About Family Life in Colonial Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania was colonized and established later than other surrounding colonies, only becoming an official settlement by the end of the 17th century. The later start did not make life easier for settlers, however, who still suffered from lack of basic comforts in their homes and everyday life.

1 Identification

Houses were sparse in colonial Pennsylvania. While the area was richer than other colonial towns, it was still rare to find certain items, including curtains and rugs, in a typical home. Even articles that are considered commonplace today, such as mirrors and bedsheets, were not present in every Pennsylvanian home. Most households made their own furniture, which is why the items were basic (beds without mattresses, chests rather than closets) and built over time, only as tools could be borrowed from neighbors and raw material became available.

2 Considerations

Many basic, everyday objects were made at home. Candles were the primary source of lighting, and were made by the women in the house, although more affluent families bought imported candles from England. Women were also in charge of knitting and quilting everything from bed covers to dresses to jackets. Men used wood to carve handles for tools, toys and kitchen items such as cups and bowls.

3 Expert Insight

Because the colonial times encompass over 150 years, starting from its creation in 1681, scientific and medical discoveries eventually changed the way people lived in Pennsylvania. However, there was basically no medical care in the early years, and doctors in colonial Pennsylvania were basically non-existent. At that time, potions made of herbs or even damaging substances such as opium, were common. In fact, many believe that illness was caused by the devil and focused on “praying the disease away.”

4 Benefits

From the mid-17th century on, schooling became mandatory in colonial Pennsylvania. Hornbooks (thin pieces of wood with sheets of paper strung on) were used instead of traditional books, and children wrote on wood tablets, similar to small pieces of blackboard. Instruction was simple, including the alphabet, some basic mathematics and extensive reading of the Bible, but it was also equal for both boys and girls.

5 Time Frame

Up until the late 1700s, communication between colonial Pennsylvania and other areas was difficult. The colony had its own newspaper but this included only local news, as it was basically impossible to know what was going on in the other colonies at any given time. Travel by land became somewhat easier as stage coaches were introduced in the 18th century, but water travel was easier, faster and more effective.

Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.