Daily Life in Colonial America

Daily Life in Colonial America



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Life in Colonial America was difficult and often short but the colonists made the best of their situation in the hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. The early English colonists, used to purchasing what they needed, found they were now required to either import items from the mother country, make them, or do without.

Even later arrivals, unless of the upper class, found the New World challenging as most people had to work hard just to survive. At the same time that they were literally creating towns and cities from wilderness, they were contending with periodic attacks from Native American tribes who had been displaced and needed to also be on guard against robbers or even members of their own households (servants or slaves) who could do them harm.

On top of this were the very many supernatural threats to life and health concocted by the devil and his legion of evil spirits which could come at any moment as well as natural hazards such as various illnesses, poisonous plants, wild animal attacks, and the many dangers involved in simple home life; just cooking a daily meal could result in scalding from a cast-iron pot of stew, candle-lit homes of wood and thatch were apt to catch fire, and twine-bound ladders could break.

Even so, these challenges did not deter the thousands of English (not counting convicts, orphans, and others sent involuntarily) from leaving their homes and traveling to the New World in the hope of improving their lives. The strict social hierarchy of England, which almost always kept one in the social class one was born to, was significantly relaxed in the colonies, and a former servant, male or female, was offered the possibility of a much better life, even that of a landowner if they could survive. Between 1630-1640, over 20,000 colonists arrived, and even more followed, pursuing the American dream before the concept was even fully articulated.

Jamestown was settled first in 1607, then Plymouth Colony in 1620, Massachusetts Bay in 1630, and so on. By 1763, the English had colonized the entire eastern seaboard of lower North America from modern-day Maine to Florida and these settlements were divided into three regions:

  • New England Colonies
  • Middle Colonies
  • Southern Colonies

Virginia and Maryland, both Southern Colonies, were also known as Chesapeake Colonies. Although daily life in these regions differed owing to climate, the soil, and the kinds of dangers they presented, some fundamental beliefs and one’s daily life were relatively uniform throughout and, among them, was religion and a belief in the very real influence – for good or ill – of supernatural forces on one’s life.

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Religion & Superstition

The colonists, whether the so-called pilgrims of Plymouth or the Anglicans of Jamestown, were deeply religious Christians who regarded the Bible as God’s Word and understood they were supposed to live their lives according to its strictures. Belief in the reality of a supernatural deity, angels, and evil spirits encouraged the development of extra-biblical superstitions which conformed to the Christian vision.

Conformity to the social norms was expected in every colony & any aspect of a person’s life which seemed out of the ordinary warranted suspicion.

The Native Americans were almost instantly identified with dark forces. Even Edward Winslow (l. 1595-1655) of Plymouth Colony, who encouraged friendly relations with the natives, claimed they worshiped the devil. Natives were thought to be able to cast spells, wither crops, hurt or heal at will, by drawing on the power of evil spirits of the devil himself. Fellow colonists could also harness this power, however, and so had to be carefully watched. A woman who could walk the dusty roads of a New England town and arrive at her destination looking more or less as neat and clean as when she had left her home was suspected of being a witch just as a man who seemed unusually strong, productive, or profitable might be.

Conformity to the social norms was expected in every colony – even the liberal Providence Colony which welcomed people of all religions and nationalities or the Provinces of New York and Pennsylvania which did the same – and any aspect of a person’s life which seemed out of the ordinary warranted suspicion. The most famous example of this, of course, is the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693 in Massachusetts - which resulted in over 200 accused and 20 executed by hanging - but witchcraft was regarded as a palpable threat in all of the colonies, and witch trials were held before and long after the infamous Salem event. Although marginalized groups, mainly women, were the most frequent targets of accusation, anyone from any social class could be suspected or accused of consorting with the devil.

Social Classes

Although the social hierarchy was more relaxed in the colonies, it still existed and descended from top to bottom:

  • Upper-class Landowners
  • Merchants and Clerics
  • Farmers, Artisans, & Laborers
  • Indentured Servants
  • Native Americans
  • Slaves

People of different classes were identified by the clothing and accessories they could afford, and laws were passed in a number of colonies prohibiting those of lower classes from dressing as their social superiors; doing so warranted a fine or even time in the stocks. The upper class were the landed gentry who owned large plantations in the Southern Colonies or extensive landholdings/farms in the Middle and New England Colonies. Only upper-class, landowning white males over the age of 21 had the right to vote, serve in government, and make laws, although many well-to-do merchants or clerics were also allowed.

