|French earthenware tray & board game, 1720-50 (Wiki)|
Almost all these pursuits of chance [i.e., of human industry] produce something useful to society. But there are some which produce nothing, and endanger the well-being of the individuals engaged in them or of others depending on them. Such are games with cards, dice, billiards, etc. And although the pursuit of them is a matter of natural right, yet society, perceiving the irresistible bent of some of its members to pursue them, and the ruin produced by them to the families depending on these individuals, consider it as a case of insanity, quoad hoc, step in to protect the family and the party himself, as in other cases of insanity, infancy, imbecility, etc., and suppress the pursuit altogether, and the natural right of following it ...No, this wasn't one of the Puritans, although they frowned on "trivial pursuits" as well. As Wikipedia tells us,
When the Governor William Bradford discovered a group of non-Puritans playing stool-ball, pitching the bar, and pursuing other sports in the streets on Christmas Day, 1622, he confiscated their implements, reprimanded them, and told them their devotion for the day should be confined to their homes.Here on Colonial Quills, we've learned about children's games and that some were even used as educational tools, but what pursuits did adults enjoy?
|The Family Remy (Januarius Zick, c. 1776): various parlor activities|
Billiards, of course, is the forerunner of our modern game of pool, dating in a recognizable form since at least the 15th century. Did you know that the green fabric favored since at least the 17th century probably originated to simulate the color of grass, but scientifically allows longer play with less eyestrain?
The use of dice dates back as far as we have recorded history, with pieces carved from bone, ivory, wood, and stone. Apparently--just to warn anyone who decides to do further research--there's a long history of variants having suggestive or bawdy themes, as well. (The same applies to playing cards.)
Outdoor pursuits included variations on bowling or ninepins, where the object was to knock down all the pins but the center one. That seems a lot harder than modern bowling, but it probably shouldn't surprise me that our colonial forebears had more patience for the finer points of gaming. One source I consulted on colonial-era games (not a clue how accurate some of this list is) includes a description of parlor games that sound tedious and convoluted at best, pointless at worst.
We know that board games have been a perennial favorite, as well. Chess, checkers, mancala, backgammon, and others were popular--perhaps more so amongst those who had the luxury of "idleness," but the human need for occasional recreation is universal, so I suspect only the most austere refrained completely from these kinds of pursuits. It's hard to say how long chess itself has been regarded as a valuable tool for training the mind in strategy.
So who was our mystery commentator above? That would be Thomas Jefferson, in Thoughts on Lotteries (1826). He happened to approve of raffles and lotteries, by the way, just not more "useless" gambling. :)