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Two hands are often better than one as Aislinn Lewis and Ken Schwartz hammer in tandem. Photo courtesy of Fred Blystone.


Colonial Williamsburg Blacksmiths Forging Links with the Past


By Deb Weissler


the strength comes as a surprise. Montross native Aislinn Lewis wields a hammer that raises more than a few visitors’ eyebrows to Colonial Williamsburg’s Anderson’s Blacksmith Shop & Public Armoury. With preconceived notions of a toiling brawny male, Aislinn dressed in a fitted 18th century English linen gown, cap, and a leather apron imparts a feminine flair and spawns flurries of questions.


W 14


hen shaking hands with a journeyman blacksmith, one anticipates a firm grasp. When the blacksmith is a young woman,


In fact, history documents that a few women in Europe were actually granted entry into the blacksmith guilds as far back as the 14th century. An able body, regardless of sex, was a valued worker and women were granted entry to the trade through paternity, marriage, or apprenticeship, although they made up less than five percent of their male counterparts. Woodcuts and illustrations show females working in all man- ner of family businesses and cottage industries that, during eco- nomic stress, helped supplement their family’s income. The 1434 Charter of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, the most important metalworking guild in London, listed a handful of “sis- tren” among the ranks of “brethren”. By the 18th century, most of England’s nailsmiths and chain makers were women or children.


March/April 2017


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