A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Collections Online

Indian archer weathervane

Indian archer weathervane Hammered copper and glass
Image 1 of 1

[ This description is from the project: Witness to America's Past ]

The Indian Archer weathervane with traces of its original gilding and a clear glass eye represents the Native American from the old colonial seal of Massachusetts Bay and was made to stand on the cupola of Boston's Province House, where it soon became a local landmark. In the nineteenth century, Nathaniel Hawthorne described the weathervane in his story "Drowne's Wooden Image" as "an Indian chief, gilded all over," which "stood during the better part of a century on the cupola of Province House, bedazzling the eves of those who looked upward, like an angel of the sun." Hawthorne's "Legends of the Province House" went on to describe the bow and arrow "as if aiming at the weathercock on the spire of the Old South."

The Province House dated from 1679, and in 1716 the General Court purchased the large brick home nearly opposite the Old South Church as the official residence of the governor. As symbols of the government, the royal coat of arms (now also in the collections of the Society) was installed over the doorway, and the Indian archer weathervane graced the cupola. The first official resident was probably Governor Shute, and then Governors Burnet, Shirley, Pownall, Bernard, Gage, and Howe lived here in succession. Thomas Hutchinson had his own stately townhouse. In 1817 the state contributed the estate to the Massachusetts General Hospital, and the hospital leased it for ninety-nine years to David Greenough (1774-1836), a builder and real-estate developer, who covered the half acre with various buildings. The Province House itself was turned into a tavern and was later destroyed in a fire in 1864. The land reverted to the hospital at the expiration of the lease in 1916.1 Today, the original exterior steps leading to the mansion are still visible on Province Street as a reminder of this old focal point for colonial Boston.

Shem Drowne, the artisan who created this vane, was the best-known tinplate worker in early Boston. Born in Kittery, Maine, Drowne came to Boston as a young boy with his family. Several of Drowne's other vanes survive in the Boston area, including a rooster (1721) now on the First Church in Cambridge, Congregational; a swallow-tail banneret (1740) at the Old North Church; and his most famous, the grasshopper (1742) atop Faneuil Hall.2 Drowne became unusually prosperous for an eighteenth-century artisan and owned property both in Boston and in New Hampshire.3 One of his sons, Thomas, followed him in tinplate work, and his daughter Sarah married the Boston bookdealer Jeremiah Condy, who was also minister of the First Baptist Church, where Drowne himself was a deacon.

The Indian archer weathervane came into the possession of Henry Greenough of Cambridge, the son of developer David Greenough, and from him went to Dr. John Collins Warren, a founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital.4 Dr. Warren placed it atop his house in Brookline, which in 1856 was inherited by his daughter, who presented the weathervane to the Society in 1876.

1. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1st ser., 15 (Boston,1876-1877): pp.178- 180.

2. Robert Bishop and Patricia Coblentz. A Gallery of American Weathervanes and Whirligigs. New York, 1981, p.15.

3. Suffolk County Probate Records, Massachusetts State Archives, Boston. 73:387.

4. Frederick A. Washburn. The Massachusetts General Hospital: Its Development, 1900-1935. Boston, 1939, p.561.


Top