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Laura Woolsey Lord Scales

Nathaniel and the Handicraft of a Patriot

The American Silversmith

D ARK and tall and unbroken the pine forests stretched to the North. There were no roads through them, and no clearings for miles and miles. No white person lived in their midst, and only the easily lost Indian trails guided the traveler. To journey through them was to wander in a wilderness of silence and mystery. Yet into this forest a group of people from a little Connecticut village was pushing its way. They were of stout pioneer stuff, going out to take up new lands, plant new farms and homes and schools and churches,—to carry far into the North the white man's way of life. They were leaving behind them hot discussions and many disturbances, for it was in 1768, when feeling ran high in the colonies against their king, George III, and many of them were glad to escape from the bitterness of the struggle. Still, just as long before in the wilderness of Sinai the Children of Israel had sighed for the fleshpots of Egypt, there were a few who looked back with longing eyes as they lost sight of the last chimneys which told of settled homes and friends and cheerful hearths.

But not so Nathaniel, who was eleven years old. He did not need any preaching from his father the minister, "Fear not, but go forward." He delighted in it all,—the pitching of camp each night, the suppers cooked over glowing coals, the lullaby of the soughing of the pines and the murmuring of the river. And though the journey was slow, it was pleasantly varied. Sometimes he rode behind his father on the pillion with his mother, sometimes he walked sturdily with the men, riding and tying, as they called it, each having his turn at the few horses. And on Sundays they stopped for worship and rest, for these were good Puritan people. Nathaniel had no regrets, and no fears for the future. He knew that they were going to a new clearing, where they should have to make their own log houses before they could have a place to live in, and that there would be no church for his father to preach in, and at first no school. But there was the great out of doors to live and learn in, and he was not afraid of work. He had been brought up on Bible texts and the one he knew best was, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."

Even the hardships of the first winter did not take away his spirit. The winds came in cold through the oiled paper which served for window panes, the snow lay deep, and food was often scarce. But he learned to walk on snowshoes such as the Indians had, he worked hard to do his share of woodcutting and, best of all, one of the men taught him to handle a gun. Everyone who could hunt for deer or rabbits or kill the wild pigeons as they flew over was just so much help to keep them all alive. And a gun stood for safety, for once the little settlement had heard far away the terrifying sound of an Indian war whoop, as a band of braves followed the river north; and often in the cold winter nights the wolves and wildcats and lynxes came almost to their doors, as hungry for food as the settlers were themselves.

Once, before his father trusted Nathaniel with a gun, he had gone with his little sister only a stone's throw into the forest, when he saw two gleaming specks of fire blazing from behind a rock. He knew what it meant. A hungry wolf had scented them. "Run," he cried to little Patience, and pushed her away while he put himself between her and the wolf. He had not even a stick to beat the creature off, but he had his wits, sharpened already by experience to think quickly. He ran behind a tree, and as the wolf snapped closer and closer to him, he darted back and forth, always keeping the tree between them. It would have been a losing game for Nathaniel, but suddenly he heard a shot ring out and a bullet went whistling by him. The wolf fell dead. A friendly Indian from a neighboring tribe was passing, and saw, and saved his life. After that, even his mother knew that he was safer with a gun.

His father gave him and the other children daily lessons, but it was the work with his hands that filled most of his days. "Come, Nathaniel," his mother would call, "come, dip the wicks for me in the tallow; it is hot and ready, and we sorely need candles. Mind you waste none, and hang the wicks carefully from the rods to dry."

Or it was, "Nathaniel, go fetch a bit of wood and whittle me a spoon. My big one broke last night right in the midst of my hasty pudding." Or, "Canst build a little stool for thy sister, Nathaniel? The child should have a seat of her own, though it may not be so fine as the high chair with twisted legs I had at home in dear old England. That had on it a carved crown, and how proud I was of it!"

"Indeed, then," said Nathaniel, "Patience shall have one, and with carving on it, too,—even a carved crown, if she likes."

"Ah, yes," said the mother, "do it, Nathaniel, with a crown. That stands for loyalty to our king, though he is so far away."

Nathaniel made a stool of pine wood and carved it with pine branches and a crown,—loyalty in the heart of the forest.

In the spring there was planting of corn and pumpkins, fishing, berrying, building a new schoolhouse, and making canoes. There was no idle moment even for a boy. "But," as people on the frontier said to one another, "a hard day's work makes a soft bed." Nathaniel grew up strong and diligent and skillful with his hands.



