What Was Farm Life Like During the Colonial Period?

Farm life during the colonial period varied depending on the location of the farmer. In most of New England, farming families made subsistence-level livings on small family farms. In Pennsylvania, farmers mainly of German and Scotch-Irish origin were more affluent due to the availability of rich, productive farmland. In the New York area and the South, farmers lived in spacious homes, and the land was tended by tenants or slaves.

New England farming families typically lived in wooden houses with chimneys in the center for warmth against the harsh winters. The man was in complete control of the farm and his wife. Couples married young and had six to eight children, though only about half of them lived to adulthood. The entire family helped with chores. The soil was not exceptionally fertile, and a farmer could not do much more than meet his family's needs, although parents tried to help adult sons establish themselves on their own farms.

In New York, due to the Dutch patroon system, farmers lived in comfortable housing on spacious tracts of land that were tended by tenant farmers. Similarly, plantation owners in the southern colonies had large, well-tended estates and lived in luxury. However, instead of relying on tenants to do the menial work, southern farmers kept slaves for labor. Even small farmers in the South had slaves to work in their indigo, tobacco, cotton and rice fields.