NATHANIEL AND THE HANDICRAFT OF A PATRIOT
THE AMERICAN SILVERSMITH
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
 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
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.
KITCHEN OF THE PAUL REVERE HOME
 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
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
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,
 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
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."
BOSTON HARBOR, BY PAUL REVERE
"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
 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
PUNCH BOWL, BY PAUL REVERE
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
"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
 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,
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,
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
PAUL REVERE, BY ST. MEMIN
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
 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
"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,
"You—you know, sir," Nathaniel
stammered, "I'm not what you call a
"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,
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
 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.
SAMUEL ADAMS, BY COPLEY
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
 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
"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?
THE BOSTON TEA PARTY
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
he saw fifty Indians in full war dress pass
quickly by the church and down the street,
 with the others he followed to the wharf and
in the cold, clear moonlight saw a strange
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
"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.
WASHINGTON AT DORCHESTER HEIGHTS, BY STUART
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.