Colonial Williamsburg: Historic Trades Part 3

Shoemaker

The firm of George Wilson, who moved to Williamsburg from Norfolk, Virginia in the late 1760s. In 1773, George Wilson specialized in “Boots and Shoes for Gentlemen.” Boot making was considered the most sophisticated and prestigious branch of the trade. It followed a centuries-old tradition. The making of boots and shoes for men and the making of shoes for women were separate pursuits.

Shoemaker and apprentice explain the process of making shoes

Shoemaker and apprentice explain the process of making shoes

Men could select shoes from a stock of “sale shoes” in popular-styled, already-sized shoes. Alternately, if his feet were an unusual size, he could order a pair made order, which required a day’s wait. The firm’s specialty was boots for riding. Wilson’s sister-in-law was the proprietor of the shoe factory of Mary Wilson and Company.

Apprentice demonstrating process of working leather into shoes

Apprentice demonstrating process of working leather into shoes

The chart on the wall shows the prices of goods sold.

handwritten price chart on wall

The chart on the wall shows the prices of goods sold.

Printing and Binding Office

The printer spent hours just to produce a newspaper or book. Setting type for one page of the weekly newspaper required 25 hours of hand labor.

Printer using large wooden printing press

Printer demonstrating hand press

The type is set in the galleys backwards, locked into the chase and secured. Learn more about the process of printing  Colonial Williamsburg Almanack

In the 18th-century the book binding office served as a stationer’s, a post office, an advertising agency, an office supply shop, a newsstand, and a bookbindery. It sold magazines and books, maps and almanacs,and even sealing wax!

Bookbinding office books

The place to buy your paper goods

Books were sold unbound. Customers liked to choose their own bindings to show off status and wealth or to personal tastes. Here you could have a book bound from start to finish.

large wooden bookbinding tool

tool of the trade

Groups of printed pages or signatures of four, eight, 12, or 16 pages contained two or more pages on each side of a sheet. When folded and cut the signatures presented the text in the proper order for binding.

A bookbinder compiled the signatures and beat them with a heavy hammer to make the sheets lie close. He arranged them on a sewing frame and stitched them together at the back fold with linen thread. As he sewed, he looped the strands around thick hemp cross threads, which created characteristic horizontal ridges across the spine and unified the assembly. were laid on a sewing frame and stitched to cords at the back fold with linen thread. These cords formed horizontal ridges across the spine

The book binder demonstrates sewing a book.

 

Continue reading

Colonial Williamsburg : Historic Trades Part 1

In the afternoon, as the rain tapered off, my friend and I browsed some of the trade shops. I continued my visit the next day when it was too cold and windy to stay outside for too long.

I was especially interested in the spinning, weaving and dyeing house as I do spinning and weaving at the museum where I work. I teach elementary school groups about textile production including showing them how to card and spin a piece of wool on a drop spindle and do simple weaving on a small upright loom. In colonial New England people made their clothes at home out of necessity. In Virginia the situation was quite different as they were a much wealthier colony.

williamsburgweavingshopblankets

Textiles woven in Colonial Williamsburg

Until just before the Revolutionary War most people imported textiles from Britain. Because of non-importation agreements and war, British textiles became scare. A clothing factory opened outside of Williamsburg in 1776. They mostly made cloth for the military.

Spinning was a domestic chore not much practiced in colonial Virginia, as it was very time-consuming, and most cloth was imported. It would take 12 spinners of wool to keep the weaver busy at the loom, and 100 spinners of cotton to keep him busy.

Dyes came from the natural world. Cochineal, an insect from South America,makes the color red. 70,000 cochineal are needed to make a pound of red dye. Brown comes from walnuts, blue from indigo from South Carolina, Spain, or South America. Purple comes from the Spanish log wood tree, and turmeric from India gives yellow its hue. Orange comes from the root of the madder plant.

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Dyed yarn. Red was a color associated with poor people while green was for the wealthy because it required double dyeing in yellow and blue.

Weavers were men who served a 7-year apprenticeship to learn their trade.

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Press the pedals underneath, throw the shuttle through, repeat in the other direction

Weavers can create plain or intricate patterns depending on how they set up the loom and the order in which they push the pedals that move the harnesses of the loom in the correct sequences.

He insists it isn’t hard to learn. Weaving is MUCH easier to do when you have a long arm span and long legs to reach the pedals. It’s easy enough to make a simple stripe but to create more complicate patterns requires more knowledge and artistry.

Colonial Williamsburg’s weavers weave on two types of looms that represent the types available to eighteenth-century Virginians. The smaller is a cantilever loom, developed during the eleventh century in Spain. The larger is a four-post box loom, created in England in the sixteenth century.

 

To learn how to weave, Colonial Williamsburg offers weaving workshops.

