Traveling to earn a living

Will Rees, the main character in my mystery “A Simple Murder”, is a traveling weaver, called factors. Like many professions then, weaving required an apprenticeship of about seven years. About nine spinners were required to keep a weaver in business. And looms were big, heavy and expensive.

Larger towns, like Williamsburg, had a resident professional weaver and cloth from overseas did come into the ports. Smaller towns might have a weaver who also farmed. The further away these towns were located, the less imported cloth the women had access to. This imported fabric was expensive too.

On the frontier, in the 1790’s this was on the western side of the Alleghenies, local weavers were necessary. One of the leading lights in the Whiskey Rebellion was William Findlay, a weaver. He became a legislator from the Pittsburgh area.

Besides the traveling weavers, other professions took to the roads. Some men made brooms. This was a craft the Shakers took on as well; they sold their wares which included brooms, whips, boxes and other items, from wagons. Tinkers, who not only sold pots and pans but mended them as well, were also a familiar sight.

In these agrarian times, the goal was to make enough money to buy a farm. Usually, once a man had a good farm, he settled, at least for most of the year.

Some of the accounts from the women married to such men speak poignantly of the loneliness and isolation.


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