Thursday, February 23, 2012

1810-1840 - Death of the apprentice system

2 articles in Vermont History, The Journal of the Vermont Historical Society, Vol. 79, No.1, Winter/Spring 2011, reinforce my understanding that the apprenticeship system was falling apart in the early 1800’s.

Russ Fox in Julius Barnard (1769-after 1820) as Peripatetic Yankee Cabinetmaker, writes about how design ideas travel as craftsmen migrate. He traces Julius Barnard from apprenticeship in Connecticut, to a short stay in New York City, 9 years a cabinet maker in Northampton, MA, another 9 in Windsor, VT, with a sojourn in Hanover, NH. Then he moves to Montreal for 4 years; Pittsfield, MA, for about 7. In both cities he tries other ways to make a living.

I saw that Barnard stayed in Northampton and Windsor (1792-1809) long enough to train apprentices and hire journeymen. After that, although he takes on apprentices, he isn’t engaged as a cabinet maker long enough to provide real training.

Russ Fox adds an appendix which identifies 6 other Vermont furniture makers who were in and out of Montreal for short periods of time. He says there were too many skilled craftsmen in rural New England for the work available, especially as families migrated west.

Ruth Burt Ekstrom, in The Lure of the West and the Voices of Home: Excerpts from the Correspondence of William Spaulding Burt, shares with us letters written from 1833 to 1839 between parents in Vermont and their son who has ‘gone west’. The parents want him home; they tell him that good work is to be had in town. He works in various places in New York and Ohio as a carpenter. He is not apprenticed. His father writes that the son should come home for more schooling but there is no mention of any systematic training in a craft that compares to the roles of apprentice, journey man and master craftsman.

I saw that by 1815, the traditional paths for passing on skills - as I outlined in my post 'Regulating Lines #3" - could not be maintained. The road to knowledge was now a trail with potholes and broken bridges. By the 1830’s, those paths appear abandoned, forgotten. However, my post on story poles show how some parts of traditional design and construction knowledge continued to travel forward some other route.

No comments: