Family Businesses

Families were strong during the Colonial times and there were many different businesses, many of them being family businesses.


Some of the most famous occupations during the Colonial times were butchers, blacksmith, printers, copper makers, printers, bakers, butchers and more.

Many of the businesses were businesses that were family business, and this meant that the fathers would teach their sons a trade and then as they got older, they would take over the family business.

When there were more people in the area, there became more craftsman and workers and more people were needed to open businesses.

Indentured Servants

Indentured servants were people that came to work for a family in order to become citizens or to pay off a debt.  As part of the contract that they would sign, these indentured servants would work for a certain amount of years and then they would be taught a specific trade.

Most of the time, the indentured servant would work from 7-14 years and this was considered a fair amount of time in order to pay their citizenship or to pay off their debt.  After their time was up, they would be considered free people.

Once they agreed to be indentured servants, they would agree to learn a specific trade such as being a blacksmith or a copper maker.

In the year 1775, there were over 400,000 people that were indentured servants and many of them were excited to become indentured servants because they knew if they did then they would be able to complete their years and then have a good life.

Most of the time, indentured servants had a good life and had a good owner.  If they were not happy with their life, many of them would run away or, they sometimes had the option to go to a new family.

Family Businesses

Family businesses were something that were very important to Colonial America.  There were many people that would pass their trades down to their children and their children would run the business when they got old enough.

Each of the trades that these people learned would help them to be able to keep their families getting an income and they would be able to trade and to do jobs around the area that people needed.

Here are some of the trades that were part of the family businesses:

  • Architecture
  • Apothecary
  • Brick Maker
  • Carpenter
  • Blacksmith
  • Hatter
  • Iron Maker
  • Overseer
  • Sawmill Workers
  • Shipbuilders
  • Shoemakers
  • Tanners
  • Trappers
  • Whalers
  • Wheelwright
  • Brewer
  • Trader


An apothecary was someone that made medicine from plants, herbs and other things and sold them in the stores.


The blacksmiths were very important, and they helped to fix things such as horseshoes.  They used different tools such as axes and hammers.


Candlemakers were also called chandler’s and they were important because there was no electricity.  Candles allowed them to be able to see and candlemakers would make these candles and sell them.


Cabinetmakers would make their own furniture, and this was a special trade that many people in Colonial America had.  They were important and were able to sell quality furniture and make a lot of money.


The shoemaker would make shoes and repair them.  This was important because many men that worked in the farms needed boots to wear.  They would go to the shoemaker and get boots made.


A gunsmith was important because he would help to fix guns and even make new guns.  It was easier for a gunsmith to fix guns but when he would make guns, most of the time he would sell them in England.

Copper Maker

A copper maker was a person that would make containers out of copper.  These would be used to hold things like gunpowder, tobacco, wine and more.

The copper make would make these containers so that they would be durable, and water couldn’t get in them.


Many boys would follow in the footsteps of their father and become traders.  These family businesses were very important because there were items that were needed all around the world.

The traders would go on boats or would trade at the local market.  Here are many of the items that were traded during Colonial times:

  • Fish
  • Ships
  • Timber
  • Whale products
  • Copper
  • Livestock
  • Horses
  • Maple Syrup
  • Beer
  • Corn
  • Beef
  • Iron ore
  • Lumber
  • Textiles
  • Fur
  • Tobacco
  • Sugar
  • Rice
  • Farm Products

More Facts About Family Businesses:

  • Taxes were put on trading and it caused people to have to pay taxes when they traded items such as food, sugar and more.
  • People that were traders, blacksmiths, coppers and other trade jobs were called the middling class. These were people that were not poor, but they were not rich either.
  • A tradesman spent their entire life learning a trade and many of them would start at six years old so that they could take over the family business when they were older.
  • Many trades people worked over 16 hours a day.
  • Taking over a family business was like keeping a name. People would sometimes name their business by their last name in order to keep their names known.

What Did You Learn?

What was a family business?
A family business was a business that a son would take over from their father after they were old enough to run the business.

What was a tradesman?
A tradesman is someone that picks up a specific trade and works their whole life in order to perfect their skills.

What are some trades that were important during Colonial times?
Some of the important trades were blacksmiths, copper makers, traders, apothecaries, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, candle makers and more.

What was put on food and other things that people would trade?
Taxes were put on trading and it caused people to be very angry.

What was someone called that had a trade and was not rich but not poor either?
A person that was middle class was called a middling.