The American Revolution for Kids - Daily Life Illustration

The American Revolution for Kids - Daily Life

For Kids: Not everyone was in the army or the militia. Most people just wanted the fighting to end so that they could get back to their normal lives. What was a normal life like during the Revolutionary War?

  • Food: Most colonists not in the army ate well with a large variety of food items available. Storing food was a problem (no refrigerators or freezers) so a lot of food was salted, pickled, dried, smoked or canned (not in a can like we know, but in a glass jar; this is called canning).

  • Clothing: Most people made their own clothing. (Actually women or girls made clothing for the whole family.) Since fabric was expensive most people only had one or two changes of clothing.

  • Housing: By today's standards housing was quite cramped. All the children in one family usually shared one bedroom, and remember, colonial families were usually large by our standards today.

  • Transportation. To get where you were going, school, store, work, most people walked. If you were going on a longer trip, say more than about 5 miles, you had to either ride a horse, use a carriage, or go by boat. There were no cars, trains, airplanes, motor scooters, or motors of any kind. There was only muscle power, either human or animal.

  • Games and Toys: Girls were given dolls that were usually made from the leftover material from making clothing. Boys (and girls) other toys were usually carved from wood and included bullroarers, tops, cup and ball, and Jacob's ladder. Children also played card games.

  • Education: Most children learned to read and write, but usually quit school and started working around age 8-10. Children of wealthier families might go on to get a formal education and even go to university.

  • Music: Music was very important to the colonists. Much of the music was religious, however popular music and tunes spread rapidly throughout the colonies. Being able to play an instrument or sing was a very respected talent. The harpsichord was popular as were other stringed instruments.

  • Government: Each of the colonies had their own government. Each city and town also had a local government. People did not have much to do with government unless it was to pay a tax. The Continental Congress was made up of representatives from all 13 colonies and, while they talked a lot and tried very hard, they didn't have much real power.

Daily life in the military was quite different.

The Continental army, led by George Washington, had suffered a series of defeats. Many men had died. During the six months Washington kept the Continental Army camped at Valley Forge, conditions were terrible. It was winter. Men were housed in crude log cabins. Food, medicine, and clothing were in short supply. The men were cold and hungry, and many were sick. They missed their families. They worried about their farms. They were not an army. The militia and Minutemen had participated when fighting was near their homes. After a battle, they expected to go home. For those men who had enlisted in the Continental Army, their terms were nearly up. Washington was worried that, come spring, he might not have an army to lead.

The men knew they were fighting for liberty. Most understood what that meant. It's why they enlisted in the first place. But it did not help matters that they had lost several small battles in a row. Or, that nearby in Philadelphia, only 20 miles away, the British were warm, housed, fed, and clothed; while the Continental army was cold and hungry and dying. Washington needed men that could not only fight effectively, but also could be used as a symbol of freedom to give heart and hope to those at home. Washington needed the home front to be as strong and as committed as his men, so they would provide information, food, clothing, and morale.

It was Martha Washington, more than anyone, who was a wonderful help to George Washington's plans. His men were starving, their feet freezing in the snow, and their clothes far too thin for the weather. Martha helped to keep them warm and fed by donating as much food as she could and by sewing socks and other garments. Martha Washington was a tiny woman, under five feet tall, but she had impressive organization skills. She rallied the "Homefront" to help her. Women sewed and gave food to help the fighting men in Valley Forge and continued this throughout the rest of the war. The soldiers truly appreciated her efforts. Those who survived the horrible conditions at Valley Forge knew that without her help, and her commitment to their welfare, many more men would have died. The men addressed her as "Lady Washington" in great and lifelong appreciation.

There was one other group during the American Revolution whose daily life was quite different. They were the spies. Both sides had spies, but the British spies were mostly colonial women who pretended to be sympathetic to the colonial side, unless they were with British loyalists, and then they were sympathetic to the loyalist side. Whatever side they were with, their mission remained the same - to spread lies, to spread discontent, to make statements over and over again that were designed to have the homefront think of the war effort as ridiculous and over blown, while reporting to the British everything they heard that might help the British defeat the colonial upstarts. They were quite successful. Some spies were caught. Most were not.

It's amazing looking back that the Continental Army won this war. But they did, though sheer dedication to an ideal - that of liberty. After an eight year exhausting war, concluding with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the United States of America was born.

Daily Life - Then and Now (animated, video)

Daily Life in the Colonies (interactive)

The 'Homefront" for Women
during the American Revolution (Library of Congress)

Spies and Ciphers

Revolutionary Recipes