Baptismal basin

Jacob Hurd (American, 1702 or 1703–1758)

Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts


Overall: 7 x 34.1 cm, 0.84 kg (2 3/4 x 13 7/16 in., 1.85 lb.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View




Silver hollowware

This large circular basin with center point has a raised dome at center, gently curving convex sides, and a wide brim with applied molding. The brim is engraved with the Byfield arms on a shield, which is surrounded by elaborate scrolled and swagged mantling.

It is unclear with whom Jacob Hurd apprenticed or where he obtained the funds or connections to establish himself as one of the preeminent silversmiths of eighteenth-century Boston. Yet, influential patrons such as Samuel Sewall and Harvard tutor Henry Flynt knew enough of his work to make purchases from him beginning in the mid-1720s, soon after he first opened his shop. Important commissions, such as alms basins for the Second Congregational Society of Marblehead in 1727 and 1728 (cat. no. 75) and this baptismal basin (along with silver for the First Church of Lynn and Christ Church, Boston), were among his first pieces of ecclesiastical silver. The broad, flat alms dishes, which are technically difficult to produce, may have helped establish Hurd in the religious community as an extraordinarily talented silversmith.
This deep baptismal basin was the second of four by Hurd and one of three made during the 1730s, when his shop saw spectacular growth. In all, he fashioned communion silver for twenty-five regional churches.
A legacy from Judge Nathaniel Byfield provided fifty ounces of plate each to Thomas Foxcroft and Charles Chauncy, the two ministers of the First Church. This basin, weighing more than twenty-seven troy ounces, was purchased with a portion of Byfield’s bequest. Hurd’s skill in raising large amounts of silver is evident in the smoothly raised form with undulating curves that lead from the domed center, up the broadly convex walls, and to the wide brim. The richly engraved arms are evidence of Hurd’s skill with the burin.
Byfield, a wealthy merchant and public official, was closely linked to the church on both sides of his family. He was the son of the Rev. Richard Byfield, rector of Long Ditton in Surrey, England, and one of the Westminster assembly of divines; his maternal uncle William Juxon, bishop of London, became archbishop of Canterbury under Charles II. Shortly after his arrival in Boston in 1674, he married Deborah, daughter of Capt. Thomas and Mary Clarke, and moved to Bristol, Rhode Island, after King Philip’s War. He was an active member of the town, serving as judge of the Bristol County court of common pleas for thirty-eight years and as judge of the vice admiralty for a time.
In 1714/15 Byfield traveled to England, where he unsuccessfully petitioned to replace Gov. Joseph Dudley. His wife, Deborah, died in 1717; shortly after he married Sarah, daughter of Gov. John and Sarah Leverett, and relocated to Boston in 1724. A man of considerable means, his bequest was large for its day.
In addition to the First Church of Boston, recipient of this basin, Byfield made generous gifts of communion plate to two other churches. In 1693 he presented two beakers to the First Congregational Church of Bristol. About the time this basin was given, he gave to the Byfield parish near Newbury, Massachusetts, two beakers made by Hurd and similarly emblazoned with his family arms. Such a gift, made by kindness toward the congregation that bore his name, may have also been a symbol of his rivalry with the Dummer family, whose ancestors had established the church and whose descendants, brothers Jeremiah and Lieut. Gov. William Dummer, he opposed in the political arena. The same sense of competitiveness may have guided Byfield’s bequest to the First Church of Boston, where William Dummer had already made a prominent gift of a flagon in 1726 (cat. no. 51).

This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.


Scratch weight of "27-5" appears on base; nineteenth-century metal disk with numeral "seven" is soldered to base.


At the center of the basin, above the center point is the touch "IHURD" in a scalloped cartouche.


First Church, Boston. Probably made from the bequest of Nathaniel Byfield (1653-1733), which arranged for "Twenty ounces of Good Silver" to both the Rev. Thomas Foxcroft and the Rev. Charles Chauncy, the ministers of the First Church, Boston. Owned continuously by the church until purchased by the Museum in 1999 with an anonymous gift.

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated anonymously in honor of Jonathan L. Fairbanks