Late one winter, strange tales came drifting down from the friendly Indians farther up the river. The wild tribes in the Canada forests, they said, were on the war path, driven far out of their usual trails by hunger, though some said, too, that they were driven by the French to harass the people of the border. Everyone in the settlement was warned to take no risk, but time went on, and nothing was seen or heard of even one stranger-Indian. It was impossible to keep always within bounds, and Nathaniel went to the river one afternoon with his stick and line and hook, bent on getting some trout to vary their continual supper of hasty pudding. Everything was very still; only an occasional jumping fish and himself seemed to be alive in all the black stretches of the forest or on the silver thread of the river.

Then, suddenly, as if he had sprung from the earth, an Indian boy was crouching beside him. He made no sound but sat and looked at Nathaniel, his face as unmoved as the silent, mysterious forest behind them, telling nothing of what he felt. But Nathaniel started forward. From the boy's foot blood was streaming. He had cut it badly, yet he gave it no attention. But Nathaniel dipped his handkerchief in water and bound it up well. The boy neither thanked nor stopped him, but continued his silent gaze while Nathaniel, now as stolid as he was, went back to his fishing.

Suddenly the Indian boy sat erect. A sound! A full minute ahead of Nathaniel he heard it,—the soft beat of feet in the forest. And soon close upon them came thirty Indian braves, crowned with feathers and in their war paint. At sight of Nathaniel they stopped short, questioned the Indian boy sharply, and then took counsel together. Still Nathaniel felt no real fear,—he liked the boy and he had seen many Indians,—not until one of them beckoned, and the boy pulled him to his feet and hurried him on to where, close by, their canoes were lying under the bank.

Then his heart began to beat hard. They were carrying him away, perhaps for the sake of demanding a ransom from the white men, perhaps to add another warrior to the tribe. His wits did not desert him, but what was he to do? The Indian boy was watching him, and as they paddled silently up the river, his eyes never seemed to leave him. To be brave and stolid like him, and show no fear,—what else was there to do? It was many miles from home, far on into the great forest, when they finally lay down in their blankets under the night. Even then there was no chance for escape, for the ears of an Indian never sleep, and the black forest with its wild creatures would have proved but a huge trap meaning sure death. So Nathaniel, tired out, slept.

A touch on his arm awakened him. The first dim light of morning was barely entering the woods, but the Indian boy was beckoning him. The others still slept, or if some looked up, the boy quieted them with a word. He took Nathaniel to the river, jumped in and by a gesture bade him follow, as he swam fast downstream. Happily Nathaniel too was a good swimmer, and with the help of the current they traveled swiftly. At last the Indian climbed out, shook himself like a dog and waited. When Nathaniel came up with him, he pointed on down the river, would not let him land, pointed to his foot, pointed back to the camp, and then shook his head and threw a stone into the river. Plainly he was telling Nathaniel to go. As plain as signs could make it, he was saying "Go! You are safe. I will see to it. Go with an Indian boy's thanks for his foot. I will tell them that like that stone, you are gone, drowned in the river. Go!"

"Oh, bless you!" Nathaniel cried. "Your Great Spirit reward you!" and he swept on downstream like a leaf on the current.

When exhausted with swimming, he got out and ran until his breath was gone; then again he took to the river and floated. All day he traveled so, until at nightfall, spent and hungry, he pushed open the door of his father's house and was welcomed home. "The Lord heareth when I call upon Him," his father gave thanks with one of his favorite texts, and everyone rejoiced with him. Everyone who heard his story told Nathaniel that he had his own courage, too, to thank for his escape, for if he had been a bit less unflinching the Indian boy would not have set him free. "I shall always think a lot of Indians now," Nathaniel said, "for twice I have seen how good they are."

For days a watch was set, and the men of the town patrolled the woods with muskets ready, but no more Indians were to be seen, and life took up its usual busy course again. Nathaniel, however, was never quite the same. It was as if he had suddenly become a man, ready now to think and plan and act for himself.

For two years, until he was sixteen, he worked with all his might, sometimes as a carpenter building new houses and a new church, sometimes as a blacksmith beating out the white-hot iron or copper. For Nathaniel's father was always poor, since his salary as minister and schoolmaster was paid him mostly in food or lumber or merchandise; and so Nathaniel had to do his share to help the family along. The settlement was growing fast. Whenever he could, he talked with the new settlers to learn the ways of the world beyond the clearing, and he heard many things that interested him. At last plans began to take shape in his mind.

