Hale Dial

Nathan Hale:

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.

Nathan Hale, the third child of Colonel Nathan and Abigail (Grout) Hale, was born 1 July, 1771, in Rindge. No record of his early life--his education, an apprenticeship, etc., can be found, although we can imagine that the capture and subsequent death of his father must have been a severe blow to the family. Abigail Hale is listed as the head of household in the 1790 census. She is known to have married a Samuel Parker in 1796, but shortly after divorced him. Nathan himself first reappears in December of 1791 and January of 1792, when he advertised in the Massachusetts Spy as gold- and silversmith1 "at his shop near the meetinghouse" in Rindge. On 24 June, 1796, he advertised in the Vermont Journal2 that he was now in Windsor, Vermont, as a clockmaker selling "warranted eight-day clocks," that he repaired clocks, and would pay cash for old brass. An 1801 advertisement in the Windsor Gazette advised that he was quitting the watch repair business, and recommended that "those who wish to have their watches repaired, may be served by Mr. [Martin] Cheney."






Hale tall case clock
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).

2Lillian Baker Carlisle: Vermont Clock and Watchmakers, Silversmiths, and Jewelers, 1778-1878., and:
Charles S. Parsons, New Hampshire Clocks and Clockmakers.

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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.

This account book of the mercantile firm of Nathan and Harry (his youngest brother) Hale, covering the years 1804-06 in Windsor, now in the collections of the Windsor [Vermont] Public Library, has very few references to either clocks or watches. The most interesting entries in this account book concerning any sort of clock or watch work are detailed below.3 The first is an account debit against Nathan in August, 1803, of $5.33 for clock weights bought from someone named Marsh. In October his account was debited by $51.81 for "12 plain 12 inch clock faces" purchased from Martin Cheney, his erstwhile primary competitor in Windsor. In November he was credited with an unspecified amount for cleaning a clock. He was credited with $24.00 for a watch sold to a Captain Bennet in November, 1804. In April of 1805, he was credited with $56.62 for a clock (very likely a tall clock) sold to a 'Houghton.' In June, 1805, he was debited with $5.58 "to goods Bot in Boston for clockwork." The following month, he was credited with 50 for having cleaned a clock the previous winter. In November he was credited with $1.50 for a clockglass, and debited for $10.03 for "Clockwork bought of Tuckerman & Hazen4 12 Oct."


3These data were excerpted by Charles S. Parsons, 16 April, 1987, at the Windsor Public Library, and are available at the NAWCC Library and the American Clock and Watch Museum.

4If anyone, anywhere, knows anything of the firm of Tuckerman & Hazen, the author would really appreciate the information. An Edward Tuckerman is listed as a merchant in the Boston City Directory with a residence at #15 Franklin Place. A George W. L. Hazen is listed elsewhere as a watchmaker and repairer, ca. 1858 - 1869.

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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?

It's also interesting that Hale was paid $56.62 for a clock. Jedidiah Baldwin, just up the Connecticut River in Hanover, New Hampshire, charged $33.00 for an uncased clock, $53.00 for a cased clock--and he had to make the movement. If Hale paid $4.32 for a dial ($51.81/12), $10.03 for the movement, $5.33 for the weights, and $12.00 for the case (as Baldwin did), his costs were $26.68, with little labor involved. A $30.00 profit with little labor isn't bad at all.

It is even more difficult to believe that Nathan Hale served an apprenticeship with Stephen Hasham, regardless of Thomas Hale's (Harry Hale's son, and nephew to Nathan), statement in the keynote address for the Chelsea Centennial Celebration5 in 1884. A corroborative note may be found in the 1790 and 1800 census figures for Charlestown, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont:

1790: Stephen Hasham; 1 male 16 to 25; and 3 females. (The male [age 16+] is Stephen, whose first son was born in 1792--no apprentices.)

1800: Stephen Hasam (sic); 2 males less than 10; 1 male 10 to 16; 1 male 16 to 25; 1 male 26 to 45: 3 young females and wife.

1800: Hale, Nathan, Windsor County, Vermont.


5. CHELSEA Centennial: Chelsea (Vermont) Centennial Committee: Proceedings of the centennial celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the settlement of Chelsea, Vermont, together with the Orange County Veteran Soldier's reunion, September 4, 1884.

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The large number of males in the Hasham household in 1800 would indicate that there were at least two non-family (Hasham's sons would have been 8 and 3 in that year) members in residence at that time--very likely apprentices. It is much more likely that these (possible) apprentices were learning either the carpenter's or bricklayer's trade than clockmaking. Hasham is given his place in Charlestown's history as an architect and builder, rather than as a clockmaker. In reflecting on Hasham's proclivities6, I would deem it highly unlikely that the newly-wed (on 27 September, 1787) Stephen either wanted or had an apprentice in his house.

After their sojourn in Windsor, the brothers Hale then surfaced in Chelsea, Vermont, where land transactions7 are recorded for Nathan and Harry Hale in 1807. Oddly enough, census data does not place Nathan in Chelsea, Vermont, until 1820, by which time, according to the Memoirs  of Phinehas J. Bailey, he had long since quit the business of clockmaking8. Phinehas had moved to Chelsea in 1809 after his seven-month journeyman service with Jedidiah Baldwin of Hanover, New Hampshire, "...[because I had] learned that there was one Nathan Hale9 who formerly worked at the clock business (author's emphasis) who had some tools to sell." Bailey struck a bargain with Hale in a partnership wherein Hale would provide the shop, the tools, and the stock, and he would make clocks "by the halves" in a partnership that lasted from 1809 to 1816-17. Bailey finally quit the business in the face of low-priced competition from Connecticut clocks, claiming that he was "the last brass clockmaker in New England."


