Saturday, September 22, 2007

Snuff Box

The Snuff Box
I remember the day I held it in my hand. In my boyhood, I had already begun to develop an affinity for local history and the strong connection that the Revere Family had to the Town of Canton. Paul Revere came to Canton in 1801 at the age of 65 and began a close connection with the town. There are small and large reminders all around town - Revere Street, The Revere School, the Viaduct, his Rolling Mill, his son's House is still standing, and in the Canton Historical Society many artifacts serve as further reminders.

My earliest education was under the influence of none other than Paul Revere. Well, actually it was in a small four room schoolhouse named for the famous patriot and over the mantle of the fireplace in the common room hung a portrait of the man himself. And so, at a very early age I was intensely curious about all things "Revere" and the connection of that family to our community.

Not to soon thereafter, Danny, one of my schoolmates offered to trade me a genuine "artifact" from the Revere Family. I can not remember the terms of the trade, but I do remember that the provenance of the origin was a bit shaky. On the appointed day my buddy brought me a small round metal box which was well worn and quite beaten by time. "It is a snuff box" he proclaimed, and he traded it to me for what may have been a handful of Dutch beads for all that I can recall. The only additional elements of the transactional history was that the box was dug up from behind Danny's house and at one time Paul Revere owned the land where Danny lived.

So, that was good enough for me. An eight year old with an antique snuffbox that was carried in the pocket of the great Patriot Paul Revere. Thinking back to being eight years old there was a new vein of active curiosity and intellectual growth that would be part of my life forever.

I hold onto the legend of the Revere Snuffbox for almost 35 years (please do not do the math). It turns out that in fact if the "digging up in the backyard" part of the story is true, then yes it was land owned by the Revere's. Most likely it was from the property of Joseph Warren Revere who had a house that abutted the property of my young friend. And, the road that ran behind Danny's house was the road that led to the Revere Copper and Rolling Mill.

The small box of tin or brass has always been a simple symbol of another time and place. The cover seems to have a Spanish Soldier in bas relief. Not a marking to indicate the date or the origin, very small and quite well worn. This has always had a gentle feel in my hand and as I turn it in my palm I imagine the waistcoat that once pocketed the box. It is my earliest curiosity and always has a special place on the shelf of my bookcase surrounded by volumes and pamphlets on the local history of the town.

I will never know the true owner of the box, and quite frankly it does not matter to me. The thing is, these artifacts are around all of us and they always tell a story. That is the power of saving such items, such is the amazing connection we have to the past. We work to document and save historic houses, we mark historic sites, we snoop out old cellar holes, we research documents and fight the battles that will at times feel quixotic. But in the end, we are actually working to preserve ourselves, we are staking out lines to support preserving places so that in the future we have a backdrop to the history of who we are and who came before us. This is what makes us vital and what creates legends and stories.

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