The Toys and Games of Slave Families

This Page is Under Extended Construction!


Historical Musical Instruments
Would be used at Dances and Nights around the Fires telling stories.
Used in the Slave Era
Buxton Historical Museum.

In the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society we find some very surprising and even some almost depressing information on the games of the Slavery and Post Slavery eras. In This Link look under the title "Play in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century America" to see the information. For those museums and historical sites who do not allow web sites the essay is easily available in printed form.

We should also remember that Wiggins states in his essay "The play of slave children" that "Play was essential to slave children because it was one means through which they learned the values and mores of their parents' world" He also states "... when not engaged in their light tasks they (children) spent much of their time in the simple pleasures of eatng, conversing, and playing with their companions." He goes on to mention quotes from former slave children about roaming the plantation, wading streams, fishing, hunting, and gathering food (nuts etc.) with other slave children.

Such research allows us to list the following with relative certainty.

Toys and Games


Actual old slave chains displayed at
Buxton Historic Site
Remind us of the position of slaves
In the era in which we are talking

Role-playing, Re-enacting, and Story Telling

  • Role-playing and re-enacting events like funerals, auctions, and family gatherings. Wiggins mentions re-enacting gatherings and in particular baptisms. When it came to the baptism with water they would throw that child in clothes and all into a stream. Quote from Wiggins "Dinah Perry of Arkansas remembered how they made arrangements for a grand funeral. 'We marched in a procession singing one of our folks funeral hymns' recalled Perry. 'We stopped at the grave under the big magnolia tree by the gate and my sister Nancy performed the ceremony'". Also they would re-enact things like military drills, court trials, and political debates. Similar to above just plain old story telling was a prominent part of their lives. Ole Molly Bright was indeed a game where Children would make up stories about the moon.

Games Involving Black Culture or Slave Conditions

  • Culture is not always easy to understand. One former slave recounted the game of auction, where one child would become the auctioneer and conduct a simulated slave sale. Wiggins mentions Two repeatedly played games of "Hide the switch" and "No Bogeyman Tonight". Hiding the Switch. Game mentioned in the link above. It involves hiding a whip and the person who found it got to use it on other kids. (consider slave whip?) "No Bogeyman Tonight was a simple game possibly played with white kids where Child who was "It" was the "Bogeyman". One quote mentions masters not letting slaves get together at night, so while parents slept, the children would go out and wonder around all night and look at stars. Ring Dances. Wiggins mentioned children forming a ring 15 to 30 feet in diameter. They would dance within the ring and dance to clappings and often berate the whites in songs like "My old mistress promised me, Before she dies she would set me free. Now she's dead and gone to Hell. I hope the Devil will burn her well! One former slave child mentions "Snail away Rauley. Children "Go round and round in a ring gittin' faster an' faster an dem fell down was not outa de game but would have tah ge' back in line."
    *Christmas celebrations. Involved coveted time with family for both old and young. Involved candy pullings, tol' ghost stories, sung plantation songs, and danced the clog. They frolicked, danced, run races, played games, and visited around calling it a good time"

Times Involving both Black and White Kids

  • "White and Black friendships - Positive". Often times white and black children would play together and sometimes those friendships stayed for a life time with the black child even becoming the servant of the white person. Wiggins mentions interviews mentioning these friendships involving stealing chickens, eggs, hiding red pepper in "Black Bob's chewin' bacca", and turning a skunk loose in the slave quarters.
  • "White and Black friendships - Negative". Often slave children were treated badly by white kids due to the "caste system" as we might call it. Slave kids might be "Held in Prison" of a white child for instance. Or white children might make fun of black adults and kids working in the fields. Also, slave and/or black children were much more physically fit and thus could compete better in events than white kids. Wiggins writes "The white children were often portrayed simply as clumsy fools who were decidedly prosaical in their play activities."

Ball Games and Games Involving Balls

  • Ball games. (With very few rules.) Shinny. (The origin of our hockey, played with few or no rules.) Rolly Hole. Two holes and you try to roll the ball into one hole. And Anti Over. Children on each side of a building with a roof. One child throws the ball over the roof. If you'd catch it you would run around to the other side and hit somebody and start over.

