The popular Shepherdstown Tour of Historic Churches will once again be hosted by Historic Shepherdstown & Museum. Assisted by the Shepherdstown Visitor Center, the event will take place on December 26th from 2-6 pm.Read more
By: Eric S. Hendricks Jenkins
Growing up surrounded by my mother’s family, the Hendricks’ of Shepherdstown, the concepts of history and collecting were always impressed upon me as being a worthwhile endeavor. As a child the wonders of the natural world were the pride of my collecting ambition: feathers, snail shells, smoothly polished river rocks, moths and butterflies. The most highly prized of all in my child’s eye were bird eggs. The latter to the great chagrin of my grandmother who often chided me that I would one day be struck by lightning if I continued in my harassment of her beloved birds. In my naïve way, I curated my treasured objects neatly and safely between cotton balls, all housed in a series of Whitman’s Chocolate Sampler boxes. Like advanced collectors and museums, I culled my collection making room for superior objects when found. As time and age progressed, my exposure to new objects and people affected my collecting drive. Eggs, feathers, and stones made way to old American and foreign currency. This new passion faded as well thanks in part to influences bestowed on behalf of my great grandmother and mother who loved antique glass. This collection was carefully collected and displayed under lights and ranged in a rainbow of colors and forms.
These jewels still hold a proud place in my collection. With time I began to realize that an object is not an independent entity, it is connected to a vast history of individual artisans, styles of regional and cultural influence and a chain of ownership or provenance. Understanding these factors led to a defining shift in the objects I sought out. Locally crafted objects passed down in my family that were connected to personal stories, launched and fueled this later passion. The thought of long past ancestors personally selecting objects from local artisans and experiencing and seeing their personal taste or needs in object form connected deeply with me. This led to an almost obsessive passion for the collecting and preservation of Jefferson and Berkeley County artifacts.
Collecting at times can be a cumbersome task. Some objects such as furniture can be limiting because of home size, ceiling height or style. Other objects such as fabrics can present issues of display as seen in quilt collecting requiring vast areas for display not to mention the fragility of cloth hundreds of years old. One collectable however meets a myriad of requirements in the antiquarian world….silver. Silver is easily stored and portable and it remains useful retaining the function of its intended purpose. Silver expresses a wide variety of forms and styles thus meeting individual collectors taste. It may be bestowed with individual monograms or heraldic symbolism connecting it to prominent families or individuals. Silver is regionally and locally identifiable by its maker, thanks to artisan marks. Despite high and lows in antique collectability value, it retains a high intrinsic value due to its precious metals and construction.
Humans have desired silver for millennia, its uses and forms are as varied as the people who sought to acquire it. Silver belongs to a select group of metals known as the noble metals as identified on the periodic table. This list is comprised of platinum, silver and gold. These elements are valued not only for their beauty, but for their ability to resist corrosion, tarnish and staining. Silver held immense value to the ancients, across all inhabited continents and races not solely for monetary reasons, but also for spiritual value. Silver is referenced 320 times in the Bible[i], perhaps most notably referenced in the Gospel of Matthew in which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for the price of 30 silver coins.
Silver has long been tied to the occult. Horror tales of vampires and werewolves terrorizing the countryside, preying on innocent victims who’s only means of defense lie with a silver bullet or cross have kept many a child awake. No doubt silver found its connection to creatures of the night because of its ancient associations with the moon and the lunar deities of old. One such example can be seen in the Celtic goddess Arianrhod, who’s name means “Silver-Wheel.”[ii] The protective nature of silver continues through history in the belief that it would reputedly detect various poisons by changing color thus leading kings and nobles rushing to the silversmiths to fashion for themselves drinking chalices and plates as a means of defense against the malicious and envious bent on ill will.[iii]
Throughout history we find great civilizations expending tremendous efforts and resources in the search for precious metals. It was often reported that Helen of Troy had a face that launched one thousand ships resulting in the Trojan Wars. These efforts for love would be dwarfed by the Spanish Naval powers enlisted not for the love of a woman but for greed, as witnessed during the 16th and 17th centuries in their insatiable quest for New World gold and silver. The Spanish exercised the motto of Gold, God and Glory in their explorations and colonization of the New World following Christopher Columbus momentous discovery in 1492. Conquistadors hoped that through explorations they would become the “Rock Stars” of their day returning to Spain in a triumphant manor, covering themselves in glory. Adventurers also hoped that these dangerous excursions would be lucrative ones filling their family coffers with New World gold and silver which had been evident among the natives of the Caribbean Islands, Mexico and Central and South America. These explorers also felt obliged to spread the word of God among the “Heathens” perhaps in an effort to ease their own conscience about the nature of their actions.