For more information on the historic trade, visit the Weaver page of Colonial Williamsburg’s website.

Colonial Williamsburg: Fashion Fanatics Part 2

The following explanation is grossly oversimplified for those who know nothing of the clothing styles of the period. I was a bit surprised how no one else seemed to know all about the Georgian era! Isn’t anyone else obsessed with Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and the Poldark Saga?

Getting dressed was quite an ordeal for women. Each day they put on a long linen undershirt known as a shift. Everyone owned several and these were embroidered with the owner’s initials. No one wanted to share their underwear with other family members.

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18th-century shift with embroidered initials

Next a lady put on her stockings, tied them with garters and put on shoes. Then over her shift she wore a pair of stays (later known as a corset). This was not for nipping in the waist, at least not for women, it was for posture and to hold in the wobbly bits. This is not the Victorian era and it is acceptable to show off one’s womanly assets (at least in the evening/formal occasions) and one’s arms.

williamsburgartmuseumstays

18th century stays. They are lined with whalebone (baleen) and lace up the back. Some laced up the front and others laced up both sides. To put it on requires help and if one doesn’t have a maid, one can simply put the string through loosely,  tie a knot, put the stays on, shimmy into them and pull the string from the top or shimmy into them backwards and turn them around.

Stays extended from mid-bust to just below the waist and created the desirable 18th-century figure of a smooth, inverted cone without separate cups for the breasts.

Working women sometimes wore leather stays, called jumps.

Dresses didn’t have sewn in pockets. Ladies often embroidered or pieced together pockets to wear under their petticoats. Gowns would have slits to reach inside the pocket. Because gowns had separate pockets, this explains the origins of the nursery rhyme “Lucy Locket” (“Lucy Locket lost her pocket; Kitty Fisher found it. Not a penny was there in it,. Only ribbon round it.”)

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18th-century stays and pocket in storage at the art museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The pocket is missing the ribbon tie.

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18th-century embroidered pocket

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Pair of patchwork pockets

Next came a petticoat, possibly one for warmth and one meant to be seen like a skirt. This could be quilted, embroidered, silk, wool, etc.

dark green silk petticoat quilted in floral design

Green silk quilted petticoat

Over the petticoats came an open gown and in between the empty space in the front a lady would pin or hook an embroidered triangular piece of cloth known as a stomacher. There were several types of gowns worn at this time but the exhibit only shows the open robe style.

 

Instead of a gown and stomacher, some women wore printed cotton jackets like this one.

williamsburgartmuseumwomanslacedjacket

Cotton printed ladies’ lace-up jacket

Other visitors wanted to discuss at length what women did when they had their “monthlies.” I’m uninterested in this topic but here is a summary of what was discussed:

  • At least one woman wore an extra apron backwards.
  • Some women may have worn extra petticoats if they had them.
  • It’s possible some women wrapped rags around them like a diaper.
  • Alternately, many women married in their late teens or early 20s and were pregnant and nursing for much of the next 20 years so they may not have had their monthlies.

The records just don’t tell us these things, not because they were too genteel and refined (that came later at the end of the Regency era) but because it was just an ordinary thing women dealt with and didn’t think to write down. Do you keep a diary? How often do you write about visits from Aunt Flo and what you do? If you don’t, start now so future generations can know what we did back in the 20th/21st centuries!

A slideshow of quick video clips of different types of fashions popular in Virginia played on a screen next to the exhibit. I tried to get as many different images as I could.

 

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Men often wore an informal robe at home known as a banyan.

Children wore simple, T-shaped dresses known as frocks. Boys and girls both wore these until the boy was old enough to be breeched (dressed in breeches like his father). 

By this period some of the Virginia Indians also liked British printed textiles.

I recommend reading the book What Clothes Reveal : The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America by Linda Baumgarten, Yale University Press, 2012.

A summary from the above book can be found on Colonial Williamsburg’s website.

Colonial Williamsburg Fashion Fanatics: Part 1

My first full day in Williamsburg dawned cool and rainy. I met up with a friend and went to a talk at the art museums called “Fashion Fanatics.” The museum expert guided a group through different exhibits examining what art and textiles can tell us about a time period. The talk ended up in the textile storage room where the group had access to viewing the textiles in some of the storage drawers.

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Georgian fashions from Britain popular in 18th-century Williamsburg

 

The time period discussed was mainly c. 1750s. We examined two paintings and learned how paintings are not a true representation of a person. Both paintings of wealthy ladies were painted with an odd perspective with the head and neck not in alignment with the body. This is NOT because the painter painted the body first and added the head later. Sometimes the subjects of paintings wear the same outfit! If a painter had a specific dress he was very very good at painting, he would simply have his subject wearing that dress. The style may not be up-to-date for that time period. Sometimes women wore jewelry and other times not. Paintings are a representation of a person but not a true likeness.

