In this essay I will be writing about what I learned about the culture of the early american colonies.
The life in the american colonies was much different than the way we live today, it was actually pretty hard, they had to go through many challenges to survive, but it also had some similarities to life today.
Colonial Cities and Government
A lot of the colonial cities were harbor towns. The biggest cities in colonial america, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, were harbor towns. Harbors were very important for the colonies since these cities and towns depended on Europe for trading.
Every one of these colonial cities had these seven features.
- Church buildings (usually there were many churches)
- Government buildings
- Open squares, for gatherings
- Grid like street patterns
- A market
- A section for tradesmen
- A Jail(most towns and cities had a jail)
In most of the colonies the government was separated into two different branches, these were: the Governor’s council and the House of Burgesses.
The governor of the colony was usually appointed by the King of England; the governor was used to represent the king’s decisions and ideas in the colony.
The Governor’s council: was a group of advisors that were appointed by the colony’s governor, to aid him in running the colony.
The House of Burgesses: was made up by representatives that were elected by the citizens of the colony to serve for a set of years.
The colonial government buildings were usually structured this way; usually these buildings were built with an “H” floor plan to house the two different branches. This was helpful since the two branches could meet separately in their own areas of the building, they could also meet together in the connecting wing of the building, for a general assembly.
In the colonies there were many different types of occupations or jobs; some of these are very similar to some jobs today but others you have never heard of. These jobs included.
Barber(barbers were very common in the cities, they cut hair but also did bloodletting).
Blacksmith(every city had a blacksmith. Blacksmiths made iron nails, tools, horse shoes, etc).
Cabinetmaker(the cabinetmaker made all the fine carpentry in the town).
Clockmaker(time is very important. Clockmakers built new clocks but also repaired old ones).
Cobbler(a cobbler was the colonial shoe maker, they also fixed old shoes).
Cooper(barrels were very important for storing things, including food. The cooper built barrels).
Doctor(much like the doctor’s today, they healed the sick and injured; some even owned a town pharmacy).
Farmer(the colonial farmers were very important, they grew all the food for the colony. Farmers sold some of their crops like tobacco to Europe. Farmers also raised livestock).
Grocer( the grocer was the person that had a store that sold all the food items to the colonists).
Hatter(colonial hatter’s made hats).
Miller(the job of a miller was to grind grains such as corn or wheat into cornmeal and flour).
Sailor(in colonial times a sailor worked on either military or merchant ship).
Silversmith(similar to a blacksmith, a silversmith worked with metal, but instead of working with iron, a silversmith worked with silver. A silversmith made fancy dishes and jewelry).
Tailor(a tailor was the person who made and repaired clothing. But, most colonists could not afford tailored clothing so they made their own).
Tanner(leather was very important to the colonists; the colonists used leather for many things such as horse saddles. A tanner’s job was to turn animal hide into leather).
Wigmaker(wigs were one of the most used accessory in everyday clothing, men and women both wore wigs for fashion. A wigmaker made wigs).
There were more occupations than this.
Colonial Home Life
Colonial home life was much different than ours today, the reason why it was different was because the homes of the colonists did not have any indoor plumbing or electricity.
Some of the earlier homes in the colonies had only one room(this room was called the keeping room), and was built from wood, sometimes better materials such as stone or brick was used. These houses were very cramped and tight for space since there was only one room to live in; some houses had an attic for storage, an extra bed was sometimes put in the attic, but even then the living conditions were cramped.
Some families were very large and had to build bigger houses; the houses that these large families built were known as saltbox houses, this was because the houses had extension built on the regular house that looked like a salt cellar.
Wealthy colonists lived in stone or brick houses, these houses were built symmetrically and was very square in shape.
Colonial furniture included, spinning wheels to make yarn for clothing, barrels for storage, hope chests(a hope chest was for a young lady to collect goods for her own household in the future), rifles for hunting and protection, and beds to sleep on.
The colonists diet consisted of anything that the farmers grew or whatever they could trade with Europe. The colonists mostly ate, corn, squash, fruits, and other vegetables, bean porridge, and fish/meat; they drank water, cider, milk, and beer(even children drank beer).
Colonial Children and How They Grew Up
Colonial children had a similar yet much different life than children today. Colonial children were considered as “infants” or “babies” until they turned six years old, they did not have any responsibilities; when they did turn six they were given “big kid clothes” and started going to the local dame school, they also were given responsibilities and had to do chores.
The colonial children wore a pillow like gown known as a “pudding” to protect them from getting hurt if they fell; they wore this until they were six; after they turned six the children were given “big kid clothes” which were dresses and aprons for the girls and shorts or long pants with a long shirt for the boys. Both girls and boys wore simple clog like shoes.
Children who were six and older had to do chores that were very similar to the ones that children today would do, like, help cleaning the house, doing the dishes, and taking care of pets. But, since they lacked some of the modern conveniences that we have today, they had to do different ones such as fetching water, shaking mattresses, helping their father with his work(usually boys did this), and doing the laundry by hand.
The “Dame School” was the very first school or form of education that colonial children got. This school was taught by the local women of the town or community; these women taught the children how to read by having them sit around them. After successfully passing the “Dame School” the children would usually move on to a more formal school in their town that separated the children by grade levels, these more formal schools taught more advanced subjects such as arithmetic, writing, and rhetoric. Some colonial children, usually boys would go to a college for higher learning. There were some schools for higher learning for girls but this was rare. Some of the prestigious colleges today like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were around during this time. Boys usually graduated college under eighteen.
Colonial boys usually became apprentices. An apprenticeship was a good way for a boy or young man to learn a trade from an experienced tradesman or mentor.
Usually the boy’s father would sign a contract for his son to work for the tradesman in exchange for room and board, but sometimes the boy himself did this.
On many occasions the apprentice would eventually take over the business at the end of his apprenticeship or when the tradesman retires.
It probably seems that colonial child’s life was just chores and work with no fun, but actually free time was very important for a child’s upbringing. Colonial children had many different games they played; some of these included, checkers, nine pins(very similar to bowling), jack and ball, hoop and stick, cup and ball, and a game somewhat similar to baseball. So clearly colonial children had time to have fun.
Becoming an adult meant different things for boys and girls. Becoming a woman was when the girl got married and moved out of her parents’ home, this happened as young as fifteen. Becoming a man on the other hand was when the boy was able to support himself, depending on the career choice, it may happen as early as thirteen or as late as twenty.
This is my essay on the colonial culture.