Gateway to the Classics: Boys and Girls of Colonial Days by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
Boys and Girls of Colonial Days by  Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

The Deacon's Grasshopper

O N their way to and from school, the boys and girls of old Boston cast curious glances toward the shop of Deacon Sheme Drowne.

It was over one hundred and fifty years ago, and they were Colonial children. The boys wore short coats and long trousers, and the little girls long, plain skirts almost touching the tops of their shoes. When it rained, as it often did in the long chilly days of late winter, they wrapped themselves in heavy capes and ran between the drops for they had no umbrellas.

But rain, or no rain, Samuel, and Abigail and the others could not pass the deacon's tiny window. Through it they knew they might have a peep at his strange craft. Even the sound of his hammer thrilled them.

He was a coppersmith of old Boston, and his shop of one room was down near the wharves where British ships lay at anchor and the fishermen plied their trade all day. On Sundays Deacon Drowne went to the white meeting-house on the Common and passed the contribution basket, and rapped the head of any child who went to sleep during the sermon.

When Monday came, though, the Deacon was a very different person. He put on a little round cap and a short leather apron. He perched himself upon a stool beside his work bench and chuckled like some little, wizened gnome of the mountain as he looked at his sheets of copper and brass, his scissors, dies, and the many hammers, large and small, that he used for shaping metals.


He perched himself upon a stool beside his work bench.

The trade of a coppersmith was not one to interest children greatly in those days. The Deacon had to patch some housewife's preserving kettle, or make copper toes for the shoes of a little Colonial lad who had worn out the leather too soon to suit his father's sense of economy. Sometimes he had a clock to mend, or a teakettle that needed a new handle.

None of these were unusual enough tasks so to attract the boys and girls of Boston. They were familiar with teakettles, having to fill them often, and copper toes on their shoes hurt their feet. It was something quite different that drew them to the window and door of the coppersmith.

"What do you suppose Deacon Drowne will have hidden under his work bench to-day?" Samuel would ask.

"Oh, I do not know. I am curious to see. Is he not a person of great skill and many surprises?" Abigail would reply.

It was quite true. The old coppersmith saw possibilities in his craft that would have amazed his patrons who thought that the Deacon's mind was bent all day long on patches and wires. When his day's work was over the old coppersmith closed his shutter and lighted a candle. He lighted, too, a small stove in which he could heat his metals and weld them into queer and curious shapes. It seemed to him that the sheets of copper and brass in which he worked were too beautiful for the commonplace uses to which he had to put them.

His mind went back to the days of his boyhood in England when he lived on a farm near the sea and could watch the ships beyond the fields where the sea lay, blue and clear. As these thoughts came to him, he welded his metals to make the figures that his memory painted for him. No wonder the children were excited at what the coppersmith would show them that he had made over night!

He would beckon to them to cross his threshold. Then, with his eyes twinkling like stars through his spectacles, he would hold up in triumph something that he had made. Once it was a little brass rooster, shining and beautiful from his comb to the last tail feather. Once the Deacon showed the children a curious little admiral made of copper and holding a telescope as he looked far off at an imaginary sea. Then, to please them, he made a small Indian of copper; the figure was complete even to the feathers in his headdress.

How the children did laugh, though, when Deacon Drowne showed them a copper grasshopper that he had welded! It was so much larger than a real grasshopper that it looked like some strange dragon. It quite filled the tiny shop, its long slender legs stretching in every direction.

"Why did you make it?" the children asked.

The old coppersmith chuckled as he replied.

"To show what can be done with my shining metal," he said proudly. "It took skill to bend those legs and make the veins in a grasshopper's wings."

"What will you do with it, Deacon Drowne?" asked the children.

The old man shook his head.

"Perhaps it has no use," he said, looking sadly at the copper grasshopper sprawled before him.

That was what the sober people of Boston thought, too, all except Mr. Peter Faneuil.

No one could quite understand Mr. Peter Faneuil. He had inherited quite a fortune, but he lived in a simple way and was fonder of children and the sea than of wearing fine broadcloth and having a coach. He joined the children one day when they went to Deacon Drowne's shop and he saw the grasshopper. They had thought that Mr. Peter Faneuil would laugh at it. He did not even smile. He looked at the shining copper wings and the delicate workmanship of the slim legs. Then he grasped the coppersmith's toil-hardened hand.

"It is a wonderful piece of work," he said. "It ought to be placed where every one in Boston could see it."

The Deacon smiled with happiness as Mr. Faneuil and the children left him. He touched the grasshopper's perfectly shaped head.

"How could that be?" he said wonderingly.

The years went on, and at last no one heard Deacon Drowne's hammering, for he was too old to work any longer at his trade. The children grew up, and Samuel graduated from Harvard College. He was called Samuel Adams now, and was quite an influential young man in Boston. He was one of those called to attend a meeting in Boston at which an important decision was to be made.

Should, or should not Boston accept a gift that Mr. Peter Faneuil wished to make the city from his boundless wealth? He wished to build for Boston a public hall. But this was the unusual part of his wish. The hall was to have a market on the ground floor where the incoming ships could display their fruits and tea and cloth, and the housewives of Boston might come and buy. On the top of the hall there was to be a high tower, and on top of the tower a weathervane that the sailors could see at quite a distance from shore.

"Where shall we transact our important business in this hall?" the meeting asked Dr. Peter Faneuil.

"Over the market," was his quick reply.

Then they argued the question and wrangled about it. A market in a public building did not seem fitting to them, even though there was no public market in Boston at that time. Neither did a weathervane on top of the tower seem suitable. Some were for it, and more were against it. It did not matter that the hall was to be a free-will gift to Boston. They wished no new ideas to break in upon the old ones that belonged to England and the King.

Samuel Adams and his friends were opposed to the idea, but suddenly Mr. Peter Faneuil sent a message to Samuel that made him smile and change is his mind. The meeting closed, and the day was carried for Mr. Peter Faneuil. He was to build his hall just as he wished, and give it to Boston.

Every one watched it with great excitement. It looks a low, humble enough building now, but it seemed quite huge to old Boston. The people who had been opposed to it grew to like it when they realized how much they had needed a market. The magistrates and other officers of the town found that they could hold their meetings quite as well over the market as downstairs. They could come down and help their good wives carry home the day's dinner when they had finished with more weighty matters.


Faneuil Hall, Boston

Every one liked the weathervane. It could be seen for a long distance on land or sea, and its arrow never failed to fly north, south, east, or west. At first all Boston was puzzled by the figure on the top of the weathervane. It was different from any that they had ever seen. Persons came from a distance by stage-coach to see it. It shone and glittered in the sunlight.

"Who wrought it?" the people of Boston asked, and when they found out, the maker was acclaimed as almost a hero.

Patient old Deacon Drowne! He lived long enough to look up through his spectacles and see his great copper grasshopper perched on top of the weathervane of Faneuil Hall.

The grasshopper is there to-day. It has been on Faneuil Hall since 1742. It saw the Boston Tea Party, and heard the shots of the Lexington farmers. It heard the hoof beats of Paul Revere's horse, and the splash of the oars of the British troops, rowing into Boston Harbor. It watched battle and ruin, and then saw the coming of peace and plenty again.

Thousands of storms have beaten against its copper wings and legs, but the good workmanship of the old smith has helped the grasshopper to stand them all. It has been replated and strengthened in places, but the main part of the figure remains just as Deacon Drowne made it, an emblem of the humble, but preserved for almost two centuries in beautiful workmanship.

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