Colonial Trades

Colonial Trades - Tradesmen in a tavern

Colonial Trades - Tradesmen in a tavern

This article on  Colonial Trades provides facts and information about:

  • The different trades and occupations in the colonies
  • Colonial Trades and tradesmen
  • Types of jobs and Colonial trades
  • Interesting facts and information about Colonial trades and occupations
  • Educational resource for teachers and kids
Colonial Times - Industries
Trade in the Colonies
American Colonies Index

History of trade, plantations, colonialism and colonization in the 13 Colonies

Colonial Trades: Colonialism, Triangular Trade, Mercantilism, Trade, Industries and Plantations

Colonial Trades
Colonial America was an exciting place. Raw materials and natural resources were being used to create trade and commerce in the new colonies. The 13 original colonies of the colonial times were classified by their their locations - the New England colonies, the Middle colonies and the Southern colonies. The natural resources and climate determined the most lucrative resources for trade. The Colonial Trades developed in each of the colonies and trades thrived. There were many different trades and occupations in the colonies. Many of these trades and occupations are detailed in this article with a short description of what each one of these trades entailed for the tradesmen and the workers in the colonies. The following chart provides a brief overview of the industries and trade in each of the regions.

Colonial RegionsIndustries and Trade required Colonial Trades and Occupations
New England Colonies


Fish, ships, timber products, furs, whale products, maple syrup, copper, livestock products, horses, rum, whiskey and beer

Middle Colonies

Corn and wheat and livestock including beef and pork. Other industries included the production of iron ore, lumber, shipbuilding, coal, textiles and the fur trade
Southern Colonies
Tobacco, sugar, rice, indigo, cotton, via the Slave Plantations, lumber, furs, farm products

Fast Facts about the Colonial Trades and Occupations
There were many trades and occupations that were required in all the colonies but the above chart provides a good indication where specialized trades might choose to work. This fact file on Colonial Trades and Occupations provides fast access to facts and information about each of the different types of trades and occupations in the colonies. The Colonial Trades and Occupations are listed in alphabetical order.

Colonial Trades, Occupations and Jobs

Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Apothecary


The Apothecary prepared and sold drugs to the colonists, making up compounds into medicines. He was recognised as a man of some standing in the community and often acted as a kind of physician when qualified doctors or surgeons were not available.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Architect

The Architect was recognised as a man of standing in the colonies and would be employed by the wealthy colonists requiring a house to be built, or was consulted in the public buildings. The architect was skilled in the art of building and architecture. His job was to prepare designs and plans for the building and supervise the workers.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Blacksmith


The Blacksmith was extremely important in the colonies. The blacksmith worked to create iron utensils such as horseshoes using a forge.

Colonial Blacksmith


Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Brewers


The Brewers were in demand in America. Colonists believed that it was safer to drink beer in preference to water.  Distilleries are the names of the places where liquor is manufactured and the brewers and distillers worked. Rum became a major export from the colonies. 
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Brick Maker


The Brick Maker used kilns to make bricks. Unskilled workers, servants or slaves did the work of a brick maker. The brick makers worked with clay and moulds to make the bricks.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Carpenter


The Carpenter was responsible for the structural parts of a building. The items included roofs, partitions and floors. Carpenters also made basic furniture for the colonists.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Caulkers

The caulkers  worked in the ship building industries. The caulkers they sealed joints making ships water-tight.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Chandler

The Chandler was a maker and seller of candles,  soap, oils and paints.  
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Cooper (Barrel Maker)


The Cooper (Barrel Maker) was an important worker.  Barrels were used for transporting products such as rum, flour, fruit, salted meat and fish during Colonial Times. These products were all essential for trade and commerce. The cooper made barrels, hogsheads, casks, etc.