Athletic Games and Activities

  • Jump Rope. A very common game played by girls. Chase Games and other non elimination games. Games where players were eliminated were generally NOT PLAYED. They understood that family members could be sold off at any time for instance. Jumping Poles. Impromptu sports contests. Competition between players in things like running, jumping, throwing, swimming, lifting, etc. Fighting like boxing etc was seldom DONE! It is thought that this was because Slaves needed to take care of each other and not fight each other.

Games/activities requiring less or no exertion

  • Smut. Very similar to playing cards except that they used different grains of corn with marks to distinguish the suits and numbers etc. Throwing Horse Shoes. I Spy. Blind Man's Buff. Ole Hundred. Seems to duplicate Hide and Seek. It is mentioned that this game taught many children how to count. Stilts. Marbles.
  • Dancing and simply sitting around the fire seem to be very common practice.

Girls and Dolls

  • Doll types. Before the Civil War more of a training device to educate girls to sew, etc. After the Civil War to engage in fantasy and play. Gradually leading to rebellion such as sliding dolls down banisters and doll fights. Then came doll funerals, with coffins made by the girl's father, and finally "some created harrowing scenes of ritualized executions and gruesome fatal accidents."
  • Dolls. Corn Husk. These could be quickly made by someone who knew how for no cost at all.
  • Dolls. Rag Dolls. As above these could be made from small bits of cloth not usable for other things.
  • Dolls. Topsy Turvy Doll. This is the doll with the white child's doll on one end and the slave child's doll on the other.
  • Dolls. Other. We have for instance seen dolls made from old shoes or corn cobs. It would be very likely that such items would be used to make the few toys that these kids had.

Gambling Games.

  • Gambling. Wagers on cards, shooting craps, etc. Mostly played in a secluded spot so parents would not know what they are doing.

Games and toys we are almost certain would have existed but still need be proven.

  • Hoops. Metal hoops. Never wooden ones like we see today. Slaves repaired the broken wheels of wagons, so they would be able to take the metal rims from some of the broken wheels home for their children to play with. They would though NEVER be able to buy wooden ones. We caution that we have been told this but have not seen it in print. But it makes sense as slaves would have fixed the broken wagon wheels.
  • Moon Winders or Button on a string. The button on a string would certainly be a common toy. It is very likely that a toy like our "walnut moonwinder" would be commonly carved out with a knife as well. Just a piece of old wood. Two walnuts split apart. And some pine tar to glue them. Nothing would need to be purchased.
  • Stick Horses. There is a scene in the movie "Song of the South", which depicts a poor black child and a rich land owner's child together going to play. The rich child would normally have a fancy stick horse. However, he gladly grabs a plain and simple stick to play with the poor child, who has a long stick and nothing more. We believe that scene to be very accurate. Stick horses would we believe be used by these kids, but they would simply be a short stout stick of the proper length. Nothing more!
  • tops. Tops were made by kids everywhere in these times. They are NOT easy to use as they were not well balanced. But, they were available and often made by all kids. Again, only an old used piece of wood with perfectly centred hole, and a small stick carved with the jack knife to make the spindle would have made a quick free toy for slave children. These would work, yes. But, they would be very, very crude and be extremely difficult to use.
  • Drums. Drums were in very common use by these people where they came from in Africa. Thus, we think that if a father had a chance to make one for his son or daughter he would have tried to do it. It is also likely though that this would be beyond the capabilities of most of these folk due to time, etc.
  • Mancala. We have seen many references to this being a game of the slave and post slave era since it was an African game. However, we caution that this is still unproven at this point through our research.

Other Toys, Games, and Ways to Enjoy Times.

  • Hunting and fishing are things that they loved to do. Sometimes these could be done at night with parents.
  • Pig in the Pin. No description of version used available.
  • Base. No description of version used available.
  • Fox and Hounds. No description of version used available.
  • Goose and Gander. No description of game given.

A short quote from Wiggins sums this up nicely. "Not only did slave children often exhibit a marked feeling of superiority but they also realized a much needed sense of community with other slave members through various play activities."

______________________________

We would love to receive documentation of toys and games used by these kids and their parents if anyone can supply it. Since we are located in North America, we are primarily looking for that information, but we would of course like to know about other areas of the world as well.

SlaveEncycpedia


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