Colonial Games

game piece
open book

These are the sources cited in the Colonial section of the website. If you're curious, they have more details about the games described here as well as other interesting games.

I've also included a list of other helpful books about games and some books about life in general in Colonial America. Many of them were written for kids, but I recommend those books for adults, too. For one thing, kids' books are good for getting an introduction to a topic, and for another, they include more pictures. Pictures are not only good for getting a better understanding of what the book is talking about, but they're great for planning costumes for a party.

Hope you've enjoyed the games and the site!


Bell, R.C. Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1979.

This book contains historical information and rules for playing games from a variety of periods. In this section, it was helpful for me in understanding the game Brother Jonathan. One thing that I couldn't show that was in the book was a picture of the type of coins people would use for playing the game.

Bolton, Lesley. The Everything Games Book. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2005.

This is a book containing general rules for games. There is no historical information.

Burns, Bruce, ed. The Encyclopedia of Games. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1998.

This book has a wide variety of games, grouped by game type. It's mostly a general reference about how games are played with mostly a modern focus, but there is some historical information about games as well.

Carson, Jane. Colonial Virginians at Play. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1989.

This book describes games and pastimes that were popular in Colonial Virginia. There are appendices in the back that provide the rules for various card games, table games, and board games.

Daniels, Bruce C. Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1995.

As the title of the book says, it describes what people liked to do for fun and entertainment in Colonial New England. It was useful for understanding the attitudes people had toward certain types of entertainment as well. Because the Puritans were against gambling, there were laws against gambling games in public places that wouldn't have applied to other parts of the colonies.

The Diagram Group. The Way to Play. New York: Paddington Press Ltd., 1975.

This book contains the rules for many games, both modern and historical, often with a little historical background included.

Gourley, Catherine. Welcome to Felicity's World, 1774: Growing Up in Colonial America. Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company Publications, 1999.

This book was written particularly as a companion to the American Girls series about a fictional girl named Felicity who lived in Williamsburg shortly before the start of the Revolutionary War. Although the character was fictional, the series made a point to include educational material about what life was like in Colonial times, and this companion book was helpful because it included not only information about daily life but pictures of objects and clothing used during the Colonial era. There are no rules for playing games in this book, although it mentions some popular ones.

Grunfeld, Frederic V., ed. Games of the World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975.

This book has both historical information about games from different periods of history and different areas of the world and also gives information on how to make and play the games.

The Key to Hoyle's Games. Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc., 1968.

This is a general book of rules for card games. It offers a little historical background for some games, but not much.

King, David C. Colonial Days: Discover the Past with Fun Projects, Games, Activities, and Recipes. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998.

This is a book of activities and crafts designed to teach children about daily life during the Colonial era. The activities are organized by season and also include recipes.

Lizon, Karen Helene. Colonial American Holidays and Entertainment. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.

This is a book for kids (probably about middle school age) about holidays and pastimes in Colonial America. It provides the rules for a couple of games and also a couple of recipes in the back.

Mohr, Merilyn Simonds. The New Games Treasury. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

This book has a wide variety of games, grouped by game type. It's mostly a general reference about how games are played, but it offers historical information about games as well. I particularly like how the author gives sources for certain pieces of historical information.

Morehead, Albert H. and Geoffrey Mott-Smith, eds. Hoyle's Rules of Games. New York: New American Library, Inc., 1963.

This book focuses mainly on card games but it also has rules and strategies for some popular board games, dice games, and parlor games. There is a little historical information to accompany some of these games.

Parlett, David. The Penguin Book of Card Games. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.

This book has rules and historical information for many types of card games from different parts of the world. It also includes some old and uncommon games. The games are organized into sections by type.

Provenzo, Asterie Baker and Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr. Play It Again. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981.

This book has historical information and rules for different types of board games from different parts of the world. It provides boards that readers can copy and use.

Warner, John F. Colonial American Home Life. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.

This is a book for kids (probably about middle school age) about daily life in Colonial America.

Whitehouse, F.R.B. Table Games of Georgian and Victorian Days. London: Peter Garnett, 1951.

This book contains lists and descriptions of printed board games from England during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Other Game Books

Sackson, Sid and the editors of Klutz Press. The Book of Classic Board Games. Palo Alto, CA: Klutz Press, 1991.

This book came with two sets of playing pieces (black and white glass pieces) and a pair of dice so that readers could play on the game boards provided in the book. Among the games included are Checkers, Nine Men's Morris, and Backgammon.

