In this episode We’ll be taking a look at games and gambling during the 18th Century. Many games they played in the 18th Century are still played today, but some have fallen out of fashion. Gambling was somewhat looked down upon, yet it was still very popular during the time. This was very interesting to research and I hope you enjoy this episode.
Welcome back to the 18th Century Podcast, I’m your host Cj. In today’s episode, we’ll take a step back from the weaponry and warfare of the time and look at something a little more lighthearted depending upon your view, games, and gambling during the 18th Century. If you’d like to read the script for this episode and its citations, go to https://18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. The first half of the show today will be about the games, which will include board and card games, but I’ll also throw in a section for sports too, and the second half will be about gambling. Alright, let’s get into it!
PART 1 GAMES
I think it’s safe to say games have been popular throughout most of human history. The 18th Century is no exception. You would find people playing games very familiar to us such as Chess, Backgammon, a verity of Card Games, also Checkers but at the time it was referred to as Draughts. Another game which you might have heard of was Nine Men’s Morris. If you play video games, you may have come across Nine Men’s Morris in the game Assassins Creed 3. One children’s game which we still play today is Horseshoes. Though I would say it was more popular back in the 18th Century rather than the 21st Century. A popular card game of the time was Whist. You could find the game of Whist being played at upper society. Now unlike how I was just rattling off games to start this segment, I’m going to explain how to Whist as best as I can, so you can try it at home if you’d like. To play this game you’ll need a standard 52 card deck, and four players. The game is played in teams of two. Aces are high in this game. The person across from you is your teammate. If you’d like you could choose your own partner, or let the cards decide. If you’d like for the cards to decide your partner, cut the cards and have each player draw a card. The two highest cards will be paired together. Start off by having a dealer shuffle the cards. Once the shuffle is complete, the player to his right will cut the cards. After which the dealer will distribute the cards to his or her left going clockwise facedown. Each player should receive 13 cards. When the dealer comes to the last card, which he would deal to himself, the dealer turns over the last card for everyone to see. What every the suit of the card is, becomes what is known as the trump. After everyone has seen the card, the dealer places it in his hand. Each round of play is called a trick. Play occurs clockwise, and the person to the dealers left lays the first card. Continuing clockwise, each player lays one card of the same suit as the first card played. Whoever played the highest card, wins the trick. If you do not have a card matching the suit played, only then can you play a card of a different suit. However, if you play a card which was the trump’s suit, and no other player played a trump, then you would win the trick. In the event that two or more players play a card from the trump suit, the trick would go to the highest valued trump card. After all thirteen tricks of the deck are played, the team with the most number of combined tricks, scores one point. You can use a token or a chip to keep track of points. Now the dealer would repeat the shuffle and thirteen tricks would be played once more. Before the game begins, have the players select a certain number of points for a team to win the game. For example, the winning score could be, 5 points, 7 points, or whatever score your heart desires. There are a couple of additional rules which you should be aware of, and after I provide them, I’ll run through two tricks just to give the gist of the game. There are two additional ways to change the score of the game. The first way is to receive honor points. If you and your teammate both have a combination of the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the trump suit, you would call honors before the play of the next hand. If you and your teammate have three of the four cards, you receive two points, and if you have all four, you receive four points. The final thing which you should be aware of is, Revokes. Let’s say one of your opponents has played the wrong suit and they still have cards for the suit played if you or your teammate notices this and it’s not corrected by the end of the trick, you call Revoke, at that point one of two things happens, you could either add three points to your score, or remove three points from theirs. Let’s run through two sample hands. The trump suit is hearts. The first player plays a Jack of Clubs, then as you go around, what’s played is King of Clubs, two of Clubs, six of Clubs. The person who played the King of Clubs would win the trick and set the played cars aside. Then the winner would start the next trick. Let’s say they played the eight of spades, then going around the ten of spades is played, then the four of hearts, and then the seven of spades. The person who played the four of hearts would win since they played a card from the trump suit, so long as they didn’t have any spades to play. That’s how you play Whist. Long winded I know. If you listened to this on the podcast I highly encourage you to go to the link in the episode description and read the script to review the rules of the game for when you play. There’s one more thing I’d like to mention about these types of games in the 18th Century, and that’s Game Tables. Compared to modern game tables, the game tables of the 18th Century were quite different. There were multiple layers to these tables. They would be extended by being folded out to play games such as chess, cards, or even backgammon. Each layer of such a table was specifically designed for certain games. Such tables could be found across Europe and in parts of the Americas. When I went on my trip to Virginia I saw a few tables specifically designed for games, and it was quite interesting. From what I remember typically these kinds of tables would be used when you’d have guests over, or if you were hosting somebody. It’s interesting how compact they could be. If memory serves me correctly, they could be folded up and placed in a trunk for travel too. There are many games which carried over from the 18th Century, but Sports is another story.
