Early American Clock Makers & Clockmaking
In 1683 William Davis and, his family arrived at Boston, Mass. He was a clockmaker and understocked with money but overstocked with family. But he was able to induce David Edwards to become surety for him and his family that they would not become charges upon the town. In 1698 Everardus Bogardus was at work at clockmaking in New York City. These are the first two makers of early American clocks that have been found.
Among some of the early clockmakers was James Batterson. He advertised in October, 1707, that "James Batterson lately arrived from London" had opened a store in Boston for the sale of watches and clocks. As in England, so here, and we find that many of the early clocks were for churches and steeples. When the New Meeting House was to be built on the green at Ipswich, Mass., in 1699, it had a turret for the bell. In 1704 provision was made for a clock with a dial. A Meeting House was built in New Haven in 1727. By 1740 it was deemed in need of a new bell and a clock. This latter had brass works and was built by Ebenezer Parmilee. The town, not to be done out of its money without due value received, tried the clock for two years. It proved a good timekeeper and then they paid Mr. Parmilee. There was not so much money in New Haven at this time as there was some years later, or perhaps even then some of it was out on those ocean ventures which proved so profitable. At any rate two members of the congregation begged off from paying their share, the reason they gave for being declared exempt was, that they lived too far away from the clock for it to be of any use to them!
In 1825 the town employed Barzillai Davidson to make a new clock with wood works and set it up on the Meeting House at an expense of £260. He took over the old brass clock for £40. He was a regular Yankee at a bargain, for he repaired the good old brass clock, and so the story goes sold it and set it up in New York, receiving £600 as payment.
In 1735 a clock was purchased for the Third Parish Meeting House in Newbury, Mass. In 1754 the tower of this Meeting House was struck by lightning and was examined by Benjamin Franklin, who wrote to M. Dalibard of Paris in reference to it. The church in question stood in what is now known as Market Square, Newburyport. It must be remembered, also, that Franklin himself knew enough about clocks to make one, which was remarkable for the simplicity of its mechanism.
In 1785 the Essex Journal publishes the following notice:
Last week was placed in the steeple of the North Church of this town (Newburyport), a clock made by Simon Willard of Roxbury, Inventor of Patent Jacks which for goodness and beauty of the workmanship and as a timekeeper is not exceeded by any which have been imported from Europe, notwithstanding its having been made at a lower cost.
In 1752 a lottery was organized in Philadelphia "to raise £1012 10 shillings being half the sum required to finish the steeple to Christ Church and to purchase a ring of bells and a clock".
In most early American homes simple contrivances like the noon mark, dials of one kind and another, and sand-glasses were commonly used except in the large centres. As late as 1762 the Boston Gazette and Country Journal has an advertisement of "one fourth, one half minute, one half hour and two hour glasses", while some conservative families used the hour-glass as late as 1812.
But those who wished them could buy watches and clocks. In 1712 Benjamin Bagnall made and sold in Boston eight-day clocks "in hard wood cases". A clock was donated to King's Chapel, Boston, in 1714. by the "Gentlemen of the British Society". This was in the old building which was replaced by the present one in 1753 and may have been an imported clock.
There is a long-case clock in the Boston State House, which formerly belonged to the Rev. Mather Byles, first pastor of the Hollis Street Church, Boston. This clock was made by Gawen Brown, in 1750, in his shop on State Street for Mr Byles, who was his father-in-law. It is a fine clock with square top, brass works, and is still in running order. There is also a letter from Brown to the members of the Old South Church, dated 1768, concerning the clock on that Meeting House which had been made by him, showing that he made turret as well as domestic clocks.
Odran Dupuy made clocks in Philadelphia in 1735. John Dupuy, presumably his son, was at work in the same city in 1770. In 1734 John Bell, New York, advertises "8 day clocks with Japan cases". John Ent of New York advertises in the New York Mercury for May 1, 1758, as follows:
John Ent, clock and Watch-maker at the Sign of the Dial, has moved to the house of Mr. John Wright, watch-maker in Bayard street, where he continues to make and repair in the newest manner, All sorts of Clocks and Watches, Whether Repeating, Horizontal or the plain kind. Gentlemen and Ladies that are pleased to Honour him with their Employ may depend on the greatest Care and Dispatch imaginable.
