Tea Party winners: Roseanna M. White's winner is Debbie Wilder, Denise Weimer's print copy of Widow goes to Andrea Stephens, Debra E. Marvin's winners for Ebook collection are Cheryl Baranski and Rachel Koppendrayer, Carrie Fancett Pagels' ebook collection goes to Joan Arning and paperback to Connie, Gina Welborn's winner is Regina Fujitani, Gabrielle Meyer's paperback copy of A Mother in the Making is Teri Geist DiVincenzo

Monday, May 5, 2014

Firsts in Colonial America

Here's a little Colonial trivia for your purusal. As writers, those of us at Colonial Quills are interested in some of these historical tidbits to help us authenticate our stories.

Cookbooks The first cookbook printed in the American Colonies was E. Smith's The Compleat Housewife published by William Parks, Williamsburg VA, 1742. Like most of the other cookbooks used in colonial America it was a reprint of a European cooking texts. 

Apples When the English colonists arrived in North America they found only crab apples, which were the only native apples growing. European settlers brought pips (seeds) for planting apples, pear, quince, and other fruit orchards. In colonial time, apples were called winter banana or melt-in-the-mouth.
Honey Bees The first fruit orchards did poorly because there were no honey bees in North America. Colonies of honey bees were shipped from England and landed in the Colony of Virginia early in 1622. Several other shipments were made in the 1630's. The Indians called the honeybees "English flies" and/or “white man’s flies.”

Potatoes Potatoes arrived in the Colonies in 1621 when Bermuda Governor Nathaniel Butler sent two large cedar chests containing potatoes and other vegetables to Governor Francis Wyatt of Virginia at Jamestown. The first permanent potato patches in North America were established in 1719 near Londonderry (Derry), NH, by Scotch-Irish immigrants. So don't feed your heroine in colonial fiction potato soup if it is before 1719. 

In New England, a great devoutness meant Christmas was just another day to do the Lord's work, an ordinary working day. In other colonies, customs include attending church, dinner, dancing, visiting, and decorating with evergreens. 18th century Christmas was a holiday for adults. The modern tradition of Christmas can be traced to post-colonial times through German, Dutch, and French customs. St. Nicolas became popular by the writings of Washington Irving in 1820 (which I include in my novella 'Tis the Season in Mistletoe Memories). The Christmas tree did not gain general popularity until later in the 19th century (I included this custom in my story Upon a Christmas Tree Schooner in Guideposts' A Cup of Christmas Cheer.) 

Newspapers In 1690, Benjamin Harris published Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, the first multi-page newspaper in British America. Benjamin Franklin's younger brother, James Franklin, first printed a newsheet filled with six month old items taken from London gazettes and public prints. He was "encouraged by a number of respectable characters, who were desirous of having a paper of a different cast from those then published,…began the publication, at his own risk, The New England Courant" in Boston in 1721. Later, Benjamin worked for the newspaper as a typesetter, and later wrote more than a dozen articles underthe pen name of Silence Dogwood. One such article led to James' month long imprisonment after declining to reveal the identity of its author.

Education The first school in America is founded in New Amsterdam (Dutch settlement in New York). In 1647, Massachusetts Bay legislation provided for compulsory elementary education. This mandate was shortly followed by other New England colonies, except for Rhode Island. Many children attended "Dame Schools" which were run by dames (women) in their homes. The first public school in the America Colonies was established at Philadelphia. In this school it was ordered by the governor and Council: "All children and servants, male and female, whose parents, guardians and masters be willing to subject ym to the rules and orders of the said schoole, shall from time to time, with the approbaon of the overseers thereof for the time being, be received or admitted, taught or instructed; the rich at reasonable rates, and the poor to be maintained and schooled for nothing." New England Primer was the first textbook in British America, published by Benjamin Harris in 1687. Harvard College was founded in 1636 in Massachusetts, the College of William and Mary was established in Virginia in 1693, and Yale University in Connecticut in 1701. Two native Americans attended Harvard in the 1650's. To read more on education in the colonies, you may wish to read my post on Literacy in Colonial America.

Money —  In 1690, the Province of Massachusetts Bay created "the first authorized paper money issued by any government in the Western World.", known then as "Bills of Credit." The first paper money was issued to pay soldiers for fighting the French. The first copper penny was commissioned by George Washington in 1792. 

The Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin "to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia." This was the first hospital in the United States.

The Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts (abt. 1637)
is the oldest surviving timber-frame house in North America
Housing Historians believe that the first log cabins built in North America were in the Swedish colonies of New Sweden in the Delaware and Brandwine River Valleys iin the 1630's. Contrary to popular myth, most early settlers lived in wattle and daub huts. The first brick house erected in this country was William Penn's in 1682 in Philadelphia. From the early 1600s to mid 1800s timber framing (post and beam) flourished in America.

Patchwork Quilts The original quilting method used in the colonies was hand-quilting of whole-cloth. Patchwork patterns were seen only late in the 18th century. It is indeed a myth that patchwork quilts came with the first settlers to the new colonies. You can read more about this in my article about the quilting featured in my novel Pattern for Romance. Look for this book on Amazon on May 29th when it will be available on Kindle for only 99 cents!

Various Inventions Crackers were created in 1792 by John Pearson from just flour and water that he called "pilot bread." The Jefferson disk, or wheel cypher, for encrypting messages was invented in 1795 by Thomas Jefferson. Cotton Gin by Eli Whitney in 1793. Benjamin Franklin invented and conceptualized mail order cataloging in 1744. Read more about Benjamin Franklin's many other inventions here.

In our comment area, please share any of the "firsts" in Colonial American history that you know about!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing a little piece of history.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing a little piece of history.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this. I/we don't really think about this, I guess we take it for granted that it was all here when we first came to America.

    Can you imagine having honey bees on board ship for that length of time? Wonder if the bee handlers had any problems keeping the bees contained?

    Thank you for sharing.

    blessings, Tina

    1. I know! What a stinging adventure that would have been! Really, they were very enterprising folks then.

  4. Interesting stuff! It's fun to learn more about our history. Thank you, Carla! :)

  5. It is always interesting to learn of how the trades or how various foodstuff got there start here. Our local paper goes back to the early 1730's. Thanks for such an informative post, Carla.

    1. That is a very cool fact, Janet. Awesome to have such an historic newspaper.

  6. This is fascinating stuff! Knew some of it but a lot is new to me. Thank you for educating us, Carla!

  7. So awesome the 10th edition is held in Wayne co Lyons NY, that's 20 miles from me, we live in Wayne co.


Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!