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Thanksgiving Thoughts: What Games Did Pilgrims Play?

The Pilgrims aren’t people of the past that we typically associate with games and revelry. They may have been hardworking Puritans, but that doesn’t mean Pilgrims didn’t incorporate games into their celebrations.

Pilgrims didn’t play for money (since gambling was frowned down upon), yet during the country’s first Thanksgiving there’s a good chance the Pilgrims enjoyed a little friendly competition. Keep reading to learn about the games adults and kids played in America during the country’s earliest days.

Draughts (a.k.a. Checkers)

This classic board game was around during the Pilgrim era, but it was called draughts. It was a game Pilgrim parents actually encouraged children to play since it made them think. We imagine the Pilgrims probably didn’t like the idea of “kinging” the other player since they just made the trip across the Atlantic to escape royal oppression.


A number of marble games were around during the country’s founding. Knicker box was one of those games. The player had to navigate a marble through the maze of a box without having it roll backward through arches along the way.

Hubbub The Bowl Game

The Pilgrims broke bread with the Wampanoag tribe at the first Thanksgiving. Perhaps the Wampanoag people brought along a few of their favorite games to the festivities. A game that was very popular at the time was hubbub, also referred to as the bowl game.

Several players would take turns bumping a bowl on the ground to make pieces in the bowl jump. Each piece had a light side and a dark side. Points were based on how the pieces landed, and the score was kept with sticks.  The game gets its name because each time the bowl was bounced players would chant “hub” over and over.

Naughts and Crosses (a.k.a. Tic Tac Toe)

In the 1600's a game called naughts and crosses was played by people of all ages. Today, we know the game as tic tac toe. The draw of tic tac toe was you didn’t need any game pieces to play or even paper (which was rare to find in the colonies in 1621). All you needed was a stick and dirt to play a naughts and crosses. After more than 400 years the game is still played the same way with the victor getting either three Os or three Xs in a row.

Stool Ball

The name may sound a little off-putting, but stool ball was a game sort of like volleyball. The objective was for players on one side to try to knock over a three-legged stool with a ball while another player tried to protect the stool. Adults would play it during celebrations such as a harvest festival. There’s even a record from the then Governor, William Bradford, of people playing stool ball in 1621 on Christmas Day.

Pitching the Bar

When you’re on the frontier you have to make due with what you have. That might explain how pitching the bar became a popular test of strength for Pilgrim men and young boys. The game involves chucking a large piece of wood to see who could throw it the farthest.

Wampanoag Soccer

The Pilgrims may or may not have joined in, but they probably were spectators of a few Wampanoag soccer games. The indigenous people are known to have played a game similar to soccer with a deerskin ball. Typically, games took place out on the beaches, which was probably the safest place for contact soccer.

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