What Early American Homes of the First Colonial Settlers Were Like

Updated on March 3, 2019
artsofthetimes profile image

Ancient art and architecture isn't only for historians, but for people like us who’ve always been interested in anything olden and periodic.

The early American homes of the first Colonial settlers were not much more than makeshift structures. On setting foot in America around the mid-1600s, the major concern of the first American settlers was to have a roof over their heads and a place to keep themselves safe and warm. They didn’t require modish homes, neither did they gave any thoughts to planning the interiors of their homes in any tasteful manner.

According to historical records, the very first settlers from England that berthed on American shores built residential structures that looked more like crudely built huts or wigwams. They were made out of mud, clay, wood bark and tree branches, and roofing materials were thatch.

Though these first American dwellings can hardly be described as decorative period arts, yet it is good to make mention of the fact that they should be considered as art styles; something fashioned to serve a very vital necessity in life.

But some schools of thought claim that it is doubtful that these first wood structures were adopted by the English settlers and are rather of the opinion that early Swede settlers who came from a country of compact log homes and settled in Delaware in 1638 might be responsible for introducing home construction methods.

The building methods applied was placing cut down rough-hewn tree logs, one on top of another up to a little above headroom height. This will form the first exterior wall.

To create a second wall, the logs are interlocking at the ends to form the first corners and the same applies to the third and fourth external walls. That’s how they created the four outer walls of their square or rectangular box homes.

To make the structure weather-tight and sealed as much as is possible to keep small creatures out, cracks and spaces were filled and hand-compacted with mud or clay, depending on what was available in their immediate environs.

The home designs of the first American settlers built from rough-hewn logs felled in their localities.
The home designs of the first American settlers built from rough-hewn logs felled in their localities.

Early American Home Styles

These first-generation homes were small one-storey structures basically made up of one room and consisting of open space with four walls and roof covers that kept them protected from the elements.

The open-plan interior served multi-purpose functions; living, dining, kitchen, and sleeping, and a single fireplace served two purposes, as a heater to warm the home in the cold winter months, and stove to cook family meals. Each home had crudely formed outlets for smoke generated from heating and cooking.

Homes of the first American settlers were called log cabins because they were almost completely built from logs. Building supplies were materials gathered around where they chose to erect their homes and were basically stones, rocks, tree branches, and majorly felled timber. The logs were laid horizontally and interlocked at the ends with notches to form a square or rectangular box-shaped home. They possessed only one door opening.

With time, when the Colonial settlers felt a degree of security with regards to surrounding dangers of wild animals and the uncertainties of weather, they started to develop an interest in expanding their homes and devoting more determined efforts to providing some form of comfort in their new-found country.

By 1675 or thereabouts, structure types advanced to two-room homes and were constructed with central fireplaces that served the two rooms. They had two openings, with each opening facing one room. Chimneys were central, but with better-defined apertures.

Entrance doors were positioned centrally on the longer exterior wall of the structure while window openings were created on the narrower sides of the building. Soon, more homes added upper rooms, much like attics, that were accessible through very steep stairs that lead from a tiny hallway at the entrance of the cabin. Three-quarters of a century later, many more complex home designs were introduced.

Building Materials Used for the Early American Homes

In the early American Period of the 17th century, practically all buildings and the bare furniture required in both Virginia and New England were constructed with locally sourced wood. However, around the 1680s, other building materials were found and incorporated into their structural forms.

Naturally available materials like oyster shells for instance, though not available in abundance in many regions, was used for making lime which was used as a form of plaster. Stone or rock fragments were also used as building materials but without the use of mortar. But the stone and rock materials had its disadvantages, the top of which is that they proved to cause excessive dampness within the interior of the building.

With the availability of plaster, later on, the first settlers used it only on the inside portion of the three perimeter walls to seal all cracks and give them smoother looking walls. The fourth wall, which was left un-plastered, became a characteristic feature wall of the interior. For those who had an internal dividing wall, rough wood planking was used.

Roof coverings were thatch and were from dry vegetation like hay, straw, water reed, and rushes, depending again, on what they find in the regions they reside in. Thatching is done by layering the sun-dried vegetation in such a way that it sheds water away from the inner roofing material. Once the bulk of the vegetation stays dry and is densely packed, it will also serve insulating functions.

Home Styles of the First American Settlers Became More Complex by 1750

By the mid-eighteenth century, homes of the pioneers developed to more complex structures of four room homes. The structures had a central corridor or hallway that ran the full depth of the building and a single wooden staircase that led upstairs from the hallway to the rooms above. An attempt was made to fashion out a central fireplace and chimney, but the idea later proved clumsy and impractical.

Eventually, they found that a two-chimney feature worked out much better and was much more effective for the new style four-room buildings, with each chimney serving two rooms.

Though all the early Colonial homes were built with wood and their internal spaces divided with roughly cut wood planks (dividing walls), it wasn’t until the 18th century that walls made of rectangular panels were introduced and became the popular choice for building construction.

By the late 1700s, the only interior décor features introduced were trims and mouldings fashioned after classical architectural forms. These can be regarded as the first forms of interior enhancements. Then came an interest in having beautiful surroundings after the 'awakening' which, incidentally, was an accidental happenstance.

The earliest productions showing some semblance of style were crafted with good proportions, and gradually, charming details were introduced, and a trend to make the home and its surrounds pleasant and comfortable soon developed.

New movements in European art almost always had its origin in a conscious effort to make luxury handmade products for royalty and the rich patrons of decorative arts because a visual appeal was supreme and was just as important as comfort and functionality.

And with the advent of industrialisation, art, design forms, and style was massively copied and eventually cheapened. This was a good thing because they became affordable for the middle class who in turn, eventually influenced peasant production.

Further reading:

Early American Pottery (18th to 19th Century Ceramic Ware)

Early American Furniture (17th Century Colonial Era)

© 2011 artsofthetimes


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • artsofthetimes profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thank you so much SanneL. Sorry, i have been away for a while working on some projects.

      Thanks for visiting. I'm glad you found this period of American history interesting. I love to read about the past a lot and have always loved history of arts and cultures.

      I appreciate your positive ratings.


    • SanneL profile image


      8 years ago from Sweden

      You have written another informative and very interesting hub!

      It was fun to know that my countrymen was the ones that might be responsible for bringing the log homes into the United States.

      Hmm. . .oyster shells as plastering!? interesting!

      Those early structures may not be considered very decorative, but as you wrote- art is life- which is so true.

      Thank you for sharing this!

      Voted up and interesting.



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)