In 18th-century Williamsburg, tradespeople catered to a growing number of consumers as the capital city grew. By the mid-1700s, retail stores lined the streets, selling goods by English manufacturers while silversmiths, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and coopers met the need for custom work and repair. Carpenters and joiners built houses and shops. Tailors, weavers, shoemakers and wigmakers served the fashion-conscious residents and visitors to this busy town.
Just as it was in colonial Virginia, today the trades provide much-needed material products that are used at the Foundation on a daily basis. Hand-made shingles crafted by Colonial Williamsburg’s carpenters are used for Historic Area roofs. Blankets woven by the weavers keep the horses warm in the winter. The carriages that transport visitors through the Historic Area are maintained by the wheelwrights. Wigs worn by Nation Builders and interpreters are made by the wigmakers, and food prepared in the historic kitchens inspires traditional menu items in the taverns and restaurants.
Such traditional skills are increasingly at risk of being lost to time, and one goal of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Trades program is to ensure that younger generations continue to research, preserve and practice historic and increasingly rare trades. Our tradesmen and women initially serve as apprentices, then move on to become journeymen—and eventually some become masters—fulfilling the Historic Trades department’s mission. In addition to Colonial Williamsburg’s full-time apprentices, summer interns also interpret at our Historic Trades sites during one of our busiest seasons. Junior Apprenticeships are a new way to expose promising young people to handwork by learning alongside Colonial Williamsburg artisans. Employing young tradespeople offers a realistic portrayal of the apprentice experience in the colonial era, but the motivations for this program transcend historical authenticity. For the thousands of students who pass through the Historic Area in a given year, we open up the possibility of career paths in the trades, both modern and historical, that most may not have considered previously.
Tradespeople currently practicing in the Historic Area include: apothecary, artist, blacksmith, bookbinder, brickmaker, cabinetmaker, carpenter, cooper, farmer, foodways (cook), founder, gardener, gunsmith, harpsicord maker, joiner, military artificer, milliner, printer, shoemaker, silversmith, tailor, tinsmith, weaver,
The Joinery welcomed a new junior apprentice, Charles, who will work there through the end of summer 2020 until he goes to college. He volunteered as a junior interpreter over the last three years and now joins the ranks as a full-time woodworker.
Last year’s tailor intern and volunteer, Charlotte, successfully defended her honors thesis on 18th-century women’s hooped petticoats after finishing her own reproduction garment based on an original within Collections.
The Public Leather Works is busy providing important accoutrements for various areas, including bodies of cartridge pouches for the 80th Regiment, hats for senior Fife and Drum Corps leaders and leather breeches for Col. George Washington.
The Joinery built two new brick molds for the Brickyard, which officially opened for the summer in June.
The Wig Shop outfitted numerous attendees of Mr. Jefferson’s Palace Garden Party in May with wigs, styling 30 in total for the event, including everyone from footmen to dancers to senior employees.
A pharmacy student from Campbell University (North Carolina) spent a month at the Apothecary this spring as she started her elective in the history of pharmacy. This was her first rotation as she finishes her final year of college.
The Colonial Gardens continue to send produce including baskets of lettuce, carrots, beets, endive, leeks, Welsh onions, fennel, chard, broccoli, cabbage, radishes and the herb borage to their colleagues in Foodways for use in the historic kitchen at the Palace and to the modern chefs of the Williamsburg Inn. Historic farmers planted corn, cotton and tobacco, with the help of guests, volunteers and staff. They also continue to offer the Farmers School—a training program for interpreters portraying individuals who would have had a deep understanding of 18th-century farming. By working directly with our historic farmers, they gain firsthand experience that improves their interpretation.