Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Blacksmith of Brandywine: The Story of an American Legend Makes Sense on a Legendary Day

As we remember the attack on the World Trade Towers in New York that occurred 12 years ago today, it's easy to forget that this day has another memorable place in American history.

Today is also the anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine. It was fought near Chadds Ford in Pennsylvania, not far from the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center. And yes, there was hoofcare involved.

The reason you might not know about this battle is because George Washington and his army of rebellious American colonists lost to the British on this day in 1777. We tend to study the battles that were won, not lost, when we're in school. This loss led to the British occupation of Philadelphia.

What you also may not know, however, is that one American fought the British soldiers with a hammer instead of a musket. And he did it after the battle had ended.

Legend has it is that the unnamed farrier from Chester was not a member of Washington's army at all, but that he admired and respected the general. The farrier went about his business peacefully until a Tory came to his shop to have his horse shod a few days before the battle began. Since an old law required farriers to serve the needs of travelers, the farrier was obliged to shoe the horse.

A blacksmith weathervane by
While the loyalist waited for his horse to be shod, he chatted away, and intimated to the farrier that a plan was afoot to kidnap General Washington. Alarmed, the farrier decided that it was his duty to go to Washington and warn him of the plan.

So he finished shoeing the loose-lipped Tory's horse and off he went, sounded the alarm, and foiled the British plot. General Washington remained safe, thanks to this blacksmith.

But when he returned to his forge, he found it and his home burned to the ground, and his wife and son murdered. His neighbors told him that British soldiers had learned it was he who had warned Washington, and they had come to find--and destroy--him.

Enraged, the farrier grabbed his biggest hammer and went after the British. He found them in Chadds Ford, where the battle was over and the colonists were in retreat. They were going back, but the farrier rushed forward onto the battlefield, and toward the victorious British troops.

He attacked with all his might, with the only weapon he owned.

The nameless blacksmith of Brandywine never returned from that battleground but no one in the area ever stopped talking about the blacksmith who confronted the British troops on the battlefield, armed only with his hammer, just as Washington's men were beating a hasty retreat.

The Blacksmith of Brandywine is a great legend of American history. His story has been kept alive by a folk song made popular in the 1960s by the New Christy Minstrels, and sung today on the Hoof Blog by Charlie Zahm, thanks to YouTube.


In Chestertown there lived a man away from the cannon's roar.
Of manner mild, his woman and child, no man could ever love more;
But the Tories spoke of a plot one day to waylay Washington,
And he left his home and family alone. To the general he did run. 


Make it one for Washington and all his gallant men,
One for the girl that once was mine;
Make it one for the darling boy I'll never see again,
And one for the blacksmith of Brandywine.

His errand done, he journeyed home but sorrow there he found.
By British guns his wife and son lay still on the cold hard ground.
Well, that blacksmith reached for his heavy sledge and he gave a practice swing,
And they say on the line at Brandywine, they hear that hammer sing.

As we marched into Brandywine, it was a sight to see:
A giant of a man with a hammer in his hand beneath the old oak tree,
And all around him on the ground, in fatal disarray,
Lay a score of men who'll never fight again, or travel on the King's highway.

We dug his grave, covered him o'er, and sadly wept a tear,
Spent the day ridin' on our way till we met with a musketeer.
From him we learned the story of this brave and angry man,
Who undertook the British enemy with a hammer in his hand. 


Make it one for Washington and all his gallant men,
One for the girl that once was mine;
Make it one for the darling boy I'll never see again,
And one for the blacksmith of Brandywine.

His legend reminds me so much of the song written after 911 in New York, describing how the firemen were going up the stairs as the people were going down.

Tom Paxton wrote it: I think it is called "The Bravest", though some call it just "The Firemen's Song" and the chorus goes something like:

"We kept on running down the stairs / While they kept climbing higher." I think often of those words, and the bravery of people who don't turn and run, but instead advance into the danger. They have their reasons and they know where they're going probably doesn't include a way home. 

Just like the Blacksmith of Brandywine.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. Please, no use without permission. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page).

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