Title: …If You Lived in Williamsburg in Colonial Daysif-you-lived-in-williamsburg-in-colonial-days
Author: Barbara Brenner
Illustrator: Jenny Williams
Pages: 79
Recommended Ages: 8 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

The If You series.

Q & A.

How did people pay for what they bought?

In colonial Virginia, you could pay for goods with coins. The coins had been made in other countries and were brought to Williamsburg by merchants and traders. The most common coins were Spanish silver.

The value of the money was based on the English system. Merchants weighed foreign coins to figure out their value in pence (d), shillings (s), and pounds (L). To make change, they would cut up a coin.

A pound in any form was a great deal of money. It was several weeks’ pay for many people. If you were lucky, your parents might give you a few pence to spend at the market. You could but a pencil for 3.25 pence or a pack of playing cards for 7.5 pence. But a pound of chocolate would have been beyond your budget at two shillings and sixpence (2/6).
The most common way grown-ups made a big purchase, such as a horse, was by using a tobacco certificate. A tobacco certificate was something like a check. But instead of being backed by a certain amount of money in a warehouse. You could buy a horse, a wagon, or a whole set of furniture with a tobacco certificate.

You could also trade, or barter, instead of using money. If you were selling corn and you wanted to buy a rooster, for example, you might give so many bushels of corn for the rooster. [pgs. 12-13]

Did children have storybooks to read?

There were no lending libraries in Williamsburg in 1770. Your parents could order books from England or buy them at the Printing Office on Duke of Gloucester Street. A Bible was the only book some families owned, although others had books for both children and adults.

In addition to nursery rhymes, you might have read classic English children’s stories such as Jack the Giant Killer. As you got older, you would have graduated to popular novels – Gulliver’s Travels and The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. [pg. 49]

What kind of clothes did men and boys wear?

Baby boys and girls of colonial Williamsburg were dressed almost alike, in a long gown (dress), a shift (a nightgownlike garment), or a shirt. Early on, parents began to train their children to stand up straight. As a toddler, you would have been put into stays, a kind of cloth brace stiffened with whalebone, which would keep your back straight and give you good posture.

When a boy was about four years old, he was breeched. He graduated from babyhood to boyhood by getting his first pair of breeches, pants that came down just over the knees, the way men’s’ breeches did. The stays came off, and the boy dressed like a smaller version of his father. [pg. 16]

What was an apprentice?

Being an apprentice was a kind of work-study program. In colonial times, a boy was sent to work without pay for a tradesman – a carpenter or printer, for example. In return, the man taught the boy his trade.

The apprentice lived with his master for as long as seven years. At the end of that time, he was considered a journeyman. He could now get a paying job with another master or go into partnership with the man who had trained him. [pg. 61]

Discussion.

I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but I appreciated a choice of words that Ms. Brenner made. Instead of referring to those in slavery merely as ‘slaves’, she called them ‘enslaved people’. I thought this really emphasized the active nature of slavery – the state of being enslaved – as opposed to the more passive ‘slaves’.

Another very clever choice on the part of Ms. Brenner was to place historic jingles under questions concerning the same topic. For example, underneath the question concerning the duties/occupations of women in colonial Williamsburg was the rhyme –

My Maid Mary, she minds the dairy,
While I go a-hoeing and mowing each morn;
Gaily run the reel and the little spinning wheel,
While I am singing and mowing my corn. [pg. 62]

One question reads,

What happened when a child misbehaved?

A great many parents of the eighteenth century still believed in paddling, spanking, and whipping with a cane. [pg. 69]

While this is true at face value, it makes the practice of corporal punishment sound old-fashioned and obsolete.

One question mentions a few superstitious cures.

Conclusion. Wonderful. A great addition to any study of Colonial American.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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