Sports and Recreation

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Sports and Recreation

By the time Europeans began arriving in North America during the late sixteenth century, Native Americans already had a long tradition of individual contests and team sports. Both men and women engaged in competitive recreation, especially various kinds of ball games. Southwestern native peoples played a form of basketball, and northern tribes competed in a version of modern-day lacrosse. (In lacrosse, players use a long-handled stick with a triangular mesh pouch attached at one end for catching, carrying, and throwing a ball into a goal.) A type of football, which involved kicking a leather ball against a post or posts, seems to have been popular among Eastern Woodlands tribes (native inhabitants of the region stretching from New England to Virginia). In Virginia it was played by women and young boys. European observers were all impressed with how civil the game was, how fairly the Native Americans played, and how little violence was indulged in by the players. Another favorite sport among native peoples was throwing spears at a rolling object. Frequently neighboring groups or towns challenged one another to spear-throwing contests. Native Americans also enjoyed swimming for recreation as well as for cleanliness.

European sports and recreation

Organized sports were virtually unknown in colonial America. Men and young boys frequently played spontaneous ball games or held contests of individual skill, but otherwise European settlers did not set aside time for leisure activities. They worked hard every day to earn a living or maintain their farms, so they were generally not interested in exhausting themselves during their spare time. New England Puritans also placed restrictions on entertainment, which mainly consisted of religious activities. The Sabbath (Sunday, observed by Christians as a day of rest and worship) was the only day they did not work, but church fathers required their congregations to attend morning and afternoon worship services on Sundays. By the mid-1700s, however, Puritan rules were less strict, allowing for a more relaxed Sabbath. In all of the colonies, summer markets, fairs, court meetings, and militia muster days (exercise and inspection of the citizen army) provided opportunities for socializing and recreation. The entertainment was usually formal and subdued in the North, although the monthly muster days were livelier events where women and children could visit with their neighbors as they watched men perform drills (military movements). The South was noted for more colorful activities such as traveling shows, music, and dancing. The gentry (upper or ruling class) also frequented taverns, where they could find various forms of entertainment, and organized horse races.

A Native American Football Game

In the 1680s English traveler John Dutton gave an account of a Native American football game he observed near Boston, Massachusetts. Like many Europeans at the time, he remarked on how little violence the Native Americans indulged in—a sharp contrast to the cheating and foul behavior that marred some European games.

There was that day a great game of Foot-ball to be played [by local Native Americans]. There was another Town played against 'em as is sometimes common in England; but they played with their bare feet, which I thought very odd; but it was upon a broad sandy Shoar [shore] free from Stones which made it more easie. Neither were they so apt to trip one another's heels and quarrel as I have seen 'em in England.

Source: Earle, Alice Morse. Child Life in Colonial Days. New York: Macmillan, 1899; reprinted Stockbridge, Mass.: Berkshire House Publishers, 1993, p. 358.

Few team sports in colonies

In their original homelands European colonists might have engaged in team sports, such as football games that pitted one town against another. Yet they seem to have left these practices behind. Except in New England, settlers came from various countries and had different traditions. American colonists also did not rely on the European calendar, which specified holidays when people would hold celebrations. Unlike Native Americans, settlers confined participation in most sports to males. According to European tradition, women rarely competed in games of skill, instead serving as spectators at contests between men. Major sports figures did not emerge from the colonial period because there were no professional athletes. Individuals probably excelled at certain feats, but their exploits were known only locally. The day of the sportsman (a gentleman who engages in or attends sporting events) was also yet to come. Wealthy colonial businessmen and planters (plantation owners) were too busy to devote themselves entirely to recreational pursuits.

Popular ball games

Team sports arrived in America relatively late in the colonial era. There are a few seventeenth-century descriptions of colonists playing football, but it appears to have been primarily a Native American game. Although cricket was popular in England, the sport was not widely adopted in the colonies. (Cricket is a game that is played with a ball and bat by two teams of eleven members each on a large field centering upon two wickets, or goals, that are defended by a batsman.) In 1708 Virginia planter William Byrd II (1674–1744) played a game he called cricket in Williamsburg, Virginia, but each team had only two men. At other times he played with four men on a side. As a rule, however, colonists seemed more at home with contests that pitted individuals against one another.