On March 7, 1757, George Chester of New York calls attention to his wares in the New York Mercury. He says:
George Chester, Watchmaker from London, begs leave to inform the Publick That he has just opened Shop at the Sign of the Dial on the New Dock next door to Mr. Vandyck's, hatter, where he will sell and repair all sorts of clocks and watches. Gentlemen and Ladies who are pleased to Honour him with their Employ, may depend on the greatest care imaginable, with the utmost dispatch and at the most reasonable rates now in London. Said Chester has a few second-hand watches to dispose of reasonable, and a very good eight day clock which will come cheap.
At about this period nearly all the clockmakers used the "Sign of the Dial" for the name of their shops. It must have been confusing, but they specify the name of the street and often the name of the person who owns the house or shop they occupy. Christian Syberberg was a watchmaker of note, and his advertisement in January, 1757, details his stock in trade:
Christian Syberberg, Watchmaker, now living at the Sign of the Dial in the house of Mrs. Mary Kippen near the Old Slip Market, Repairs all sorts of Clocks and Watches with the utmost expedition. He has lately imported from London a parcel of very neat silver and pinchbeck watches, which he'll sell very reasonably for ready money and will warrant to be good. N. B. He has a choice assortment of silver and pinchbeck seals, steel and pinchbeck chains, keys and leather strings, etc., and gives good attendance to his customers.
His shop must have been attractive to his customers and to others as well, for it caught the attention of burglars, for on January 10, 1757, Syberberg is forced to advertise again:
Whereas about six of the clock in the night of Friday, December 24th day a villain run his hand through the shop window of Christian Syberberg of this city, watchmaker, and took therefrom two watches and escaped; one of which, is pinchbeck with a shagreen case, the other a large old-fashioned silver one with a pendulum. All persons are desired to be cautious in purchasing the above watches if offered for sale; and whoever will discover the thief or thieves so as they may be brought to justice shall have Forty shillings reward, Paid by Christian Syberberg.
Thomas Perry was also engaged in the clock and watch making business in colonial times, January, 1757. He also advertised from the "Sign of the Dial", this time in Hanover Square. Besides setting forth his ability to clean and repair clocks and watches, and the fact that he has on hand for sale gold and silver watches new and second hand, he goes on:
He will import, if bespoke, good warranted clocks at £14, they paying the freight and insurance, and clock cases for £10. Said Perry has just imported a parcel of very good watches which he will warrant.
Garden Proctor was another prominent New York clockmaker. In 1757 he lived at the house of Hugh Gaines the printer, in Queen Street. The next year he was to be found at "the house Colonel Martin lately lived in, near Mr. Joseph Hayes".
Hanover Square seems to have been a popular locality for the early American clockmaking trade. John Vogt lived at the house of Patrick Carryl, in Hanover Square, in 1758, and made and repaired clocks and watches. The fact that he had a watch and clock maker living in his house attracted the attention of Hugh Gaines the printer to watch-papers, which were fashionable a little later. He advertises "A beautiful Print in miniature of that Truly Great Patriot the Honourable Mr. Secretary Pitt, adapted for watches, sold by the Printer hereof, Price 6d".
In Baltimore clockmaking was established early in the eighteenth century. There was the firm of Basil Francis and Alexander Vuille in 1766, but the firm must have been shortly dissolved, for a few months later Vuille is found doing business by himself.
Augustine Neiser of Philadelphia was at work from 1739 to 1780. William Godfrey, a well-known clock and watchmaker, also of Philadelphia, was at work about 1750; he died in 1763. These were but two of the many Philadelphia clockmakers among many others, mentioned here because they were early at work.
George Nicholls, New York, was at work from 1728 to 1750. Lawrence Payne, New York, was working at about the same time, 1732-55. These men all made clocks with brass works, generally longcase, simply for the reason that they were the clocks made at this period.
Robert Shearman of Wilmington, Delaware, was at work at his trade from 1760 to 1770.
The first town clock in Norwich, Conn., was set up in the meeting-house in 1745. It cost £8 and the fixtures extra. At Schenectady the Reformed Nether Dutch Church had a bell and a clock in 1740. The clock may not have been American, for the bell was bought in Amsterdam and was dated 1732. There are many calls for apprentices in the various trades, journeymen are also in demand. Most of the advertisements run like this:
Wanted, a Journeyman Goldsmith who will undertake the business. Good encouragement will be given by, clocks and watches made by
Hebron, May 8, 1778. EBENEZER YOUNGS