The Middle Colonies

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What was social life like in the Middle Colonies?

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The "Middle" or "Mid-Atlantic" (colonies) is a term referring to what now would be the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. These had extensive Native American populations as well as European settlers from a variety of different national and religious traditions, including German, Irish, Dutch, Scandinavian, English, and enslaved Africans.

Native Americans in the Middle Colonies spoke Algonkian and Iroquois languages. The Iroquois were divided into matrilineal clans. Multiple families lived together in longhouses. During the day, women would work in groups, often taking care of the longhouses and cultivating crops, while men engaged in trade and hunting. This meant that daytime social life was divided by gender. The Iroquois played sports such as lacrosse and made toys for their children. In evenings or winter, they created art work, especially dolls and masks, performed music, conducted religious ceremonies, and socialized over communal meals.

Among the Europeans, the main household and social unit was the extended family. All but the very poor also had servants. Social life was segregated by age, class, gender, and ethnicity. It would have been unusual for the poor to socialize with the rich or Quakers with Episcopalians. The Mennonites tended to form cohesive communities that emphasized a plain, modest lifestyle. 

Going out to saloons and drinking was an activity reserved for males, especially young single ones. Conversely, sewing or quilting circles, in which women accomplished the practical task of making or repairing blankets, cushions, and clothing while socializing, was an exclusively female activity. Dancing and music were common forms of entertainment. Dances were a place where men and women could meet, and marriages could be negotiated. Among the upper classes, members of a family might gather together and read aloud to each other, or young women might play the piano and sing to entertain other family members. For the lower and middle classes, social activities could also occur at times like the harvest or on major building projects, when people would gather for a common goal. Just like people today gather and gossip at work when pausing for meals or taking brief breaks, this was also the case in the colonies.

For all classes, church was an important part of social life, with people dressing up for Sunday services in their best clothes and socializing with friends and neighbors after the service. 

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Social activities in the Middle Colonies were often separate for women and men.  Men enjoyed hunting, cock fighting, cards, and fishing.  These activities were typically done with other men.  Women enjoyed frolics, where they would gather with other women to perform a task.  Frolics might be for making quilts, canning, cooking, or other things.  During a frolic, women would gather together to talk or even gossip.  They would catch up on news from around town.

Sometimes men and women would gather together for social activities.  In more rural areas, people might gather together to do a barn raising.  Many people worked together to build a structure in a relatively short amount of time.  In the Autumn, corn husking parties were held.  People would work together to husk corn while socializing.  Dances were popular in both rural and urban areas.  Men and women would dance together to popular tunes of the time.  Food was almost always present at social gatherings.

At Christmastime, many people gathered together to celebrate the season.  Churches also held social activities for congregants.

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