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The English Colonies and Gambling

The English colonies cultivated new forms of betting that typified the adventurousness of migration into an unknown continent--- as the first series in the West.

They also expressed an uncertainty toward the practice of gambling that could be traced back to the late Tudor and Stuart England.

In fact, one could have detected it in the Crown's authorization of the Virginia lotteries in 1612 and its prohibition of the same nine years later.

People have felt uncertain about gaming throughout the ages, but this ambivalence gained significance in the English world of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as it was absorbed by a larger debate over the proper nature of leisure and recreation.

The two sides of the argument, which can with simplification be labeled puritanism and Merrie England, became clearest on the western shores of the Atlantic during the first century of English settlement in north America.

There, differences were expressed geographically as entire colonies came to be established along the guidelines of one side or the other.

The wilderness served as a stage upon which colonists rehearsed competing scripts of English attitudes toward gambling and recreation.

The founders of New England and Pennsylvania viewed the New World as an opportunity to recast society entirely, incorporating puritan attitudes toward gaming and play.

The other colonies, led by Virginia, mostly tried to adopt traditional English attitudes toward gaming and recreation.

Conventional notions of gambling in Tudor-Stuart Britain illustrated the nature of leisure in a prevalently agricultural society, dominated by aristocrats but increasingly capitalistic as well.

With that sense of time peculiar to preindustrial cultures in European civilization, popular recreations followed the rhythms of the rich calendar of holidays as well as the seasons of agrarian life.

The discipline of industrialism has not yet strictly separated time for play from time for work, limitations on recreation derived instead from the hierarchical nature of society.

Statues limited gaming among commoners to the twelve days of Christmas, thereby reserving the practice to the monied classes for the rest of the year, but like most anti-gambling laws, these proved virtually impossible to enforce.

Lawmakers also sought to minimize the undesired side effects of gaming, such as military unpreparedness, rioting, fighting, and other disorders, but they did not really attack gambling itself.

The Englishman's right to enjoy 'lawful recreations' was never much in dispute, save among Puritans.

The Stuart kings acted often to protect customary forms of popular recreation and preserve the conventional balance between work and play.

Within this traditional context of recreation, gambling flourished between 1580 and 1640. The apparent increase in gaming mirrored the growth of a mercantile society.

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