Games for children have not always come with a board or electronic bells and whistles. Colonial American boys and girls most often played games outdoors. Brothers and sisters played together at some games, but not all, since it was not deemed lady-like for girls to engage in dirtier past-times. In the 1700s, children played games that required skill, chance, dexterity, and a competitive spirit, much the same as children do today.
Horseshoes and Huzzlecap
In the 1700s children played horseshoes using real horseshoes. As today, the shoe was pitched at a post in the ground. Players got points for tosses that resulted in the shoe encircling the post. Lower points were given for shoes that lean on or touched the post. Children played a game called "huzzlecap" in the 18th century using pennies, when they were available. The goal was to "capture" pennies by tossing yours to land on top of your opponent's.
Jackstraws was a game played by Native American children and taught to colonial youngsters. Native children played the game using wheat straws. This game is similar to today's game called pick-up sticks, which uses plastic or wooden sticks. The object of the game is to drop a bundle of sticks -- usually 31 -- and pick them up, one at a time, without moving another stick in the process. The child with the most sticks at the end is the winner.
Games of Dexterity
Girls played jump rope, London Bridge, hopscotch and blind man's bluff -- games still played by children today. Whipping tops was a game boys played by themselves while other boys stood by, waiting for their turn and admiring the player's abilities. Players of whipping tops used a small whip and a wooden top. A player used the whip to launch the top and keep it spinning, and the goal was to have the longest spin. Boys often practiced alone to improve their ability. The game required much the same skill as using a yo-yo, a game also played by children during the 18th century.
Nine Men Morris
Nine Men Morris was a board game. The square board was flat and consisted of three squares in progressively larger size, one inside the other, each having eight holes drilled into it, three holes to a side, for a total of 24 holes. Each of the two players would get 12 pins in one of two colors. The object of the game is to take turns placing your pins so as to form a straight line of three of the same-color pins, while you prevent your opponent from doing the same.
Spelling bees were competitions played in the 18th century, the same way they are now. Students played in school and at gatherings of sufficient numbers of children. All children lined up and were given a word to spell. If correct, they continued in the game; if incorrect, they sat down and observed for the remainder of the game.
Gleek was a card game that required three players. Players bid, drew cards, and vied for the ruff -- the highest point card. Twelve hands were played, with points collected for having sets of three or four cards, except 2's and 3's, which were omitted from the 52-card deck.
- "Colonial Living"; Edward Tunis; 1957
- David Partlett: Gleek
- USHist: Victorian Games and Toys -- Pick Up Sticks
- National First Ladies' Library: 18th Century Games for Children; Martha Jefferson
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images
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