Colonial Virginia

What was it like to live long ago when Virginia belonged to England? When there were no cars, no computers, few hospitals and no free public schools?

Without cars, trains or airplanes, people traveled by boat, horseback or on foot by "shank's mare". The reason so many colonial towns were located next to rivers is that often the roads were terrible seas of mud. It was so much easier to travel on the rivers!

With no computers to help with bookkeeping, the colonists kept track of their accounts in big ledger books. Colonial children couldn't use a computer to play video games either. For fun they played outside together, danced, sang, fished, hunted and rode. In bad weather they might play board games, sew or whittle.

Getting even a little bit sick could be a real problem. Because people didn't have a clear idea of how disease worked, the more expensive the doctor was, the more likely he was to use what we might call strange remedies-- like leeches and reuseable silver-plated pills. Sometimes native remedies like the herb snakeroot and crab claws could be used to help patients.

Most children did not receive any regular schooling although sometimes little schools did begin in towns or a well-to-do family might hire a tutor for their children.

Not all African-Americans were slaves, and not all European-Americans were completely free. Free African-Americans made their own way although they faced hard restrictions. Both slaves and indentured servants sometimes ran away to escape their masters. Colonial America had many more opportunities than Europe, but just like today your chances for a comfortable life were a lot better if your family was well-off.

You can read local newspapers from the colonial period in the CRRL's Virginiana Room to find out what was important to the farmers and businessmen of the time. You may also browse some of these articles and notices on-line.

Learn more about what life was like in colonial days. Check out these great book and Web resources and visit your local branch of the CRRL. You can also email your librarian with your questions.

Don't forget! CRRL library card holders can log in and use our databases for encyclopedias and magazine articles.

In the Library

Colonial American Holidays and Entertainment by Karen Helene Lizon
Surveys the different holidays celebrated throughout the year by the early settlers in America and describes some of the various activities, sports, and toys with which they amused themselves.

Colonial American Home Life by John F. Warner 
Discusses why people settled in the American colonies and describes aspects of their daily lives, including homes, clothing, food, work, school, and amusements.

Colonial American Medicine by Susan Terkel
Examines the health risks in the American colonies during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and looks at the questionable, and even dangerous, treatments and remedies available at the time.

Colonial Craftsmen and the Beginnings of American Industry by Edward Tunis
This book vividly reconstructs the vanished ways of colonial America's skilled craftsmen. Includes many detailed drawings.

Colonial Living by Edward Tunis
Examines the everyday lives of men and women who transplanted European culture to the New World. The book describes their early crops, tools, houses, and crafts of 17th- and 18th- century America.

A Colonial Town: Williamsburg by Bobbie Kalman
Take part in the founding of Williamsburg, Virginia and its restoration. Travel down its cobblestone streets at a time when Virginia was a colony of England.

Colonial Williamsburg by Sandra Steen
A look at Colonial Williamsburg, both from the historical point of view and from the viewpoint of its reconstruction so popular with tourists today.

Going to School in 1776 by John J. Loeper
Describes the life of school children in 1776-- their dress, teachers, books, lessons, discipline, and pastimes.

Hasty Pudding, Johnnycakes, and Other Good Stuff: Cooking in Colonial America by Loretta Ichord
Presents colonial food preparation with a look at the influences of available ingredients, cooking methods, and equipment. Includes recipes and appendix of classroom cooking directions.

If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Days by Barbara Brenner
More than two hundred years ago, two thousand people lived in the town of Williamsburg, Virginia. This book tells you what it was like to grow up in colonial days, before there was a United States of America.

A Multicultural Portrait of Colonial Life by Carolyn Washburne
Describes colonial history from the point of view of minorities and women.

The Virginia Colony by Dennis B. Fradin
Presents the history, economy, culture, and people of the Virginia colony from the early Indian settlements to the Revolution. Includes brief biographies of prominent Virginians of the period from Powhatan to Thomas Jefferson and Henry Lee.

Web Sites

Colonial America (1492-1763)
Created by: The Library of Congress. Part of America's Story from America's Library. Learn about the lives of some very famous Virginians: Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

A Day in the Life of the Powell Family
Created by: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Inc. Follow the daily routines of a white middle class family and their slaves in eighteenth-century Williamsburg.

George Washington's Mount Vernon for Students
An interactive map, a digital encyclopedia, people from the past, primary sources, and specifics on the Yorktown Campaign.

The History Explorer of Colonial Williamsburg
Created by: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Inc. Check their colonial dateline for important dates in the Virginia colony. Learn, too, about eighteenth-century politics, clothes, manners, religion, and the African-American experience.

Jamestown Fact Sheets
Created by: The National Park Service. Nice online articles give information on manufacturing and industries such as silk, drugs, glass, flax and brewing. Read also about aspects of Jamestown's history and Bacon's Rebellion.


Photo Credits:
Colonial Williamsburg Virginia Va. Milliner by c w (CC by 2.0)
Settlers of New Amsterdam blended into new English colony. The Rapalje Children, 1768, children of trader of early New Amsterdam descent by John Durad (Public Domain)
Mount Vernon by en.wikipedia (Public Domain)