Merchants and clerics were next in the order, some of whom were also landowners. Clerics were not only scribes and lawyers but ministers, some of whom were quite wealthy while others struggled to survive. Teachers were also counted as clerics but, outside of New England, were not highly respected. The Puritans of New England placed great value on literacy, founding Harvard University and other institutions, because of their belief that everyone should be able to read the Bible, but few of the other colonies followed suit.

Farmers, artisans, and laborers were those who owned small farms, businesses (brewing, barrel-making, candle-making, dressmaking, shipwrights, etc.), or were skilled or unskilled workers. Below them were the indentured servants, people who had signed a contract to work for four to seven years for someone in return for passage to the colonies, food, and shelter. At the end of their service, they were given a parcel of land, tools, and a firearm. An indentured servant, at least in the early years of the colonies, could rise from the lower class to join the elite.

Racialized, chattel slavery did not take hold until after 1640 & was not institutionalized until the 1660s.

Native Americans were considered outsiders, and this was more or less true even for the so-called “praying Indians” – natives who had converted to Christianity, settled in towns close to English colonies, dressed in English clothing, and learned the English language. After the Indian Massacre of 1622 in Virginia, during which the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy killed 347 colonists in Virginia in a surprise attack, natives were viewed with suspicion. The colonists, in fact, justified later atrocities committed against Native Americans by citing the 1622 massacre and the Anglo-Powhatan Wars which followed it.

Below the Native Americans were the African slaves (although many Native Americans were also enslaved). The first West Africans arrived in Virginia at Jamestown in 1619 but, at first, were treated more like indentured servants. Racialized, chattel slavery did not take hold until after 1640 and was not institutionalized until the 1660s. African slaves were considered property, given only the rights their owners thought prudent, and could only be freed under certain circumstances, including saving their master’s life or a member of the family, informing on other slaves planning an insurrection or escape, or upon the master’s death, but freedom was at the master’s discretion, and it was difficult, especially in the Southern Colonies, for a freed slave to move up the social hierarchy.

Homes & Education

Colonial homes also reflected one’s social status. The earliest houses of Jamestown and Plymouth were wood-framed buildings insulated with wattle and daub (sticks, straw, and mud) with thatch roofs. A wooden frame, often of lashed saplings, would be raised with horizontal sticks tied between the saplings and then vertical sticks woven between these. The spaces between the saplings were then filled with a mixture of mud, straw, and dirt (daub) to form walls and insulate the home.

Most houses were a single room (sometimes with a loft) with a fireplace at one end, dirt floors, and open windows as glass was very expensive. To keep out rain and insects, paper shades or cloth was used and various herbs, such as yarrow, were hung as insect repellent. Adults slept on beds of wood slats and thatch and children on mats on the floor. This style of home continued to be standard for the lower class in rural areas throughout the Colonial Period.

Cities, such as Boston, quickly outlawed the thatched roof to prevent the spread of fire. City homes were wood-frame houses with mortice and tenon beams, wood floors, and often two stories tall with the bedroom on the upper story and the lower for the kitchen, servants, and a front parlor for receiving guests. These often had leaded-glass windows and multiple fireplaces. In time, some of the more expensive were made of stone or kiln-fired-brick.

Plantation houses were often (but not always) mansions with multiple rooms and fireplaces, spacious parlors, and servants’ quarters on the third floor and/or in the basement. They had glass windows, ornamentation, extensive landscaping surrounding them, and would be built of whatever material the owner called for.

Education followed this same model in that the sons of the wealthy were sent to school in England or tutored privately while those of the lower classes were illiterate, taught by their parents, or attended a one-room schoolhouse presided over by a communally funded teacher. The Middle and Southern Colonies had no public schools; only the New England Colonies mandated public education. Parents were expected to contribute whatever they could – whether books, money, desks, or firewood for the school’s central stove – and the teacher was often housed in the parents’ homes on a rotating basis.

