Forged in Philadelphia

Forged in Philadelphia

by Rebecca Eckfeldt Gibby


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781458213990
Publisher: Abbott Press
Publication date: 02/06/2014
Pages: 110
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.26(d)

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By Rebecca Eckfeldt Gibby

Abbott Press

Copyright © 2014 Rebecca Eckfeldt Gibby
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4582-1399-0


"There. That should do it! I believe that will hold for a good, long time."

Adam Eckfeldt lifted his head, flexed his cramped shoulders, and stood to his full height. Sweat rolled down his forehead, cheeks, and chin. He wiped the moisture from his eyes and carefully inspected his work.

Using tongs, Adam held out the teapot he'd repaired to his young servant Christian. Christian had been traded to Adam's father, Jacob, four years ago, at the age of fourteen, for a plowshare, two scythes, and five rakes. He was learning the blacksmith trade alongside Adam, who had recently celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday. Christian was an African who was five feet, ten inches tall. His job was to pump the bellows, heating the fire in the forge while Adam worked the hot metal over the crack and beat it smooth with his hammer. Christian took the tongs and plunged the teapot into a barrel of cold water. The forge filled with the hiss of steam as the water hit the red-hot metal.

"Bank the fire for the night and close up the shop, would you, Christian?" Adam put down his tools and wiped his hands on his apron. "I have to dine early and get to the firehouse for a meeting. We'll let this teapot cure for the night, and tomorrow morning I will deliver it to President's House for Mrs. Washington. She'll need it for afternoon tea."

Adam turned and headed to the door but stopped short when he saw Christian's disappointed expression.

"What is it, Christian?"

"Nothing, sir. It's nothing." Christian turned back to tend the fire.

"It's far from nothing with such a long face. Would you like to go with me to President Washington's house in the morning, Christian?"

"Oh yes, sir. I would like that very much."

"It's Mrs. Washington's girl you want to see, I'm guessing. What's her name? Ona Judge? The one who brought the teapot this morning? She caught your eye, didn't she?" teased Adam.

"Well, I have to admit she did, sir. I would not mind seeing her again."

"All right. We will go together." Adam removed his leather apron, hung it on a peg, and started toward the door of the forge.

"Thank you, sir." Christian's face was flushed with excitement and gratitude. "It is most kind of you to understand."

"Well, Christian, we men must stick together when it comes to the ladies. I am most fortunate that Miss Maria Hahn worships at St. Michael's German Lutheran Church, where my family also attends service. I see her with her family every Sunday. That makes courting much easier." Adam winked and waved as he left the forge.

"Have a good evening, sir," Christian called after him.

Adam made his way from the forge and through the shop, which was empty at this hour of the day. The shop was a small, wooden structure between the forge and the house. Customers could enter through a door that opened onto Fifth Street. A large sign that read "The Sign of the Sickle" was nailed over the door. Inside was a broad, plank counter covered with household items left for repair. Wooden shelves on all four walls of the shop were filled with metal rings for wheels, staves to form barrels, and boxes of fireplace tools, pots, pans, nails, hinges, and latches of all sizes.

Adam worked at the blacksmith business his father, Jacob, had started upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1764. It was a growing business in a flourishing city. Now it was 1792, and the War for Independence from England had been won. Philadelphia was the capital of the government, culture, and commerce in the newly formed United States.

Adam paused on his way through the empty shop to examine an iron cook pot with a crack in it. I need to get to this tomorrow, he thought as he returned it to the counter. After I return from President's House.

A mansion at Sixth and Market Street in Philadelphia served as the official residence of President and Mrs. Washington. The house, formerly owned by Robert Morris, had recently been renovated and expanded to accommodate the president's family and many servants. The four-story brick building, considered very grand by Philadelphia standards, was now referred to by all Philadelphians as President's House.

Adam crossed the walkway between the house and the shop in three easy strides. He wiped the dirt from his arms and hands with a cotton rag as he strode into the house he shared with his father, stepmother—Elizabeth—and two younger half-brothers—Michael and George—who ran toward him.

"Adam, do you want to roll hoops with us after dinner? Mama said we could if you would go with us."

"Please, please, Adam." They surrounded Adam, jumping up and down.

"Boys, quiet down," Elizabeth said as she laughed. "Leave your brother alone."

She reached up to her forehead and brushed aside a few strands of chestnut-brown hair that had escaped her white, cotton cap. Her face glowed from the fire's heat as she stirred the stew in the iron pot that hung over a roaring fire. Elizabeth was expecting her third child in a few months and she moved awkwardly between the fireplace and the kitchen table. She was a small, energetic woman with a quick smile and a patient demeanor. Adam had been five when she married Jacob and came into young Adam's world, bringing welcome warmth into his lonely day-to- day life.

