy and age eleven, chores included chopping wood, tending to livestock, gathering vegetables, picking worms off tobacco plants and dung out of fleece, hunting and butchering, prepping flax and thread for spinning, washing clothes in the iron kettle and working in the kitchen.
Boys learned early how to use guns for hunting and defense. They even served in military conflicts as "powder monkeys," carrying powder from magazines to guns on ships or in forts.
Since every member of a family or community was expected to contribute to the general welfare, formal education - for those fortunate enough to get it - focused on preparing children for life's practical needs. At the closest public school, boys were taught basic math and reading. They learned their ABCs through the use of a horn book, a thin piece of wood affixed to a sheet of paper on which was printed the alphabet; a transparent sheet of animal horn covered the paper. Some schools also taught penmanship, principles of religion, laws and good manners.
Girls were instructed at home. As early as age six, they began learning embroidery, which also served to teach letters and numbers. One would create a "sampler" piece, on which were stitched the alphabet, simple numbers, phrases and designs. After that, she practiced reading skills using whatever printed material was in the house but especially the Bible.
Upper class children had private tutors who taught them Latin, Greek, rhetoric, logic, geometry and dancing. Musical instruction usually included learning to play an instrument such as violin or harpsichord.
Even with all those responsibilities, children did make time for play. Some forms of recreation back then would be recognizable today in both name and content, such as ice skating, kite flying, jump rope, marbles and bobbing for apples. But some familiar activities had different names, and other games have since been transformed or totally died off. These include:
• Quoits - Wooden or rope circlets were thrown over a post, similar to horse shoes.
• Draughts - Another name for checkers.
• Hoop and Stick - Boys would run, driving a wooden hoop (two and a half feet across) with a nine-inch stick. Two girls would use their sticks to pass the hoop between them.
• Skittles - Also called ninepins. One ball was used to bowl over nine pins with the goal of bowling exactly 31 pins.
• Witch in a Bottle - Similar to Freeze Tag.
Fun and Games in Colonial America (Colonial America)
Usually beginning at fourteen, though often as young as seven, boys could be apprenticed to a master craftsman who would, over the next two to four years, teach him a trade. That could have been anything from shoemaking, metal working or weaving to paper working, glassblowing or surveying.
For girls, adulthood meant marriage and children of their own.
The Worland Family in America and Beyond
I began my life in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, on an island filled with forests and wild rhododendrons. I was separated from my Worland family there at an early age. Recently, I was reunited with my family and learned of my heritage. And so, this journey to know my ancestors began. The Worlands, Gideons, Newtons, Conards... they were the colonists, the settlers, the pioneers. They fought in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War. This is their story, and the story of a nation. -Deci Worland MacKinnon