Although the New England colonists emphasized the importance of education for all, they still felt that males required more than females as they were expected to go into some sort of business whereas girls were to be married, raise children, and care for the home. Girls were taught the basics of writing and mathematics and, for the upper class, to play a musical instrument, sing, and dance. Boys were taught history, geography, writing, mathematics, and were also instructed in their father’s trade. The Christian religion was standard for any course of education, male or female, but how it was interpreted and taught depended on the colony.

Family, Clothing, Food & Leisure

The family was the fundamental unit of the community, and marriage was encouraged. Most men married in their early to mid-20s while girls could be married as young as 15 years old. Men outnumbered women in the colonies which gave rise to the Jamestown Brides program between 1620-1624, which sent young women from England to Jamestown to be married. The women were assured of a “prosperous match” in that they had their choice between many unmarried men and the prohibitive cost of 150 pounds of tobacco (approximately $5,000.00 in today’s currency) to repay the company sending the women meant only the most affluent male colonists could afford to participate.

Colonial families were usually large and it was not unusual for a woman to give birth to 10-15 children in her lifetime. In rural communities, the children became the labor force and so the more one had, the more profitable one’s farm or business. Extended family members often lived near each other or under one roof and, since women frequently died in childbirth and the widower remarried quickly, there were also stepchildren in the home in addition to aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

All of these hands contributed to the household chores as well as whatever business the head of the household ran. Women and female children wove, sewed, and repaired clothing which could be brightly colored wool or cotton, somber clothes for the sabbath, or animal hide shirts and cloaks. Shoes, especially for men, were often mocassins modeled after those of the Native Americans. Women's clothing was more elaborate than men's and could consist of multiple layers of underwear.

Children were expected to work, not play, and those of most classes were already contributing in some way – even just helping to gather firewood – before five years of age. Still, children did have toys and play games. Girls played with dolls, sometimes made of thatch and discarded cloth, and boys with miniature soldiers, animals, and weapons. Some of the games played were tag, blindman’s bluff, and a ball game known as stoolball (similar to English cricket) while in winter sledding was popular.

Adult males enjoyed games such as bowling, billiards, board games, cards, and hunting for sport. Women participated in 'bees' and 'frolics' both of which were gatherings for some central activity like sewing together a wedding dress or quilt, preserving fruits and vegetables, gardening, or some civic activity like improving a local park. Cooking 'bees' were gatherings of women to prepare a large meal, often in conjunction with a barn-raising by the men of the community.

The colonial diet, especially in New England, was based on corn which could be made into cornbread, corn pudding, corn soup, and muffins. Wild deer, rabbit, squirrel, birds, and other game supplemented one’s diet as well as fresh fruit – apples in the New England and Middle Colonies and peaches in the south. The sweet potato was considered an especially welcome addition to a meal although it was thought to be habit-forming, and anyone who ate sweet potatoes daily was not expected to live past seven years of their first taste. Vegetables, in general, were thought to promote illness unless thoroughly cooked but farmers still planted them, ate them, and showed off the best of their crop at community festivals.

Festivals were occasions for relaxation and celebration and usually took the form of a local county fair. Women competed in contests for best pie or preserves or quilting while men engaged in archery and marksmanship contests, wrestling and boxing matches, and competed for best livestock or largest pumpkin or squash. Children of all ages enjoyed horseback rides at the fair, prizes for climbing a greased pole or catching a pig, hog-calling contests, pie-eating matches, and an abundance of food after a good harvest, which is why most fairs were held in late summer or early fall after the harvest was in.

Crime & Punishment

For those who overindulged at the fair, or anywhere for that matter, and broke with accepted social norms, swift punishment followed and most often took the form of public humiliation. Public drunkenness and breaking the sabbath (working on a Sunday or not attending church), for example, were punished by a certain time in the stocks – wooden braces in the town square which secured one’s hands and neck (and sometimes feet) – during which others might throw rotted fruit and vegetables or small rocks at the person while mocking them.

Forgery, robbery, burglary, adultery, and assault could be punished by public whipping, the stocks, a combination of the two, branding, disfigurement, breaking a hand, arm, leg, jail time, or banishment. Jail time was discouraged because it cost the community money to feed the convict and, while jailed, he or she could not provide for their family.