"It's all right, Elizabeth. I would love nothing better, boys. But my friend William and I have a meeting at the fire hall tonight, and we can't be late if we want to get seats." He gave his half-brothers an affectionate shove and a broad grin.

"Aw, why do you have to always go out? What's so important?" The two boys clambered up to sit next to Adam on the bench.

"This is a joint meeting of several companies." Adam turned to his father, who was sitting in an armchair at the end of the kitchen table and reading the ads in the Pennsylvania Gazette. "We are discussing opening up fire brigade membership to any freed African slaves who want to join."

"Hmm. That seems a bit foolhardy, don't you think?" Jacob put aside his newspaper.

Adam's father was of solid German stock with a ruddy face, dark eyes with bushy brows, and a generous Teutonic nose. He wore his graying hair loose and untied. He was from the "old country," and Adam knew his ideas were traditional. He was stubborn and opinionated, especially when it came to Africans buying their freedom or running away from their masters.

Elizabeth stopped stirring and turned her clear, blue eyes toward her husband. A puzzled expression played on her face. "Why would you say that, Jacob?"

"Because we must be careful to keep slaves in their place. Even freed slaves, given too much power, can be a grave concern." He reached his arm out to guide Elizabeth to a seat on the bench. Turning to Adam, he continued. "I know it's hard for you to understand my feelings. Your mother and I came to this country on a ship from Germany with little but the clothes on our backs and the tools of my trade. We had to work and save and sacrifice to make our way."

"I know, Father, but why shouldn't we extend a hand to those who face even harder challenges than you did? Should we close them out just because of the color of their skin? Shouldn't we accept them for the men that they are? If they are eager to volunteer and give their time and strength for the benefit of the community, then I say we should accept it with the good grace with which it is offered."

Jacob scowled and shook his head vehemently at his son. He raised his hands in exasperation. "You are naïve, son. It's dangerous to let African slaves or even freed Africans into our clubs."

Adam tried to keep his voice even, but he could feel his body temperature rise. "With all due respect, Father, I disagree. The number of calls answered by fire brigades is on the rise. Bells ring at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes, we do not have enough men to fight them quickly enough to save the people or the buildings. When a neighbor's home or business is burning, we need all the help we can get."

"Well, I for one am strongly opposed to allowing slaves ..." Jacob stopped in midsentence as Christian entered the room. Elizabeth, back at the stove, flushed, less from the heat of the fire than from embarrassment at what Christian may have heard.

Adam changed the subject abruptly. "By the way, Father, I completed the repair on Mrs. Washington's teapot. Christian and I will deliver it in the morning after it has cooled."

Elizabeth handed a plate of hot stew to Christian. She met his direct gaze and gave him a kind smile.

He mumbled a soft, "Thank you, ma'am," and turned to leave the room with his food.

"Why is Christian going with you when I need him in the forge to tend the fire? I have a large order of sickles due by day's end."

Adam fumbled to find an excuse. "He, um, wants to see the stovepipes we installed to bring heat to the Free Quaker Meetinghouse. Our 'closed stove' system is still somewhat of a novelty in public rooms, and I thought we could, ah, we could look at it on the way to President's House."

Jacob waited until the door closed behind Christian and then shook his head at his son and turned away. "You treat him like an equal! You know how I feel about making slaves part of the family. We've been through this before, Adam," he grumbled. "I am not in favor, of course. Just this once, do you understand?"

Adam sighed. "Yes, Father, just this once."

"Adam, what is a Quaker?" asked George.

George was inquisitive for his age, and Adam always tried to answer his questions thoughtfully and honestly. "Well, there is a religious group called The Society of Friends, who follow the teachings of the Bible very strictly. Some people make fun of their strict ways and call them Quakers."

"What are Free Quakers, then?"

"Free Quakers are people who were asked to leave their own meetings because they participated in the War for Independence and Quakers do not believe in war and fighting. So the Free Quakers organized into their own group and built a new meetinghouse."

"Oh," said George. "And you and Papa built their stove for them?"

"That's right. The stove and the stovepipes and lots of hinges and bolts too. We even made the lightning rods." Turning back to his father, Adam said, "Christian and I will return quickly, Father. You have my word."

Adam gobbled his stew and left the house as quickly as possible, his spirits dampened by his conversation with his father. He usually loved walking the streets of Philadelphia. The brick buildings of this capital of the Union gleamed in the setting sun. The lamplighter started his rounds down Arch Street as horse-drawn carriages carried people home for the evening. There was a bustle of activity as shopkeepers shut up their stores and hurried away, carrying baskets of goods.

Adam was proud that metalwork from The Sign of the Sickle was in almost every building that he passed. But tonight, he lacked his usual enthusiasm. His father's prejudice against Africans was so different from Adam's views that it seemed to create an ever-widening gulf between them.

