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Leisure Time and Colonial Games: A Glimpse into History During the First-Ever Colonial Family Fun Day at the Jonathan Hager House

Leisure Time and Colonial Games
A Glimpse into History During the First-Ever Colonial Family Fun Day at the Jonathan Hager House
by Jennifer LB Leese

Have you really ever thought about our ancestors? History isn't what happened, but a story of what happened and the lessons these stories include. "History is just one tool to shape our understanding of our world. And every tool is a weapon if you hold it right." (History Is a Weapon)
Those who operate the Jonathan Hager House & Museum in the Hagerstown City Park all feel the same way. That's why they artistically and enthusiastically think of ways to make our town history inviting and welcoming to the public. The only time there isn't something going on at the Hager House is when they're closed for the season.
Weather permitting, on Saturday, August 9 from 1-4pm they are putting on the first-ever Colonial Family Fun Day. They invite the public to learn about the pastimes of families on the frontier and compete against other families in a fun-filled field day.
"We were looking for a program that was hands-on where we could get all members of the family involved," said John Bryan, historic sites facilitator for the City of Hagerstown and curator/director at the Hager House. "We're trying to develop programs where children can participate, but we would also like everybody in the family to have an opportunity to join in."
John has worked at the Hager House for 8 years, but as the curator/director, this is his second season.
Some of the attendants will be dressed up in Colonial period dress, but the Hager House advises visitors not to show up in such dress. "It's hard to run in a long thick dress," said John's assistant. However, if some of the visiting children want to dress up, the Hager House has a few costumes.
As with all activities and events at the Hager House, visitors "can get a little historical background of some of the pastimes that our ancestors on the frontier would have enjoyed and played."
The day is to consist of tours of the house and 5 separate games of the time period. Colonial families did not have computer games, a television, and rarely had books to read, so they often created their own games.
"One of those [games] will be called "rounders", which is a form of baseball. It began in the 16th century from Europe (they still play it in some areas of Europe today). The way it looks to me is a combination of baseball and chess," said John.
Actually Rounders is a hitting and fielding game where the objective is to hit the ball and run round 4 bases to get a "rounder". Children or adults of any age can play. In England, Rounders is played in "lush green but well tended and mowed grass". In the US, Rounders can be played in your yard, a park, on the beach or even in a gymnasium. The only equipment needed is a small (17" long) wooden bat and a 2 3/4 " diameter ball that looks like a small baseball. Players do not wear gloves since the ball is small. Rounders can be traced back to the 16th century where it was very popular in England. Colonial America had Rounders as a pastime.
"We're also going to be playing "Blind Man's Bluff", which a lot of folks know, that also dates back in early Colonial times almost 2000 years, probably back into Greece. It may have even been named after a French king who was wounded in battle and he couldn't see, so he tried to slash around to fight his enemy."
My research pulled information confirming that the game was played at least as far back as the Tudor period (between 1485 and 1603), as there are references to it being played by Henry VIII's (1491-1547) courtiers and that in the Middle Ages (before 1350), this game was known as "Hoodsman's Blind" because the usual blindfold was simply a liripipe hat or a hood put on backwards with the face opening to the back of the head.
Blind Man's Bluff is a children's game in which one player, designated as "It," is blindfolded and fumbles around attempting to touch the other players without being able to see them, while the other players scatter and try to avoid the person who is "it", hiding in plain sight and sometimes teasing them to make them change direction. The game is a variant of tag and Marco Polo.
"Another game that we have that's more historical is called "Quoits" (pronounced: "k-waits"), which is basically a combination of horseshoes and ring toss. Originally they would have used steel rings. [The object of the game is to] throw the ring over the pole. Depending on how far away you are from the pole, that's how you score your points." There is evidence of a similar game, which was played by Ancient Greeks and Romans before being spread to Britain. There are mentions of the game in England from 1388, although Edward III who believed it to be a foolish pastime banned the game in the 1360s.
"Another game is "Ninepins," said John. "This actually began in the 3rd century in church where the Germans developed an idea of ... they had a pin which they called a "kegel" [Kegelspiel] and that was to represent a center. The parishioners would roll a rock at it and if they knocked it over then the sinner was considered to be without sin. Later it spread through Europe and by the 17th century the Dutch colonists came here to America brought the game to America."
