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Historic Trades at Colonial Williamsburg

by Paul Van Perniss

The 2024 EAIA Meeting is April 24th thru April 27th 2024!

It’s not too soon to make your hotel reservations here. You can also contact the hotel directly at (855) 235-1675. If you do call, make sure you tell them you’re making a reservation for the EAIA meeting.

EAIA Board Member Peter Hudson at Work in the Colonial Williamsburg Joiner’s Shop
EAIA Board Member Peter Hudson at Work in the Colonial Williamsburg Joiner’s Shop

Jay Gaynor was for many years the head of Historic Trades at Colonial Williamsburg as well as a long time Early American industries Association member and past president. In the Winter 2004-2005 Colonial Williamsburg Journal he wrote, “Some of the best traditional artisans in the country work at Colonial Williamsburg, where many were trained, serving six- or seven-year apprenticeships to become journeymen or journeywomen. Combining their range of skills and the variety of products they can produce; the program re-creates a realistic model of eighteenth-century production systems. Colonial Williamsburg is the only institution around that can construct a carriage or build and furnish a house, from the ground up, using almost exclusively eighteenth-century type materials, tools, and skills. From at least the early 1930's, the Williamsburg Restoration was thinking about a craft program, and in July 1936, the Restoration formed Williamsburg Craftsmen Incorporated, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Colonial Williamsburg. In October, President Kenneth Chorley announced the reestablishment of "authentic handcraft industries." The discussions were, and are, never-ending, but the goals can be summarized quickly. The program preserves not only what is known about early trades, their products, and techniques, but also, as important, the physical ability of individuals to effectively and efficiently perform the skills involved, and therefore the nature of preindustrial work. Through documentary and hands-on research, the program strives to expand knowledge of the trades and their products and incorporate that knowledge into hands-on skills and techniques. Trades' technology-based research often results in insights into eighteenth-century attitudes and approaches to work and products that are impossible to discover through traditional curatorial connoisseurship or documentary research. The only way to accomplish these preservation and research objectives is through practice of the trades. Historic Trades makes things, a lot of things. And, finally, and of utmost importance, it must present what it is doing—physically, intellectually, and philosophically—to guests.”i

That history and tradition continues today. The Historic Trades and Skills community at Colonial Williamsburg continues to employ 18th-century tools and techniques to apprentice in and eventually master more than 20 historic trades and skills. These craftspeople are recognized globally as some of the most world-renowned experts. They produce and make goods and provide services to the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, they also consult and produce for other cultural institutions around the world. You will not find a trades community with so many experts in one place anywhere else. As you stroll the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, you will encounter all these craftspeople at work. You will encounter a community of men and women at more than twenty sites, with nearly one hundred masters, journeymen and journeywomen, apprentices, and interpreters practicing more than thirty eighteenth-century trades. Millinery and mantua, or gown, making. Tailoring, wig making, weaving, and dyeing. Shoemaking. Saddle- and harness making. Cabinetmaking, carpentry, coopering, basketmaking, and wheelwrighting. Blacksmithing, silversmithing, gunsmithing, founding, printing, bookbinding, medicine, brickmaking, cooking, and rural trades. You’ll find that many of them are members of The Early American Industries Association.

There is nowhere else in the world where can you go to learn so much about traditional, preindustrial 18th century trades! The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation researches and replicates eighteenth-century Anglo-American technology, while preserving and practicing these historic trades. Some survive only because of the Colonial Williamsburg’s dedication to preserving these uniquely human skills. The tradespeople are professional, full-time artisans dedicated to specific occupations, who practice them publicly, and share their knowledge with guests and participants at Williamsburg and around the world.

The Tinsmith’s Shop at Colonial Williamsburg
The Tinsmith’s Shop at Colonial Williamsburg

Many of these skilled tradespeople have graciously volunteered to provide EAIA members with an exclusive “hands on” experience in 10 of the trade shops during our upcoming Annual Meeting in April. On Thursday April 25th, 10 of the trade shops will close to the public in the late afternoon, and EAIA members will get to choose to spend time in two of those ten trade shops to try your hand at one of these trades. You’ll have the opportunity to spend time in two of the following shops: Joiner’s, Tinsmith’s Founder’s, Blacksmith’s, Milliner’s, Weaver’s, Cooper’s, Wheelwright’s, and the Tailor’s Shop. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to try your hand at one of these 18th century trades.

Come and join us for EAIA’s Annual Meeting Wednesday April 24th thru Saturday April 27th, 2024 at Colonial Williamsburg. A registration brochure will be mailed to your home soon, and you’ll be able to register on line at that same time as well. We look forward to seeing you there. For registration and hotel reservations, go to


i. Gaynor, James M., Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Winter 2004-2005, “A History of Historic Trades.”


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