Gold and Silver hunger ran at a fever pitch perhaps not seen again until 1849 with the California Gold Rush. King Ferdinand became desperate for gold and silver as a means to spread his power and influence. On July 25th, 1511 he unequivocally instructed his New World explorers to “Get gold, humanely, if you can, but at all hazards, to get gold.” A plan followed by future Spanish leaders.[iv] Between 1500 and 1650 it is reported that the Spanish imported 181 tons of gold and 16,000 tons of silver from the New World.[v] The silver alone from the New World brought back by the Spanish ended up accounting for almost 90% of the world’s production from 1500 to 1800 A.D.”[vi] This massive influx of wealth into European hands did not go unnoticed and the numerous crown heads of Europe all sought to claim their pieces of the proverbial pie. One such leader was the independent and powerful Queen Elizabeth 1st who in her quest for riches employed a two pronged approach, that of exploration of new lands to the north of Spanish claims and theft on the high seas carried out by privateers who lay in wait to unburden Spanish treasure ships from excess cargo. It was through exploration fueled by a quest for silver and gold that settlements would be established at Roanoke under Queen Elizabeth 1st in 1585 and Jamestown under Elizabeth’s successor King James VI in 1607.
Witnessing the immensity of Spanish wealth pilfered from the newly-discovered colonies, English explorers and adventurers had the mistaken notion that they only needed to turn the soil with a spade to discover the gold and silver riches of a “Virginia El Dorado.” Quickly the resident of Jamestown realized their fallacy but reality did not quench their thirst for riches. The starving men of Jamestown continued digging as a result of their lust for metals. “In 1608 Jamestown received its first supply ship, contained there in which were two goldsmiths, William Johnson and Richard Belfield; two refiners, William Dawson and Abraham Ransack; and one jeweler, Daniel Stallings imported to seek silver and gold.” These men appeared to be more of a burden than a help to the struggling settlement. Capt. John Smith said “But the worst was our guilded refiners who with their golden promises made all men their slaves in hope of recompenses; there was talke, no hope, no worke, but dig gold, wash gold, loade gold, such a bruit of gold, that one mad fellow desired to be buried in the sands least they should by their art make gold of his bones… the whole colony was on the outlook for mines.”[vii] The dangers of the New World would prove too much for these guilded refiners, the grave claiming them or they sought a return to the gentler climes of England, not again until 1620 would a Silversmith, Thomas Howard appear in the register of the Virginia Company.
Despite the lack of vast quantities of raw silver in Virginia’s soil the finished product in the form of plates, chalices and spoons could be found in notable quantities among the churches and landed gentry. These early holdings of silver were not fashioned in the new colony, but in England. For the educated, landed and noble of Virginia, their true home lay across the Atlantic Ocean in England. Those of wealth and position sought to have their children educated in England. Finished products such as china, furniture, cloth, jewelry and silver that was made in the latest fashion crossed the Atlantic in vast quantities in exchange for tobacco, pitch, tar, rosin, turpentine and timber. With each shipment of goods from the motherland the hostile frontier became a little more genteel. “Byrd, writing to his merchant in London in 1684, instructs him to send to him, “two new fashioned silver mugs, one to contain half a pint and the other one-quarter of a pint.” The landed Mr. Fitzhugh in 1687 directed Mr. Hayward to invest certain bills of exchange which stood to his credit in London in a pair of middle size silver candlesticks, a pair of snuffers, and a snuff-dish, and half a dozen trencher salts, the remainder to be expended in a handsome silver basin.”[viii] These anglophilic feelings and trends of consumption would continue to favor the British in the silver market as well as other luxury goods until February of 1765 when the British Crown and Parliament in an effort to pay debts incurred during the French and Indian War implored Americans to pay a share of the burden through the Stamp Act and later duties levied on luxury goods. The die was cast, once loyal colonist shifted allegiances not only of heart but also of pocketbook, their anglophilic tendencies waivered. Through a series of boycotts along the eastern seaboard colonist started what would perhaps become the first buy local campaign. Silversmiths of Virginia and the other colonies who were once relegated to the menial task of mending and repair work for British made silver, now were encouraged to supply bespoke pieces for American clients.