A favorite game among Dutch colonists was kolven, a combination of modern-day golf and hockey, which originated in Holland and is played either on the ground or on ice. Participants carry a stick that looks like a golf club, and they try to move a ball across a court and strike a post. Kolven must have remained a Dutch recreation, as English accounts from the period do not mention the game. It was probably the game translated as "golf" that was played at the van Rensselaer family estate, Rensselaerswyck, near Albany, New York, in 1650. Modern-day golf originated in Scotland and did not appear in America until after the Revolutionary War (1775–83).

Bowling Another individual sport was bowling, which the English and the Dutch brought to America. The most popular version was ninepins, played outdoors on a track or green (grassy area) about 20 or 30 feet long, where bowlers tried to knock down three sets of three pins with a wooden or stone ball. References to bowling appear in the earliest accounts of Jamestown, Virginia. For instance, John Smith, one of the founders of the settlement in 1607, noted in his journal that he had assigned work to men, but instead of completing their tasks they went into the countryside searching for gold or spent their time bowling in the streets. In 1636 a Virginia herdsman was punished for leaving his cows and playing ninepins. By 1654 there were bowling greens in Fort Orange (later Albany) and New Amsterdam (later New York City) in New Netherland. The greens were often owned by tavern keepers. In 1732 the Common Council of New York leased property in front of the fort to wealthy colonists so they could "make a Bowling-Green with Walks therein, for the Beauty and ornament of said street, as well as for Recreation." Charging only a token rent, the council obviously intended this facility to be open to the public. Two years later it was finished, fenced, and "Very Pretty, ... with a handsome Walk of trees Raild and Painted." During the eighteenth century southern planters and northern merchants laid out private bowling greens on their estates.

Tests of physical skill

American colonists enjoyed tests of physical skill, such as footraces, boxing, and cudgel (a short, heavy club) matches. Footracing was popular throughout the colonial period. On muster days militiamen in Virginia and Maryland frequently held footraces and wrestling matches. Byrd mentioned several impromptu footraces in his diary. In New York, Governor Francis Nicholson celebrated Saint George's Day by sponsoring prizes for various sports, including footraces. (Saint George was a third-century Christian who died in Asia Minor.) Boxing was also a popular pastime, both for fighters and spectators. Unlike the modern-day sport, which involves two men punching each other with heavily padded gloves, colonial boxers used their bare fists. Usually the fighters were lower-class men, and they could be badly hurt. This was a special attraction for gentlemen, who would bet on their favorite boxers. Another type of man-to-man combat was cudgels, a contest of physical skill in which each participant held a long, heavy stick with both hands. Using the cudgel to attack and parry (to ward off a weapon or blow), the fighters tried to wear down each other. The man left standing was declared the winner. Cudgel matches were held on muster days or during special celebrations. They were sponsored by taverns.

Outdoor recreation

Early European settlers were afraid to venture into the wilderness. Eventually colonists, especially in more established areas, came to enjoy walking in the open air during the summer. Some simply liked being outside, while others considered walking a healthful exercise. For instance, residents of the middle colonies visited sights such as Cohoes Falls near Albany or Passaic Falls in New Jersey. During the eighteenth century a popular pastime was strolling along streams and into wooded areas or climbing hills to view the scenery. Abigail Franks of New York City wrote to her son in London, England, that "you'll be Surprised that I have taken a ramble for a day twice this Summer." The Lutheran minister Henry Melchior Mühlenberg (1711–1787; see Chapter 11) "wanted a little exercise and some fresh air, so with our friends we climbed three miles up to the highest peak of the great mountain from which we were able to see about thirty miles in all directions." Almost daily Byrd rambled the grounds of Westover, his plantation on the James River, frequently with his wife, Lucy Parke Byrd, and other companions. During the eighteenth century wealthy colonists in both the North and the South laid out gardens where they walked for pleasure and invited visitors, or sometimes even perfect strangers, to take a stroll.

Laws Against Sledding

Coasting downhill on sleds was a favorite winter sport for children in New York and New England. However the seemingly simple pleasure turned into an unlawful activity when "coasters" became a nuisance. According to historian Alice Morse Earle: "Many attempts were made to control and stop the coasters. At one time the Albany constables were ordered to take the 'small or great slees [sleds]' in which 'boys and girls ryde down the hills,' and break them into pieces. At another time the boy had to forfeit his hat if he were caught coasting on Sunday. The sleds were low, with a rope in front, and were started and guided by a sharp stick."

