In the 18th century, wheelwrights crafted precise woodworking joints to bring the hub, spokes, and rim sections together into perfectly round wheels for the vehicles — wheelbarrows, riding chairs, carriages, and carts — needed to move people and possessions from place to place. Today in Colonial Williamsburg, the wheelwrights produce wheels for all the vehicles used in the Historic Area.
Colonial American wheelwrights were unlike their European counterparts — that is to say urban European counterparts — in that they were responsible for more than wheels alone and making freight vehicles as well.
We don't have the abundance of labor here in the colonies to support the multiple subspecialties that we would have seen in the urban areas of England, for example, in particular.
So, wheelwrights are making wheelbarrows of various types, two-wheel carts of various types, freight wagons, of course...
A wheelwright in the colonies in war time, depending on the particular wheelwright, who may have very strong feelings one way or the other about the war, could decide he's going to join up and offer his services. His basic work probably is not changing during the war. He's making similar vehicles, they're just being used for a different purpose.
But certainly the war effort is going to need someone who is in a position to service vehicles in the field as need be - blacksmiths, wheelwrights, etc. He, on the other hand, might be of a mind to stay home and try to maintain his business.
If he is a family man, who's going to take care of his family should he close his business to go to war? If something should happen to him during war time, what happens to his family in that case?
So, depending upon the amount of business perhaps that he would realize staying at home rather than going afield, he may opt to stay at home if the work is there. Probably a good portion of his clientele, for that matter, his buying public, are also going off to war at that time, so he may be losing his local business in large part and quite possibly in a better position if he were to go off with the army at that time.
Chris Wright interprets the craft of the wheelwright in the Historic Area.