Born in Maine in 1756 (or 1755, in some sources), Edward Nason trained as an apprentice with a blacksmith in Saco. At about age 19, he enlisted in the army. Nason was at the siege of Boston, participated in the attack on Quebec, and fought at Ticonderoga and Saratoga before completing his service at the end of 1777. A few years later he married, started a family, and worked with members of his family. By 1816, an announcement of a destructive fire noted that Nason had owned a grist mill, a blacksmith’s shop, and a fulling mill in an area called “Nason’s Mills” at Arundel, Maine. Genealogical records and newspaper notices provide clues about Nason’s long life—he died in 1847 at over 90 years of age—but an object in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library offers hints at how he identified himself.
This creamware pitcher, made in England and decorated with transfer prints, was personalized with the owner’s name, “Edward Nason,” painted within an ornamental cartouche under the spout. Each side of the pitcher bears a transfer print. One print was designed particularly for the American market. It features at its center a wish for the new nation that Nason had fought to establish in his youth: “Peace, Plenty, and Independence.” Symbols in this print support the patriotic sentiment. One of the largest is an eagle, standing on a cannon, with an American flag and many martial objects behind it. On either side of the text at the center, female figures dressed in classical robes carry fruit-filled cornucopia representing the idea of plenty.
The other side of the vessel features a heraldry-inspired image, “The Blacksmiths Arms.” It also bears the motto “By Hammer and Hand All Arts Do Stand.” Above this motto panoplies of armor and weapons flank a shield which displays three blacksmith’s hammers. The text and images are an interpretation of the arms of The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, a trade guild which had been established in London in the 1500s. By the time this pitcher was made, the group no longer regulated the blacksmithing trade. Nason could not have had any formal association with this group, but this image may have resonated with him as a representation of his occupation. Though Nason earned his living from different ventures over the years, he was known by the trade that he had learned as a teenager—he was, for example, identified as a blacksmith on deeds for land transactions he was involved in from 1779 through 1821.
If Nason received this pitcher as a gift or if he commissioned it himself is not known. Nor is it known if this object commemorated a particular milestone or event. Regardless, whomever ordered or selected this pitcher decorated with these particular images made a choice that connected aspects of Nason’s life, his time as a soldier and his identification as a blacksmith.
Pitcher Owned by Edward Nason, 1800-1820. England. Special Acquisitions Fund, 85.36.2. Photographs by David Bohl.
“Fires,” Columbian Centinel (Boston, MA), 4/3/1816, page 4.
Robert Teitelman, Patricia A. Halfpenny, Ronald W. Fuchs II, Success to America: Creamware for the American Market (Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Antiques Collectors’ Club, 2010), 224-225, 271.