Earle noted that coasters were also a problem in Massachusetts: "There is a Massachusetts law of the year 1633 against 'common coasters, unprofitable fowlers and tobacco-takers,'—three classes of detrimentals. . . . coasting meant loafing along the shore, then idling in general, then sliding down the hill for fun."

Source: Earle, Alice Morse. Child Life in Colonial Days. New York: Macmillan, 1899; reprinted Stockbridge, Mass.: Berkshire House Publishers, 1993, p. 350.

Winter activities were especially popular among Dutch and Swedish settlers in the middle colonies. Frozen lakes and rivers provided raceways for sleighs pulled by horses. In 1663 Jeremias van Rensselaer, who lived near Albany, wrote to his brother in the Netherlands that the Hudson River froze for fourteen straight days, "so hard as within the memory of Christians it has ever done, so that with the sleigh one could use the river everywhere, without danger for the races, in which [the sport of racing] we now indulge [a good deal]." When a river was not available, people used ice-glazed roads or fields for sleigh competitions.

Another popular winter recreation was ice skating. People wore skates made of horn, wood, or metal, which they tied onto shoes and boots. Long, cold winters in New England and the middle colonies gave ample opportunity for skating, yet colonists as far south as Virginia could enjoy the sport when ice formed on lakes and ponds. In the Dutch colony of New Netherland (renamed New York when the English took over the colony) everyone skated—men and women, old and young. Charles Wolley, an English military chaplain who lived in New York at the end of the seventeenth century, was captivated by this sport. He was especially surprised to see women skating with men, since Englishwomen did not skate. As English customs replaced Dutch practices in the colony, women left the ice, but men of all classes continued to pursue the sport. A few colonists were "High Dutch" figure skaters, and others became speed skaters. According to some accounts, Africans in Philadelphia were among the more accomplished speed skaters.


Fishing opportunities in America were a major attraction for European immigrants. Promotional literature sent out by the organizers of colonies announced that America offered an abundance of lakes, rivers, and streams overflowing with fish and shellfish. This pastime was popular among people of all classes, but it was especially appealing to servants, laborers, and slaves, who fished for food as well as for pleasure. Fishing was also one of the few recreations that men and women engaged in together. Since early settlements and all cities were built near water, most colonists had a fishing spot. Fishing was relatively easy and convenient, since all one needed was a line, a pole, and some bait. Most colonists used small boats or canoes to go out on the water. In the early 1730s William Moraley, an indentured servant, gave an account of fishing with a friend on the Delaware River near Philadelphia. Within twenty minutes, he wrote, "[we] caught between us 140 Perch and Roach." They sold about sixty of the fish for "Rum and Sugar" and served the rest at a dinner, complete with drink, for four friends.

Elite Fishing Clubs

Philadelphia's location between two rivers made it an ideal site for recreational fishermen. During the eighteenth century wealthy Philadelphian gentlemen organized fishing clubs such as the Colony in Schuylkill, the Fishing Company of Fort St. David's, and the Mount Regale Fishing Company, all housed along the waterfront. Perhaps the oldest social organization in America, the Colony in Schuylkill was founded in 1732 to serve as a social club where members took turns serving dinner on the first Thursday of the month. Fort St. David's was a summer pavilion decorated with Native American artifacts. Members either went fishing themselves or feasted on fish they hired others to catch for them. The Mount Regale Fishing Company, composed of Philadelphia's gentlemen elite, met at Robinson's Tavern every other week in the summer.


Promotional literature for the American colonies advertised the immense herds and flocks of animals available for hunting in the abundant new land. Yet during the seventeenth century most European immigrants were not hunters. On the surface, hunting might seem to have been a natural European sport, but this was not the case. For instance, English city dwellers had few opportunities to hunt in woods that were increasingly reserved for the upper classes. Ordinary people were prohibited from taking birds, deer, and rabbits from these reserves. While some poached the animals (took game or fish illegally), others never even tried their hand at hunting. Guns were also inaccurate, difficult, and time-consuming to operate. European colonists therefore did not bring hunting traditions with them to America. For Africans and Native Americans, however, hunting was a major part of male culture, so they were trained to use spears or bows and arrows from an early age.

Initially colonists bought wild game from Native Americans rather than kill it themselves. By the eighteenth century there was more leisure time for hunting but, except perhaps on the frontier, most settlers never relied on their hunting skills to put meat on their tables. In time, however, some became good marksmen (people skilled in shooting at a mark or target). Various colonies offered bounties on "vermin"—crows, foxes, squirrels, and wolves—animals that destroyed crops or killed domesticated animals. New England farmers hunted in pairs or groups of three. In the South larger hunting parties were assisted by Native Americans. Men hunted on foot and on horseback, and with or without dogs. South Carolina colonists hunted alligators from boats.


Although most colonists were not interested in hunting, many men were proud of their abilities as marksmen. They often shot with guns or bows and arrows just for the joy of the sport or the chance to perfect their skills. For instance, Dutch settlers brought a game called "shooting the parrot" from the Netherlands. It originated when soldiers set either a live bird or a wooden replica on top of a pole and shot at it. The game was so popular in New Netherland that in 1655 Fort Orange magistrates granted a tavern keeper permission to have the burgher guard (member of a security patrol) shoot the parrot on the third day of Pentecost (a Christian feast on the seventh Sunday after Easter). The only rule was that "he keeps good order and takes care that no accidents occur or result therefrom."

By the eighteenth century English colonists were holding contests in which men shot at targets for prizes. For instance, Caesar Rodeney of Delaware helped organize several competitions. (He was the father of Caesar Rodeney Jr., who signed the Declaration of Independence, the document that formed the United States of America in 1776.) Rodeney was better off financially than the average colonist, so he had time to practice target shooting and could afford to buy ammunition for his guns. He was apparently a fair shot and competed for cloth, money, a hat, and a fiddle, which he also played. Anthony Klincken, who lived in Germantown, Pennsylvania, always took his gun when he went to nearby Philadelphia. According to an observer, Klincken "used to speak with wonder of seeing hundreds of rats in the flats among the spatterdocks [water lilies] at Pool's bridge, and that he was in the habit of killing them for amusement as fast as he could load [his gun]." Byrd shot targets with a bow and arrow, sometimes just for fun, but often in a contest with others.

An Unenthusiastic Hunter

John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, loved bird hunting as a young man, but he eventually gave it up for reasons that may explain why most English colonists were not hunters. Winthrop noted, "I have ever binne crossed in usinge it [hunting], for when I have gone about it not without some woundes of conscience, and have taken much paynes and hazarded my healthe, I have gotten sometimes a verye little but most commonly nothinge at all towards my cost and laboure."

Horse racing

The American enthusiasm for horse racing can be traced back to England, where it was first organized during the reign of King Henry VIII (1491–1547). Cities sponsored races during festivals as part of the entertainment. By 1600 a dozen or more English towns were sponsoring races. In time, silver trophies for first, second, and third places became commonplace. Towns marked off courses (also called tracks) and built grandstands, where spectators could watch for free and place bets. Races were as long as 4 miles and were run in several heats (a single round of a contest), which rewarded stamina as well as speed. The first specialized racecourse was developed by King James I at Newmarket, England, by 1622. While some members of the royal court rode in the races, others watched from permanent stands. Newmarket was so strongly identified with immoral court life that when the Puritans came to power during the English Civil War (1642–48), they demolished the stands and plowed up the track. The Restoration (return of the monarchy) in 1660 brought to power Charles II, an accomplished competitive rider who established an annual race, the Plate, which he himself later won. During Charles's reign Newmarket became the fashion center of the nation. Other courses developed later. Queen Anne (1665–1714) founded the famous races at Ascot and also established breeding lines known as "thoroughbred," which meant that a horse was descended from especially fine Arabian horses. Soon a breeding history known as the pedigree was developed, and some of the thoroughbred horses were taken to the colonies.

New York pioneers horse racing Informal races between riders on horseback undoubtedly occurred throughout the colonies. Formal horse racing was introduced by New York governor Richard Nicolls in 1668 when he sponsored an annual race at Hempstead Plain on Long Island. This oval, two-mile course was named Newmarket after the track in England. Races were run in the spring and fall, with the winners taking home an engraved silver porringer (a metal bowl with a single, flat, pierced handle). Horse racing became so popular that a second racetrack, Church Farm on Manhattan Island, opened by the 1730s. In 1744 wealthy New Yorkers Peter De Lancey and William Montague raced their horses (Ragged Kate and Monk, respectively) at Church Farm for a prize of 200 pounds (English currency). This was more than five times the amount a typical laborer earned in a year. Other tracks also opened in New York before the American Revolution (1775–83).

Puritan and Quaker disapproval of time-wasting entertainment such as horse racing meant that formal racecourses were slower to develop in New England and Pennsylvania. During the eighteenth century races were held in Boston and Philadelphia. By 1720 horses ran for money prizes at Cambridge and Rumney Marsh outside Boston. In Philadelphia, Race Street led to a racecourse, and before 1726 Sassafras Street served as a racetrack. By 1761 horse races in Philadelphia were advertised in colonial newspapers, suggesting that its critics had lost the battle to stop the sport.

Quarter horse bred in Chesapeake Horse racing was also a popular sport in the South, and both the quarter race and the quarter horse were developed in the Chesapeake (Maryland and Virginia). Races were run on a straight quarter-mile track rather than an oval course. Horses that ran the quarter mile were called quarter horses and became known for their stamina and ability to release quick bursts of speed. Quarter-horse events operated under a variety of rules, agreed to before the race, that specified handicaps (assessments of the relative winning chances of contestants) for horses and the weight of riders. Increasing wealth and interest in competition and gambling led to better breeding and the importing of thoroughbred horses from England. The first recorded stallion (a male horse kept for breeding), Bulle-Rock, was sired (fathered) by the English horse Darley Arabian and sent to Virginia in 1730. The most famous imported horse was Janus, a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, that arrived in 1752. English stallions were bred (mated) with local mares, producing fast horses that also had endurance. Their speed and stamina led to the same kind of racing in the Chesapeake as in England and the northern colonies.

Charleston, South Carolina, was the center of horse racing in the lower south. By 1734 racing was a semipublic event advertised in the South Carolina Gazette, and the prize was a saddle and bridle (harness). The next year a jockey club (an organization for riders of racehorses) was organized in the city. One-mile races for prizes worth 100 pounds were held at the York course near Charleston. By 1743 monthly races were taking place at York and a new track had opened at Goose Creek. In 1754 a third racecourse opened outside Charleston. Prizes included not only money and trophies but also watches and, in 1744, a finely embroidered jacket.

Board and card games

Colonists knew many board and card games that were popular in Europe. For the most part the games, which involved luck and skill, were held in taverns and clubs or private homes and played for money. Men and women participated in various kinds of games together, usually in homes, since women did not have access to taverns and clubs. During the eighteenth century taverns became larger, offering more rooms and a greater variety of games and other entertainment. Although laws were passed to limit such recreation, especially on the Sabbath, people simply ignored them and spent their Sundays playing cards.

Backgammon Among the oldest known games is backgammon, which involves rolling dice and moving pieces along a board. Records show that versions of the game were played in ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, Japan, China, and the Near East. By the Middle Ages (a.d. 476–1453) all European nations had a form of backgammon, which was also known as trictrac or ticktack. The Spanish, French, Dutch, and English all brought the game with them to America. As early as 1656 New Netherland listed "backgammon or ticktack" among a host of other "idle and forbidden exercises and plays" that were banned on Sunday. Like most board games, backgammon was portable and required little equipment. It could be played on a table or on a portable board or box. In taverns and coffeehouses several games would be going at once.

Cards Cause Social Problems

From the earliest days of the colonial period card playing was considered a waste of time that promoted laziness and lack of productivity in workers. Many religious leaders also regarded the pastime as sinful. The Dutch tried to regulate card games on the Sabbath. In Virginia, which was normally did not have overly restrictive laws, card playing—along with dice games—caused so many problems that the government passed harsh laws against idleness. A Massachusetts law ordered citizens to get rid of their playing cards in 1631. Founder of Pennsylvania William Penn's "Great Law" of 1682 prohibited card games and fined or sentenced lawbreakers to five days in jail. None of these efforts was successful, however, and by the end of the seventeenth century card playing was a common form of recreation in all the colonies.

Billiards Played on a special table with a cue (long stick) and balls, billiards was known to nearly all Europeans who settled in America. Because the average billiard table was 12 feet long, the game was played in public houses, taverns, or the homes of the wealthy. Southern plantation owners were drawn to billiards for a variety of reasons. The table itself made a statement about wealth, and the game required only two people. Byrd outfitted Westover, his plantation, with many diversions, including a billiard table. In 1711 he confided to his diary that "Mr. Mumford and I played at billiards till dinner.... In the afternoon we played at billiards again and I lost two bits [coins equal to twenty-five cents]." On occasion Byrd also played the game with his wife.

