Colonial America also did not have the luxury of a public water supply or sewer system, so the disposal of waste was as primitive as it had been for centuries. Outdoor privies were built over large pits. In some cases, the pit was deep enough to reach the water table, which allowed waste to gradually dissolve and wash away, possibly into a stream or the well next door. Other families emptied their chamber pots into the backyard. When the accumulation became large enough, it needed to be hauled away. As in earlier times, for some lazier households in cities, the streets became the collection area.
The first modern water closets in America most likely came from England. The term "water closet" developed as water was used in the waste disposal process. Although there is evidence of some type of built-in water closet existing in the palaces of Crete, the first attempt at the modern water closet was made by Sir John Harington, around 1596 in England, who designed the device for his home and also installed one in the home of his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. The device did not live up to expectations, so the idea was deemed too undependable to duplicate. Although a patent was filed in 1617 for a newer version of the water closet, a more successful flushing water closet appeared in 1775.