Although the US became independent of Britain in 1776, the countrys dependence on Britain and Europe for the goods needed to build the new country remained. For many years all the mechanical equipment the country needed was imported. With the beginning of the industrial revolution in Britain, the sophistication of the machinery began to increase and so did the cost. Whether the increased costs of this machinery was justified or just a case of a near monopoly supplier using its position to charge exorbitant process is still being debated today. Whatever the reason, the end result was that imported equipment became too expensive to be economical. But since the country needed more and more such goods, from ploughs to printing presses to cannons, the only options was to start manufacturing them domestically. Craftsmen began to make things that till then had been imported. The range of products was vast, from furniture to glass, leather goods, gunpowder to sewing needles and wagon wheels and much more.
The wealthy tended to look down on such craftsmen as being socially inferior to them and none suffered more from this than the blacksmith whose forge was hot, dirty, sweaty and full of smoke and soot. The blacksmith himself would usually be covered with the by products of his trade. And yet, the blacksmith was also the most important man in the village. His was an art that not everyone was strong enough to undertake or had the aptitude for. But every other craftsman depended on the blacksmith to provide the tools that were needs for the other crafts to develop.
The Colonial blacksmiths job revolved around creating and repairing iron tools and implements that were needed in farming, construction and engineering. From ploughs to door hinges to gears and armaments, there was no field of colonial activity where he did not play a part. Becoming a blacksmith in colonial times was not easy. Although there were no formal qualifications, a young man had to undergo a long period of apprenticeship until he had learned enough of the trade to start out on his own. A boy usually became an apprentice at the age of 14 or 15 and continue with the apprenticeship until he reached the age of 20 to 22. The apprentice lived in the forge shop and was responsible for it upkeep, cleanliness, lighting the fires each day and all the other chores. As time passed he would begin to help the master blacksmith in minor metal work and as his skills increased he would be given larger roles until such time as he was able to undertake large and complex projects on his own, at which time his apprenticeship was considered to be over.
The colonial blacksmith was part of the expansion into and settlement of the interiors of the country. As the population spread westwards, every settlement needed a blacksmith without whom the settlements would not be able to produce or repair the implements they needed to survive. As the settlements grew and more blacksmith set up shop, they diversified their trade from manufacturing the tools of survival to making items of domestic use and for decoration. Relics of colonial blacksmith work show impressive degrees of fine details and adornment.