The Shoemakers

Shoemakers House

Rap, rap! upon the well-worn stone,
How falls the polished hammer!
Rap, rap! the measured sound has grown
A quick and merry clamor.
Now shape the sole! now deftly curl
The glossy vamp around it,
And bless the while the bright-eyed girl
Whose gentle fingers bound it!

Rap, rap!-your stout and bluff brogan.
With footsteps slow and weary,
May wander where the sky's blue span
Shuts down upon the prairie.
On Beauty's foot your slippers glance,
By Saratoga's fountains,
Or twinkle down the summer dance
Beneath the Crystal Mountains?

John G. Whittier,

Shoemakers began to ply their trade in this county in its first settlement. They were generally called cordwainers or cordwinders, though those terms are not sufficiently descriptive of their occupation, as a cordwainer was one who sewed leather, but included the making of breeches and other articles of clothing made of leather.

The journeymen shoemakers, and most of them were journeymen in the early days, travelled from house to house, and from village to village, and stopped in a family long enough to make up a year's supply of footwear. His habits were similar to those of the weaver and tailor, and he worked in the house and boarded with the family while he remained. From the hide of the cow or ox that the farmer had killed for a supply of beef, which had been turned into leather by the tanner, the shoemaker shod the family, fitting the boots and shoes to each foot. Sizes, we dare say, were unknown in those earlier days.

About the middle of the eighteenth century many of the farmers, from sides of leather tanned from the hides of their own animals, and from leather they had purchased, spent their dull winters in making shoes, the wives and daughters doing the binding and closing, and the sons helping with the sewing and in pegging after pegs began to be used. Some worked by the fireplace in the living room of the house, but generally a small building was built near the house in which the men worked. These little shops were scattered all through Essex County, and some are still to be seen in the country. The outside view of one of these shops, and they were nearly all of the same size and style, is shown on the preceding page. They measured about ten by twelve feet. The inside view is given in the accompanying engraving. The neighbors frequently dropped in, and discussions in politics and all current topics often became animated. Gossip found here its readiest promoters.

When the winter's work was done, or the leather was all made up, the farmer carried his shoes to some trade centre and sold or bartered them.

Later, some of the men in towns became manufacturers. That is, they had a shop in which they stored their hides and stock and the manufactured goods. There they cut the stock,-soles, vamps, quarters, counters, tongues, lifts, welts and rands: but the boots and shoes were made in other places. The makers came and took away the stock, returning the finished goods, being paid for their labor by the pair. It is said that the first shop of this kind was in Danvers, being that of Zerubbabel Porter. His business was established in 1786, and he made heavy brogans for the wear of Southern slaves. The frontispiece is a view of this shop.

About 1812, pegs, and a score of years later the pegging machine, were invented, and then the workmen were consolidated. Gangs did the work. Instead of one man man making the whole of each shoe, each did a part only, one lasting, another pegging, and so on. The small shops were gradually abandoned, and the work was done, from the cutting of the stock to the packing for the market, in one place. Eventually the business congregated, forming such shoe centers as Haverhill and Lynn.

Lynn has been noted for its shoes since its early days, no other town in the county showing so many men of this trade, according to the county records. The earliest shoemakers there were Phillip Kertland and Edmund Bridges, who came as early as 1635. In 1767 eighty thousand pairs of shoes were made there, and in 1770 Lynn-made shoes were advertised in London.

The journeyman shoemaker of the early day, and the later shoe shop, which had more to do in shaping the affairs of the region than we know, long since became a matter of history only.

AHGP Massachusetts

Source: The Essex Antiquarian, Volume V, No. 3, March 1901

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