A Querist's Look at Vermont's Quondam Clockmaker.
© Donn Haven Lathrop 2008
Thomas Hale, the progenitor of the Hale name in America, was born at King's Walden, Hertfordshire, England, on 15 May, 1606, and emigrated to Westbury, Massachusetts, in 1635. Two generations later Moses Hale moved to what is now Rindge, New Hampshire, an outpost then a part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His seventh child, Nathan, born 23 September, 1743, in Newbury, Massachusetts, was to become a
merchant in Rindge, and later a Colonel who served with distinction in the Revolutionary War. Colonel Hale was captured in 1777 by the British following the disaster at Ticonderoga. He died in New Utrecht, Long Island, (founded 1650, now a part of Brooklyn) at age 37, on 23 September, 1780, where his last months were probably spent on a British prison ship. The last letter he wrote to his wife was delivered three months after his death.
Figure 1A (above left) and 1B (above). The dial has Hale's name on it as the maker. The clock was either made or assembled in Windsor, where the majority of his clocks originated. Only one clock is known with "Chelsea" on the dial.
1J. Carter Harris, The Clock and Watch Maker's American Advertiser (1707-1800).
Very little about Nathan Hale has been published in the BULLETIN. The earliest reference is by James Gibbs, (#184, Pg. 427), who names him a native of Pindge (sic), New Hampshire, and repeats the assertion that he apprenticed with Stephen Hassan (sic). Other references are those in BULLETINs #250 and #251, the former of which mentions the existence of a Hale account book, and the latter mentions that several Hale clocks are known to exist, and BULLETINs #293 and #295; references to his alleged apprenticeship and his relationship with Orsamus Roman Fyler.
It is extremely curious that a clockmaker would so quickly yield his position to his competition, to the point that he referred his own customers to Cheney, and later purchased the 12 dials from him. One wonders just what he did with these dials--were they used on the few known tall-case clocks? Hale is not debited with the usual purchases of steel, brass, glass, clock cases, and other items one would expect of an active clockmaker. Further, why did he purchase "clockwork[s]?" There are apparently no more than ten clocks of various types which are known to have been made by Hale. From the above record of his purchases, and his apparent horological inactivity, the suspicion arises that he may have purchased the works, the dials, and the cases, put everything together, and sold the result as a 'Hale.' Let's assume that he was credited with 50¢ for the "unspecified amount" above. Nathan's net income in the two year period covered by the account book was $10.37. For someone who is an alleged "clockmaker," that's not a whole lot of work on and with clocks, is it?
Nathan Hale's own career as a clockmaker must have been rather short, perhaps covering only the fifteen years--if that--from 1791 to 1806. There is no specific record of his apprenticeship, whether as a gold- or silversmith, or as a clockmaker. Parsons and Carlisle both claim (but I suspect that they might be quoting one another) that Hale apprenticed with Stephen Hasham of Charlestown, New Hampshire, but Hasham is not known to have worked in either gold or silver. Hale may have been one of Stephen Hasham's apprentices, but the only known basis for this claim derives from the above-mentioned keynote address for the Chelsea Centennial Celebration in 1884. Thomas Hale, by then the editor and part owner of the Fitchburg Daily and Weekly Sentinel, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, was at 71, too frail physically--and one wonders about mental frailty as well--to give the speech himself. Edwin A. Battison (pers. com.) has concluded from his studies of New England makers and their clocks that Hale more likely apprenticed with the Hutchins'; therefore this minor controversy may continue to rear its questioning head. And let us not forget that Peter Davis, a clockmaker listed in the History of Rindge , was in Rindge in the 1780's.
However, Hasham is thought to have arrived in Charlestown in 1785 (Hale would have been 14), married in September, 1787; his first child was born in early 1789. The very idea that Hasham had an apprentice underfoot during these years verges on the absurd. It is also interesting to note that in the 1790 census, when Hale would have been 181/2 years old and embroiled in the toils of an apprenticeship, that but one male over 16--Stephen himself--is listed in the Hasham household. If Hale did indeed apprentice with Stephen Hasham, that apprenticeship would have been much shorter than the expected norm, and he would have been 'given his time' in the very late 1780's since he advertised that he was in business as a clockmaker and goldsmith in Rindge by 1791. His first advertisement reads:
NATHAN HALE, Clock-Maker and Goldsmith, Begs leave to inform the publick, that, at his shop, near the meeting house in Rindge, persons may be supplied, on short notice, with warranted Clocks of the best kind, either with or without cases. Also Gold and Silversmith's work, of various kinds, made and repaired--as Gold Necklaces--Silver or plated Buckles, may be made to any pattern, &c. &c. Customers may depend on being served with honour and fidelity. Cash given for old Gold, Silver and Brass.
