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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

Harnessmaker and Saddler

Leather workers appeared in Williamsburg soon after its establishment as the colonial capital. Tanners and shoemakers were among the first leather workers in the city. Leather was readily available both in the colony and from England. As the capital grew, the list of tradesmen who worked with leather included coachmakers, breeches makers, bookbinders, upholsterers and glovers.

Leather was used in a variety of products, so a harness maker and saddler found a ready market for his products. In addition, leather and leather goods, especially shoes, were imported from England by harness makers and sold in their shops in the city. Goods produced included cushions for couches, chairs and billiard tables, sword belts, holsters, pistol buckets, leather pipes (hoses) for a fire engine, razor cases, portmanteaus and trunks, drawstring bags for money, fur and leather hand muffs, water buckets and, of course, saddles and all the parts of harness for horses and vehicles.

Alexander Craig was a successful harness maker and saddler. Records of his business show that he owned a tannery and shop in Williamsburg where he employed four leatherworkers, indentured servants, and slaves. His specialty was making harness and saddles. Few Virginians owned fine carriages and riding horses. A saddle cost a month's wages for a journeyman. It required thirty hours of work, but it could last 25-30 years. The saddle was shaped over a wooden form called a saddle tree.

Making equipment for soldiers was also part of the trade. In addition to sword scabbards and pistol buckets (leather holsters with bear skin covers to keep pistols dry) a harnessmaker fashioned cartridge boxes for men in the militia. The cartridge box was worn about the waist. A cartridge box held the paper and shot cartridges for a musket.

Repair work was a large part of the trade. A harness maker often repaired leather goods for other tradesmen as well as for their own customers. For example, he might work on leather bellows for a blacksmith or make repairs to the leather on carriages and riding chairs for a coach and carriage maker.

Many tradesmen worked with leather, including shoemakers, coachmakers, breechesmakers, bookbinders, upholsterers and glovers. It was the harnessmaker and saddler, though, who provided the widest range of leather products and engaged in the greatest amount of repair work of any of the leather tradesmen.

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