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– 1776 — 1976 –

Children: At Home, School and Play

The alphabet on wooden a board

The children of 200 years ago did chores at home, played games with each other and went to school. These are, of course, the things young people do today. Yet, there were differences.

Household chores 200 years ago in Hampton were, perhaps, a bit harder. Boys often chopped, stacked and carried wood for the fireplace. They helped their father feed cows, pigs and chickens, or mend fences. At a young age, they learned to use a hammer and make repairs. The girls often helped mother churn butter, scrub clothes in a big laundry tub, or make candles and soap. They also mended clothing and tended younger children in large families where mother just didn’t have time for everyone.

School Days, School Days …

Young children were often taught at home by their mother or an older sister. The alphabet was carved on a wooden board with a handle. It was called a hornbook. Hampton school students of 200 years ago were taught by Mr. Oliver Wellington Lane, a 1772 graduate of Harvard University. It is said that he was an excellent teacher and his pupils were strongly attached to him. In those days, all grades were taught in the same room, but classes were small enough that the teacher had time for everyone. After finishing grade school, most children went out to learn a trade. They were apprenticed to a man skilled in the trade they wished to learn. That is, they would work as a helper to someone such as a blacksmith, wagon-maker or ship-builder. Only a few students went on to the private academies.

Rolling hoops

Strict religious laws of the 1700’s forbid some of the games we play today. Many ministers disapproved of such fun as games played with cards or dice. In some places, even dancing and shuffleboard were at one time against the law. The church did, however, approve of the training days held once a month on the village green of most New England towns. Here, men and boys competed for prizes offered for the best shooting, wrestling and running.

Hampton people of 200 years ago seized upon every chance to turn work into play. Husking bees, log-rolling, plowing bees, barn-raisings and quilting parties were popular, as were singing schools and spelling bees. During the long winters, skating was popular. Christmas, as it is now, was a time of special festivities. Children looked forward to trees trimmed with hand-made ornaments, but few of them expected to receive many gifts. Except in a few well-to-do Hampton families, there was little money to spend on store-bought gifts from Boston. Most gifts were made at home — mittens knit by grandmother or new school breeches stitched by mom. Dad would whittle toy animals from wood, or build a tiny cradle for girls’ dolls. Still, Christmas was just as exciting then as it is now and children had plenty of good times, treasuring the few gifts they received.

The Towle Family Children

The Towle Family Children

If we pretend we were in Hampton 200 years ago, one of the families we might meet is that of Elisha Towle and his wife, Ann. They lived out toward the beach. The nine children of this family probably played tag, marbles, leap-frog, hopscotch, blindman’s buff and hop, skip and jump.

On a breezy fall day we might find Jeremiah Towle, age 8, learning how to fly a kite from his older brother, Joshua, 11. Little Elisha, who was only a toddler, might have been playing near the doorstep with a top, or watching with excitement as the kite rose upward past the tree tops. If the children from the next house down the road could come after they finished their chores, then the boys might play a game of ball.

A favorite pastime of the Towle children and their friends was rolling hoops. A circular hoop would be pushed with a stick to see how far it would go before toppling over.

During the fall of 1775, the Towle family had a new-born baby, little Priscilla, born on October 20. Mary Towle, 14, was the oldest of the children in her family. If she soon finished helping mother feed the baby, perhaps she would come out in the yard and play singing games with little Sarah Towle, 5, and her friends. Didn’t they love to have big sister Mary teach them games such as Ring-Around-a-Rosy and London Bridge. Yes, these games that children still play are more than 200 years old!

Mary Towle was looking forward to tomorrow’s quilting bee at their Sanborn cousins’ large home in Hampton village. She was old enough to have helped at several quilting bees, but even little Sarah would go along and help.

About all Sarah could talk about this fall was the new doll she wanted for Christmas. It was one of the fancy ones that came from France. She had a rag doll with button eyes, but it had been Mary’s. Her only new doll had been made by mama from a corn cob.

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