Story of The Blacksmith of Brandywine

Source: LIFE Treasury of American Folklore (this book is the direct inspiration for the song)
Date: 1961
By The Editors of LIFE with paintings by James Lewicki
song / MIDI file / NWC file / story / original words and song history

page 84

The principal events in this story of a heroic colonial blacksmith sound so plausible that there is some likelihood it has basis in fact. Whether or not it actually did occur as retold here, no one can say. It is a legend of Washington's campaign in Pennsylvania.

About the time the American Revolution was changing from skirmishes into a war there stood near Dilworth Corner, on the road to Chester, Pennsylvania, a charming, slope-roofed cottage of dark stone. Vines, trees and a flower garden almost hid it from the road. At one side of the cottage stood a smithy.

Here lived a blacksmith, a kind, hard-working man devoted to his wife and infant child. He wanted nothing more than to give them all he could earn with his strong arm, his forge and his name as an honest craftsman. Rumors of revolution and possible war increased as the weeks passed, but the big blacksmith shrugged them off. Even when fighting began and customers came into the smithy talking of fierce engagements between Colonials and British and of the courage of General Washington, he paid little heed. War was not for him. He had his wife and tiny son to think of, and he stuck to his forge.

But one morning - the day before the Battle of Brandywine, it turned out - a Tory refugee came into the smithy to have his horse reshod. The Tory spoke freely to others, ignoring the blacksmith. A carefully conceived plan was under way, he said, to lure "the traitor Washington" into a trap, kidnap him, take him to England and there try him for treason.

The blacksmith wanted anything but to be involved in the war, but he had conceived a quiet admiration for this man Washington. Surely he could sacrifice a night's sleep for him. That night when work was done he kissed his baby goodby, said farewell to his wife and hurried to the camp of the American army. There he saw Washington and warned him of the kidnap plot. That done, and having accepted the commander's thanks, he started for home. When at dawn he reached Dilworth Corner he found that his home no longer existed. Everything was burned except the blackened stone walls.

For a moment uncomprehending terror seized him. Where were his wife and child? But then he thought that surely they would have had time to escape - especially since the house was made of stone - and had been taken in and sheltered by kind neighbors. He would rebuild the house better than ever, with finer vines and more beautiful flowers. But a neighbor put a hand on his shoulder and, unable to speak, led the blacksmith closer to the still-warm rubble. He finally managed to tell the awful tale. The British had come in the night, murdered the wife and child, and had flung their bodies into the flames. Among the ruins he saw the little mass of blackened flesh and bone.

The blacksmith turned toward his smithy and hunted for his biggest hammer. He then made his way back toward Brandywine where the battle had just begun. The fighting soldiers looked up to see a strange sight - a tall, big-shouldered man in the thick of the fighting, crushing English skulls as fast as he could swing a huge hammer. Each time he killed an enemy he cried out his wife's name.

He dragged a red-coated trooper from his horse, cried "Mary," and swung his hammer. another soldier fell at his feet, an officer in handsome uniform. "Mercy," he cried, "mercy. I have a wife yonder in England."

"I would spare you," replied the blacksmith, "but there is a form before me, and she calls on me to strike." The hammer fell.

But the blacksmith did not escape wounds himself. As the battle ended, a wagoner found him sitting by the roadside, a leg broken, blood flowing from many wounds. The wagoner offered to carry him from the field. "No, neighbor," said the blacksmith. "I never meddled with the British until they burned my home and killed - " He could not bring himself to say it. "I have five minutes' live left in me. I'd like another chance at them before I die. Could you drag a man of my build up into that cherry tree? And give me a powder horn, a good rifle and three rifle balls?"

The wagoner did as he was asked. Soon a party of British, led by an officer, came up the road pursuing a small group of Continentals.

The blacksmith raised his rifle. "For Washington," he murmured and fired. The officer fell dead. He took aim again. "For Mad Anthony Wayne." A soldier died. Other British saw where the fire came from and , rallied by another officer, charged the cherry tree. Once more the blacksmith aimed and brought down the officer. "And that," he shouted, "was for ..."

But before he could utter Mary he was dead.


Source: Myths and Legends of our Own Land
Date: 1896
By Charles M. Skinner

Terrible in the field at Brandywine was the figure of a man armed only with a hammer, who plunged into the ranks of the enemy, heedless of his own life, yet seeming to escape their shots and sabre cuts by magic, and with Thor strokes beat them to the earth. But yesterday war had been to him a distant rumor, a thing as far from his cottage at Dilworth as if it had been in Europe, but he had revolted at a plot that he had overheard to capture Washington and had warned the general. In revenge the Tories had burned his cottage, and his wife and baby had perished in the flames. All day he had sat beside the smoking ruins, unable to weep, unable to think, unable almost to suffer, except dumbly, for as yet he could not understand it. But when the drums were heard they roused the tiger in him, and gaunt with sleeplessness and hunger he joined his countrymen and ranged like Ajax on the field. Every cry for quarter was in vain: to every such appeal he had but one reply, his wife's name - Mary.

Near the end of the fight he lay beside the road, his leg broken, his flesh torn, his life ebbing from a dozen wounds. A wagoner, hasting to join the American retreat, paused to give him drink. "I've only five minutes more of life in me," said the smith. "Can you lift me into that tree and put a rifle in my hands?" The powerful teamster raised him to the crotch of an oak, and gave him the rifle and ammunition that a dying soldier had dropped there. A band of red-coats came running down the road, chasing some farmers. The blacksmith took careful aim; there was a report, and the leader of the band fell dead. A pause; again a report rang out, and a trooper sprawled upon the ground. The marksman had been seen, and a lieutenant was urging his men to hurry on and cut him down. There was a third report, and the lieutenant reeled forward into the road, bleeding and cursing. "That's for Mary," gasped the blacksmith. The rifle dropped from his hands, and he, too, sank lifeless against the boughs.

I'm still trying to track down the origin of this story. If you happen to run across a mention of this story outside of the song or these books, please email me at (remove spam first)

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