Title: Peter Pembroke, Apprentice
Author: Jan Nickerson
Recommended Ages: 11-14
Star Rating: ★★★★★
Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!
When I purchased this book for $ .10, I had no clue it would turn out to be the little gem that it is.
The year is 1723. Peter Pembroke has just sailed into a Boston port from England. He is thrilled at the prospect of being reunited with his father and brother who came over a year ago to purchase a farm. All he must do is find the Mr. Sewall which his father’s letters spoke of, and Mr. Sewall will be able to send him to find his family.
But when Peter finally finds Mr. Sewell, he hears bad news. His father and brother settled in a small town called Worcester, which has since been attacked by Indians. Mr. Sewell does not know if Peter’s family is still alive.
Peter is disappointed and frightened. But there is nothing he can do to help his family, so he apprentices himself to Mr. Fisher, a cabinetmaker, in the hopes that his father and brother will someday make their way back to Boston and to him. Will Peter ever be reunited with his family?
A superb story. Over and over again, Peter demonstrated kindness, dependability, responsibility, and other good character qualities.
When Peter is feeling discouraged about his brother, he is encouraged by the thought that God knows where Jonathan is and prays that God will bring the two of them back together again. Throughout the course of the novel, even though Peter becomes involved with different people and an absorbing job, he still longs for the day when he will be united with his brother.
Instead of trying to develop a romantic relationship with Verity (a young girl who also lives with the Fishers), both Peter and his fellow apprentice Richard treat her as they would a sister, and she regards them as her brothers. I especially appreciated this because I am tired of the concept popularized by books and movies that any boy and girl thrown into close proximity with each other will inevitably fall in love. It’s just not true.
When two of the boys break into an unruly fight, Mr. Fisher first stops them, and then tells them this.
“I will not have undisciplined boys in my charge. You are learning to obey me, but it is important for you to learn self-discipline. When you have learned that, you will be able to get along with your fellow workmen. Do you understand this?” [pg. 81]
After this incident, the boys learn that by cooperating with one another, they can accomplish their work more quickly.
In one conversation that Peter has with Ben Franklin, Ben says,
“I’ve had some indiscreet arguments about religion, too, and some people think I’m either an infidel or an atheist.”
Peter gasped. “Are you?”
“No.” [pg. 88]
I just loved how shocked Peter was at the suggestion that a person might not believe in God.
This is a long passage, but it shows the kind of wholesome instruction Mr. Fisher gave those in his care. He has just released Jared from his apprenticeship because of his unacceptable conduct.
Mr. Fisher cleared his throat, but it was a few moments before he spoke. He addressed himself to Jared.
“Tomorrow you’ll be going to a new master,” he said. “I hope you will find his craft more to your liking and that you’ll advance more quickly than you have here. Since you are without family, Jared, you do need to learn some craft in order to earn your living. I regret that I failed to teach you much.”
Jared continued to study his boots.
“I have several things to say, Jared, and I want the others present. Jared, look at me!”
Slowly the boy raised his eyes and looked at Mr. Fisher. It seemed to Peter that Jared was embarrassed. He didn’t have his customary sullen expression.
“Jared, do you know what honesty is?”
Jared nodded very slowly.
“Perhaps you have come to the inevitable conclusion that tricks didn’t accomplish a thing. Think of the porringer you took from the cupboard and hid in your fellow worker’s box in order to make someone look like a thief. Were you not surprised to find the porringer back on the shelf and nothing said? The same applies to the spoon you hid in Verity’s room.”
The flush deepened in Jared’s cheeks, but still he said nothing.
“Since you have not tried this sort of thing again, I am concluding that you have seen the folly of it and changed your ways. Am I right?”
“Then we can give thanks for that,” Mr. Fisher said in a solemn voice. “But there is one more thing to settle. That first spoon which disappeared and was found in Asa’s chest – you put that ther, did you not?”
“Yes,” said Jared in a small voice.
“So he is not a thief?”
“Yet you let him be accused of it. Do you not know that by doing so, you committed a second wrong against him?”
