Cordwainer is the Anglicization of French cordonner a word derived from the city of Moorish Cordoba in south of Spain which was well known for two trades, silversmithing and the production of Cordoven leather. This special leather was made from the skin of the Musoli goat of Corsica and Sardinia, wrought by the Moorish, and brought to England around 1066 after the Norman Invasion.
The term 'cordwainer' first appeared in England around 1100 and applied to 'shoemaker'. There were two classes of shoemakers, the Alutari, the ones who used the cordwain leather and the Basanarii, who were also known as bootmakers, which used the skin of sheep and could only make hightop boots. The cordwain leathers were used for high quality shoes only.
Cordwainers, the shoemakers, came to America in early 1600's, to Jamestown, Virginia . Captain John Smith was a cordwainer himself and it is known that he was supported by profit of the English shoe trade.
Tanners and shoemakers were in Jamestown by 1610 and by 1616 the village had a flourishing leather trade with the New England Pilgram settlement which came about 1619. The leather market held with Jamestown until after the 1760's.
Cordwainers are not Cobblers. Cordwainers work only with new leather whereas a Cobbler works only with used leather and does mainly repairs.
The Honourable Cordwainers Educational Foundation of Virginia is the source of this abstract information.