"Father," he said on his sixteenth birthday, "I want to talk to you." He had gone to meet his father at the log cabin which still served as schoolhouse, though there was now a church of matched boards. The two walked home by the edge of the village, the long way round, where few men would pass them, but where the birds, singing a riotous evensong, had the world to themselves. "Father," Nathaniel went on, "I've been thinking. My brother can help you here now, and we need money. Let me go to Boston to learn a trade. Send me to my uncle's; he will surely give me bed and board at first, if you but write him, and I will become an apprentice to a silversmith. Mistress Morrison has been showing me her teapot and telling me of the rare things made, and always—Boston is so rich, she says—the trade is so good. Soon I should be able to help you and could send you what you ought to have. For I know I could learn easily. To work with my hands,—it all comes so easy to me, and why should I do this coarse work here all my life? I want to go and be a master craftsman. Let me go and try it."

His father listened, but shook his head. "Ah, my lad, my lad," he said, "leave your mother and me! How could we let you go? Yet I know it must be so. I see it." He waved his hands toward the trees. "Everywhere the young birds are leaving the nests. But to go to Boston,—I like it not. Boston, we hear, is a hotbed of trouble, an unruly town, which is defying his Majesty, the king. I do not like their spirit. You would be tainted with this new heresy of independence."

"No, father," Nathaniel answered, "it is not to take part in disputes with the king that I want to go, but to learn to make some fine and beautiful thing. When I see Mistress Morrison's silverware, my fingers itch for hammer and metal to try it. Let me go."

His mother too was troubled when they told her. "To Boston!" she cried. "I am afraid." For this was in 1773, and even in the wilderness people knew of the Boston massacre, of the hatred in Boston for the British troops, of the refusal to pay the king's taxes and of the defiance of the General Assembly until the king had had it dissolved. "We are loyalists," his mother said. "Here we can see clearly that England is our dear mother, and that we owe our duty to whoever is king. But in Boston Samuel Adams and James Otis have turned men's heads."



"But, mother," Nathaniel answered, "has not father taught me that wherever I am I should follow my conscience and not other men's words? Why should I listen to these men?"

"Aye, that is so," his father answered, and as usual added a text. " 'Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.' It is time the boy learned to go by himself. We must let him go. But do not be carried along by the fever of the times. If you will remember that, we must let you go. It is best."

So Nathaniel went. Part of the long way he walked, and part of the way he went by a stagecoach that now ran between Portsmouth and Boston. His uncle welcomed him warmly and he was soon apprenticed to Mr. Hurd, the silversmith. He went to work with all his might, partly because it was his habit, and partly because in that way he kept off homesickness for the great forest and the old free life. For though Boston then was only a small town with the Common in its midst for games and the sea at its doors for space, Nathaniel felt cramped. The city life, without risk or danger, seemed tame to his active spirits, especially as he scarcely dared make friends beyond his uncle's house, for fear of being "tainted." So he was lonely, and his work was his one comfort.

For he loved his work as much as he had expected to love it. He liked to roll the rich metal into sheets and hammer it into shape, or to pour it into molds to make handles for a pot or a flagon, and gradually he learned to shape a spoon, a beaker and a basin. The pure silver delighted him, soft almost as velvet to his touch, yet firm and strong beneath his strokes, and he liked the shapes, so simple yet so beautiful. While he worked, he liked to see how the surface of the silver reflected all the colors about him. He looked forward to the time when he could engrave or chase the decorations, or even make the letters of the inscriptions, using the skill in penmanship that he had learned at school from his father, for many of the pieces in those days had long inscriptions. The most famous of all was a punch bowl made by Paul Revere for the Sons of Liberty in honor of the "Glorious Ninety-Two" of the General Assembly, who had defied King George. Nathaniel, though he might not like the sentiment, could not help but admire its beauty.



On it, on one side, are engraved the names of the fifteen Sons of Liberty who ordered the bowl together with the inscription: "To the memory of the Glorious NINETY-TWO Members of the Honbl. House of Representatives of the Massachusetts Bay, who undaunted by the insolent Menaces of Villains in Power, from a strict Regard to Conscience and the LIBERTIES of their Constituents, on the 30th of June, 1768, voted NOT TO RESCIND." On the other side is "Wilkes [the English Patriot] and Liberty"

Paul Revere, he knew, was the chief of the silversmiths, and he studied his work. One day he was very proud, for Revere coming into his master's shop stopped and praised him for his work. "The lad has a good eye and a right sense," he turned and spoke to Hurd, "for he makes shapes clean and true, and one can see he likes work well done, eh, lad?"

Nathaniel worked all the harder, but in Hurd's shop it was impossible to keep his mind only on his work. Not only Revere but other patriots were constantly dropping in and talking together. The air in Boston was charged with fiery matter, and whether he would or no, Nathaniel was caught up in the blaze of feeling.