Rape, murder, and witchcraft were punishable by death, but rape was, unfortunately, difficult to prove, and men – especially upper-class men – usually either paid a small fine or were exonerated. The first recorded execution for murder was that of John Billington (l. c. 1580-1630) of Plymouth Colony, one of the Mayflower passengers, who was hanged. Those convicted of witchcraft were almost always hanged, but the colonists contrived many imaginative and painful methods of death including drowning, burning, and pressing someone to death with weights.

Conclusion

Between c. 1614, when the tobacco crop at Jamestown had become the first successful cash crop of the colonies, through c. 1763, when the English colonists defeated the French in the French and Indian War, a whole new culture developed which was based on the concept of individual effort, strength of character, and adherence to the Christian vision leading to success. The promise of Colonial America was that anyone could become anything they wanted to be if they worked hard enough for it.

Protestant Christianity, which emphasized the importance of hard work in glorifying God, was a motivating and sustaining resource for the colonists from the beginning but took on even more significance in the 1730s during the First Great Awakening when the concept of 'universal godliness' was popularized. Everyone, it was claimed, could be touched by the Holy Spirit, no one was beyond God’s reach, and each individual was precious in the eyes of God. This theological vision set well with the newly formed culture of individualism and, in time, encouraged the radical movement to break away from English rule and form the new nation of the United States of America.


Daily Life in Colonial America - History

The lives of women during colonial times were different than from today. Women were expected to get married, have children, work in the home, and obey their husbands. Despite the limitations put on women, they played an important role in the growth and survival of the American colonies. In many ways, it was the backbreaking hard work of women that the United States was built upon.


A Woman Spinning
Source: A Brief History of the United States

Most women received very little formal education. Although some learned to read and write, many were illiterate. Girls typically learned the skills needed to manage a home from their mother. It was thought that a woman didn't need an education as she was supposed to work in the home.

Maintaining the Household

The main job of the woman during colonial times was to manage the home. They were responsible for raising the children, cooking meals, sewing clothes, weaving cloth, and keeping the house in order.

Women worked extremely hard during colonial times. There was always something to do to maintain the house whether it was preparing meals, mending clothes, making baskets, doing laundry, preserving food for the winter, tending to the livestock, making candles, dyeing cloth, or working in the garden. Women worked from sun up to sun down every day.

Rules and Legal Status

Colonial women had few legal rights or freedom. They were expected to obey the man in their life whether it was their father, brother, or husband. Women were not allowed to vote or hold public office.

A married woman's legal identity was represented by her husband. They could be beaten by their husbands and even forcibly returned to their husbands if they tried to run away. Married women could not make a will or own property.

Widows and unmarried women had more rights than married women. They were allowed to buy and sell property, make a will, and sign a contract. Widows received one-third of their husband's property when he died. Sometimes widows took over the husband's business.

Slave women had the toughest lives of anyone in colonial society. Not only were they slaves, but they were also women, giving them no rights whatsoever. Slave women who worked in the fields were not only expected to work all day in the fields, but also to raise children (for more slaves) and take care of their own family's household.

The wives of wealthy plantation owners and merchants had very different lives from the average farmer's wife. They still had few legal rights, but they didn't have to work nearly as hard. Most wealthy families had a number of domestic slaves to do the work around the house. Wealthy women were responsible for managing the help and seeing that the house was properly maintained.

Women in the city were able to lead different lives from those on the farm. In the city, women were able to socialize with other women outside of their home and family. They also sometimes worked jobs outside of the home such as seamstresses, innkeepers, midwifes, or nurses.


Colonial History: Farming and Daily Life

Today, we can go to the store and buy groceries from the supermarket, go to the mall and buy clothes, then come home and turn on our televisions for entertainment. Imagine what life would be like without electricity, paved roads, supermarkets, or running water and you have an idea of what life was like in colonial America. Life in the American colonies was very different from life today. Food was grown by hand, clothes were homemade from local materials, and free time was scarce.

