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Colonial Occupations


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Multi-Age 1, 2, 3 at Chautauqua Elementary

Multi-age Third Graders completed research reports about Colonial Occuptions then presented displays and answered lots of questions for other students and families.  They learned a lot.

Our program is a three-grade program so 1st and 2nd graders also learned all about Colonial America.  Many of the younger students were Apprentices to the third graders.  The third graders were responsible for teaching their apprentices all about the trades.  Apprentices helped their Masters answer questions and arrange displays.


The Soapmaker
In the early 1600's, colonial Americans relied on soap shipped from England.  The colonists soon realized that they had all the necessary ingredients for making their own soap:  ash and animal fat.  The colonists made soap on one of the first warm days of spring because the soap had to be made in a pot outside over a fire.
First they needed to make lye.  To do this, boiling water was poured into a barrel that was filled with wood ashes.  A brown liquid dripped from a small hole in the bottom of the barrel into a pail.  This was the lye.  When they had enough lye a large fire was built.  A kettle hung over the fire with animal fat and lye.  It had to boil for hours.  Salt was added if they wanted to make bar soap.


The Glassblowers
Colonial Americans first tried glassmaking in Jamestown, Virginia in 1608 and in Salem, Massachesetts in 1639.  Glassblowing was one of the first industries in the American Colonies.  The first items that they made were window glass and beads for trade with the Native Americans.
One of the fascinating things about making glass is the process for making window glass.  The first method of making window glass was called the Crown method.  The finished product was a type of window flass called "Bull's Eye Glass".  It received this name due to the detached circle shape left from the Punty in the center of the glass.  These glass blowers were called the "Window Light Workers".  They had to be both quick-thinking and have great strength as the pipe and hot glass weighed up to 100 pounds.
A glassblower, or gaffer, was a very talented glassblower once he learned to finish blowing glass bottles.  A gaffer's chair was a backless arm chair with two level arms protected by sheet iron.  The gaffer's many tools hung by pegs driven into the sides of the chair.  The furnace that melted the glass got to 12,000 degree F.


The Shipwright
To start a ship a shipwright would build a model.  The model might have a diagonal mast called a "raked mast".  The rear mast was called the "mizzen mast" and the front mast is called the "foremast".
Shipwrights used wooden pegs to hold the ship together.  "Oakum" was used to stuff the cracks between the planks to stop leaks.  Oakum is fiber soaked in tar.
Building a ship is a painstaking job.  Many craftsmen worked together.  Some of the craftsmen were sailmakers, carpenters, cabinet makers, caulkers, coopers and ropemakers.  A good shipmaker was usually skilled at three or four of these crafts.


The Gunsmith
Gunsmithing was an important trade in Colonial America.  Besides making guns, gunsmiths repaired firearms and made many other objects such as buckles and bells.  A gunsmith had to have the skills of a blacksmith, whitesmith, founder and woodworker.  To become a gunsmith a teenage boy would become an apprentice for many years until his 21st birthday.
The gunsmith would probably choose an apprentice who showed interest in the art of making flintlocks.
The apprentice would start by keeping the fire, sharpening the tools and keeping the shop tidy.  Later he would start seeing how the pieces fit together and eventually learn how to make a flintlock musket.


The Tannery
A tanner is someone who makes leather from animal hides.  Colonial tanneries were usually located along rivers down stream from villages because they needed lots of water to soak and clean the hides.  And they didn't want the gross stuff to get in the village's drinking water.
The most important thing about colonial tanning was they made leather for things that most people wouldn't live without like boots, clothes, belts, saddles and other helpful things.
The tanners scraped the hair and fur off the hides, soaked the hide in vats of water with willow or beech bark, buried the hides in pits with alkaline dressing, the dried the hides on racks. Then the curriers used oils to work the leather and awls to make holes.  The process took many months.


The Storekeeper
A storekeeper had a store that sold all kinds of items that a colonist might need.  People went to the counter and asked for what they wanted and the storekeeper got it for them.  Behind the counter they had lots of shelves and even in the back room and attic to hold more stuff.
Colonial stores sold things like molasses, flour, sugar and corn meal.  They also sold salt, pepper and salt pork.  In a store a person could find fabric, candy, nails, candle wicks, coffee and shoe polish.
The store keeper did not really make anything special or have an artistic talent.  They did have a good sense of what people would need and knew how to get that.  They were also educated.  They needed to be able to read and write well and do hard math.


The Seamstress
My name is Mary Allerton.  I am a seamstress.  I make and sell clothing.  I sell caps, cloaks, gowns, fashionable undress, hats, mob caps, petticoats, shirts and stays.
I do my work in a shop that has tables for cutting and laying out the cloth.  It has a room for people to try the clothes on.  The tools I use are pins, rulers, sewing hoops, pin cushions, ribbons, thimbles, scissors, needles, thread, my hands and fingers.
Being a seamstress is a good way for a woman to make money in colonial times.  It takes a lot of skill and practice.  I learned to sew from my mother as a small girl.


The Doctor
I am a Colonial Doctor.  I practiced medicine in 1775.  I learned from my mother how to cure illness.  Some doctors went to medical college at Pennsylvania Hospital or King's College.  I was an apprentice to our family doctor.  I stayed with him for 7 years before I could go and treat my own patients.
We used different tools and medicines than doctors today.  I made medicine from leaves, roots, tree bark, herbs and some parts of animals.  My main job was to provide comfort and support, set broken bones, and give herbal medicines.

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