Nathaniel Hurd

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Nathaniel Hurd

Birthdate: (48)
Birthplace: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
Death: December 17, 1777 (48)
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Place of Burial: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Capt. Jacob Hurd and Elizabeth Hurd
Brother of Anne Hurd; Sarah Walley; Benjamin Hurd and Mary Hall

Occupation: Engraver, silversmith, Patriot
Managed by: Erica Howton
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Nathaniel Hurd


From Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume 9  By Massachusetts Historical Society. Page 211

We have now to consider a class, more properly denominated artisans, than artists,—men who were rarely employed on copper or steel plate, but who wrought at goldsmith's work, or engraved cards and similar small pieces.

First among these we place Nathaniel Hurd, born at Boston, 13th of February, 1730. He was the son of Jacob Hurd, goldsmith, and Elizabeth Mason, his wife. The pedigree is traced through Jacob, a joiner of Charlestown, to Jacob of Boston, a son of John, who was a settler here in 1639. As Nathaniel Hurd was, perhaps, the most accomplished engraver from 1750 to 1777, the following particulars may be interesting. In a memoir of him, published in the " New-England Magazine" (Boston, 1832), Mr. Buckingham writes: —

"In seal-cutting and die-engraving, Mr. Hurd was considered superior to any in the colonies. Coats-of-arms, pictures, and carvings were not much valued and sought after, a century ago, in New England. They approximated too near to graven images, in the view of our puritanical forefathers, to meet with much encouragement.

In truth, we doubt if Hurd ever made any other portrait than that mentioned. His skill lay chiefly in executing small plates, of which many specimens remain. The taste of the day for coats-of-arms led many people into the fashion of having book-plates made. Those which we have seen are very neatly designed and well executed, the details of the ornamentation being very delicate. Another example remains in a plate for invitation cards of Thomas Bernard and Edward Oxnard, for the Commencement at Harvard, in 1767. The demand for such articles as cards and bill-heads probably sufficed to keep one artist well occupied; but, as an additional employment, he used to engrave or chase silverplate.* The growing wealth of New England found expression then in the use of massive plate; and one of the most common advertisements in the journals of the day was of silver lost or stolen. Often it is described as stamped "Hurd." The father and brother of the engraver were goldsmiths here. A salver yet owned by E. C. Moseley, Esq., has the stamp "Hurd," and on the face is engraved a fine representation of the Oliver arms.

We have Mr. Buckingham for our authority in saying that Hurd also published one or more caricatures, as that of the pillorying of a certain Dr. Seth Hudson, who, in 1762, was convicted of counterfeiting the Province notes.

Hurd probably never married. His brother, Benjamin Hurd, was a goldsmith, as was also his brother-in-law, Daniel Henchman, a son of the Rev. Nathaniel Henchman

• We insert the following advertisement from the "Boston Gazette," 28th April, 1760: —

"Nathaniel Hurd Informs his Customers he has remov'd his Shop from Maccarty's Corner on the Exchange, to the back Part of the opposite Brick Building, where Mr Ezekiel Price kept his Office, where he continues to do all Sorts of Goldsmith's Work; likewise engraves in Gold, Silver, Copper, Brass, and Steel, in the neatest Manner and at a reasonable Rate."

In his will Nathaniel Hurd mentions his sister Sarah, who married Thomas Walley, and was the ancestress of Wendell Phillips, Esq., and of the Hon. Samuel H. Walley, of Boston. He also mentions his sister Anne, the wife of John Furnass; and to her son, John Mason Furnass, he bequeathed his tools, owing to the genius which Furnass discovered for the profession of engraving.

the portrait

Portrait by John Singleton Copley, c 1765 Cleveland Museum of Fine Art


This is Copley's first portrait to show a sitter in informal clothes. It's not surprising to learn that Hurd was a Patriot in the American Revolution and opposed to inherited wealth and privilege. No doubt he preferred to be shown in this informal way because he was a craftsman who worked with his hands. Notably, Hurd's large, expressive hands play a prominent role in the painting. Nonetheless, the fact that he surrounded himself with books makes it clear that he is not simply a manual worker, but a man of education and intelligence. The books resting beside Hurd's hands are ones he consulted in his work. The large one is Guillim's Display of Heraldry (to which Hurd often referred when he made bookplates or engraved silver vessels) and the smaller probably Sympson's "New Book of Cyphers ..." of 1726, both of which might well have belonged to his father. Moreover, his gown is not really workman's attire, but the imported silk dressing gown of a wealthy aristocrat or merchant.

Additional notes and references

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Nathaniel Hurd's Timeline

February 13, 1729
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
December 17, 1777
Age 48
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Age 47
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States