Shem Drowne

 

DROWNE, SHEM
(1683–1774)
was a Boston maker of weathervanes and a self-described tinsmith. He was heralded for his
Grasshopper trade
sign weathervane, made of gilded cooper with a glasseye and installed atop Faneuil Hall in Boston on May 25, 1742. Faneuil Hall, located on the waterfront’s Dock Square, was a new central market serving the busycolonial port where sailing ships docked, and where sailors and merchants gathered. The trade sign weathervane measures four feet by four inches in length, and wasinspired by a larger grasshopper adorning the Royal Exchange in London. In the mid-eighteenth century, the grasshopper was associated with mercantile exchanges.Drowne is the title character of writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804–1864) short story “Drowne’s Wooden Image,” first published in 1844. Hawthorne celebrated Drowne as a woodcarver rather than as a tinsmith.Hawthorne also highlighted an earlier weathervane that was made about 1716 by Shem Drowne; the
Indian
is constructed of copper with glass eyes, measures fivefeet, five inches in height, was made for the Province House in Boston, and is now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historic Society.Equally renowned is Drowne’s
Swallow-tailed Banner weathervane,
made of copper, measuring six feet in length, and located atop Boston’s Christ Church onCopp’s Hill. Christ Church is better known as the Old North Church memorialized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) in his 1860 poem “The MidnightRide of Paul Revere,” with its belfry tower “as it rose above the graves on the hill, lonely and spectral and somber and still.” A third surviving weathervane is the
Weathercock,
made of gilded copper with glass eyes, measuring 5½ feet long and weighing 172 pounds, and located on top of the spire of the First Church,Congregational, Cambridge, Massachusetts (although Drowne originally made the
Weathercock
for the New Brick Church on Hanover Street in Boston, where it wasdedicated on May 10, 1721).Shem Drowne’s son, Thomas Shem (1715–1796), joined his father, and in June 1768 Thomas repaired the Faneuil Hall grasshopper. During his father’s lifetime, heis credited with the 1767
Weathercock,
constructed of gilded copper, measuring four feet, four inches long, and made for the First Parish Waltham, Massachusetts, but now on the spire of that city’s First Congregational Church, as well as the 1771
Weathercock,
constructed of copper with glass eyes, measuring four feet, four inches in length, and made for the East Meetinghouse in Salem, Massachusetts. Myra Kaye, whose
Yankee Weathervanes
is a seminal work on Shem Drowne,concluded that Thomas, while trained by his father, was more artistically accomplished.
See also
Trade Signs
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Babcock, Mary Kent Davey.
Christ Church, Salem Street, Boston.
Boston, 1947.Babcock, Mrs. S.G. (Mary K.D.). “Weather-Vane on Christ Church, Boston.”
Old-Time New England,
vol. 32, no. 2 (October 1941): 63–65.Baker, Daniel W. “The Grasshopper in Boston.”
The New England Historical and Genealogical Register,
vol. 49 (January 1891): 24–28.Brown, Abram English.
Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Market
or
Peter Faneuil and His Gift.
Boston, 1900.Kaye, Myra.
Yankee Weathervanes.
New York, 1975.Thwing, Leroy L. “Deacon Shem Drowne—Maker of Weathervanes.”
Early American Industries Association Chronicle,
vol. 2, no. 1 (September 1937): 1–2, 7.