Historic Communities

ColonialCraftsColonial Crafts by Bobbie Kalman, 1992.

In Colonial America, everything had to be made by hand.  There were people whose entire profession was to make certain types of things, and this book describes common types of craftspeople, how they learned their skills, the goods they made, and how they practiced their trades.

People who worked with their hands learned their trades directly from others in their profession by serving apprenticeships.  Schools as we know them were less common in Colonial times and were mainly for upper class families, especially the sons of wealthy men.  Girls typically learned domestic crafts such as sewing, weaving, and candle-making.  Girls were mainly expected to marry and be housewives, and boys often learned their father’s trade.  How long an apprenticeship would last depended on the trade, but apprentices usually started performing very basic chores for their masters and gradually worked their way up to more difficult tasks as they learned the trade.  At the end of an apprenticeship, the apprentice would produce a work called the “masterpiece” to show off their new skills.  Then, the apprentice would become a journeyman, traveling around and looking for work in their trade until they earned the money they needed to open a shop of their own.


Some of the trades covered in the book are cabinetmaker, leatherworker (including related trades like shoemaker and harnessmaker), cooper (someone who makes barrels), wheelwright, blacksmith, silversmith, gunsmith, printer, and milliner (someone who could make and alter clothing and sell fashion accessories).  The descriptions for each profession include not only details about the trade and tools of the trade but interesting facts such as the fact that, in Colonial times, shoemakers did not make shoes different shoes for left and right feet.  Both shoes in a pair were shaped exactly the same because it was easier for the shoemaker and because people thought that the tracks of identical shoes looked neat.  Aside from the professional crafts, the book also explains a little about domestic crafts, the kinds of things that people made in their own homes.

The book is full of pictures of historical reenactors demonstrating different crafts and trades.



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