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Some Civilian Living History Impressions


They were generally part of an itinerant company which travel around a region performing in a city or town for a short period of time. Larger cities (New York, Richmond, Charleston, etc.) had resident companies but even these often would “go on tour” during the “off season” and perform in smaller cities and town throughout the region.


In the early republic, the apothecary was more than simply a druggist. An apothecary often: Saw/interviewed patients in their store. Provided medical treatment. Prescribed medicine Trained apprentices Performed surgery/dentistry. Served as midwives. Apothecaries also often sold cooking spices, candles, salad oil, anchovies, toothbrushes, and tobacco, making them true precursors of today's drugstores.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, most young people became lawyers by apprenticing in the office of an established lawyer, where they would engage in clerical duties such as drawing up routine contracts and wills, while studying standard treatises. The apprentice would then have to be admitted to the local court in order to practice law. An alternative more broadly open to the middle class was to attend academic law schools. The College of William and Mary set up the first chair in law in 1779. Attorneys in the early-19th century were not specialized but did everything; from wills and deeds to representing clients in civil and criminal court matters. Commonly, lawyers played leading roles in the civic and cultural affairs of their communities, both as a matter of interest and perceived duty, and because it promoted their law practices.


Toward the end of the 18th century the barbers of Europe had completely relinquished their right to perform any of the operations of surgery and dentistry, except in the small towns and out-of-the-way places where doctors and dentists were not obtainable. This was slower to happen in North America. When wigs became the fashion during the 18th and part of the 19th century, barbers sometimes functioned as wigmakers and wig dressers. Over time, barber shops became hangouts, places where low characters assembled. Smutty stories, malicious scandal and gossip of all kinds characterized barber shops. A barber shop was a place where men showed their lower instincts and where women dared not enter.


A person who makes and repairs things made of iron. Might also do farrier’s work (shoeing horses). While the specialty of Wheelwright (making wheels for wagons, carts, carriages, etc) was often separate, in some places the Blacksmith did everything.


A butcher is a person who may slaughter animals, dress their flesh, sell their meat, or any combination of these tasks. In more populous areas butchers handling poultry exclusively (Poulterers) existed as a separate entity.

Cabinet Maker

A skilled joiner who makes furniture or similar high-quality woodwork.


Does rough woodworking such as house/barn framing, roofing, and siding.

Chair Maker

A craftsman in the furniture trades specializing in chairs


A dealer/manufacturer of household items such as oil, soap, paint, candles and groceries.

Cheese Monger

Makes/sells cheese and sells other dairy products.


Responsible for purchase and preparation of food for the family that she/he works for. Generally employed by middle-income and upper-income individuals/families. Sometimes employed by Taverns and Inns or Bording Houses.


A person who makes barrels, kegs, buckets, etc.


A person who makes utensils, jewelry, etc. out of copper. Also makes copper sheathing for ship’s hulls.


A cordwainer is someone who makes new shoes using new leather, whereas a cobbler is someone who repairs shoes. In America this could well be the same person.

Dance Master

Sometimes had their own school but often were itinerant. If itinerant, they were generally contracted by wealthier individuals to teach their children dance. These individuals often also served as tutors for the children of their wealthy client. If they had their own school, they offered classes to the public for both adults and children. Because much of dueling with the small sword is about footwork, just as dance is, Dance Masters sometimes also offered classes in swordsmanship as well.

Dock Worker/Stevedore/Longshoreman

These are people who handle cargo - loading and unloading ships and wagons, storing cargo in the ship's holds, and in warehouses along the waterfront. In the 18th and into the 19th century, most ships did not sail on a set schedule. Instead, they sailed whenever they had contracted enough cargo to make the trip worthwhile. Likewise, arrivals were dependent on winds, storms at sea and whenever they left their originating port. As a result, these jobs tended to be "day labor" with brutal work, unsafe conditions, irregular employment, and the pay too low to support a family. The term "longshoreman" is said to have come from labor recruiters at shoreside calling out "Men along the shore." The term "stevedore" originated in Portugal or Spain and was picked up by sailors who mispronounced the words "estivador" (Portuguese) and "estibador" (Spanish) which means a man who loads ships and stows cargo.

Farmer/Farm Hand

In the late-18th and early-19th century, agriculture was the most common "trade" in North America. In fact, in 1800, approximately 83% of the American workforce were involved in agricultural work. This impression, whether the farmer (landowner) or a farm hand, open up being able to discuss what crops were grown, animals raised, heritage vegetable varieties as well as heritage breeds of animals, how crops were planted, superstitions around farming, etc.


Someone who sells raw fish and seafood. Fishmongers went to the docks each day to purchase fresh fish from fishermen coming into port with their catch and then sold them to the public. The also sometimes sold dried, salted, and smoked fish.

General Laborer

These are unskilled labor and often some of the poorest people in the town. In many cases they were "day labor" who were hired to do a specific job and then paid off and sent on. People in this position were unlikely to be able to support a family and may have operated on the "fringes" of the law. Often made up of people who had run away from their apprenticeships, left their family farms looking for more opportunity in the city, and sometimes free blacks.