The early American silversmiths of the Revolutionary and Federal period and continuing till just after the Civil War used a silver called coin silver from which to fashion their wares. Coin silver is comprised of 90% pure silver and 10% copper versus sterling silver which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Coin silver derives its name from two various avenues. First the practice where currency in some cases Spanish, English and Mexican coins were melted down for use by silversmiths. Secondly from the fact that the measure of silver purity bore the same as that found in coins of the period. Whether “coin silver” or “sterling silver,” both remain highly valued and a much sought after collectables.
Are you on the hunt for “southern silver? What is “southern silver”? What is “southern coin silver”? Why does it matter if the silver is southern or northern? The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts of North Carolina defines Southern Silver as any silver made in the region that would become a Confederate State or states that sent soldiers to the Confederate cause. These states would include Virginia/West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Maryland.[ix] Collecting southern silver differs greatly for those that are on the hunt for it, compared to those in search of northern silver. Collectors should be prepared for long hunts and prices at times almost ten-fold to that of northern silver counterparts. Why? The answer is as simple as…. rarity. The South’s early agrarian economy did not support a large population, at the time of the Civil War, Northern states had a combined population of 18.5 million vs the South’s 8 million free and 4 million enslaved.[x] As a result of a smaller population, the south required fewer silversmiths. New York State Silversmiths by The Darlington Foundation list just over 283 silversmiths and jewelers working in New York between 1800-1810, while Charleston, South Carolina– the souths most affluent center– reported just 79 during the same time period.[xi]
A second reason for the scarcity of southern silver was the very nature of silver itself. Much of the value of silver lies in its ability to be shaped and reshaped through melting and reforming. Like today those of means wished to constantly be up to date with the latest fashions in clothing and furniture. In the past, silver styles came and went. Those without sympathetic ties to a piece often cast it to the melting pot to be reborn in the taste of the time. In fact, almost every area silversmith advertised their willingness to take in scrap silver in exchange for a discount on new creations. “All kinds of jewelry work and repairs executed with promptness and dispatch; and old gold and silver purchased, for which the highest price in cash will be given, or taken in exchange for goods in kind. Two apprentices wanted to the clock and watch making and silversmith business. Smith Hunsicker.”[xii]
The third reason for the scarcity of southern silver is war time theft and destruction. Often we fall victim to over romanticized images of the antebellum south thanks in part to Hollywood images such as Scarlett O’Hara and Gone with the Wind. These images over simplify the “peculiar institution” of slavery and the glamour of plantation life. In contrast to this glamorization, the images of theft, depravity and destruction visited upon the south clearly and accurately play out on the silver screen when witnessing the character Aunt Pittypat Hamilton racing away from the encroaching Yankees burning Atlanta snuggly tucked in her buggy between silver candelabra and plate with smelling salts in hand. Or Yankee marauders pillaging countryside homes and farms in the quest for loot. The American South has been plagued by a list of hardships, both natural and man-made. The American Revolution, War of 1812 and the Civil War have been fought on her soils, as well as, tremendous hardships brought about by hurricanes, floods and the lingering suffering of the Great Depression. All of these factors helped to liberate southerners from treasured family heirlooms and stores of wealth. “Milby Burton in his book South Carolina Silversmiths, 1670 to 1860 talks about the estimated loot, valued at 300,000 pounds sterling, taken from Charleston by the British during the War for Independence. Burton continues by recounting a disturbing letter found near Camden, South Carolina, from Union Lieutenant Thomas J. Myers. Myers wrote home stating: “We had a glorious time in this state. Unrestricted license to burn and plunder was the order of the day. The chivalry (landed gentry) have been stripped of most of their valuables. Gold watches, silver pitchers, cups, spoons, forks & c., & c. are as common in camp as black berries. We took gold and silver enough from the damned rebels to have redeemed their infernal currency twice over.”[xiii]
