Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

Looking to Buy Tickets & Gifts or Book a Vacation? Click Here

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

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


This foundry stands on the site of an 18th-century business operated by William and David Geddy. Their father, James Geddy, Sr. was a gunsmith and founder who taught his sons the trade. The foundry made and repaired a wide variety of items including tools, swords, guns, buttons, and spoons, hardware for carriages, candlesticks and other household goods made primarily from pewter, brass, and bronze.

A founder pours melted metal into molds to create the finished goods rather than hammering metals as a blacksmith does. Pewter was a very widely used metal in the 18th century. It was not cheap, but it was less expensive than silver and was used by all segments of society. A spoon is made by pouring liquid pewter into a permanent brass mold. Pewter is made of tin with copper and antimony added to harden the tin. It melts and pours at a low temperature (650 - 700 degrees.)

A clay or clay and graphite crucible is used for casting metal. The fuel in the forge is either coal or charcoal. Bellows, a leather air pump often made by a harness maker, provides the air that enables the fire to reach the temperatures needed to melt the metal.

Brass, bronze and silver all pour around 2,000 degrees and must be poured into sand molds. Sand is packed over patterns made of wood, metal, clay or plaster. A sand mold is only used once. After the metal is cast the piece must be finished. Most of the time spent in producing goods involved finishing: filing, sanding, and polishing with pumice, tripoli and rouge.

Round objects such as this candlestick were skimmed, filed, sanded and polished on a lathe. The lathe is a machine used to spin an object. Pressing repeatedly on a foot pedal provided power for the lathe. Hand tools pressed against the spinning metal produced the finishing of rough goods.

Diversity of work and in the labor force offered definite advantages to the colonial tradesman. William Geddy employed John Dennis as a journeyman founder. Women frequently worked alongside their husbands, especially in the country where labor was especially scarce. Raw, newly refined metal was not readily available, therefore tradesmen relied on buying up broken or worn out metal goods. These metals came from customers or from other tradesmen. One good source of brass for the Geddy foundry was Alexander Craig, a local harnessmaker. Brass was used to make hardware for harness. Worn or broken pieces were melted down to make new items.

The Geddy foundry is a fine example of the possibilities for success in business in the 18th century. William preserved his father's business, expanded and operated it successfully for over thirty years. He achieved a comfortable level of prosperity and followed the Geddy family tradition of training his own son, William, Jr. in the trade.

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