Colonial American Life and History

Anderson, Joan. The First Thanksgiving Feast. New York: The Trumpet Club, 1984.

This is a kids' book about how Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth in 1621. It mentions things that people did for fun during the feast, like music, dancing, and a few of outdoor games: pillow pushing (two people straddling a log hit each other with pillows, trying to knock each other off), pitching the bar (looks kind of like a Scottish caber toss, only with a smaller log), and tug of war. I didn't add these games to the site because the book didn't list exact rules, although the pictures help.

Kalman, Bobbie. Colonial Crafts. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 1992.

This is a kids' book about different crafting professions practiced in 18th century Colonial America, including leatherworking, cabinetmaking, blacksmithing, papermaking, and wigmaking.

Kalman, Bobbie. Colonial Life. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 1992.

This is a kids' book about life in Colonial America, including what the lives of slaves were like. The topics it discusses includ homes, family life, clothing, and pastimes. There is some discussion of games, including some that I discuss here, although it also shows how marbles were played and has pictures of other toys. Because of the discussion of slavery, there is a special message at the end of book about the nature of prejudice.

Miller, Brandon Marie. Growing Up in a New World: 1607 to 1775. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Company, 2003.

This is a kids' book what it was like to grow up in Colonial America. It begins with a brief history of how the colonists arrived in America, including some discussion of slavery and the consequences of the colonists' arrival for Native Americans. Then, it describes various aspects of childrens' lives in the colonies, including family life, education, discipline, play and pastimes, and when they would be considered adults. There are suggested activities in the back, one of which is rules for playing marbles like colonial children.

Waters, Kate. Mary Geddy's Day: A Colonial Girl in Williamsburg. New York: Scholastic, 1999.

This is a kids' book about Mary Geddy, a real girl living in Williamsburg in 1776. Mary Geddy, as shown in the pictures, is reenacted by Emily Smith, a young interpreter at the Colonial Williamsburg living history museum. The story follows her through a single day as typically experienced by girls around the beginning of the American Revolution (lessons, chores, shopping, and visiting with her friend) up until the moment when the vote for independence at the Fifth Virginia Convention was announced. Then, they describe how people were celebrating the announcement as well as their fears about the impending war. In the back, there is more historical information, instructions for making a lavendar sachet, and a recipe for apple pie that was used in Colonial Williamsburg.

Waters, Kate. Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl. New York: Scholastic, 1989.

This is a kids' book about Sarah Morton, a real girl living in Plymouth in 1627. Sarah Morton, as shown in the pictures, is reenacted by Amelia Poole, a young interpreter at the Plimouth Plantation living history museum. The story follows her through a typical day in the life of a pilgrim girl as she does her chores, has lessons with her stepfather, and plays with her best friend. The game she plays with her friend is a marble-shooting game; the girls take turns rolling marbles through the arches in Sarah's wooden "knicker box." I didn't include this game on the site because the book didn't give exact rules. The book also has a recipe for corn bread used during the 17th century.

Helpful Links

As you look at the information on these sites, remember that that the Colonial period lasted more than 100 years and that habits varied throughout the colonies. The Colonial Williamsburg living history site focuses specifically on life in Virginia during the 18th century, and the Plimoth Plantation site focuses on life in the 17th century Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts.

Children in Colonial America

A short PDF explaining the lives of 17th century Colonial children.

A Child's Role

An article on the Plimoth Plantation living history museum site about children living in the early colonies and Native American children, explaining their roles in their families and communities.

Colonial Life

A PDF explaining Colonial life in Virginia from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Colonial Williamsburg Blog

A blog belonging to the Colonial Williamsburg living history museum site with articles about daily life in Colonial America and about the historical re-enactments at Colonial Williamsburg.

Colonial Williamsburg Trend & Tradition Magazine

Colonial Williamsburg offers a magazine with articles about life in Colonial America and about the historical re-enactments at Colonial Williamsburg. This magazine is available in printed form for people who donate money to support Colonial Williamsburg, but there are some articles that are available online in each of the posted issues.

Everyday Life in Colonial America

An article from the American Battlefield Trust explaining the history of the American colonies and the three major Colonial regions: the New England Colonies, the Middle Colonies, and the Southern Colonies.

Fun and Games

An article on the Plimoth Plantation living history museum site about what children living in the early colonies and Native American children would do for fun.

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