Williamsburgartmuseumpainting

D2018-JBC-0508-0009 2018-165 Portrait of Joyce (or Judith) Armistead Booth (Mrs. Mordecai Booth); Maker: William Dering (active 1734/1735-1755); 1748-1750; Gift to Art Museums of Williamsburg from Julia Miles Brock, Edward Taliaferro Miles, and Georgianna Serpell Miles in Memory of their Mother, Alice Taliaferro Miles

Mrs. Booth (left) has an oddly broad torso, a dress that wasn’t in fashion yet and no one is sure why she is holding a cloth in her hand. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Williamsburgartmuseumpainting2

1956-237,A&B Frances Ann Tasker Carter (Mrs. Robert Carter III) (1738-1787)
1755-1758
ATTRIBUTED TO John Wollaston (ca. 1710-ca. 1767) Art Museums of Williamsburg purchase

Mrs. Carter was the wife of a very prominent man, yet she is dressed in a mostly plain gray silk gown with similarly odd sleeves as Mrs. Booth’s dress. She shows her wealth only by the lace at the cuffs and neck of her gown and the little pearl broach. Again, no one is sure why the blue cloth. Shawls were not worn yet in the 1750s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved seeing the period outfits on display in the British Textiles exhibit. British textiles were considered the best in the world. People all over the world wanted to wear British textiles. If you could afford to wear silk, you purchased silk cloth woven by silk weavers in Spitalfields in London’s East End. Throwsters, Winders, Weavers, and designers were all needed to make one piece of fabric. By 1774 English silk manufacturers imported £130,000 worth of silk to the American colonies, their most important market.

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British imported cottons and silks fashionable in 18th-century Williamsburg

When styles changed women sometimes made over their old gowns into newer styles. This gown on display was originally made in the 1750s and remade in the 1780s! Sixty years later this type of fabric was popular again and the dress refashioned to suit the styles of the day.

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Gown, Great Britain, 1745-1750, gown remade ca. 1780 and 1845, silk and linen, museum purchase 1941-2011-1

Williamsburgartmuseum18thcladiesgown

Gown, Great Britain, 1745-1750, gown remade ca. 1780 and 1845, silk and linen, museum purchase 1941-2011-1

 

 

If you couldn’t afford silk you would likely wear a woolen gown of the same style, like this read and gold one. This one is made from worsted wool, combed wool fibers that were tightly spun and woven. Worsteds were light and suitable for ladies’ gowns. The worsted industry was centered around Norwich, England.

Williamsburgartmuseum18thcladiesgown2

Gown, Great Britain, 1760-1765, Worsted Wool and Linen, Museum Purchase, 1988-223; Quilted petticoat, probably New England, 1755-1776, wool, linen and silk, Museum Purchase 1955-244                             This gown mimics the expensive silk brocades being produced around London but it made from a more functional and cheaper fabric.

Cotton gowns were also very popular. Some cotton printed textiles were imported from India beginning in the 16th-century. Read more about that at Willow & Thatch (the picture of the sign I took came out too blurry to read). By the 18th-century, the region around Manchester, England specialized in spinning, weaving, printing lightweight, colorful, cotton and cotton-linen textiles. Men also wore these types of fabrics for informal wear. These cottons are not only beautiful, they are serviceable and easy to clean.

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Gown, Great Britain 1780-1785, Cotton and Linen, Museum Purchase, 1991-450

As demand for cotton printed fabrics grew, silk and wool weavers protested in Parliament until Parliament passed a lawn in 1721 prohibiting the sale, wear and use of cotton printed calicoes. The British government regulated the sale of cotton textiles until 1774 when it passed another act to legalize the printing on all all cotton fabrics.

Women’s shoes featured high heels, ribbons, buckles and were made from silk or wool textiles with covered wooden heels. Men’s shoes were typically made of leather. The components of the shoes: wooden heels, textiles and bindings were exported to American shoemakers. By the late 17th century shoes were fastened by buckles. Strings didn’t become common until the late 19th century.

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18th-century shoes on display at the Williamsburg Art Museums

During this time, 1750s, stockings were knit flat on frames and sewn together. This was a much faster process than knitting by hand. In Nottingham in 1719 there were over 9,000 frames in operation. Linen, cotton, wool and silk stockings were exported around the world.

Williamsburgartmuseum18thcstockings

Green embroidered stockings on display at the Williamsburg Art Museums

To be continued…

Nantucket Whaling Museum- Hawden & Barney

In the mid-19th-century, the Nantucket firm of Hawden & Barney was one of the leading whale oil candle manufacturers in the United States until the decline of the whaling industry.

