One of the first buildings built in many colonial American towns was the meetinghouse. The meetinghouse served both as the Puritan church and as the meeting place for the citizens to discuss issues and make plans. Everyone in the town was responsible for helping to build and maintain the meetinghouse.
The Courthouse in Williamsburg Photo by Ducksters
Larger cities would often have a courthouse where the local judge would oversee disputes and punish crimes. After hearing the evidence and testimony, the judge would quickly make his ruling and any punishments could be carried out immediately.
The gaol was the town jail. The word "gaol" is pronounced just like "jail." People were held in the gaol while they awaited their trials or punishment. Prisoners might include criminals, debtors, and runaway slaves.
The magazine was a building designed to hold the town's weapons including muskets, swords, pikes, and gunpowder. The magazine was often a stone or brick building to help make it fireproof as it stored the town's gunpowder.
The Magazine in Williamsburg Photo by Ducksters
The church was often the center of the town. Everyone in the town was expected, sometimes by law, to attend church on Sunday. Churches in Colonial America were generally fairly simple buildings.
Major towns would have a post office where mail could be sent between the colonies. The mail was slow and unreliable at first, but was much improved by the late 1700s. The post office usually was home to the town printer and newspaper. It was a great place to get the latest news and learn what was going on in the region.
Most larger towns had a number of taverns. Taverns were places to get a cooked meal and a drink. They were also important meeting places. Men would go to the tavern after work to discuss business and politics. A lot of plans for the American Revolution were made by patriots in taverns across the colonies.
Each colony had a special house where the governor lived. This was usually the largest home in the town. The governor's home was where town leaders often met to discuss issues and make new laws.
The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg Photo by Ducksters
At the center of the town was often a large open square where people could meet and trade goods. Farmers could set up booths to sell produce and small merchants could peddle their goods. Major outdoor events took place at the market square including holiday celebrations and athletic contests.
The coffeehouse was sort of an elite form of the tavern. Only gentlemen were allowed inside the coffeehouse where they would drink mostly non-alcoholic beverages such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. It was a place where wealthy and educated men made business deals and discussed intellectual topics.
Colonial Shops Photo by Ducksters
Colonial towns had plenty of shops to buy all sorts of items such as shoes, tools, food, candles, clothing, paper, and furniture. Most shops specialized in one area like the wigmaker who made custom wigs or the apothecary who made medicines.
Interesting Facts about Places in a Colonial Town
Many early settlements, like Jamestown, were forts surrounded by walls for protection from the natives as well as other colonial powers like France and Spain.
Larger towns were able to establish colleges for higher education including Harvard (founded in Massachusetts in 1636) and William and Mary (founded in Virginia in 1693).
The millinery was a store that sold clothing accessories (hats, ruffles, shifts, aprons, cloth). It was one of the few stores that was typically owned by a woman.
The harbor was an important place of trade and business for many colonial towns that were located on the coast.