An Anonymous Craftsman?
One can learn a lot about the past -- economic, social, political -- by studying an individual, if one can find enough sources. The difficulty in studying craftsmen is that their recordkeeping was less prolific than other more educated, more well-to-do members of the community. Little material survives for study because most craftsmen lived below the level of documentary evidence. The craftsmen, therefore, are largely anonymous, and their consideration has often been left to broad studies that include only numbers or averages.
The Account Book
Our subject of study, John Partridge Bull (1731 - 1813), left an account book with information about his trade from 1768 to about 1788, a rich period in the history of Deerfield, Massachusetts. The account book can tell us not only what Bull made, but who his customers were (and were not), what they ordered, and how they paid or did not pay.
Other Primary Resources
The account book alone is not sufficient to investigate Bull's past. We might look to his probate records for additional evidence, but Bull left no will, and there was no inventory of his estate. Fortunately, there are other resources as well. When we add in land records, the probate records of relatives, town records, genealogical records, contemporary accounts of Deerfield (including his record as a consumer), and the physical presence of his house on the street in Deerfield, we can begin to paint a picture of the man and his craft.
Comment on Source Materials
Many of the resources included in this activity are the result of years of research and consideration of this man and his life. We have chosen to present compilations of data and excerpts of primary source materials within this activity to enable students to develop their historical investigations during a single class period.
Explore John Bull's Life
Follow the links to the left to learn more about John Partridge Bull.
After completing your exploration of John Bull's life, you can proceed to the final activity: A Typical Craftsman?