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Colonial Occupations–the Common & Bizarre

Many occupations are still done today, maybe in a different way and with modern equipment compared to the 1700s, but still a needed occupation. Many of these same jobs were known by a different name during America’s colonial period. For example a teacher was called a ‘schoolmaster’, a landscaper or tree trimmer was called ‘shrager’, a podiatrist (foot specialist) was a ‘corn cutter’, a salon hairdresser was ‘busket’ or also called ‘friseur’, a bartender was a ‘drawer’, a medical doctor was called ‘archiator’, a cook was a ‘trencherman’, a road contractor was a ‘way-maker’ and a salesman was a ‘chapman’. These and many other occupations were need hundreds of years ago and still today.

One of the major jobs done by many individuals was that of agriculture. Raising food from the land was always essential work. Some of the names in reference to farming were farmers, plowmen, malenders and yeoman. Those involved in raising sheep, goats, pigs or cattle also had other names such as basil worker, drover, cattle jobber, grazier and topsman.

Skilled tradesmen such as an upholster, a jeweler, bricklayer, watchmaker, etc. have also remained major occupations over the decades. Many other workers were simply termed ‘laborers’ and generally did a variety of odd jobs.

The most fascinating colonial jobs to examine are those more unusual occupations which are not necessary in the United States especially during most of the 20 and into the 21 century.

Look over some of these types of jobs, some which your ancestors may have held, that no longer exist

Alchemist was a person who claimed to change base metals into gold

Taper Weaver made candlewicks

Pointer was a person who sharpened needles and pins for hand sewing

Coney Catcher was one who captured rabbits

Hairweaver made cloth using horsehair

Necessary Woman had the job of emptying the chamber pots (toilets)

Linkerman carried a torch at night to help guide people walking in the dark

Driver was an oversees of the slaves on a plantation

Pew Opener was hired to open the door of the private pews in a church

Horner was skilled at making items out of cattle horns

Rag Cutter cut up rags into small pieces to be produced into rag paper

Knockknobbler had the chore of chasing dogs out of a church during services

Pricker was a witch hunter

Times Ironer actually ironed the daily newspaper

Finding on census records, property deeds, Wills, in city directories and military records any listing of an ancestor’s occupation can lead to some surprising information, especially the further back in time you go. If you locate one you don’t understand, research it.

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