The people on Holme’s map: Classifying their occupations

The occupations of Pennsylvania in the 1680s fall into six categories: artisans, farmers, merchants, gentlemen, service providers, and others. These categories are for the men on the map. The women are a special case and get counted separately.

Artisans were people who made things. Carpenters, tailors and shoemakers were the most common, along with maulsters who made beer. John Bowyer was a shipwright. Some of them had occupations in England that would been irrelevant in the new world; Edmond Bennet had been a tobacco cutter in Bristol but probably became a farmer in Bucks County.

Farmers included those who called themselves yeomen or husbandmen. These names had meant different things in England. For example a yeoman owned his own land. But in early Pennsylvania the terms seem to be used interchangeably. It is important to note that even most people with other occupations such as artisans and millers also carried on farming. That is, they lived on substantial plots of land and raised crops for their family, even while earning income in other ways. 1

The term merchant covered everyone from wealthy men like Samuel Carpenter who traded with England and the West Indies, to those who kept a small shop and sold dry goods and groceries. To be called a merchant was a status symbol. No one described himself as a shopkeeper, but there must have been many, in both the city and the countryside.

Gentlemen did not have to work for a living. The Penn family, his relatives the Lowthers, wealthy merchants—they lived on income from investments and rents. Thomas Hudson of Macclesfield, Chester, was a land speculator who bought 5000 acres, sent his servants in 1685 to have the land laid out, did not immigrate. Richard Ingelo came on the Welcome with Penn, served as clerk of the council, went back to England in 1686 when he inherited property there. Like merchant, gentleman was an term of aspiration; some prosperous farmers described themselves as gentlemen in their wills.

Some men (and one known women) provided  a service: blacksmiths, millers, innkeepers, carters, ferrymen, midwife. These were essential, and in the case of ferrymen, sought-after positions. The council granted the Schuylkill ferry rights to Philip England, but in 1693 William Powell tried to muscle into the business and was rebuffed by the council. Innkeepers were supposedly licensed, frequently in trouble for selling beer without a license, frequently in trouble for selling rum to the Indians. The one known midwife was Mary Bradwell, who lived to be a hundred and named great-grandchildren in her will. There must have been other midwives whose names were not preserved.

Some occupations are unusual and form a mixed group: the Swedish minister, doctors, surveyors, clerk, schoolmaster, mariner. Except for the mariner, this would be called a white-collar group. They were probably all literate. But some of them were also probably farmers. For example, John Southworth was the clerk for Philadelphia County in 1683 but also owned 500 acres of land.

The women on the map are a special case, when considering occupation. Of the 34 women on the map, only a few were wealthy enough to live on their income, such as Gulielma Penn and Margaret Lowther. Of the others, 21 were widows, including 8 who were widowed during the voyage or immediately after. These women would need to support themselves and their families with their main asset—their land. Although women were never described as farmers, many of them must have hired laborers (or had adult sons) to run a farm.

Next: The results for occupation

  1. Remember that the income was probably not money as we think of it. Currency was scarce in the early days, as Pennsylvania was not allowed to mint its own coin, and many payments were in “country currency” like a bushel of wheat.

One thought on “The people on Holme’s map: Classifying their occupations”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *