Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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Who were the silversmiths in colonial America?

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Silversmiths were artisans who made highly crafted goods out of silver. As specialized craftsmen, silversmiths were members of the artisan middle class. Their work required a high level of training. Silversmiths often learned their trade as an apprentice to a master silversmith. This training usually began at around age fourteen. The apprentice would live with the master silversmith for several years learning the trade. After several years, when the apprentice had learned enough to satisfy the master (usually by age 21), he would be permitted to start his own smithing business and join the local craftsmen's guild. Some silversmiths would work as journeymen. This meant that they did not own their own shop but would hire out their services to other smithing workshops on a temporary basis.

Silversmiths often set up business in cities and towns. As they worked with precious metals, many of their clients were wealthy themselves. Owning large silver pieces was a way of broadcastings one's wealth. Therefore, silversmiths were sought after by rich patrons. Their work might involve repairing older silver pieces or making new ones from scratch, either by melting and molding raw silver ingots or repurposing silver from other pieces. However, many middle-class colonists also desired to own silver pieces. These were usually small items such as buttons, buckles, and rings that a silversmith would fashion for them.

Although he is better known today for his famous midnight ride, Paul Revere was one of the colonies's best known silversmiths in the late 1700s. Over his long career, he made thousands of silver pieces, trained numerous apprentices, and produced some very high-quality work (some of which is on display in museums today).

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