American colonial life revolved around chores, and everyone had to do their part. The typical colonial family consisted of a mother, father, and four or more children. Men oversaw farming, raising livestock, and hunting with their sons. While men worked in the fields. women were responsible for taking care of the farmstead. Typical women’s chores included cooking, cleaning, tending vegetable and herb gardens, mending clothing, and raising children, skills that were passed on to their daughters. Education for children was different as well. Schooling was not compulsory in many of the colonies, and formal education only occurred at the elementary level.

Farming in colonial America differed based on the location. Poor, rocky soil combined with long, harsh winters that reduced the growing season made farming difficult in New England. Most northern farmers grew crops on small family plots, relying on crops such as maize, beans, and squash to sustain their families, with only a small portion going to markets for credit or currency. To stretch their food stores, colonists in New England hunted, raised livestock, fished, and gathered fruits and nuts.

In contrast, settlers in the middle colonies of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey had less difficulty farming due to better soil and moderate climates. These conditions allowed them to plant more than one crop per growing season. In addition to the maize grown in the north, the middle colonies grew grain crops such as rye, barley, oats, and wheat in quantities large enough to both support families and be sold at market. Flour made from grains was traded throughout the colonies and shipped back to England. Collectively, the middle colonies became known as the bread basket of early America.

The southern colonies of Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, like the middle colonies, were not settled by those seeking religious freedom instead, the southern colonies were settled primarily by those looking for economic opportunities. Good soil and a long growing season allowed southern farmers to develop large plantations devoted to the growth of single cash crops. Cash crops were grown for trade, not food. In much of the southern colonies, tobacco was the crop of choice, followed by cotton, rice, and indigo.

No matter where the crops were grown, farming in the colonial period was hard work. Heavy machinery did not exist. Colonists tilled fields using simple tools such as iron-bladed hoes, while plows were used by those wealthy enough to own horses. Aerating the soil was done with large spiked rollers pulled by horses or oxen that could weigh more than a thousand pounds. Once the soil was tilled and aerated and seeds were planted, colonial farmers still had their work cut out for them. Early irrigation techniques consisted of flooding fields from freshwater sources or watering by hand, and plant beds were constantly weeded to prevent unwanted grasses from taking root. Harvesting was also done by hand using hand-held tools such as scythes, reap hooks, and grain cradles. For grains, harvest was just the beginning. Once harvested, the dried seeds had to be removed from the useless chaff using flails or winnowing baskets.

The most important building outside of the farmhouse in colonial America was the barn. Barns in colonial America were used to store tools, crops, and livestock. Though smaller than a barn, the shed was also an important outbuilding in colonial America. A single shed could be used to store tools or converted as necessary to be used as a smokehouse to preserve meats or as a primitive refrigerator in winter.


Daily Life of the American Colonies: The Production of Flax, Linen and My Bloodline in the Colonies

Philipsburg Manor, Sleepy Hollow, North Tarrytown, Westchester County, New York

William Atterbury, my namesake was born in England ca 1700-1710, and was a laborer living in London, somewhere in the area of St. James Church and Westminster Abbey. Around the end of 1731, or the beginning of 1732, William went bad, and was nicked stealing five yards of linsey woolsey – a cloth made from linen and wool, and tossed into Newgate prison. On the 31st of January, 1732, William was convicted and sentenced to be transported to the American colonies, where he was to spend seven years as a laborer as part of his sentence.William came out of the affair quite nicely, saving enough to own his own plantation in Maryland, before moving on to Virginia, and fathering at least nine sons.

So in a certain felonious sense, I have linen in my blood.

I have other lines running through my ancestry coming from Northern Ireland, where the national symbol is the flax plant, from which linen is made. Though it’s out of practicality rather than heritage, my favorite fabric is linen, for as I’m now stuck in the midwest where heat and humidity forces the decision to dress for fashion or dress for the weather. I choose to be wrinkly as I choose linen.

Coincidently, of all the photos I’ve taken, the one above is likely my favorite, being a portrait of a young lady giving a demonstration in the production of Flax at Philipsburg Manor, in Sleepy Hollow, New York. At Philipsburg Manor, you can develop a pretty thorough understanding of the process, from growing to spinning. But what I like most about the photograph is the timeless nature of the lady. It could be in colonial America, or Europe in the Middle Ages. Such is the history of flax.

