More Than Just A Cabinet-Maker: Understanding the 'Account of Coffins' in John Williams' Account Book 1700-1758

John Williams worked as a cabinetmaker in New Castle, Delaware during the eighteenth-century. Although not much is known about his personal life, John Williams left behind an account book that details his work between 1700-1758. While far from complete or meticulously organized, this account book sheds light on the role this cabinetmaker played in the New Castle community. Various entries in the account book depict Williams’ work as related to his personal household expenses, cabinetmaking, building repairs and construction, joining, shopkeeping, importing and exporting goods, and coffin-making. From the entries in the account book, Williams’ appears to have worn many different hats, all of which required him to be relied on by the people of New Castle for everything from their furniture and repairs to their houses, to purchasing tobacco, to constructing a coffin for a recently deceased family member. In other words, both the well-off and the poor would have had dealings with Williams, and Williams would have seen these individuals at both their high and low points in life. 

It is not until a century later, in the nineteenth-century, that coffin making becomes highly romanticized and commercialized in America. However, John Williams’s account book, “Account of Coffins," reflects the trust and respect that the residents of New Castle must have had for his skills as a woodworker to entrust him with creating the container that would preserve their loved one’s dignity and body in death. It is for this reason that John Williams’ role as  a coffin maker will be further examined.

Credits

Alexandra Rosenberg