What Types of Chores Did Colonial Children Do?

by Scott Thompson

Children in colonial America did different types of chores depending on their gender, social status, the part of the country they lived in, and whether or not they were apprenticed to learn a trade. Children were expected to start thinking and acting like adults at around age seven or eight, and many children did full-time work rather than occasional chores. Slave children were expected to work long hours from a young age.

Farm Children

In colonial America, many families practiced subsistence agriculture. The chores on a small family farm included planting and harvesting edible vegetables and grains, making hay to feed the livestock and taking care of chickens, sheep, cows, oxen, goats, hogs and horses. Every member of the family had to help with whatever type of work needed to be done at that time, but younger children were given easier tasks. On colonial farms, the youngest children brought the eggs in and the older children fed the animals. Boys learned how to milk the cows around age seven, and some could already drive a horse team by then.

Planters' Children

In the Southern colonies, slaves and indentured servants did most of the farm work on the large plantations. However, the children of colonial planters still had chores to do. Beginning around age seven or eight, children carried messages and did other errands as needed. Around age 11, children took over the task of copying letters for their parents. Teenagers performed administrative chores such as overseeing the dairy or the garden, and could even be placed in charge of an entire plantation when their parents were away.

Boys and Girls

Boys and girls had some chores in common, such as planting and harvesting. However, girls also performed a number of other chores such as sewing, weaving, making soap, preparing food and taking care of younger siblings. Boys also had to do some chores that the girls didn't, such as hunting, fishing, barrel-making and horse shoeing. On Southern plantations, girls performed many of the same administrative tasks as boys, including copying letters and overseeing the plantation business when necessary.

Apprenticeship and Slavery

Colonial children were expected to learn a trade if they didn't have any other way to make a living once they reached adulthood. In New England, children whose parents were considered indigent or who had failed to teach them basic skills such as reading and writing could be sent away as apprentices by order of the local authorities. The apprentice was expected to perform errands and odd jobs for the master as he learned his trade, and was not legally allowed to leave or disobey his master until his term was up. Slave children were also required to do whatever work their master asked them to do, such as carding wool, pounding corn or performing other household tasks.

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