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Monday, October 17, 2016

Colonial Toys

by Denise Weimer


As a teenager, I convinced my parents to take me to Civil War re-enactments to inspire my writing. That led to many years of participating in mid-1800s living history and even leading a vintage dance group. One of the most delightful things about re-enacting was selecting fabrics and patterns to make authentic dresses for my two daughters, then watching them romp about at living histories playing games of the period. It was refreshing to see how much fun and exercise they had! (Note: the photos below are from mid-1800s re-enactments rather than Colonial, but you get the idea!)

Not too surprisingly, I discovered most of the toys popular during America’s Civil War had been passed down from Colonial times and even well before. As you can see from the list below, Colonial children hardly lacked for amusement in the little bit of time they had between schooling and chores. I didn’t even include things like dolls, balls and wooden musical instruments!

  • Hop Scotch – called “Scotch hopping” during Colonial days
  • Peg games – these included Solitaire, Fox & Geese and Nine Men’s Morris
  • Tops – five types were known in England by the 1500s, the most common being the turnip-shaped peg top
  • Jump rope
  • Marbles – most made of clay, with glass ones highly prized
  • Ninepins – early bowling game brought to the Hudson River Valley by the Dutch in the 17th Century
  • Jacob’s Ladder – wooden squares that moved mysteriously down the attached ribbon
    The Jacob's Ladder
  • Whirligigs – various objects twirled on a string, could be carved wooden, worn-out coins as excavated from early American towns and plantations, or even buttons
  • Draughts – checkers
  • Bilbo Catcher – the ball attached to a cup by a string, with the more challenging option being to balance the ball on the opposite point using a hole drilled in the ball
  • Battledore and Shuttlecock – much like badminton, used wooden paddles to bat back and forth a feathered cork “birdie” shuttlecock
  • Fivestones – later called Jacks. Originally used animal knuckle bones, then wooden, then metal pointed pieces, with the “Jack” being replaced by a wooden, then rubber, ball.
  • Quoits – ring toss game with rope rings tossed onto a wooden peg on a base
  • Trundling Hoop – a large hoop rolled with a long stick (note: requires a LOT of running!)
  • Graces – wooden ring, often be-ribboned, was sent flying to another player with the pull of crossed sticks. The other player was expected to catch the ring on a stick, then send it back. Fun when played in a group. This game was considered a girls’ pass-time and was expected to encourage graceful movements.
    Graces at Traveler's Rest GA


  1. Very interesting post on different games in colonial times.
    Blessings, Tina

  2. What you call Jacks, I grew up calling knucklebones. And yes, we sometimes played with real lamb knuckle bones.

    1. That's neat, Iola. I read it originated with bones! :)


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