Closer to home few towns saw such utter destruction from the civil war as that faced by the residents of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December of 1862 as chronicled by a Union soldier from New York. “Fredericksburg is given up to pillage and destruction. Boys came in loaded with silver pitchers, silver spoons, silver lamps and castors etc. Great three story brick houses furnished magnificently were broken into and their contents scattered over the floors and trampled on by the muddy feet of soldiers. Splendid alabaster vases and pieces of statuary were thrown at six and seven hundred dollar mirrors. Closets of the very finest china were broken into and their contents smashed onto the floor and stamped to pieces… Rosewood pianos were piled in the street and burned or soldiers would kick the keyboard and internal machinery all to pieces… everything turned upside down. The soldiers seemed to delight in destroying everything.”[xiv]
For the uninformed it is often assumed that silver production and use was isolated strictly to the elite metropolitan port cities of Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Charleston and New York where fashion and wealth dictated its use, leaving the inhabitants of the provincial back country to the less favorable use of wood, pewter and clay for their table wares. This fallacy couldn’t be further from the truth. Jefferson and Berkeley Counties location in the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, though isolated by distance and terrain from the port centers of the coast, were still highly connected through a network of trade routes and family connections. Merchants, pioneers, gentlemen and yeoman pushing into the region during the 1700’s all sought to cultivate this welcoming Eden into a prosperous home equipped with objects taste and fashion. Pattern books, fashion plates and architectural drafts filtered along trade routes from city to settlement importing the latest crazes upon an eager audience. Artisans sensing demand and opportunity poured into Jefferson and Berkeley Counties eager to impart their craft unto a waiting clientele.
Like other artisans of the period, silversmiths settled in principal centers of growth. Shepherdstown, Charles Town, Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg all boasted a number of silversmiths through the years with a current approximate total of thirty-two known between the years 1780 and 1860.[xv] As with current entrepreneurs, some found lifelong success and permanence while others moved onto greener pastures after only a year or two of tenancy. Most, however, would remain within the Valley Road corridor, today’s I-81 moving between towns ranging from Chambersburg and Hagerstown in the North to Winchester and Woodstock in the south. This nomadic craftsmanship was the result of silversmiths needing steady work which in a luxury commodity can be a fickle thing often depending of the tides of fortune and harvest. Following a maximum seven-year apprenticeship, silversmiths moved out of their master’s shop searching for an area in need of their skills and away from competing with his former master. In many cases silversmiths because of the nature of their aptitude with metals, worked not only in the crafting of silver teapots, spoons and plate but in the realms of clock making and dentistry, all in an effort to make ends meet. An example of this can be seen in Shepherdstown with silversmith Jacob Craft. Craft is most notably remembered these days as the maker of tall clocks found in museums and collections throughout the region. However, Jacob was in fact trained as a silversmith and was listed as such during the census of the period. As a clockmaker, Jacob Craft did not fashion the elegant clock cases of walnut and cherry, those would have been the work of trained cabinet makers, such as Shepherdstown’s James Shepherd and others. Craft would have been responsible for the unseen genius of the clocks mechanical engineering and function both assembling ready made parts from England such as clock faces and crafting his own various wheels, pinions, plates, bushings etc. In the case of Martinsburg silversmith Joseph McFeely and John Little dental work proved to be there avenue of diversification. Dentistry and silver-smithing had long been tied together as duel trades due to the silversmith’s ability to manipulate metals into various forms whether it be a spoon or the crown for a tooth. In fact, the most notable of all American silversmiths and Revolutionary War figures, Paul Revere fashioned dental work for numerous leaders of the day including Dr. Joseph Warren who would be killed at Breed’s Hill in Boston.[xvi]
The silversmiths of Jefferson and Berkeley are a long and varied list of unique artisans each complete with unique and interesting lives. Due to restrictions of space, the following is a curtailed review of the various silver smiths across the area’s four major towns. A complete review can be found in Catherine Hollan’s groundbreaking work Silversmiths of Virginia 1607-1860.
