Lesson Plans

One Household, Many Cultures – Diversity In Colonial America

Young William Trent woke on that bright sunny morning in October 1724 to the sounds of Nanny getting his clothes out of the cupboard. Good smells of the breakfast Joan, the cook, was making were rising from the kitchen. Soon Tom would bring it up to him and help Nanny roll up their beds and straighten the room while William ate.

After breakfast William went to say “good morning” to his mother, Mary, who was sitting at her desk, planning the day’s meals with Joan and setting chores for Bob and Dick, two young slaves working in the house. William knew that later his father – William Trent, Senior – would be meeting with the supervisors of his businesses in the front parlor. In the meantime, Mr. Trent was giving instructions to Yaff, the butler, to have his carriage ready for a trip to the ferry landing in the afternoon and for either Cupid or Pedro to drive him there. Drawn outline of the front face of the William Trent House

Young William was excited to hear that a boat-load of goods from Philadelphia was expected to arrive that afternoon. He enjoyed seeing the bustle of men unloading barrels and crates and trying to guess what was in each. Maybe if he finished his lessons with his mother this morning, he would be allowed to go with his father.

Side view of the William Trent House
Side view of the William Trent House

William Trent was a wealthy merchant from Philadelphia who selected the Falls on the Delaware as the location for his summer home, into which he eventually moved with his family and household year-round. Mr. Trent was a major landowner in the area and the owner of mills processing wool, lumber, and grain that were shipped by barge to Philadelphia and then around the world. He was also the local magistrate and one of the wealthiest men in the area. We know his household included his second wife, Mary Coddington Trent, and their young son William; Mr. Trent’s daughter Mary from his first marriage may have also lived there much of the time. In addition, according to the inventory of property made after Mr. Trent’s death on Christmas Day 1724, there were six slaves from African or of African descent from the West Indies living in the house, as well as five other slaves who probably lived elsewhere on the estate. It is also very likely that there were indentured servants in the household at least part of the time the Trent family lived here. Each of these individuals had a role to play in the Trent household and each brought his or her own personal history and cultural background and language.

The 1719 William Trent House Museum provides a glimpse into the diversity that existed in colonial America and in the lives of the different groups of people in one household and community of that time.