The Building

In 1846 a fire destroyed much of downtown Nantucket including Robert Mitchell and Sons candleworks. A year later the firm built a new candle factory on the same site. In 1848 the Mitchells sold the building to whale-oil merchants William Hawden and Nathaniel Barney who operated the business on a limited scale. The decline of the whaling industry forced the company to use the brick building as a warehouse. In the 1870s, Nathaniel Barney’s son converted it to office space for the New England Steamship Company.

Barneysteamships

By 1919, the building was used as an antiques shop. It was purchased by the Nantucket Historical Association in the 1920s to use as a museum for the exhibit of the NHA’s whaling collection.

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The Whaling Museum building 

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Nantucket Historical Association in the old Hawden & Barney factory

In 2004 the museum was renovated and some of the space is dedicated to showcasing 19th-century Nantucket and what the building looked like when Hawden & Barney operated there.

Hawden & Barney

HawdenandBarneyfactory

William Hawden (1791-1862), originally a silversmith from Newport, Rhode Island, was a Nantucket transplant who became a prominent whale oil candle manufacturer.

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William Hawden and family in 1860

Hawden married the descendant of one of Nantucket’s first families, Eunice Starbuck, in 1822. Seven years after his marriage he established the firm of Hawden & Barney with his cousin/brother-in-law Nathaniel Barney.

Nathaniel Barney (1792-1869) is best known to history for his activism in the anti-slavery movement. He and his wife Eliza shared a home with their Hawden family at 100 Main Street for many years.

William Hawden became extremely wealthy from the whale oil manufacturing business. He lived with his family in this grand Greek-Revival style mansion (now a museum) at 96 Main Street.

HawdenHouse

Hawden House

By 1850 the firm employed 12 workers in three buildings (the museum building and two outbuildings which no longer stand). The laborers were paid $27.50 a month ($800 in 21st-century currency).

They produced 4000 boxes of spermaceti candles, as well as 450,000 gallons of refined sperm whale oil. The worth of this oil? $300,000 1850s dollars, approximately $9 million in today’s dollars.

The firm’s ship, the Alpha, made six whaling voyages between 1834-1859. The crews also purchased oil from other ships to bring home to Nantucket.

The sign features information about two of the known workers. One worker, William M. Eldridge (1826-1912) spent his childhood and younger adult years working in candle factories before become a sea captain. He later retired to a farm on his native Nantucket.

The profits made from whale oil refining were staggering. In the mid-19th-century, at the peak of the whaling industry, headmatter was worth an average of 90 cents a gallon or $28 per barrel. This one barrel produced:

$23.60 of winter oil ($1.00/gallon)
$2.40 of spring oil (80 cents/gallon)
$1.20 of summer oil (80 cents/gallon) for a total of $27.20

Candles were worth 30 cents per pound or $8.10 total, equaling $35.30 for a profit of $7.30 per barrel or 26%! (More than the workers were paid per month).

Want to learn more about the 19th-century whaling industry? Visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum. You won’t be disappointed.

If you can’t travel there, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has some whaling industry ephemera online.

 

 

 

Nantucket Whaling Museum

mural of Nantucket

Mural of Nantucket during the heyday of the whaling industry in the mid-19th-century

My next two posts will share more on the history of the Nantucket whaling industry and the museum building.

In my previous post you can follow the link to the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s excellent and gruesome description of how whales were captured and processed. Unfortunately I missed the presentation in Nantucket and did not have time to stay for the next. Having read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, I have a good idea of what happened and I’d rather not listen to that kind of information anyway.

Whalers hunted whales for spermaceti, a waxy substance from the large cavity in the sperm whale’s head. Spermaceti was used in making candles, machine grease, and other lighting. In Nantucket, the firm of Hawden & Barney was the leading refinery and manufacturer of spermaceti candles. They occupied the building that is now the museum.

Spermaceti oil

Spermaceti oil

Spermaceti cake

Spermaceti cake

This cake of refined spermaceti is an example of the main product of the oil refining process of the mid-19th-century. The blocks were molded in the spring, stored until softened in the summer heat, then ground into meal and pressed to remove the last drops of the oil remaining in them. This resulted in pure spermaceti that could then be molded into candles.

candle molds

Candle Molds and box stencils

Spermaceti candles were the end product of the refining process. The candles were made by mixing the refined spermaceti with a small amount of beeswax placed into block molds to harden.

Spermaceti oil and candle molds

Spermaceti oil and candle molds

A skilled candle maker would then melt the blocks until liquid and then pour into special molds. The candles were left to cool and then packed into boxes with candle paper. The boxes were branded or stenciled to indicate the manufacturer, the size of the candles and other important information.

Spermaceti candles and oil lamps 

Spermaceti candles and oil lamps

Spermaceti candles were considered the finest in the world.

Read on to learn more about the firm of Hawden & Barney.