Arts and Leisure

Chouses, Jigs and Fetches – Colonial Pranks You Never Heard Of

There have always been pranks and pranksters. In the early days of the New England colonies, life was largely spent tending to essentials. But there were still pranks. Colonial pranks from that era tended to be harmless, but still funny to those concerned.

If you were the victim of a chouse, a fetch or a jig it meant you'd been tricked. Sometimes with ill intent, but often for laughs. A rig was another term for a joke. If someone ran his rig on someone, it meant they were the butt of his joke. If, on the other hand, the target caught on and spoiled the prank, he was up to the Here are a few relatively harmless colonial pranks from that era:

Playing King Arthur - This game was popular with sailors. One sailor is seated on a stool and dawns a wig made of oakham and old deck swabs. Beside him is a large tub of water. His fellow sailors are ceremoniously introduced to him, and one by one they pour a bucket of water over his head. If, however, the designated king can induce a smile or a laugh out of a sailor then that man must take on the role of king.

colonial pranks

The Joke by Gerard Jozef Portielje

Dowdying - Dowdying was a gag from England that a man would play on an assembled group, usually one that had been drinking. He would dress himself to look half mad and burst into a room to the shock of those inside.

Funk the Cobbler - Funk meant to smoke or to stink. To funk the cobbler meant someone, usually a child, stuffed a pipe with cotton and weeds. The bowl was then lit and covered with a cloth so that the stinking smoke would gradually make its way out of the pipe stem. The pipe could be left in a cobbler's stall to stink the place up.

Hoisting - Hoisting was a ceremony performed on a man following his marriage - usually after returning to his military unit. Two soldiers would take bayonets and push them through the soldier's hat, like horns. The man would be lifted on the shoulders of his friends and paraded while wearing the hat.

Seating the Ambassador - This was another sailor's trick played on an unsuspecting soul who had never heard of the game. A play would be preteneded in which the man playing the role of ambassador would be given a silly speech to recite to two characters, dubbed the king and queen. The king and queen were seated on two stools. Stretched between the stools was a long cloth that looked like a bench. The ambassador would be inivited to sit between the king and queen. Once seated the two on each side would suddenly stand up and the ambassador would tumble backwards into a strategically placed tub of water.

Catching the Owl - This was a trick played on people unfamiliar with the ways of the countryside. A person was invited into a barn under the pretense that they are there to catch an owl. After leading the person through any number of embarrassing stunts or fake calls, the target was doused with a pail of water.

Thanks to: Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, By Francis Grose (1785) and Villainies Discovered: OR The Devil’s Cabinet Broken Open, By Richard Head (1673).

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