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Born: c. 1710, Died: 1794

The leading Quaker master builder Isaac Zane was born in New Jersey, the son of Nathaniel and Grace (Rakestraw) Zane. In his early teens he had departed the family farm at the mouth of Newton Creek opposite what is now South Philadelphia to become an apprentice to a house carpenter. In 1734 he married Sarah Elfreth who bore him eight children; the most famous became the Valley of Virginia ironmaster, Isaac Zane, Jr. (1743-1795).

Zane was free of his articles in the early 1730s, and he became an early member of The Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, no Company records prior to the early 1760s survive to provide a date for his membership. By the time of the earliest surviving records (c. 1763), Zane was no longer attending Company meetings. When The Company applied for incorporation in 1790, Zane was listed as the senior member although he had not been a practicing builder for many years.

Zane was active in Philadelphia social and intellectual affairs, a moving force in the establishment of Quaker schools, and a contributor to the Pennsylvania Hospital. As a prominent Friend his name is often found associated with pronouncements by the Monthly Meeting; he headed, for example, a November 1788 petition protesting theater in Philadelphia, which would infest the city, it was alleged, with "jugglers, mountebanks, rope-dancers, and other immoral and irreligious entertainments." Late in a long life Isaac Zane, Sr., continued to lend his name to causes that a less vigorous person might have deferred to a younger generation.

While no important buildings have as yet been assigned to Zane's hand, his ledger for the period 1748 through 1759 does survive at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania -- a ripe subject for future study. From Zane's accounts it is also possible to obtain a fair idea of income levels for journeymen and laborers engaged in the building trades in mid-eighteenth-century Philadelphia. This is a rare insight worth discussing at some length.

Zane engaged the services of other master carpenters when their skill was needed on a particular job and made use of borrowed apprentices, journeymen hired by the day, week, month and year, and common laborers hired on a similar variety of terms. In 1748 Zane had been a free carpenter for approximately fifteen years. His children were still at home, and there were two apprentices living with the family--Nathaniel Goforth, grandson of the joiner, Aaron Goforth, and Restore Lippincott. In that year Zane's friend, the house-carpenter James Davis, Sr., died leaving a pregnant wife and two minor children. Davis was a fairly successful artisan. Assisted by four apprentices, Davis was building on speculation at the time of his death: two three-story houses on Vine Street, a house on Chestnut near Third, and another on Sixth Street near Market. Isaac Zane was appointed executor of the estate, and it became his lot to complete Davis's four houses and to supervise the apprentices Thomas Hollingshead, Isaac Attmore, William Crage and Francis Bollinger, all of whom had at least three years to serve.

To complete these houses and several contracts of his own, Zane began expanding his crew. Frederick Sipole was first engaged as a laborer for 10 pounds 10 shillings per year, followed by Robert Jackson who came

to work for two shillings & six pence a day wet & dry. & to pay Seven shillings and six pence pr week for his board--but soon after we agreed yt he should work for me by ye year for 18 pound a year and stayed a year.
In 1750 one of Zane's own apprentices finished serving his time and was replaced by Samuel Burden, apprentice to Isaac Lobdell, who was then in the fourth year of a six year apprenticeship. Burden was to work for Zane at three shillings a day (to be paid to Lobdell), and Zane fed the lad at his table. Two years later the Davis apprentices were gone, and Zane began engaging the services of journeymen. The first of these was Robert Miller who was to be paid 27 pounds per year and board; however, Miller "left work for me I. Z. when he had workt one month and one week and two days," so Zane hired one of the former David apprentices, William Crage, who "agreed to work one year for the Sum of thirty five pounds & to have his Meet [sic] drink and washing & lodging." It is known that Zane valued room and board at 7s 6d to 8s per week which raises the value of this arrangement to approximately 55 pounds per year. The next year Zane hired Silas Engles at 4s per day with the journeyman supplying his own food and lodging. If it is assumed that Engles worked a six day week the year around, his salary would have amounted to approximately 62 pounds; of course, bad weather and illness could take a heavy toll of working days.

By contracting on a per day rate a journeyman did not have the informal workman's compensation that Zane provided his yearly contract journeymen. When William Crage lost ten days "by a lame hand of which he Eate at my house 6 days," Zane did not dock his pay. Normally work losses were deducted from the final settlement along with the cost of clothing, broken tools and loans made during the year. Jacob Austin was docked when "he lost Some time about a law Site," and when "he & Clevil quarriled." Austin had been hired in 1754, "to work for me at 3 pounds a mo. and I to find him his board with washing," but he only stayed a short time: "by 3 mo. work wanting 5 days at 60/0 a month which time began ye 17th. of ye 6th mo. 1754 & Ended the 20th of ye 9th month following in ye Evaning out of which he lost 9 days....8 8 0." The sharp-eyed Quaker kept close track of time. Samuel Burden, too, had been docked 3/0 a day for "which time he was sick 4 Days and lost a Day at ye fair."

During 1754 Zane hired five journeymen, four of them like Silas Engles at 4s per day. The journeyman carpenter Samuel Pennock, however, went to work "by ye year and to board at My house (Saving first day he is to eat at home)." Pennock was married with two minor sons to support. He did not own a house, and his 244 acre farm in Chester County was heavily mortgaged. Zane recorded, "I agreed to give him twenty five pounds a year & his rate 6 days in the week, ye year out, for his work & he allowing for lost time." Unfortunately, a few months later Samuel Pennock was dead. He left an estate appraised by his employer at 188 pounds and 12 shillings.

Zane's journeymen were paid at different rates depending upon whether they assumed the risk of lost time or whether they were fed and housed. In the case of Samuel Pennock, "his rate" would probably have been four shillings a day that under ideal conditions might have netted him 62 pounds plus the 25 pounds flat rate, or a yearly income of 87 pounds. Here is the kind of example we need. Pennock is clearly a contract journeyman. Had he lived, it is reasonable to expect that he would have succeeded in gaining master status; one of the other Zane journeymen of the time, Silas Engles, eventually became a member of The Carpenters' Company. Unlike some journeymen, Pennock maintained a separate residence and the size of his estate would doubtless have qualified him as a tax payer.

Written by Roger W. Moss.

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  • Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia

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