Spun flax has been found dating to around 30,000 B.C. in the Republic of Georgia. It was big in ancient Egypt, Ethiopia, perfected some would say (the Irish) in Ireland, and brought to the American colonies by investors looking for a cash crop in the new world. But in that capacity it was a failure. In short, it’s too much work, as is much of cloth production. The large scale production of cloth fibers, was prior to the late nineteenth century, heavily dependent on cheap labor. Which quite often meant slave labor.

The settlers in Jamestown, Virginia were promoting the idea of flax as a cash crop as early as 1619, and the Puritans had a similar notion when they arrived in Massachusetts in 1620. Though it never caught on as a cash crop, the role of flax in the daily life of the colonies was incredibly important. Being able to raise, harvest and produce your own cloth meant you were that much less dependent on England. The less you had to buy, meant you needed less money, and you could do more of your transactions by bartering, which at least early on wasn’t taxed.

Flax is an annual, meaning it has to be planted each year, and grows up to three feet high. The woody stem is the valuable part, which when dried, hollows out and becomes the raw ingredient for linen. Flax has the greatest tensile strength of any of the natural fibers, (aside from ramie), soaks up sweat and then dries quickly, keeping the body cool. In addition, fibers made from flax are up to 20% stronger when wet, and the high wax content provides for great longevity. As well as just looking damned good. It’s not unusual to find beddings and table cloths in continuous use for a century or more, and still in good condition.

That flax grows well in cooler climates, meant that it could be produced in the northern colonies, while the southern turned to cotton, which was more suited to the warmer weather.

The plant was typically in the ground by the end of April and ready for harvest by the end of July or August. Flax stalks are picked by hand, dried, then put under cover. Once the harvest was in for autumn, and your work turned from agriculture to domestic, the seed pods and leaves were removed by rippling, which begins with walloping the stalks against some hard object, and then drawing it through a wooden or iron comb. The stalks were then taken outside and left to rot a bit in the dewy grass, which separated the fibers from the stalk. Cooperation from the weather was essential, as cool, dry weather slowed down this process, known as retting.

Interpreter heckling flax at Philipsburg Manor

When it was uniformly decomposed, the stalks were bound into sheaves and stored in the barn till winter. Dressing came next, which is removing the woody part of the stalk. The stalks were beaten some more, then bent, which broke up the woody bits. It was then stretched out and walloped again, this time with wooden knives, which usually caused the remaining woody stalk pieces, known as shives to fall away. The fibers were then drawn through a range of combs, each finer than the one before, until you had fibers ready for spinning.

Though quite labor-intensive as you can see, costs could be offset by gathering the flax seeds during the process, which could then be sold. How much material a family needed for their own use determined how much of the flax was harvested for fibers, or how much was left to stand longer, which made for more valuable seeds.

Linen could be used for a variety of purposes, including beddings, sacks, rope and of course, sails. Linen was the fabric for warmer weather, while wool was for cooler weather. With a crop of flax and a few sheep, a family could satisfy their need for cloth, and make a bit of profit even.

As time went on, cheaper fabrics became more readily available, so it became less necessary to depend on your own resources for cloth. Much of the work in producing linen was done by the women of the household, unless it was a more prosperous family, in which case it likely would have be handled, as at Philipsburg Manor, by slaves. People tend to think of slavery as a southern abomination, but it’s worth noting that in 1703, 43 percent of New York households owned slaves. Coinciding with the invention of the cotton gin in the south, and cheaper prices on cotton fabrics, more of the northern states started abolishing slavery near the end of the 18th century, following the American Revolution.

Ironically, linen which was once a common fabric for the lower classes, is now one of the more expensive materials, thrown over for disposable clothes meant to be worn for a season or two and then passed off in rummage sales or the local Goodwill. The five yards of fabric stolen by my namesake which brought my family here, was only worth about three shillings. But in countries and regions where old ways still live on, such as rural Ireland, where people value time differently than we do, you still find people with pretty small incomes wearing fine linen, and as they’ve done throughout history, selling the surplus to make ends meet.


Colonial Life Lesson Plan

Objective:
Students will read and analyze passages and photographs in order to learn about everyday life on colonial Virginia.

