By Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr. and Robert Jennings Heinsohn
Children amused infants by playing peek-a-boo or by blowing bubbles made from homemade soap.
Children loved chasing games like hide and seek, and tag and leapforg. Pilgrim children played hopscotch and marbles just as you do today. If they were lucky they used English glass marbles or they made marbles from clay baked in an oven.
While Pilgrims did not have rubber balls or ball inflated with air, they made balls from tightly rolled-up cloth or hides bound with rope or twine. Balls were also carved from wood. Tops were made by passing thin pointed sticks, like tooth picks, passed through the center of heavy paper decorated with swirls.
Children ran alongside hoops rolled with a stick. The winner was the one who rolled the hoop the farthest before the hoop fell over. Today hoops are made of wood whereas Pilgrim children might have used a metal hoop from a barrel.
Girls made cornhusk dollies from cornhusks decorated with painted faces. Infant dolls, called poppets, were made of a sock with stitched thread eyes, mouths and noses. Girls played house just as young girls platy house today. Boys became skilled with knives by carving swords, rifles, small boats fitted with sails or carving trenchers to eat from or carving spoons to eat with. Boys also carved horses heads mounted on poles that both girls and boys rode as hobby horses.
Ninepins was a game in which players bowled a wooded ball into a group of nine cone shaped wooded pins arranged in a square one pin's width apart. Players took turns rolling or gently tossing the ball to knock over the pins. Each player had two turns and their score was tallied, one point per pin. The pins were reset for the next player. Whoever achieved 31 points first was the winner. Bowling was like the game of "bocce" where the object was to roll wooded balls as close as possible to a stake in the ground called the "jack".
Cup and Ball was played by holding the cup handle and swinging the ball so that it landed in the cup. It was a difficult solitary game you either mastered or quit in frustration.
Quoits was a game where players tried to toss a small circular loop of rope around an upstanding post. It could be played alone or by teams.
Hunter and Deer was played by groups of children who linked arms in a circle, facing the center. A person was chosen to be the deer and ran around the circle and tapped someone in the circle to be the hunter and chased them. The deer ran around, or through the circle by ducking under the linked arms of those in the circle. If the hunter did not catch the deer, the hunter entered the circle and the deer chose another person to chase them. If the deer was caught, the deer entered the circle and the hunter became the deer and chose a new hunter. The game ended when so many people were inside the circle that people in the circle could no longer link arms.
Shuttlecock and Battledore was badminton played without a net. A cork with feathers inserted in one end (shuttlecock) was struck with a long-handled wooden paddle (Battledore) to other players who hit the shuttlecock into the air with their battledore. The object of the game was to keep the shuttlecock in the air as long as possible. The looser was the person who let the shuttlecock fall to the ground.
There are two versions of Stool ball, one is like volleyball without a net and the other is similar to cricket.
(1) A Stool laid sideways was placed between two teams facing each other. A 6-inch ball was hit upwards with the palm of an outstretched hand to players on the other team who tried to catch the ball. When a player on the receiving team caught the ball the immediately hit the ball back to the serving team who had to catch the ball and return it to the other team. If a player on the receiving team dropped the ball they threw or rolled the ball at the stool. If they hit the stool the serving team received one point, if they failed to hit the stool the serving team received two points. If a player on the serving team dropped the ball, another member of the serving team served the ball. When every member of the serving team has served the ball the score of the serving team was tallied. The role of serving and receiving teams was reversed and play began anew. Whichever team scored 31 points first was the winner.
(2) Two stools are placed approximately 16 meters apart and a line is drawn midway between the stools. Players are divided into two teams. A Batsman stands in front of a stool and a Bowler stands with one foot in front of the center line. The Bowler's team stands behind the center line. The Bowler tries to hit the Batsman's stool with a leather covered ball and the Batsman protects the stool by hitting the ball with a bat. If the Bowler hits the stool the Bowler's team is awarded a point and the Batsman is out and replaced by the next team member. IF the ball is hit, the Batsman runs to the distant stool and then back and forth between stools until one of the Bowlers team hits or touches either stool with the ball. Each time the Batsman touches a stool the Batsman's team is awarded a point. An out is made if a fielder catches a fly ball or touches the stool with the ball before the Batsman reaches the stool. A Bowler throws a total or 8 balls for an "over", i.e. an inning. At the end of an over, the other team defends its own stool. Each team gets 6 overs.
If you had to spend two months on the Mayflower crossing the Atlantic, much of it below decks, what games would you play?
Plimoth Plantation Public Program Department, "Pastimes of the Pilgrims", Plymouth, MA
Carlson, L., "Colonial Kids", Chicago Review Press, Inc. Chicago, IL 1997