Colonial Terms Still in Use


On July 4, 2014 I took the tour of the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy Massachusetts.  During the tour the Rangers for the National Park service tell stories of the Adams Family and their descendants and perhaps some stories of colonial life.  I noticed three terms that were common during the Colonial period that we still use today but for different reasons.


Gridiron – In the kitchens of colonial houses were large open hearths where cooking would take place all during the day.  There were various pots and pans that would hang or rest on the floor of the hearth for cooking.  In the hearth at the John Quincy Adams Birthplace was an iron grid with a handle and small legs on the bottom.  This device is called a gridiron, for obvious reasons, and, as the Park Ranger demonstrated, if you hold it in front of your face it looks like the lines on the football field, hence the term gridiron.

colonial chair

Chairman of the Board – Chairs were very rare and expensive in the colonial period.  Most of the time benches were provided in the home for sitting at table.  The table in the John Adams Home was a simple board that was placed on a frame.  Many Town meetings were held in the kitchen in the Adams home around that simple table and the person who was to lead the meeting would sit in a chair at the head of the table, hence the term Chairman of the Board.

big whig

Big Wig – Hanging on the wall in one of the rooms of the John Quincy Adams Birthplace is a painting of one of the brothers of Susana Boylston Adams, mother of President John Adams.  In the painting he is wearing a rather fine suite and he has a long flowing white wig.  In Colonial Days the longer the wig the more influential the man hence the term Big Wig.

It was a wonderful tour and I plan to write more about it in another essay.

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