When conditions permit, you’ll be able to visit the blacksmith shop on the Windham Historical Society’s Village Green and see a real smithy at work. Photo by Haley Pal

The Colonial blacksmith was an essential craftsman in the New World. He made indispensable items such as horseshoes, pots, pans and nails that were needed to set up a homestead in the frontier. Sometimes called ferriers, these skilled tradesmen also provided tools to early farmers, including axes, plowshares, cowbells and hoes. They supplied homes in the wilderness with door latches, hooks, fireplace andirons, kettles, kitchen utensils and sewing tools.

Becoming a blacksmith in the 18th century was no easy task. Apprenticeships started at age 14 or 15 and could last for up to seven years. At first, the apprentice would observe his master at work and help with easy tasks. As time went on, the young apprentice would learn more complicated procedures such as heating and bending iron. Finally, he would be tasked with fashioning some kind of metal into his “master piece.” If his master felt the piece was adequate, he would pass his apprenticeship and become a journeyman. This was a traveling blacksmith who would repair metal goods in nearby towns and villages. Through his work as a journeyman, the young blacksmith would hopefully earn enough money to set up a shop of his own.

The first blacksmith in New Marblehead was William Mayberry. According to a family tale, when he initially arrived, for lack of better accommodations, he set up his first forge under the branches of an enormous oak tree, placing his anvil on a convenient tree stump. In addition to the early settlers, some Native Americans in the area were among his first customers.

Mayberry came to America from Ballermoney, near Coloraine, in Antrim County, Ireland, with his wife Bathsheeba and his two sons, John and Thomas. While on the arduous journey across the ocean, his daughter Sea Fair was born. When he arrived in Marblehead, Massachusetts, around 1735, his son, Richard, came into the world.

When the Great and General Court of Massachusetts granted some Marblehead residents land in the New Marblehead territory, William Mayberry was among the grantees. He was the owner of Lot 57, but did not settle there. He built a log dwelling on Lot 11 which he had purchased from its original owner, Robert Bull, in 1740. By 1759, he was taxed for Lots 11, 19, 26, 38 and 57. He moved to Lot 26 and it was on this homestead that he built a garrison house and his daughter, Anne, also referred to as Nancy, was born. She was the second white child to be born in the present town of Windham.

If Mayberry’s forge was typical of those of the time, it was small, dark and hot. It would contain a raised brick hearth (or forge) that was equipped with bellows that continually fed air into a coal fire. The forge heated iron bars until they were hot and pliable. The iron would be removed from the fire using long-handled tongs and be placed on a heavy iron anvil. Using a sledge hammer and various files, Mayberry would then form the iron into a desired shape. This required skill and complete accuracy.

According to Samuel Dole, author of “Windham in the Past,” Mayberry was a “tall, bony man of great physical strength and endurance. He was somewhat reticent in his demeanor and was of grim humor.” Dole tells the story of a day in Saccarappa (Westbrook) when a well-dressed gentleman approached Mayberry asking, “Mister, how far is it to a blacksmith shop?” Mayberry responded, “Why my dear sir, you are in the shop now, but it is, at least, three miles to the anvil.” The reputed size of the blacksmith was most foreboding to the traveler who quietly went on his way. Little did he know he was just speaking with the very blacksmith he was hoping to find.

It is unclear when William Mayberry was born, but his death is recorded as March 15, 1765. He was a brave, respected Town Father who forged his way through the wilderness to help build the community where we reside today.

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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