M.S. Brown (1805-1879?): a silversmith and watchmaker, originally from Winchester, Va., Brown lived in Shepherdstown from 1829-1839 and had his shop across the street from the Entler Hotel.
William Cordell (1788-1867?): a silversmith, clock and watchmaker, worked in Leesburg, Va., Charlestown, W.Va. (1806-1810), Warrenton, Va., and St. Louis, Mo.
Jacob Craft (1765-1825): a clockmaker and silversmith, born in the Marburg Region of Southeast Germany and settled in Shepherdstown about 1790. His residence and workshop were located in various spots around town including the southeast corner of Washington and Church Streets and the south side of German St., across from the “Yellow Brick Bank.” The Entler Hotel Museum has three tall clocks made by Craft, as well as a Craft Family birth record or fraktur.
John Foster (1797-1858): an orphan, he was apprenticed to Baltimore silversmith, George Thorpe in 1812. He worked as a silversmith in Martinsburg, W.Va. from 1831-1835.
(Nicholas) Smith Hunsicker; (1800?-18?): born at the family plantation “Prospect Hall” in Smithfield (Middleway), Jefferson County, he was a silversmith and watchmaker who worked from a room adjoining the Entler Hotel (1832-1836). When he lost the 175-acre family farm in Middleway, he moved to Arkansas in 1837.
James Hutchinson (1795-1854): a silversmith who worked in Martinsburg, W.Va. from 1823 to 1854. He also invented a washing machine that received a U.S. patent in 1843.
John Little (1793-184?): a silversmith, clock and watchmaker, as well as a dentist. He worked in Greencastle, Pa., before settling in Martinsburg, W.Va. in 1823.
Joseph McFeely (1790?-1840?): a silversmith, jeweler and dentist who practiced in Martinsburg, W.Va. from 1808-1826.
Michael Melhorn (1790-1840?): likely apprenticed under the clockmaker and silversmith, George Woltz of Hagerstown, Md. A jeweler, silversmith and watchmaker, he worked in Hagerstown, Md. (1803), Martinsburg, Va. (1804+), Harpers Ferry, W.Va. (1828-32), and Boonsboro, Md. (1832-1835).[xvii]
Frederick Jerome Posey (1815-1881): a silversmith and watchmaker, who maintained a shop in a rented room at Entler’s Hotel in Shepherdstown (1840-1845). Posey was the keeper of the town clock during his years of operation here. Unlike fellow silversmiths Hunsicker and Brown, Posey was an opponent of slavery. Posey attempted to assist a group of slaves to escape from their owner to Canada in 1857. Posey lent his carriage to the group, which was led by an enslaved man named William Henry Mood and included a woman named Belinda Bivans. Bivans was attempting to find her father, who had escaped to Canada earlier. She said that her owner, though a Christian, was a “backslider,” and added that “money was his church.” The runaway group was caught in Chambersburg, Pa. before making it to freedom in Canada.[xviii]
Charles G. Stewart (1797-1866): a silversmith, born in Delaware and settled in Charles Town, W.Va. about 1820. He was a trustee and influential member of Charles Town’s Presbyterian Church.
John Bernard Woltz (1785-1850?): the son of George Woltz, a prominent silversmith, and clock maker in Hagerstown, Maryland. John moved to Shepherdstown in 1811 and worked as a silversmith, goldsmith, watchmaker, clockmaker and jeweler at several locations in town, including his home and shop which was located one door up from Weltzheimer’s Tavern. A tall clock by John B. Woltz is located in the front parlor of the Entler Hotel Museum of Shepherdstown.
Young & Bockius: Philip Young, William Young, and Daniel Bockius were silversmith and watchmakers working in Martinsburg, W.Va. from 1798 through about 1825.
