Despite the colonists’ many hardships, life at early Jamestown was not all work and no play. According to John Smith, “4 houres each day was spent in worke, the rest in pastimes and merry exercise.” Musical instruments and gaming pieces that reflect some of the settlers’ leisure time activities have been found in James Fort.
Music was a common entertainment in the early 17th century among all classes of English society. An educated person was expected to read music and to be fairly accomplished on an instrument. While tambourines and jaw harps require little musical training, trumpets take more skill. Trumpeters were required for signaling between ships and for communicating military exercises. Gambling games, particularly dicing, were especially popular among soldiers — but not with their leaders. At Jamestown, soldiers caught for the third time playing “at Cards or dice” while on duty were sent to the “Gallies” for a year. Chess was one of the few non-gambling games. It was a favorite pastime of the upper classes, but not for King James I, who stated, “as for chesse . . . it filleth and troubleth men’s heads.”