Barrel Makers

Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Gunsmith


The Gunsmith made or repaired small firearms. A gunsmith was a highly skilled craftsman. Creating a firearm could take up to 400 hours of labor which included forging pieces, carving stocks, and engraving metal.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Farmers


The Farmer was an essential trade and occupation in all of the colonies, but especially in the Middle Colonies where the soil was fertile and weather was mild. New England farmers raised corn, pumpkins, rye, squash and beans. The Middle colonies raised so many types of crops, especially wheat, they were called the 'breadbasket. The Southern colonies and their massive plantations raised tobacco, cotton, corn, vegetables, grain and fruit.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Fur Traders


The fur traders traded with the Native Indians for furs and skins. The fur trade was highly lucrative and the French and English fought to monopolize the fur trade which led to the Beaver Wars.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Hatter


The Hatter was a tradesman who made hats. Hats were made of beavers skins during the colonial period, however the colonists were not allowed to make hats. They had to export the beaver skins to England who would make the hats - refer to the Hat Act for full details

D'Orsay Beaver Hat

 Continental Beaver Hat

Beaver Hat

Beaver Hat

Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Iron Makers


The early colonists discovered that iron ore was in great abundance in Colonial America. The manufacture of iron was one of their most valuable natural resources. The iron makers worked in ironworks. Iron was used to make barrel hoops, anchors, chains, wagon wheels, plows, tools, spikes, kettles and nails.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Joiner


The Joiner was a woodworker who made products by joining pieces of wood. The joiner was responsible for the wood work on items such as stairs, doors, shutters,
mantelpieces, cupboards, and other parts necessary to finishing a building. The work of a joiner and carpenter was often done by the same workman.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Milliner


The Milliner was the occupation undertaken by women. The female milliners created hats and small fancy items for sale to the colonists. The milliners imported and dealt in other small articles of a miscellaneous kind.  
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Overseer


The Overseers were men hired by planters to manage and direct the work of slaves on the massive Plantations in the Southern colonies. Overseers were usually from the white, badly educated lower classes.

Slaves working in a tobacco plantation

Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Publican (Taverns)


The Publican (Tavern owner) were the men who owned and ran the taverns which sprang up in the colonial towns. The picture at the top of the page shows tradesmen in a tavern and the type of clothes worn by tradesmen and workers in the Colonial times.

Fast Facts about the Colonial Trades and Occupations
This fact file on Colonial Trades and Occupations provides fast access to facts and information about each of the different types of trades and occupations in the colonies.

Colonial Trades, Occupations and Jobs

Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Printer


The Printer printed books, newspapers, engravings, pamphlets, almanacs and calendars. Printers encompassed the jobs of a compositor, a typesetter and a pressman. 
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Sawmill Workers


The Sawmill Workers were extremely important to the lumber trade and industry especially in New England. The sawmills produced lumber of timber to produce wooden planks for export to England, which were then manufactured into finished goods. 
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Shipbuilders


The Shipbuilders constructed ships and was also known as naval architects or as shipwrights. The work of a shipbuilder was extremely important to New England industries as the shipyards and warehouses played a prominent role in these colonies. The ship building industry including carpenters, joiners, sail makers, coopers aka barrel makers, painters, caulkers (they sealed joints making ships water-tight) and blacksmiths. The following picture is of a colonial ship building yard.

Ship Building Yard

Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Shoemaker (Bootmaker, Cobbler)


The Shoemaker was also referred to as a Bootmaker and Cobbler. A necessary and valued trade in the colonies. The shoemaker carved a foot-shaped piece of wood, called a 'last', to the size of the customer's foot. Softened leather was stretched over the 'last' and then nailed to the sole of the boot or shoe. 
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Tanner


The tanners might operate as a small business but most worked in tanneries, to tan the skins and hides of animals, converting them into leather. The leather was used primarily for making boots and shoes but doublets and jerkins were also made of leather.
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Trappers


The trappers set traps for animals to obtain their skins and furs. Beaver skins were used in hat making by the hatters. 
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Warehouse workers


The Warehouse workers worked in large storehouses where raw materials and other goods were stored until they were shipped out to England. Warehouse played a prominent role in the industrialised colonies of New England. 
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Whalers


The Whalers were extremely important to the New England colonies who enjoyed a booming trade in the supply of various whale products. The Whalers were the strong seamen who worked on the ships that hunted whales.  
Colonial Trades & Occupations

The Wheelwright


The Wheelwright was a man whose occupation was to make or repair wheels for
vehicles such as carts and wagons.

The Colonial Trades

  • Interesting Facts and information about the Colonial Trades

  • Significance of Colonial Trades

  • Fast Facts and info about the Colonial Trades

  • Colonial Trades - a great history resource for kids

  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on the significance of Colonial Trades

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