Colonial Trades: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Kathryn Miedema Dominguez

Kathryn has taught elementary students for over ten years and has her master's degree in elementary education.

In this lesson, we'll learn about different trades during colonial times. Life was very simple back then, but the people formed communities where they provided various goods and services to each other.

Colonial Trades

What would life have been like in the American colonial days? Many of the first settlers came to this land empty-handed, without any buildings, supplies, or cultivated food. For most, there was only wilderness, and they had to build everything on their own. Once towns were established, then people took on specific trades that could offer goods and services in exchange for money or other goods.

Slowly they learned how to live in the harsh conditions and build communities with various trades. Trades are the types of jobs or services they would do to survive. Some of the most important trades were blacksmith, cobbler, wheelwright, cabinetmaker, brickmaker, and apothecary.


A blacksmith heats iron and steel to make it into goods such as horseshoes, tools, and farming equipment. Blacksmiths had a significant role in colonial times because tools were needed to complete most tasks on a homestead. Today, many factories produce tools and materials made from metal and a blacksmith is not needed.

A blacksmith pounding heated metal to shape it.


A cobbler makes and repairs shoes. First, a cobbler has to cut out leather for each part of the shoe. Next, he compresses the leather by hitting it with a hammer on a rock. Then, he sews the top pieces together and nails in the sole. There are very few shoe repair shops these days as most people will buy a new pair of shoes instead of repairing them.


A wheelwright makes and fixes wheels for wagons and carriages. A wheelwright has to be very precise in making wheels because wheels help keep wagons on a straight path. In colonial days, most roads were very bumpy and caused the wheels to become uneven, which meant they had to be serviced often by the wheelwright. Nowadays, cars have tires made from rubber which need to be repaired or replaced often. However, a tire shop requires different tools and skills than what was used in the colonial days.

Wheelwright makes and fixes wheels for wagons.
Wagon wheel


Cabinetmakers get their name from making cabinets for houses as they were built. Later on, cabinetmakers were also known for making various types of furniture such as tables, chairs, and beds. They were skilled in using various types of wood to make furniture. Carpenters are still very common and build houses and furniture.

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