Cards Card playing, like backgammon, is an ancient form of recreation known throughout the world. By the sixteenth century people in every European country played card games. The cards, were often quite beautiful. Card playing came to the New World (a European term for North and South America) with the earliest colonists. Three favorite games were whist, euchre, and piquet. Whist, also called whisk, was especially popular in the eighteenth century (it is an ancestor of modern-day bridge). Using fifty-two cards, two pairs of partners tried to win tricks (cards played in one round of a card game often used as a scoring unit). Euchre was a French game that may have come to America through French Louisiana. Four players, two to a team, used a thirty-two-card deck that had one suit as trump (a card of a suit any of whose cards will win over a card of another suit). Piquet was originally a French game that spread to other parts of Europe. It could be played by two people, so it was suitable for home entertainment. Piquet used a deck like euchre. In piquet both sides declared what cards they held, thus providing room to lie. Byrd and his wife played piquet during quiet afternoons or evenings at Westover, but, as Byrd recorded in his secret diary, his wife could get annoyed with him when she found him cheating.

Blood sports

Sports that resulted in the injury or death of animals were part of European recreational life. Bulls, badgers, and bears were tethered (tied up) so they could not escape in a sport called "baiting." Men on horseback chased foxes with the aid of dogs, which tore the foxes apart once they were caught. In Spain unarmed men ran in the streets with bulls, and at the end the animals were slaughtered.

Animal baits Europeans brought many of their blood sports with them to America. Bullbaiting was apparently confined to New England and the middle colonies. The sport was sponsored by taverns, where it was relatively easy to clear a space for the bull and the dogs. The contests, which catered to the lower classes, took place in the evening hours when workingmen and apprentices could get away from their employers and masters. In Virginia at least one tavern offered bearbaiting, and an early Massachusetts account describes a wolf bait in which hunters trapped a wolf, tied it down, and then set their dogs on it.

Slaves, Servants, and Gambling

As children, African slaves in New York engaged in a form of gambling, playing for pennies by shooting marbles, throwing dice, and playing a game called papa. In New York City during the 1740s many male African slaves, like whites, had the leisure and skill to play games that involved gambling. For instance, they gambled at cards at an alehouse owned by a John Hughson. Taverns catered to slaves and to lower-class whites, offering them an outlet for competitive urges and a place away from the eyes of their masters and spouses.

Foxhunting Although historical records show that foxhunting became popular in the colonies after 1754, wealthy landowners in the middle colonies seem to have enjoyed the activity during the sixteenth century. For instance, a man known simply as Butler was the houndskeeper for hunters in Philadelphia. By the mid-1750s, when the city had expanded into the countryside, gentlemen hunters had to move to New Jersey.


Cockfighting was a contest between two roosters that often had metal spurs, called gaffs, attached to their feet. Money and honor rode on the cocks, so breeders of good birds, like breeders of good horses, gained a reputation. Unlike horses, however, the losing roosters did not live to compete another day. The purpose of a fight was for one cock to kill another.

The fights were held in an enclosed space or cockpit, usually in a tavern. Men of varied social backgrounds—rich and poor, illiterate and well educated—were drawn to cockfighting. In 1711 John Sharpe, a chaplain to soldiers at the fort on New York harbor, spent several February evenings "at ye fighting cocks." In 1741 shoemaker John Romme and his wife ran a tavern that catered to African slaves. There "a negro . . . kept game-fowls . . . and used to come there to bring them victuals [food]." William Shippen, a Philadelphia physician, wrote to a friend in 1735, "I have sent you a young game cock, to be depended upon which I would advise you to put to a walk by himself with the hen I sent you before—I have not sent an old cock—our young cockers have contrived to kill and steal all I had."

In rural areas cockfights were also held in taverns or other places where men gathered. In the South, beginning in the 1750s, cockfights were sometimes advertised in newspapers and people often traveled 40 miles to attend matches featuring as many as sixty birds. Slaves had their own cockfights, in makeshift rings that were easily set up and taken down. Betting on cocks was an essential part of the sport. In the 1760s Robert Wormeley Carter, a Virginia planter [?], confided to his diary that he had lost more than twenty-one pounds at a large event with many birds. This sum of money exceeded the total value of the property owned by an average poor man.