"Taxation without representation,—that is tyranny," was the constant cry he heard. As the men sat about the shop, one would throw down the challenge, "What Englishman ever yielded to such tyranny without a struggle?" So the talk would run on.

"Since the days of King John," one would say, "our fathers have fought for liberty to rule themselves according to their own consciences, and shall we be less brave?"

"Aye," another patriot would answer, "and even now in England the best men are fighting with us. Wilkes and Burke and Pitt,—they're with us. It's their liberty as well as ours at stake. They say we are no longer good Englishmen here in Boston! I say it's Englishmen everywhere against the king!"

"Yes, the king, the king," a third called out, "he's the one. Let him take one cent of our money, and we are lost. It's the principle. One farthing yielded, and he can take our lives, our liberties, everything!"

Often as they talked, they looked at Nathaniel, for his uncle was known to be a Tory, a king's man, but Nathaniel never showed his mind. One day when the group had left, Hurd turned to him. "What say you, Nathaniel? Are you patriot or against us all?"

Nathaniel remembered his mother's and father's words. "I am a subject of the king," he answered.

"So, so. So are we all of us subjects of the king. But is that good reason why he should have the right to steal from us everything we have?"

Nathaniel thought he was speaking of the new tax on tea which the king was trying to make the colonies pay, and he said a bit disdainfully, "Is Boston then so greedy that she will not pay even a farthing? The tax gives her her tea cheaper than they have it in England, I hear."

Hurd blazed up then. "Greedy! By the Lord Harry, greedy, no! Can't you understand? 'Taxation without representation is tyranny.' Free man or slave, which? That's the only question. And you,—"

But Hurd did not finish. He flung himself from the shop, and went straight to the Green Dragon Tavern, where the Sons of Liberty were in the habit of gathering together. "Have a care!" he cried. "I give you all warning. My boy Nathaniel's a Tory, a rank Tory. What shall I do? He may be—"



But Revere interrupted him. "Do?" he said. "Why, turn him into a patriot of course. What else would you do with a fine lad like that? Leave him to me. I'll show him."

The next day he dropped in at Hurd's shop when Nathaniel was alone. Nathaniel had been feeling troubled and restless. Somehow he seemed a misfit in this town. His body seemed to be in prison and his mind to be continually upset. Only his work satisfied him, and he kept hard at that. On this dark, dreary day of November, 1773, though a fire was burning brightly on the hearth, he had to blow on his fingers to warm them. He was for the first time shaping a caudle cup, with its undulating curves and beautiful symmetry. Under his steady strokes the surface became smooth and mirrorlike, until the firelight was caught and glistened in its sides and it seemed like a gold and silver flame. Hurd had left him free to work it out for himself, and he took great pride in it. Revere, as he came into the shop, big and warm-hearted, noticed it at once.

"What is this? A caudle cup, and a well-shaped one too. You have the knack, my lad. The work's to your taste, eh? You understand it."

Nathaniel assented silently.

" 'Tis a good trade, a good trade," Revere went on. "It is not accident, I say, that makes us silversmiths a good straight lot of fellows,—and good patriots too. It's the craft. To see things true, and shape them so; to make fit for use in a score of shapes a shapeless mass" (he touched a lump of the crude metal lying beside him); "to put our own thought into it, and make it a hundred times more beautiful than when we began; 'tis work, this, for an honest patriot, eh, Nathaniel?"

"You—you know, sir," Nathaniel stammered, "I'm not what you call a patriot."

"So?" said Revere. "And what's wrong with being a patriot?"

"He's against the king, sir."

"Humph! So? Let's take a look at it together. You here in this shop, Nathaniel, call Hurd your master. You are subject to him, and when he says 'Make a caudle cup as best you can,' you go at it. Right and good. But suppose he were a false craftsman, not holding his work in honor but trying to do our trade harm, and suppose then he were to say, 'Do as I tell you. Use bad silver. Make the shape untrue. Put on the handles weakly. Leave the work rough!' Would you still obey him?"

Revere looked into his face and answered for him. "No, to be sure, you wouldn't. And why not? Because indeed you are an honest craftsman. To make bad forms, use impure stuff, spoil a beautiful thing,—'twon't do. It hurts. You can't. The conscience of a craftsman tells you no. So, then,—do you follow me, lad?"

Nathaniel nodded his head. "So far, sir, I know it's true."