Gold/Silver Smith

A goldsmith/silversmith was a metalworker who specialized in working with gold and other precious metals. Historically, goldsmith/silversmiths not only made jewelry but also made silverware, platters, goblets, decorative and serviceable utensils, and ceremonial or religious items.


A greengrocer is a person who owns or operates a shop selling primarily produce. In our period, this would be primarily whatever is available locally and seasonally. For instance, in the spring one might possibly have berries, fiddleheads, asparagus, and root crops stored from last season. In summer and fall the selection would be much larger but by winter it would be primarily root crops (potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions) that store well in addition to some cold hardy crops such as kale, cabbage, etc. In a port area they might also have limited amounts of items imported from tropical areas such as pineapples, limes, lemons, oranges, etc.

Harbor Pilot

A mariner who maneuvered ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths. Harbor pilots were largely regarded as skilled sailors as they had to know immense details of waterways such as depth, currents, and hazards, as well as displaying expertise in handling ships of all types and size. Often, these pilots were local fishermen who knew the shifting sandbars and where the channel openings were that would allow ocean-going vessels to enter and leave the port. Pilots had to have quick transport to get from the port to the incoming ships. They often used their own fishing boats to reach the incoming vessels,


A person who constructs the wooden components of a building, such as stairs, doors, and door and window frames.


While this is a valid persona in a military camp, in civilian life this task was almost always carried out by servants (free or enslaved) or family members.


In early 19th-century America, a limner artist was one who had little if any formal training and would travel from place to place to solicit commissions. Among America's rising mercantile class, a portrait was a status symbol. The local landowners and merchants who commissioned these portraits posed in their finest clothes, in well-appointed interiors, or in landscapes that identified their position, property, good taste, and sophistication. They mixed their own paints, combining oil bases with traditional pigments such as lead white, ivory black, asphaltum, vermilion, Naples yellow, red lead, orpiment, blue verditer, smalt, ultramarine, and green earth.


Many of these were either itinerant or else worked for tavernkeepers and such. Dance Masters and Assembly Managers contracted them to provide music for classes and balls. Some also busked in the street for their daily expenses.


Someone practicing medicine who has had formal training with a physician and possibly a medical school background. They are more expensive than an Apothecary and thus used primarily by the wealthier people. Typically made house calls to see patients, prescribed and sold medicines.


In late-18th and early-19th century America, locally made pottery was usually of two types , redware (both glazed and unglazed) and salt-glazed stoneware. Redware was very often given a white or other glaze, either tin-glazed or lead-glazed, though it is more usual to describe them as lead-glazed. Depending on the locality, this was the basic utilitarian pottery of the Colonial period of North America. Redware was generally fired at a temperature of around 900C to 1050C Americans began producing salt-glazed stoneware circa 1720 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Yorktown, Virginia. By the 1770s, the art of salt-glazed stoneware production had spread to many centers throughout the United States. y 1820, stoneware was being produced in virtually every American urban center, with potters from Baltimore, Maryland, in particular raising the craft to its pinnacle. Stoneware was usually fired at a temperature between 1200C and 1300C. Potter's tools included a wheel, needle tool, potter's rib, cutting tool, trimming loops, calipers, knives, etc. Potters will also have a kiln in which to fire ther pottery after it has fully dried.


In the late-18th and eraly-19th centuries, if you wanted to buy a book, a newspaper, writing paper you went to the printer. In the shop, in addition to a printing press, you would probably have seen several ink-smudged "printer's devils" working to sort and set type and run the press under the watchful eye of a master printer. You might also find the bookbinder, ensconced among his calfskins, marbled papers, glues, and presses. From the invention of the printing press up through the 18th century, printers had used wooden-framed presses however, in 1800 Charles Mahon introduced the first iron-framed press in England. We are not sure when the first iron-framed press came to Viriginia but that is a subject that is ripe for research by someone.

Additionally, because of his ownership of the printing press, the printer might also be the producer of the local newspaper (there were several in the Hampton Roads region during our period of interest). As a result, the printer might also employ a reporter (or use one of his other employees on a part-time basis) to report on newsworthy occurrences in the local community. This would not be a full-time job since much of the content of newspapers consisted of reprinting articles from other papers, accounts of happenings in other cities that citizens received in letters, legal notices, and letters from subscribers.

Rope Maker

The craft of ropemaking is an essential part of the boatbuilding process. The ropemaker works year-round to produce rope required for rigging new vessels built at boatyards and to maintain and repair the rigging of existing vessels. Sailing ships required rope for anchors and rigging (supporting the masts and managing the sails) and the larger ocean-going sailing ships could easily carry with them as much as twenty miles of rope. Ropemakers worked at a "ropewalk" of which there was at least one in Norfolk. Some of these were outdoors and others were built as long large sheds. (Image of a large English ropewalk.)