Standards of Learning:
Virginia SOL: VS1.e VS4.e US1.5c English 4.5 English 5.6, 5.7

Procedure:
Students will work in cooperative groups to determine the roles of various colonial Virginians.

Step 1: Ask the students what jobs they have at home. Discuss their jobs and those of their parents and other family members. Ask the students how these jobs might be different from those in colonial Virginia. Ask them how they think everyday life was different for whites and enslaved African Americans in colonial Virginia.

Step 2: Begin the lesson by telling students that most people in colonial Virginia at the time of the American Revolution lived on small farms. Divide the class into four groups. Explain to each group that they will read and analyze a different Student Handout about the role of one of the following groups: men, women, children, or enslaved people in colonial Virginia. Tell them that each group will then report their findings to the class.

Step 3: Distribute a different Student Handout to each group, along with a copy of the Graphic Organizer – What was everyday life like in colonial Virginia? Instruct student to read their passage and look at the photographs. Suggest that students highlight key words pertaining to the roles of their assigned group as they read the passage. Have each group discuss among themselves the roles of their group and record them in the appropriate section of the graphic organizer.

Step 4: Have each group select a member of their group to present findings to the rest of the class. Instruct all students to add information on the other groups to their graphic organizer as their classmates report.

Step 5: Use the question How was everyday life different for whites and enslaved African Americans in colonial Virginia? to summarize the students’ findings.

Summary Activity:
Have students write a journal entry comparing life in colonial Virginia to life in Virginia today.

Other Helpful Resources:

These books cover a wide time frame and geographical region:
McGovern, Ann. If You Lived in Colonial Times. New York: Scholastic, 1992


Daily Life of the American Colonies: Spoons

Spoon Rack and Spoons. Philipsburg Manor, Sleepy Hollow, New York

Colonial era spoons were often made of pewter, as goods made from pewter were shipped to colonial America by the tons. It was a material of the middle to lower upper classes, with wood and tin being the plates and furnishings of the lower classes. By the revolution, people realized they were being poisoned by it, as pewter contains lead. So the lead was replaced with antimony and pewter continued its reign among cutlery till about 1825, when the price dropped on silver and china and incomes rose to meet it.

Philipsburg Manor, as one can tell by the name, was the home of the gentry, first Dutch and then English. Located along the Hudson River in Westchester county New York, you’ve probably read about it without even realizing it. The mill pond which Ichabod Crane walks with his dates in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is still there, with a working mill at Philipsburg Manor. The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, where Washington Irving first found his inspiration for his tale was built by the lord of the manor. And the bridge where Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman conclude their chase through Sleepy Hollow, once spanned the Pocantico River within eyesight of the manor house at Philipsburg Manor.

So it would be quite natural for the Philipse family to have an admirable collection of spoons, which they would have taken great pride in showing off. Whether pewter or silver, there wouldn’t be anyone in this backwater who could boast of such riches. Today, our spoons are delegated to the silverware drawer, which isn’t quite accurate, as our real silver is usually hidden away in a chest someplace, only to be taken out at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In short, items which were once luxuries over time become commodities. But what you don’t find in a commodity is character. Today one might look at the spoon holder at Philipsburg Manor and think, “yeah, bunch of old tarnished spoons.” It’s likely they didn’t look a whole lot better in colonial days, but then again, things didn’t have to be perfect in those times. Sometimes objects were valued for what they represented, not necessarily for their beauty or utility. What we take for granted today, was once treasured. My advice is next time you cook supper, open up the silverware chest and live a little.

A great time to visit Philipsburg Manor is October, where storyteller Jonathan Kruk tells the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by candlelight in the Old Dutch Church. For a review, click here

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Women and Children in Colonial America

Though experiences varied, women and children in colonial America had many responsibilities and activities, mostly domestic, and few rights in the general society.

Social Studies, U.S. History

Dutch Family New York 1700s

The freedoms and responsibilities afforded to white American women and children in the colonial era varied depending on their socioeconomic background. Here, a Dutch colonial family from a relatively privileged background is illustrated sitting around their tea table in the New York colony of the 1700s.