There was a pause. Jared had no comment to make.
“I wish you to ask Asa’s forgiveness,” Mr. Fisher said.
Jared looked at him in astonishment. He would rather have been whipped, and they all knew it. Asa moved uneasily. He had not thought about forgiving Jared. All he had wanted was his name cleared.
“Well?” said Mr. Fisher.
Jared swallowed and tried to speak. The words stuck in his throat. Mr. Fisher stood watching him. Jared tried again.
“I’m-I’m sorry,” he managed.
Before Asa could respond, Mr. Fisher cut in. “That is not an apology, Jared You must state your wrongdoing and then ask forgiveness.”
Jared stood on one foot and then on the other. He inspected the toes of his boots again. The very slowly he began, still looking at his boots. “I-er-I took the spoons and porringer that belonged to Mr. and Mistress Fisher and hid them in Asa’s and Peter’s and Verity’s boxes. When Asa was accused of stealing the spoon, I kept quiet and let him take the blame.” This was the longest speech Peter had ever heard Jared make. And he wasn’t finished yet, for Mr. Fisher was still looking at him with his sternest expression.”I – I …” They knew this was the very hardest part of it for Jared. “I ask you to forgive me,” he said.
Now Mr. Fisher’s glance turned to Asa.
“I do,” Asa said.
“Very well. That is all.” Mr. Fisher sounded as though he were dismissing a court session. To the boys it had seemed like one. [pgs. 138-140]
Wasn’t that just wonderful?
A book set in New England must inevitably portray Puritans in one way or another. Mr. Fisher is a Puritan who attends Cotton Mather’s church. Peter and his family were members of the Church of England before they came to the colonies, but at Mr. Fisher’s requirement, Peter attends Mather’s church. Every Sunday, work ceases, and Mr. Fisher’s entire household attends Sunday worship. When they return home, he questions the boys about the sermon that they heard. Towards the end of the book, Mrs. Nickerson writes,
“Peter didn’t especially enjoy Mr. Mather’s long sermons, but he didn’t dare not listen, for Mr. Fisher sometimes questioned him later about what the minister had said.” [pg. 121]
I had mixed feelings about this. While I align myself with the teachings of the Puritans rather than that of the Church of England, I appreciated that Peter was remaining loyal to the church which his father believed to be true. Mixed thoughts.
At the very end of the book, Peter attends a service at the newly built Church of England without asking Mr. Fisher’s permission. Because he *SPOILER* finds his brother Jonathan there Mr. Fisher forgives him.
“Mr. Fisher’s eyes were kind as he looked at Peter. “Then we’ll say no more about today’s disobedience. If the Lord called you to go to that church this morning and find your brother, I cannot punish you for doing so. However, in the future, never fail to ask my permission for whatever you wish to do. I will be reasonable, lad, and grant your request if I can.” [pg. 153]
I can’t help but marvel at a time when employers considered themselves responsible for the spiritual state of their employees.
Here Peter states an opinion of Christmas.
Peter remembered Christmas in England. It had been a happy time. His mother decorated the house with evergreens and berries; they sang Christmas songs; they went to church and had a feast at home on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas was on everyone’s tongue and it was a gay thing to say. It wasn’t like that in Boston.
Mr. Mather and his followers did not celebrate Christmas. The Church of England people did, but Peter, of course, could not join with them – not even with his beloved Mistress Wellington, Mr. Fisher’s own sister. He imagined the fragrance of pine branches in her home at Winnissimet, the blazing open fire, and a delicious dinner of roasted turkey or beef.
Peter could see no reason why it was wrong to celebrate Christmas. It was commemorating the birth of Jesus. It was religious, but, Peter concluded, such celebrations were too gay for the serious Puritans. There would be no celebration in the Fisher household and Peter had to resign himself to work as usual. None of the others appeared to find it strange that they would work on the twenty-fifth of December, so he knew he would have to keep his disappointment to himself. [pg. 142]
Conclusion. An excellent book that will give its readers a taste of life as it was in the 1700s.