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The Village Blacksmith: The Reality of a Poem

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J. P. Davis & Speer illustration, ca. 1880

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J. P. Davis & Speer illustration, ca. 1880 / Maine Historical Society

The blacksmith shop, with its collection of tools of hammers, tongs and of course the anvil, could be found in every village and town. Some blacksmiths were specialists; they produced tools and machinery. It seems that the run-of-the-mill blacksmith spent most of his time repairing items. Most of their work according to Sturbridge Village "was on farm tools and household utensils."

Historically, blacksmiths had been very important on the frontier. James Read, the blacksmith of Jamestown was sentenced to death for striking the Governor John Ratcliffe. His life was spared in a last minute bargain, mostly because "killing the man who mends your guns, makes your nails, repairs your chisels, and fixes your locks, not to mention the shoes of your horses might not be the wisest." (Hume 162 -163)

During Lewis and Clark's trek across the continent, their "Corps of Discovery" included Private John Shields, a skilled blacksmith. In the winter of 1804-05 Shields did a booming business with the local natives repairing their metal tools and weapons. When business cooled off, since there was only so much repair work to do, Shields mass-produced battle axes, which were swiftly sold. His talent helped to feed the group and improved the relationship between the explorers and the natives.


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