As Adam continued down Fifth Street on his way to the fire hall, he passed a group of children rushing home from a game in the street. He chuckled as he thought of his own half-brothers. They were lively, smart, and funny. They had more of Elizabeth's love of life and less of Jacob's Old World solemnity, and Adam loved them for it. Adam hoped that one or both of them would soon show a talent for blacksmithing and join Jacob in the trade.

After Adam had left the kitchen, Jacob turned to Elizabeth. "I cannot believe that boy! He treats Christian more like a brother than a slave!"

Elizabeth faced Jacob. The firelight softened the features on her face as she smiled at him. "Well, first of all, husband, Adam is no longer a boy. You must get used to that. Adam and Christian have grown up together. They learned your trade together. Are you so surprised that they are close?"

"It's inappropriate. And this ridiculous idea of Africans joining the fire brigade! They are not equals! They should not be extended the same rights as we have. Where do these notions come from? I simply cannot condone it!"

Elizabeth took Jacob's hand. "Jacob, your son is growing into a fine young man. A patriot. He understands that freedom is important because he lived through a War for Independence, right here at his own doorstep. He watched countless men go off to war and never return. He understands that freedom is worth fighting for, no matter what the cost."

Jacob snorted in disgust. "It's not the same thing."

"Oh, but it is, Jacob. Can you remember the excitement you and Magdalena felt when you left Bavaria on the ship Chance in Rotterdam? You did that to seek your own freedom in America." Jacob opened his mouth to object, but Elizabeth went on. "Do you remember how you felt when you arrived in Philadelphia, set up your blacksmith business, and waited for the birth of your first child? You were on the brink of something wonderful. Try to remember that feeling and understand that other people are searching for that same feeling of freedom."

Elizabeth reached up and touched Jacob tenderly on his cheek. "Oh my love, your life has not been easy. Losing Magdalena in childbirth was heartbreaking, I know. But look what she left you: a thriving son who I have been so blessed to raise as my own, with our two little boys. And another baby on the way. Can't you put aside your anger? Despite it all, you have found contentment. Can't you wish that for everyone?"

Jacob sighed and hung his head. "I must seem like a stubborn old fool to you."

"Not stubborn, not old, and never a fool. Just a bit set in your ways, maybe. Perhaps you could be a bit more understanding." She patted his hand and pushed herself out of the chair with effort.

Jacob's face softened as he helped her stand, and he nodded. "Perhaps, I could. Perhaps I could."


Adam turned right onto Race Street and made his way toward the Good Will Fire House. Along the way, he met many young men from across Philadelphia, all heading to the meeting. Some were members of his own fire company; others were from the Union Fire Company, Heart-in-Hand, the Britannia, or the Fellowship.

Adam hurried to catch up with his friend, William Gostelowe, a furniture maker whose father, Gottlieb, had emigrated from Germany about the same time as Jacob. William was taller than Adam was and wore his brown hair in a single braid down his back. He had deep-set eyes and a heavy beard that made him appear older than Adam, but they were the same age and had been friends since boyhood. Like Adam, William was apprenticed to his own father, learning the furniture trade. He was expected to take over the business at some point in the future. Unlike Jacob, however, Gottlieb had several sons and nephews who had become master craftsmen, and the Gostelowes did not own any slaves.

Adam and William greeted each other warmly. "This is going to be quite an evening, William. I understand that both Absalom Jones and Richard Allen are coming to speak to the whole."

William furrowed his browin question. "Remind me who they are again. Though I know I should, I cannot for the life of me remember."

"They are the two freed slaves that founded the Free African Society."

The two friends hurried along the darkening cobbled street. The streetlamps were now lit and their flames cast flickering shadows on the faces of the men as they made their way toward the fire hall.

Adam continued. "These gentlemen are trying to help the African population. They want slaves to be at home within the community. They are encouraging fire companies to allow them to become members."

"Oh, yes, now I remember. I heard something about those two men working to find apprenticing opportunities for African men and women who were once slaves and now are free."

"Right. Well, I have no problem with it, but my father is not pleased."

"Our fathers are cut from the same cloth, I fear." William laughed. "You should hear mine on the subject."

As they turned the corner and neared the fire hall, Adam put out his hand to stop William from moving forward. "Speaking of my father, could I have a private word with you before we enter the meeting hall?"

"Certainly. Is there something wrong?"

Adam lowered his voice and spoke earnestly. "Not so much wrong. Unsettling is a better word. Yes, I am a bit unsettled."


Excerpted from FORGED in PHILADELPHIA by Rebecca Eckfeldt Gibby. Copyright © 2014 Rebecca Eckfeldt Gibby. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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