Hampton Reminiscences -- Part XIV

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By Enoch P. Young

(July 3, 1824 - January 11, 1910)

The Exeter News-Letter

April 14, 1899

The Blacksmith and His Apprentice of 65 Years Ago - Part XIV

Editor, EXETER NEWS-LETTER. -- The apprentices of 65 years ago, and less, at most mechanical trades need not be reminded by me as to what an apprenticeship of from three to five years with the average master meant. The blacksmith of those times was sure of his share in the hard spots in life. But few if any of the trades tried one's muscles more severely. The boy who could decide to be a blacksmith's apprentice, serving not less than three years, had to count largely upon his own capability for endurance, both muscular and constant.

Then, charcoal was the principal fuel used for the forge, sometimes corn in connection with the charcoal, as a heat could thus be obtained much more intense than with charcoal alone. Bituminous coal had but recently been discovered, and had not come into general use. I remember at a large shop where I worked soon after I was out of my time that among the supply of fuel for that year was 8,000 bushels of charcoal, made from hard wood, usually birch. Bituminous coals were being experimented with, and many of the large shops kept a small supply of sea coal, as it was then called, used mainly when only light {heats?} were needed. Bituminous coal fires made a large amount of smoke, obnoxious to many, which was one of the principal objections to its use in large shops, like machine shops, where several branches of their work were connected under the same roof.

Bar iron was then nearly all imported from England and NOrway and was somewhat limited tin sizes, compelling the smith to make from the large bars such sizes as he was compelled to use, by his helpers, sledge and chisel, splitting and drawing upon the anvil, thus doing much hard work that is now done at the rolling mills, and coming into the markets in all sizes and shapes required, which does away almost entirely with the helper and his sledge.

The making of the horse and ox shoes and the nails for the same was all done by hand. The getting them ready for winter use created the busiest two months of the year. The days were not long enough, and ofttimes they had to keep the fires going late into the nights. Among the leading duties of the smith in our country villages was shoeing oxen; farmers then did their farm work with oxen, and kept from one to four pairs for that purpose. Shoeing them was hard and dangerous work.

They were shod by ----owing them in some barn on a bed of straw. By some peculiar hitch of the rope their feet could be drawn together in a bunch. Then the ox would fall. Immediately some strong man would grasp the animal by the horns, while other with ropes would turn it into position, where it would be held with the feet bunched together, while the smith fastened on the shoes. As you can well imagine it was not a very easy nor safe place for the smith. I knew one smith who generally had plenty of help standing by in sharpening time, ready to volunteer their services, as it was a rule with him, that every owner of oxen to be shod, should with each pair bring one pint of rum. That furnished the opportunity for verifying the old proverb that "where the carcass is, there will the eagles gather."

If the owner did not bring his rum his turn, if he got any that day, would be among the last. In the latter part of such a day, conditions were much against having things well done. Manners and methods of doing such work had greatly improved a few years later, but never in its palmiest days was ox shoeing hankered after by the smith. It is now an occupation of the past; then more than one hundred pairs of oxen were kept in this town (Hampton, N.H.), now only eight pairs!

The blacksmith trade is one of the many that is seldom fully learned. Then nearly all blacksmith work required that the smith must use his eye for both measuring stick and square. So only few of us after years of hard toil succeeded in reaching higher than the first few rounds on the ladder of fame. Probably no mechanical trade has advanced faster or farther by the aid of inventions and advancing machinery during the past 50 years. Much of the work the smith than used to shape on the anvil with his helper is now the offspring of inventive genius, and can be had in almost limitless varieties and quantities. The drop forgings of to-day put into the possession of the smith for a little more than the cost of the iron in the bar, samples of work which a few years ago only the inventive geniuses of the craft could hope to accomplish,after hours of close study and toil with much native aptness thrown in.

As I have been identified with the craft for more than half a century, please allow me to relate some of my experiences as an apprentice, not that my experiences varied much from that of other boys of that time who left home and its comforts to serve three or more years for a trade.

When 18 years of age, I left home and sent to live in the pleasant village of Exeter, in one of the respectable families of that town. I was to have my board and clothes till I was 21 years old and a freedom suit as the end of my service. My master was to do the best he could to teach the blacksmith trade. I lived with my master the full three years, as big a slave to hard work as is seldom found. The sun never found me in bed except Sunday mornings. Sunday was my holiday, although I was required to attend church. He rented a seat for me in a good pew in one of the best meeting houses in the village, for my master was a strict observer of the Sabbath and the family usually attended in force sufficient to fill his own pew. At the end of the working days when the sun set, my labors did not set with the sun. From October till February on most workdays except Saturdays, I was expected to fire up and work evenings till near nine o'clock, and be ready often by the break of next day to follow my master and his lantern to the shop. People that knew him well foretold what a touch worker he was, and predicted I would never stay my three years with him. But for a boy that was healthy and determined and would take care of himself outside of working hours, it was one of the best of homes. The lady of the house was as a mother to me, the daughter and sons always friendly. So I ever felt I was at home. When the time came for me to bid good bye to my apprenticeship, he presented me with his certificate of recommendation. I had it framed, and it is to-day hanging in my room. It is the best trophy of my trade, and no young man needs a better. It reads:

To Whom It May Concern:
I hereby certify that the bearer of this, Enoch P. Young, has lived with me the last three years, and it gives me pleasure to recommend him as a young man of good moral character, and I have ever found him possessed of the noble qualities, honesty, industry and economy.
Exeter, July 3, 1845. DUDLEY THYNG.

The matter of my trade is not mentioned in it at all. Subsequent events proved I did not need it mentioned, for in less than one year after I left my old tutor I had charge of a blacksmith shop connected with a large machine shop, building machinery for cotton mills. Mr. Thyng never in three years found me a rag of clothing nor gave me in all two dollars in money; neither did I attend shows like many other boys except once, when his youngest son gave me a ticket to see the circus.

My freedom suit was the same style for fashion that the cartoonist uses to-day in dressing up Uncle Sam. It was made by the then leading tailor of Exeter -- coat of blue broadcloth, swallow tail down to the knees or lower, with a profusion of bright brass buttons, with large collar, stiff, and standing up to my cars; vest a sort of buff colored goods with brass buttons; pants of woolen goods called Canada gray, with leather straps at bottom of legs, a sort of fashion in vogue then to keep one from going through them, I suppose, or to help keep my shoes on, I never knew which; a pair of low cut calf skin shoes, and a tall bell top gray stiff hat completed my outfit. I have laughed when alone by myself thinking what would my children say now to see father in that rig.

But those good friends! The whole family with whom I then lived have long since passed over that river which divides time from eternity. I have the warmest of kindly feelings toward them all. They were ever my true friends while life lasted.

The life examples I had in that family those three years have been to me among the guiding stars of my life.


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