Samuel Young (1780-1851): a silversmith and clockmaker who worked in Hagerstown, Md. and Winchester, Va. before settling in Charles Town in 1811. He served in the War of 1812
John L. Albert: Silversmith, clockmaker, Shepherdstown 1826, Winchester, Va. 1827-1828.
Anthony Bondel B. 1752 West Indies-D. 1833) Silversmith-Jeweler. Born in Santo Domingo, West Indies Anthony Bondel and his family fled the Islands during a massive slave revolt. Starting over in America Blondel worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Maryland from 1791-1813 before moving to set up shop in Martinsburg, Va. Anthony Blondel’s son John Henry Blondel was a noted coppersmith working in Martinsburg.
Oliver Calame (B. 1768 Switzerland) Watchmaker, silversmith. Harpers Ferry 1820-21, Charles Town 1821.
Collin Cordell (B. 1784 Va. D.1809) Silversmith. Son of silversmith George Cordell. Charles Town 1803-1809.
Paris Corey (Cory) (B.1824 Connecticut- D 1878 MD.) Silversmith. Harpers Ferry 1852-54, Charles Town 1853-60.
John Gooding, Silversmith. Shepherdstown, 1789-96+
John Grove (Johann Groff) Silversmith, Clock Maker. Martinsburg 1800-1814/20, Shepherdstown 1809, Hardscrabble 1825.
Frederick Tyler Harrison (B.1793-D 1878) Silversmith, Watchmaker. Charles Town 1811-1814.
Charles Thomas Hayden (B.1845-D.1826) Silversmith. Son of Silversmith Wm. Hayden. Martinsburg, 1866-74.
Jesse Hayden (B. 1780 D. 1852) Clockmaker, Watchmaker, Silversmith. Martinsburg 1806-52
Frederick Houck (B. 1799 Germany D. 1868) Silversmith, Jeweler. Harpers Ferry 1822-39
Samuel Hutchinson (B. 1825- D. 1873) Silversmith, Son of silversmith James Hutchinson. Martinsburg 1840-73
Samuel Johnston (B. 1804- D. 184x) Silversmith, Watchmaker, Dentist. Son of silversmith Arthur Johnston. Harpers Ferry, 1830.
William Tyler McDonald (B.1803) Silversmith, Watchmaker, Jeweler. Shepherstown 1845, 1851,1860, Bolivar 1850, Harpers Ferry 1850-51, Martinsburg 1854-55.
Robert McGuire (B.1781) Silversmith, Clockmaker, watchmaker. Martinsburg 1802-04
John Peter Mylius (silversmith) Harpers Ferry 1830-36
Robert Isaac Watts Polk (B1818 D. 1861) Silversmith, Martinsburg 1835-1836
William Stevens (B. 1820)
Silversmith. Shepherdstown 1850-1880, Brother of Shepherdstown Chair and
Furniture maker John Stevens. [xix]
[vii] Cutten, George Barton. The Silversmiths of Virginia, (Together with Watchmaker and Jewelers) from 1694 to 1850 (Richmond, Virginia: The Dietz Press, Incorporated, 1952), p.xiii.
[viii] Bruce, Philip Alexander. Economic History of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1907), p.170-171.
[xii] Hollan, Catherine B. Virginia. Silversmiths, Jewelers, Clock-and Watch-makers, 1607-1860 (Marceline:Holland Press, 2010), p. 102-3, 390.
[xv] Hollan, Catherine B. Virginia and West Virginia Silversmith and Related Artisans to 1900 (Alexandria:Hollan Press, 2017).
[xvii] Hollan, Catherine B. Virginia and West Virginia Silversmith and Related Artisans to 1900 (Alexandria:Hollan Press, 2017).
[xviii] Still, William. Still’s Underground Railroad Records: With a Life of the Author (Philadelphia: William Still, 1886), p 388-389.
[xix] Hollan, Catherine B. Virginia and West Virginia Silversmith and Related Artisans to 1900 (Alexandria:Hollan Press, 2017).