A sailmaker's primary job was to make and repair sails. Sailmakers typically worked on shore in a sail loft along with other sailmakers and apprentices. Large ocean-going sailing ships often had sailmakers in the crew. Sailmakers had steady employment as they were needed to repair or replace sails as they wore out, were damaged, or needed to be repaired. Sailmakers also sometimes made other items such as collapsible buckets, ditty bags, hammocks, and other items of canvas. A salimaker's tools included fids, sail hooks, seam-rubbers, sail needles, awls, and line pullers.


A Sailor/Mariner is a person who works aboard a watercraft as part of its crew and may work in any one of a number of different jobs that are related to the operation and maintenance of the ship. Most deep-sea mariners were hired for one or more voyages that could last from several months to more than a year. A Sailor may, depending on his qualifications, serve, and be paid accordingly, in a number of capacities. 1. Officer 2. Boatswain - Responsible for supervising the sailors as they worked and for disciplining them 3. Able Seaman - Experienced, career seamen 4. Ordinary Seaman - Inexperienced seamen usually on their first or second cruise.

Ship's Chandler

A dealer in supplies and equipment for ships and boats. Items that could be found in a chandlery might include sailcloth, rosin, turpentine, tar, pitch, linseed oil, whale oil, tallow, lard, varnish, twine, rope and cordage, hemp, and oakum. Tools (hatchet, axe, hammer, chisel, planes, lantern, nails, spike, boat hook, caulking iron, hand pump, and marlinspike) and items needed for cleaning such as brooms and mops might be available. Galley supplies, leather goods, and paper might also appear. Chandlers might also contract to deliver water and fresh produce to ships calling at a port.


As America grew and became more prosperous, commercial activity increased. In cities like Norfolk, shops sprang up that, rather than being focused on a single item, such as silver/gold, Women's clothing, etc., instead became the precursor of the general store. These shops carried a wide variety of goods, both imported and domestic, including dry goods, hardware, feed, English-made ribbons, a man’s buckle or an East Indian-made handkerchief and other items.


The main difference between a Tailor and a Dressmaker is their clientele. A dressmaker specializes in making clothes for women while a tailor specializes in making clothes for men. Males and females have different body shapes and these call for a different approach to pattern making, garment cutting, and construction of the finished garment.

In the period we recreate, Tailors were generally male while Dressmakers were female. The one exception to the men making men's clothing and women making women's clothing is in the case of the "specialized" type of Tailor called a "Staymaker". The best staymakers are highly skilled tailors with a knowledge of anatomy that enables them to make well-fitting, long-lasting stays.


In our period, a Tavern was a place of business where people gathered to drink and eat. In rural areas these might also provide a limited amount of overnight lodging. These early American taverns were under the strict control of the government, which regulated prices and services that they could offer. An Inn, on the other hand, was a tavern that was licensed to provide public lodging, stabling for traveler's horses, and usually meals and entertainment, to travelers. Unlike Taverns, the focus at Inns was on lodging and therefore they provided a greater selection of rooms. Only the very rich could afford a private room, even if one were available, and it wasn’t uncommon to share a bed with another man whom you didn’t know. With Inns and Taverns being the "social hubs" for their communities, the Innkeeper/Tavernkeeper often became well-respected individuals, especially if they were able to brew a superior cider or ale to serve at their establishment.


We have lumped these three occupations together since they sometimes overlapped. During this era, there were no "public schools", as we would think of them today, in Virginia. Education, beyond the most rudimentary reading and writing, was primarily something for the landed gentry and the well-to-do in society. The landed gentry would hire tutors to come and live in their homes while instructing their children. In addition to the expected academic subjects, this instruction might also include manners, deportment, music, and even dance and art depending on the skills of the tutor. In some cases, the children of neighboring landowners would be invited to also live there and take instruction (with the parents sharing costs in some manner).

In the city, there were "academies" established where a schoolmaster would educate any children of the town whose family could afford the tuition. These "academies" were restricted to single sex so there might be well be a boy's academy as was the case with the original Norfolk Academy. as well as a school for girls teaching them the "womanly" arts.

Learn more about the history of education in Virginia at:


A person who makes and repairs things made of tin plate or other white metals such as pewter. Tinsmiths do the majority of their work on cold metal (although they might use a hearth to heat and help shape their raw materials). Tinsmiths fabricate items such as water pitchers, forks, spoons, plates, bowls, cups, and candle holders.

Slop Shop Owner

A Merchant who owned/ran a slop shop. A slop shop was a store specializing in the sale of cheap, ready-made clothing for sailors and other laborers.


The men and women who made their living from harvesting the fish and shellfish of the Chesapeake Bay. This includes those who owned or worked on fishing boats plying not only the Chesapeake Bay and the waters of the Atlantic.


These are craftsmen who built wooden boats. Tools used included hammers, wet stones, gouges, chisels, and mallets.

Minister (Protestant, Anglican, Quaker, etc.)

This is a very interesting impression as it opens up a lot of subjects for interpretation around period religious beliefs, freedom of religion, the beliefs and practices of various religious traditions at that time, etc. It does require a good familiarity with the Bible as well as research into what folks of different religious traditions believed and preached in the period.