Among the stories Cloyed and Jones tell are those of the 18th-century silversmiths who practiced the trade in Williamsburg. There were about 15 of them between 1699 and 1780, while Williamsburg was Virginia’s capital. The most prominent were Craig and James Geddy, who practiced his trade just off the Palace Green.
Craig and Geddy, like most silversmiths, also were jewelers and watch repairers. George Washington bought from Craig a pair of earrings for Martha Custis, whom he ultimately married. Later, Craig made a pair of earrings for Washington’s stepdaughter, Patsy Custis. Thomas Jefferson’s account books indicated Craig repaired for him a microscope and an instrument case.
Craig and Geddy were also goldsmiths, as Craig indicated by naming his shop the “Golden Ball.”
Jones, who is African American, is often asked whether there were any black silversmiths in the 18th century.
“Much of that history is lost, since it was not written down,” said Jones. “There’s no record of enslaved people in Williamsburg working as a silversmith, but enslaved people worked in other trades, especially the building trades, and enslaved people worked as silversmiths in Petersburg and elsewhere in Virginia.”
Craig had arrived in Williamsburg from London by 1746, when he placed an ad in the Virginia Gazette saying he had opened a shop on Francis Street. He was probably the son of John and Ann Craig, both jewelers and goldsmiths in London. His ad said he made “all sorts of Jeweller’s Work, in the best Manner.” Craig lived and worked at the current site of the Golden Ball from 1765 until he died in the early 1790s. Some smiths, including Geddy, left Williamsburg during the war years, but Craig remained.
In 1769, to protest Parliament’s Townshend Acts, the House of Burgesses passed a series of agreements not to import goods from Britain. Both Craig and Geddy joined the Association for Nonimportation.
Craig’s shop was fairly near the Capitol, as were most businesses. Geddy lowered his prices in June 1772 hoping that would overcome any customer objections to his location. His advertisement added that “the Walk may be thought rather an Amusement than a Fatigue.”
Very little survives of the work done by Williamsburg’s 18th-century silversmiths, perhaps because — despite the hopes of the early settlers in Jamestown — no silver was ever mined in Virginia. Preservation was also made less likely by the fact that silversmiths mostly made small articles, though they repaired both large and small ones.
Among the few surviving works are a silver nameplate and handles that silversmith William Waddill made for the coffin of Lord Botetourt, whose remains were buried in 1770 beneath the Wren Chapel floor at William & Mary. Some works of Geddy have also survived, including a small saucepan and spoons.