Sleigh Racing. Winter sports were especially popular among the Dutch and Swedish settlers who came to the Middle Colonies (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware). Frozen lakes and rivers provided not only easier access to neighbors since they could be walked over but also provided raceways for sleighs pulled by horses. In 1663 Jeremias van Rensselaer, living near Albany, New York, 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].” Colonists did not need rivers on which to race but could use roads or fields—any place where two or more sleighs could compete.
Ice Skating. Another recreation of northern Europe was ice skating. Skates were tied onto shoes or boots and were made of horn, wood, or metal. In America skating extended as far south as Virginia when winters permitted ice to form on lakes and ponds. In the Netherlands everybody skated, men and women, old and young. Charles Wolley, a military chaplain in New York at the end of the seventeenth century, was captivated by this sport and the freedom it brought both men and women since English women did not skate. In time, as English customs overcame Dutch ones, women left the ice, but men of all classes and conditions enjoyed the sport. Philadelphia Quaker John Smith rode out one cold February day with his friends Abel James, James Pemberton, and others to skate on the Schuylkill River. The ice being rough they left to try again more successfully about two weeks later. While a few dedicated souls in the colonies became “High Dutch” figure skaters, others became speed skaters, including some of Philadelphia’s blacks.
Correspondence of Jeremias van Rensselaer: 1651–1674, translated and edited by A.J. F. van Laer (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1932);
John Smith, Hannah Logan’s Courtship, edited by Albert Cook Myers (Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach, 1904);
John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, volume 1 (Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1845);
Charles Wolley, Two Years Journal in New York, and Part of its Territories in America, edited by E. B. O’Callaghan (New York: William Gowans, 1860).