Photograph of woodcut by North Wind Picture Archives

In colonial America, the experiences of women and children varied widely, among ethnic and social groups, and from colony to colony. They had fewer rights than women and children do today, yet they had many responsibilities and activities that contributed to their families and communities.

The first European women who came to the Southern colonies were indentured servants, arriving in the Jamestown colony in the early 1600s. Though the &ldquoideal&rdquo European family was headed by a man who presided over his family and business while his wife only worked inside the home, this model did not work well in the early Southern colonies. Merely surviving was difficult, so all hands were needed to ensure that the colony could continue. As a result, the social structure flattened a bit, with land-owning men and women doing the same work of farming and building settlements (alongside their servants and those they had enslaved, who were working on the same projects). As the Southern colonies became more established, society reverted to the European model, and white women began focusing on running the household, and managing servants and those they had enslaved. This was not true in every colony, however. The people who founded the northern colonies, like the Puritans, adhered to strict religious rules, and brought their European gender roles into the new world from the very start.

Regardless of the colony in which they lived, white women in colonial America had many responsibilities. They oversaw managing the household, including baking, sewing, educating the children, producing soap and candles, and more. In the 18 th century, social classes began evolving, and a new &ldquomiddling&rdquo class arose. Sometimes women in that class would help their husbands in their careers as tavern owners, tradesmen, or businessmen. However, white women still had few rights. They could not vote, and they lost all their property in marriage (though women had some property rights). Childbearing in colonial times was dangerous, and women and children often died during childbirth.

White children in colonial America also had many responsibilities. In most colonies, they were taught to read by their parents, usually so they could study the Bible (the Christian holy book). Boys learned additional skills so they could go into business, farming, or trade, while girls learned household skills which varied depending on the family&rsquos social status. For example, a girl from a higher class&mdasha privileged socioeconomic background&mdashwould learn etiquette and manners, hosting guests, and dancing, while a girl from a lower class&mdasha resource-poor background&mdashwould learn practical skills like soap-making. There was also time for play in middling and high-class families. Children played with board games, puzzles, and cards, and did activities like rolling hoops and playing an early version of bowling. Overall, the main goal of parents in colonial America was to prepare their children for adulthood.

The freedoms and responsibilities afforded to white American women and children in the colonial era varied depending on their socioeconomic background. Here, a Dutch colonial family from a relatively privileged background is illustrated sitting around their tea table in the New York colony of the 1700s.


Social Differences Of The European Way Of Life In Colonial America

Although undoubtedly influenced by England, the American Colonies formed their own unique way of life. One aspect much like England is the layout of the town and its house, especially in Salem, was rather haphazard with streets and alleys crossing at irregular angles. Unlike Europe, property ownership was not the only way to ensure a fortune, a considerable number of Americans found New Money through their occupation. The upset of wealth standards also led to the development of different and more


A “tradition in literature” is what a writer does with a story that is handed down. Tradition in Literature” does not just mean inherits, but it refers to “what a writer does with what is inherited or handed down. Literature reflects on what is the current issue happening in the world.

How did the coming of Christianity change life in England? Christianity was brought over peacefully by Roman cleric St. The Normans brought French to England. They also brought feudalism, a form of government in which the king is on top, the nobles and freemen are next, and the surfs work the land.


What Was a Typical Day Like in Colonial Life?

On a typical day in American Colonial life, the man of the house worked outside while his wife performed household duties. Children either did chores or received an education. Daily life varied based on the area, the time of the year and the family.

Most colonists lived on a farm, so they woke up at sunrise to take advantage of the daylight. They ate a quick breakfast together, then began their duties.

The man's usual job was managing the farm and fields. During the spring, he'd plant, and in the fall, he'd harvest. He did most work by hand, although he also may have used oxen or horses. If he had slaves, he'd manage them. The woman's jobs included making meals, preparing clothes and storing food for winter. They also took care of any young children the couple had.

Boys helped their father, while girls helped their mother, so they could learn the appropriate skills for adulthood. Public schools weren't available in many areas, but in areas where they were, children went to be educated. Education was considered more important for boys than girls, because boys would have to manage their own farms as adults. Therefore, boys usually attended school longer than girls. If school wasn't available, the father or a local minister would teach the boys.