PART 2: SPORTS
How we view sports today, and how sports were viewed in the 18th Century were quite similar in some instances, and quite different in others. If you’re from the United States or if you love horse racing, you’re probably heard of the Kentucky Derby. No, they did not have the Kentucky Derby in the 18th Century, but horse racing was popular in England and the Colonies. During the 18th Century, we could find wealthy Aristocrats breeding horses specifically for racing. Boxing was starting to come more into form during the 18th Century as well. As one could imagine, this was a sport more reserved for the lower classes of society at the time. Boxing didn’t have the modern rules of today, but the roots of them can be seen in parts of the 18th Century. One sport I was surprised to learn about was that they had bowling. Yes, bowling was in the 18th Century and turns out its origins date back earlier. We could find fishing clubs in the Americas during the early half of the Century. Though sport fishing was being popularized in England the Century prior. One of the most synonymous sports with the 18th Century would probably be fox hunting. It could be said it was most popular among the upper classes in England, but it also caught on in the Americas for a time. The basic overview of a fox hunt is as follows, horseback riders follow their hounds as the dogs hunt down a fox. In the Americas, the fox hunting season began in the Fall. Men such as George Washington participated. I’ll delve into this topic more in an episode dedicated to hunting and fishing during the 18th Century. Another modern sport, but with different rules, you could find is Tennis. Tennis would be played across Europe in countries such as England or France for example. The sport was played by both men and women. It was at its height in popularity during the middle of the Century. If a player got good at Tennis, they could gain notoriety and a certain level of fame along with some decent pay. Now, I’m going to take a short break, and when I come back, we’ll get into a very interesting topic for the time, gambling.
PART 3 GAMBLING
Welcome back. For our final section today, let’s discuss gambling. I’ll jump right into it. For the lower classes gambling could be found at places like taverns or coffeehouses. In some taverns cockfights were popular. This would be were two chickens would fight either to the death or until one of them could go no further. The spectators would bet on the outcome. Gambling could have also occurred over boxing matches as mentioned earlier. Other tavern games were most likely gambled upon as well. Such as some card or dice games. During the 18th Century, we start to see an expansion of casinos. At the beginning of the Century, many places had outlawed gambling, but as time marched on, these sorts of laws would be revoked. In 1762 Spa, Belgium the second oldest casino opened its doors. The Redoute casino in Belgium is still open to this day, but it operates under a different name. During the 1770s, two additional casinos opened in Europe. One of which was in France, and another in Belgium. One of the classic casino games, roulette, can find it’s more modern origins in the late 1790s. It wasn’t how we would picture the wheel today, but more or less, this is when the modern game got started. During the 1790s in France, there was a boom in gambling. Though gambling had been popular earlier in the Century for France. Under the reign of King Louis XV who reigned officially from 1723 until his death in 1774, gambling found a small home at Salons. A Salon was very different from the modern place where women get their hair cut. Back in 18th Century France, it was a place for often the nobility to come and have intellectual discussions. For the wealthy French, gambling was an outlet to flaunt their wealth. What’s ironic about flaunting their wealth gambling away their money was this, they did not like people who gloated. You could say it was viewed in poor taste. Gambling in Paris was luxury. Now crossing the channel and heading over to England there was a slightly different approach to gambling and some hypocrisy. The English loved to bet. If there was a conflict of any sort whether it be backgammon or a battle, there probably was a bet at some point. Here’s where the hypocrisy came in, in London gambling was being pushed out of traditional places such as taverns and coffeehouses. See the conflict in attitude? But then special gambling houses or clubs would be opened instead, I guess it works itself out in the end. The famous John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, opened one such establishment called, White’s. If the name John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, sounds familiar it’s because he was said to have invented the delicious food we know today. Again, these casinos were more geared towards the wealthy and the nobility, the same as in France. Moving forward to the British Colonies in the Americas, gambling was very popular. However, casinos didn’t open, due to the fact that there wasn’t a large enough base of people yet to support them. Gambling occurred in the American Revolution in both Militaries. George Washington and some British Officers both had complaints in turn about their men gambling. The attitude was very mixed in the 18th Century. Gambling was somewhat looked down upon, but at the same time, it was very popular.
This brings us to the end on our dive into Games & Gambling during the 18th Century. I found this a fascinating topic to research. The script and citations for this episode and all other episodes can be found at https://18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. If you’d like to support the show, please share it and leave a review. I’ve been your host Cj, and thank you for listening to this episode of the 18th Century Podcast.
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