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What Is a Blue Dyer?

The Lewis Miller drawing above is often seen around Christmas. It is said to be one of the first known American depictions of a Christmas tree. As with many of Miller’s illustrations of York County Life in the first half of the 19th century, there is more than one thing going on in the picture. Click here for more on the Seifert family.
Miller’s caption, part English and part German, reads: “Seifert, the Blue dier, colouring, dying, and Family in north George Street, 1809.”
What is a blue dier (dyer)?

The occupation of dyer, or blue dyer was fairly common at that time. Families could produce the raw materials for fabric: flax fibers for linen and wool from their sheep. They could spin the thread or yarn themselves, which then would usually be taken to a local weaver to weave the cloth on his large loom.
If they wanted the material to be colored, the thread or yarn would have to be dyed before it went to the weaver. That is what “Old Seifert” is doing in the illustration. A common plant based dye is indigo, which was used to dye thread, yarn or already woven cloth, blue.
Adam Seifert is listed as a blue dyer in York tax assessment lists during the early 1800s, as are Frederick Stine and Leonard Baumgardner. A good many more dyers show up in the tax records about 20 years later. More on this later.
Click here for more on dyeing in the 19th century.
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