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An 18th-Century Trades Sampler

a photographic essay by 1999 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute participants

Introduction / Apothecary / Blacksmith / Founder / Harnessmaker / Milliner
Printer & Bookbinder / Shoemaker / Silversmith / Wigmaker / Summary


Among the 225 men sent from London to settle at Jamestown in 1607, seven were practitioners of medicine in one of its branches. The records show that 17 men operated apothecary shops in Williamsburg in the 18th century. Still others practiced the trade but did not operate a shop. The mortar and pestle, the symbol of pharmacy for centuries, marks the location of one 18th-century apothecary in Williamsburg.

Dr. William Pasteur and Dr. John Minson Galt were partners in a shop on this site from 1775-1778. In addition to dispensing medicines, they provided surgical, midwifery, dental, and general medical services. Both doctors served apprenticeships and studied at St. Thomas's Hospital in London. The partnership lasted until 1778, at which time Pasteur retired from medicine. Galt continued in the business. Dr. Pasteur died in 1791, Galt in 1808.

The reconstructed shop stands today where the original did. It is stocked and furnished much as it was then, including copies of Galt's medical certificates that are hanging on the walls.

The mortar and pestle was an important tool in the preparation of medicines and was found in many sizes and materials. Glass and ceramic containers by the hundreds were also used to store simple ingredients and compounds for sale. Prepared medicines were stored in jars of various sorts. Unlike today, prescription were not required for purchasing any medicines.

The apothecary sold patented and proprietary medicines as well as medicines he made from imported ingredients. These ingredients included plant, animal, chemical and mineral materials. Liquids were the most common form of medicine and included tinctures and spirits (alcohol based), syrups (sugar and water based), and decoctions and infusions (water based). In this picture, a grater is being used to make a medicine.

How often do you go to the drug store today to purchase something other than medicine? Doctors often supplemented their income by selling such articles as tobacco, snuff, gold and silver leaf, vermicelli, French chalk for taking grease out of silks and fine cloths, candles, spices, and sugar.

Apothecary businesses usually contained areas for serving customers, for accounting purposes, and for a study. Also on the property might be facilities for making medicines. The doctor kept records relating to his business as well as medical books, educational aids, and tools of the trade in the study area. Doctors usually visited patients in their homes rather than in the shop.

Apothecaries played an important role in 18th-century Virginia households by providing a wide range of medical services and medicines for those who could afford them. While it is true that many Virginians grew herbs in their own gardens for use in treating family illnesses, they also relied on the doctor to treat serious illness and to provide imported and patent medicines which were otherwise unavailable.

Introduction / Apothecary / Blacksmith / Founder / Harnessmaker / Milliner
Printer & Bookbinder / Shoemaker / Silversmith / Wigmaker / Summary