John is correct, in fact, ninepin bowling was introduced to America from Europe during the colonial era and is similar to the game of skittles. The game became popular and was called "Bowl on the Green". The Dutch, English, and Germans brought their own versions of the game to the new world, where it enjoyed continued popularity; however, as like many new things, the game caused a bit of controversy. In 1841, a law in Connecticut banned ninepin bowling lanes due to associated gambling and crime, and people were said to evade the letter of the prohibition by adding an extra pin, resulting in the game of ten pin bowling as we know it today.
"We'll also have a traditional colonial game called "Rolling the Hoop", which is either played as a race or sometimes they even throw them with the sticks and your partner will catch it," John said. Research shows that the game is known to have been played since early ancient times, as seen on Greek vase paintings (500 BC). "This will be really good for the children to participate in and they could also make a competition out of that," John added.
"I believe our last game will be the traditional "Sack Race". So I think we'll have a lot for everyone to participate in."
The games will be played on the lower grounds by the Hager House. There will be no vendors or crafts as the event, being 3 hours, is based on the history of and the play of the Colonial games. I personally find this intriguing and inviting because for me having my children know where they came from helps them to know where they are going.
A little about Colonial times:
* Other games children played include playing tag, marbles, hopscotch, and leapfrog. They flew kites and went fishing and swimming. Even simple activities like swinging or taking a walk were enjoyed and if the weather was bad, children often played with simple wooden toys like spinning tops and whirligigs, read the Bible, played with rag dolls, and embroidered samplers.
* Jobs that were within Colonial children's reach were blacksmith, a cooper, a miller, cobbler, silversmith, tailor, tanner, town crier, merchant, tinsmith, or peweterer.
* Families traveled to church, friends' houses, and did shopping by using horses, sleds, wagons, boats, but they mostly walked. If they needed to travel a long distance they used a Conestoga wagon.
* For children who lived in a town with a schoolhouse, they were taught to read, write, and do arithmetic. Reading was very important as this gave them the ability to read the Bible and to write letters. If there were no schools, then their parents taught them.
* Some families lived in caves with little to no furniture, and everyone had a job to do. The men and boys hunted birds and animals, planted and harvested food. The younger girls and women made candles and soap, and weaved thread into cloth. However, no one had a set job, everyone helped where help was needed. Laziness was a sin because there was always work to be done - sweeping, feeding the chickens, milking cows, watering horses, running errands, picking berries from the forest, gathering peas, onions, turnips, carrots, vegetables, and spices from the garden, and taking eggs from the chickens, as well as cooking and mending.
* Men wore pants called breeches, which come just below the knee, with woolen stockings. They were buttons instead of zippers and waistcoats over their loose shirts. Most adults wear wigs, but during leisure the men wear tri-corner hats and the women wear bonnets. Their shoes are made for both the left foot and the right foot.
* Women wore corsets under a long dress; most of them only owned two dresses - one for the weekday and one for Sunday. They also wore a pocket-hoop farthingale, which made their waists look thin and their stomachs flat.
* Young children wore loose dresses until they turned five or six years old then they wore what their parents wore.
John Bryan feels that many play these types of games, but they never really think about where they came from. "Now given the historical background will be an educational experience," he said.
"We want folks to understand that there's a place where we focus on the colonial and the history behind Hager and his house, but also we try to be more expansive on the life on the frontier in general. It's a place for history but it's also where families can come and have fun at the park."
There are not many places out there where you can compete against other families - it's historical in nature. The Hager House is the centerpiece. Not many towns still have the home of their founding fathers. The Jonathan Hager House turns 269 years old this year!
John and those associated with the Jonathan Hager House & Museum hopes that the Colonial Family Fun Day will continue every year.
The Jonathan Hager House & Museum is located in the Hagerstown City Park (110 Key Street). For more information visit or call 301-739-8393.
Registration cut-off date is by 4pm on Friday, July 25 and the entry fee is just $10 per family [to cover costs and materials]. The fee includes a tour and activities.

Source: Colonial Kids: A Celebration of Life in the 1700's, Colonial Williamsburg, and History is a Weapon

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