A fire glows in the coal-fed forge as Jeff Miller hammers iron, fashioning a part for a cannon mount. A Colonial-era flintlock gun he made hangs on the inside wall near the door of his shop. Using blacksmithing skills to shape history and to teach others about this nation’s past has been more than a job for Miller—for the last 30 years it’s been a passion.
Miller says a love of old tools led to his interest in blacksmithing. “My father was a master carpenter and collected old tools. I learned a lot about tools at an early age, but I wasn’t just interested in how to use them, I wanted to know how they were made.”
Following college, Miller studied traditional blacksmithing at Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in Massachusetts. When Sturbridge’s head blacksmith retired, Miller took over the position. Then in 1986, he and his family moved to Charlestown, N.H., (pop. 4,749) to establish a blacksmith shop at Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown’s replicated 1744 fortified village. Co-directing the site with his wife, Louise, a weaving specialist, the two worked together developing programs and training staff.
In 1997, Miller began shaping iron full-time at his own blacksmith shop—the Flintlock Forge—which he built near the family’s log home. He specializes in reproductions of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century museum-quality ironware such as door latch assemblies, hinges, gun parts, decorative hooks, kitchen utensils, and traditional tools. His clients include museums, period re-enactors, contractors, and homeowners. Two of his more challenging commissions were an 18th-century ox cart and all the ironware for a late 18th-century cannon carriage.
When it comes to Colonial history, the Millers are pursuing more than just the reproduction of artifacts—they’re pursing history itself. In 1999, they began publishing The Pine Tree Shilling, a quarterly magazine devoted to early America during the period 1650 to 1780.
“History is an ongoing record of life and events,” Louise says. “The Pine Tree Shilling is not about battles and wars. It’s dedicated to opening a window on the activities and interaction that maintained the society that was forming the history of the American colonies.”
More recently, they’ve melded modern technology with their love of Colonial history and launched a website. The site, www.pinetreeshilling.com, contains articles from the most current issue of the quarterly, bulletin boards, and links to historic sites and living history museums.
For the Millers&Mac226; The Shilling picks up where history books leave off, featuring in-depth articles about tools, materials, skills, entertainment, traditions, food, and crafts that made up life in the early days of the country. The publication’s growing circulation includes readers across the nation as well as in England.
In choosing the 1650-1780 period, Louise says they “wanted to cover the period of Colonial history that’s not really familiar to the average person. By 1650, a lot of settlements were being undertaken, both in New England and all along the East Coast. The material we present,” Louise says, “takes in as many of the colonies as possible, not just New England.”
Teaching children their Colonial heritage is important to the Millers. Parents of teenagers Hannah and Joshua, they began their newest enterprise this fall, taking a living history program into area schools. “We re-create an 18th-century ‘keeping room’,” Louise says, “which served as the main room of the house. We appear in costume and use authentic reproductions of clothing, china, pewter, and woodenware, presenting a typical household of the day. We explain how settlers lived and how they obtained the things they used. These are the things that laid the foundation and started the heritage of what was to become the United States,” she says.
In their own quiet way, the Millers remind others of how important that heritage remains.