One would expect that Hale, working less than twenty miles north of his alleged master, would be likely to do more business in the local area, as did both Martin Cheney in Windsor and Jedidiah Baldwin in Hanover, New Hampshire. That he did quite a bit of his 'shopping' in Boston, some 110 miles to the southeast, is not unusual. Local purchases of clock cases, "old Gold, Silver and Brass," advertisements for an apprentice, etc., would certainly point to serious activity in clockmaking in both Windsor and Chelsea, but these indicators are non-existent since that one advertisement in 1796, in direct comparison with advertisements by Martin Cheney. Baldwin did business with firms in New London, Connecticut, and New York City as well as with customers in the Hanover area--but his primary activity was local. The History of Chelsea, (Vermont) 1784-1984, notes that Nathan and Harry Hale came to Chelsea in 1807, based on the above-mentioned land records, yet only mentions in passing that Nathan was a clockmaker. One has to take mild exception to Mr. James T. West's statement10 that Hale "supplemented his clockmaking income by running a hotel"; it was much more likely the other way around--Hale was a merchant and innkeeper who bought his movements, dials, and cases. Perhaps he should be thought of as a "clock assembler," rather than as a clockmaker. It would be extremely interesting (and perhaps startling) to examine the movements of his known clocks, in a search for the "signature(s)" of the maker(s). A resolution could possibly be achieved through an examination and comparison of known movements by these various makers--Hale, Hasham, and Hutchins. And who knows? Perhaps the firm of Tuckerman and Hazen as well...
It is telling that the illustrated tallcase clock (Figure 1) has a movement that appears to be an import, and that the false plate (and very likely the dial) are by Wilson of Birmingham, England. Hale is not known for his cabinetmaking skills; therefore, the case was also likely a purchase. It is an apparent characteristic of Hasham's clock movements that the pillars were riveted into the back plate in such a manner that the ends of the pillars protruding from the plate are domed: the pillars on this clock have filed-flat rivettings. Perhaps slim evidence, but there are too many examples of the apprentice faithfully emulating the master, and this obvious variance, the 12-inch dials purchased from Cheney (this clock has a 12-inch dial) and the "Clockwork bought of Tuckerman and Hazen 12 Oct., " all point to Hale as an assembler, rather than a maker.
10. See James T. West, "Vermont Clockmaker Jeremiah Dewey," NAWCC BULLETIN, No. 295 (April 1995): Page 223.
Figure 2, An undated advertisement mentioning Nathan Hale's "Tavern Stand" in Chelsea. Nathan apparently spent more time in endeavors such as this than in clockmaking in Chelsea.
Of Nathan's personal life, we know little other than that he married and buried three wives: the first was Eunice Raymond whom he married on 14 August, 1793, in Rindge. To them was born an infant of which the record states: "b. and d. 1794." Eunice died (I suspect in childbirth), on 27 November, 1794. Second, in Windsor in 1799, he married Ruth Tyler, who died on 4 April, 1804, in that town. She had borne her third child just three months earlier. Two years later, he married his third wife, Sarah Caldwell Black, of Barre, Massachusetts, on 2 February, 1806, in Windsor. She bore him one son and one daughter, and died on 29 March, 1839, in Chelsea.
Nathan and Harry Hale evidently occupied themselves solely with mercantile pursuits in Chelsea, regardless that Mrs. Carlisle and others claim that Nathan "returned to his trade, making timepieces." Bailey's Memoirs certainly refute this statement, and the surviving Hale clocks are nearly all tall clocks, excepting two, (which are non-striking 'timepieces'); a shelf clock in the Henry Ford Museum Collection11, and a 'New Hampshire mirror' type clock in the Smithsonian Collection. Hale had no competition in Chelsea between 1807 and 1823 (when Jeremiah Dewey arrived in town), and yet seemed oddly eager to have Bailey take over his shop and his tools. In corroboration of Hale's evident inactivity in clockmaking, Jedidiah Baldwin has no entries in his account books or ledgers concerning Hale, but does mention two other contemporaries--John Osgood of Haverhill, New Hampshire, and Phinehas J. Bailey, after the latter had moved to Chelsea, and begun working.
11.This clock was recently deaccessioned, and sold to someone in the Midwest who is now selling the clock. I had hoped to have a photograph.
The other known Chelsea clockmakers are Phinehas Bailey, 1808 - 1816; Jeremiah Dewey, c. 1824-30;13 and Orsamus Roman Fyler, c. 1830-33.14 The latter is very likely the mysterious "experienced WOODEN CLOCK maker, from Connecticut" hired by Hale, and mentioned in a Vermont Advocate advertisement in June of 1830. Fyler is recorded in Chelsea and Bradford, Vermont, at about that time.15
One wonders whether Hale was trying to cover all the mercantile bases by going into partnership with one clockmaker, and later hiring another--he had evidently done no clockwork at all during the last twenty years--and Jeremiah Dewey was leaving town for New York State on his way to Sandusky, Ohio, with his clockmaker-to-be son, Hiram Todd, in tow.
13. NAWCC BULLETIN, No 295, Page 219.