"Even more true is it then of our country. To take our liberties, abuse them and spoil them, fling away a God-given right—what man of right heart will do it, even at the bidding of our king? No, I tell you, there is not only the conscience of a craftsman, but there's the conscience of a patriot. Eh, what say you to that, Nathaniel? Think it over."

He left the room abruptly, but after that almost every day the busy man found time to come and talk for a moment of their work and of their country. He insisted too that Nathaniel go with him to the Green Dragon to hear Warren and Hancock and Adams talk. But at that Nathaniel blushed in confusion. He felt that Mr. Hurd distrusted him and would not like it. "Already I fear he looks at me awry, as if I were a telltale," he said. But Revere would hear nothing of the kind, and took him with him. So Nathaniel was taught to see the patriots' side, but he remained troubled and uncertain in mind.



Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"Unhappy, are you not, lad?" Revere said one day. "What is it? Too much Revere?—dogging you at your heels—" and the great man gave him a good-natured slap on the shoulder and laughed heartily.

"Oh, no, sir," Nathaniel answered quickly, "but I presume that perhaps I am homesick for the great free places of the North."

"Tut, tut!" Revere spoke out, "where our bodies are doesn't matter. It's the free mind,—the free conscience. Give your mind over to freedom and the true cause, and then see! You'll feel free as the whole of God's green earth can't make you."

After that he often talked with Nathaniel of the wilderness,—of the log-cabin home, of the making of the settlement, the wolf, and the escape from the Indians. "You'll soon be one of us, Nathaniel," he declared. "I see it. All your boyhood points the way to freedom."

"How can I, sir? My mother and my father wish me to be loyal to the king."

Revere shook his head. "They too may change. Anyway, after we are grown up, mothers and fathers aren't our jailers to keep our consciences. Your heart's your own to keep." And in Nathaniel's ears there sounded again his father's text, "Keep thy heart with all diligence." Perhaps his father had meant it that way too; he must decide for himself.

It was now the sixteenth of December, and in the harbor three ships loaded with tea still rode at anchor. The citizens would not let the tea be landed for fear that someone would pay the king's tax, the governor would not let the ships sail away, and by the rules of the port of Boston the last day was come when a vessel not yet unloaded might stay in the harbor. There was then no place on ship or land or sea where the tea could rest. What was to be done? Great crowds of people, Nathaniel among them, went to a meeting in the Old South Meeting House to discuss it. One last appeal was made to the governor that the ships might go, and all sat in perfect order while they waited his answer. But the governor would not change his mind. What should be done?



In the glimmer of dim candlelight in the dark of the old church, it was voted unanimously not to land the tea. "How will tea mix with salt water?" someone called out, and there was great applause. Samuel Adams adjourned the meeting. What would happen? The answer came on the instant—the war whoop of Indians. Nathaniel shivered, for that sound awakened memories. Then he saw fifty Indians in full war dress pass quickly by the church and down the street, and with the others he followed to the wharf and in the cold, clear moonlight saw a strange sight.

The Indians quietly boarded the three ships, cut open the tea chests one after the other, and threw every bit of tea overboard. Scarcely a leaf of tea escaped them. But nothing else was harmed and no one was molested. By nine o'clock all the tea was well brewed with salt water. Swiftly, silently and in order everything had been done. "Was ever anything like it?" people said. But Nathaniel was seeing the great dark forest again, the wolf, the swift river, and the silent Indian boy. "It's a way they have," he said. "Do it, and be done with it."

As he stood on the street corner, the Indians swept by, and one of them, strangely familiar beneath his feathers and paint, turned suddenly and whispered, "What if the Indians once again should steal you? I am minded to have them."

"No, need, sir," Nathaniel spoke impetuously. "I'm with you already." He had no idea he was going to say it, but, once said, he knew it was true. Once again a band of Indians had swept him from his place, this time not on to a silent river of the North but on to the great stream of patriotism which was flooding the country.

"Bravo, lad," his Indian called back. "I knew you'd come to it. It's the only way for an honest craftsman." And Nathaniel went off feeling strangely free and light-hearted.



Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

No longer did he feel cramped or in prison in Boston. His spirits were free. For whether he was working at his craft or in the cause of liberty with the patriots, he was trying to make things come straight and true. And when he wrote home to his parents of how he had changed, he was made happier still by hearing in reply that they were not distressed, but that—partly because of what he had written to them—they too were slowly turning from the king to believe in the right of the patriots' cause.

When two years later Washington came and took command of the army, Nathaniel was already in its ranks. And until the war was over, his craft had to give place to his work as a patriot, but whether as craftsman or patriot, he was working with all his might at what he believed was good, and he was content.