Few people get really cool nicknames. In old Needham, nicknames were a form of social commentary, like ”Old Growl” (Silas Alden) or “Old Peppermill” (Jonathan Ware; don’t ask me why). Israel Whitney, who wanted the office of Deacon but never got it, was “Deacon-Would-Be”; Newell Smith, who was given the office but didn’t want it, was “Deacon-Could-Be”. Such humorists….
More fortunate than these was Aaron Smith Jr, known as “Hawk”. Clarke (History of Needham) calls him “Hawk Aaron,” but I prefer to think his friends just called him Hawk, like Spenser’s dangerous and enigmatic sidekick. Hawk Aaron was Captain of the West Needham Militia and fought at Arlington on April 19, 1775. It was he who carried home the body of his neighbor Elisha Mills to be buried in Needham (and then married the man’s widow a few months later).
Why the nickname? Don’t really know. Maybe it was a comment on the size of his nose. Maybe he was famous for swooping down on the British with silent and lethal efficiency. Maybe it was just a way of keeping him straight from the four other Aaron Smiths (all related) also then living in Needham.
A generation later, George Kingsbury would be known as “Nighthawk”, but that’s another story.