Abstract: Building Culture as Competition: Demonstrating Knowledge on Construction Sites in Eighteenth-Century Virginia

Elizabeth Cook


To successfully prove his competence, a carpenter not only had to have mastered the skills of his trade, but also had to demonstrate that mastery to the public on a job site. Performing on-site allowed craftsmen to showcase their skills and mastery not only to their client, as they could within the privacy of their own work spaces, but also to the general public. Working on a site visible to the general public, such as a government building or a tavern by which would pass a great deal of foot traffic, transformed the work site from a building to a living advertisement of the craftsman's skills and an active exhibition of both his skills and those of the men he employed or owned. Just as a modern contractor puts his sign in the front yard of his work site to advertise to the potential clients passing by, so too did eighteenth-century carpenters view the work site as a marketing tool.