6. Stephen Hasham was married twice. His first wife bore him five children during a 54-year marriage. Less than four months after her death, Stephen remarried--his bride was a school teacher of 23--and the couple produced five more children. His daughter Emily was born when he was 86.

7. Chelsea Town Records, Book 7, Page 470. Chris Bailey, in Two Hundred Years of American Clocks and Watches mistakenly places Hale in Chelsea in 1797. The very short note by James Gibbs in NAWCC BULLETIN, No. 184, Page 427, is wholly inaccurate.

8. See Donn Haven Lathrop, "Phinehas Bailey, a Vermont Clockmaker, Tinker, Inventor, Minister..." NAWCC BULLETIN, No. 315, (August 1998): Page 461.

9. "Memoirs of Reverend Phinehas Bailey, written by himself" and Donn Haven Lathrop, "Phinehas Bailey, A Vermont Clockmaker, Tinker, Inventor, Minister..." NAWCC BULLETIN
, No. 315 (April 1995): Page 461.

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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.
Thomas's Massachusetts Spy: or, The Worcester Gazette, December 22, 1791.



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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., [1805]" 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.

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Hale's old hotel ad
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.

This section of New England was not kind to the clockmaker--Martin Cheney moved on to Montreal in 1809; Jedidiah Baldwin left Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1811 after a rather unrewarding career; Phinehas Bailey quit the business entirely in 1816; Jeremiah Dewey left for Ohio in about 1830; and Orsamus Roman Fyler didn't stay around very long after he was (possibly) hired by Hale in 1830-31. We do know that Hale became an innkeeper, and tavernkeeper, owned a grist mill, and accumulated considerable property. Although he was extremely sensitive of his profound deafness, he was fairly active in the community: He was a Captain in the Militia, and after the original contractor for the Chelsea Congregational Church died, the Hales and a Rufus Lathrop finished the building, taking their pay from the sale of pews. The church was dedicated in 1813, and in about 1845, a George Handel Holbrook12 bell and tower clock--both still in use--were installed. Unfortunately, the Church records for that period have disappeared, so we have no record of Hale's possible interest or involvement in its purchase and installation.




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.

12. Chelsea has a unique Common--it's in two pieces, separated by the main road into town from the east. The church stands at the east end of the North Common while the Orange County Courthouse (whose architecture echoes that of the church) stande at the head of the South Common.

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Clockmaker ad

Figure 3. The 1830 advertisement by Hale naming himself "clockmaker." He evidently had done little clockwork himself since his move to Chelsea in 1807, devoting his efforts to mercantile and other pursuits.
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.

The frustrating lack of any detailed records of Nathan Hale's life and his various clockmaking activities leaves us with yet another small gap in our horological history. Without any record of an apprenticeship, we will never know why he first advertised as a clockmaker and gold- and silversmith, yet never seemed to follow up as a worker in any of those trades. After reading through all the available material on Hale, one has to conclude that, although there are a few clocks that bear his name (I refuse to say 'signature') on the dial, there is the distinct possibility that he purchased the works and the dials, assembled these components, and thereby created a "Hale" clock. Perhaps at some future date, someone with access to his various clocks, and clocks by his contemporaries, will be able to make a comparative study, and thus shed a little more light on this mysterious Vermont "clockmaker." As for buying clock movements, and later selling the results as a soi-disant Hale, there are records that the contemporaneous Willards did the same on occasion.

Nathan Hale died in Chelsea on 10 June, 1849, at the age of 78, just ten years after he buried his third wife. Goldsmith, silversmith, merchant, tavern keeper, hotel owner, builder, and mill operator--he had a long and varied career. Regardless that he has been named "clockmaker," it should be immediately obvious that Nathan Hale did much better in trade than he did in clockwork.




13. NAWCC BULLETIN, No 295, Page 219.

14. See NAWCC BULLETIN, No. 119 (December 1965): Page 40, and No. 144 (February 1970) Page 143. Fyler had roots in Vermont--he grew up just a few miles northeast of Chelsea, in East Burke, Vermont, where he later ran a whetstore mining/manufacturing business. A brother lived in Bradford, Vermont, from whence at least one of Fyler's patents was filed.

15. George Eckhardt, United States Clock and Watch Patents, 1790 - 1890. The Record of a Century of American Horology and Enterprise (New York: privately published, 1960). Fyler is the Orsamus J. Tyler given by James Gibbs, NAWCC BULLETIN, No. 184 (October 1976): Page 433. The locations given in Richard F. O'Connell, "Orsamus Roman Fyler--An Elusive Clockmaker," NAWCC BULLETIN, No. 119 (December 1965): Page 40, should be "...Chelsea and Bradford, Vermont, and Newfield, Connecticut."

Sic transit gloria horlogica

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Hale Bibliography


BAILEY, Chris L., Two Hundred Years of American Clocks and Watches: Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 1975.

BALDWIN, Jedediah, Account Books and Ledgers, 1793-1811: Special Collections of Baker Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

___, Papers---1794-1810., Handwritten Mss.; Receipts, Bills, Letters, Summons; &tc. Special Collections of Baker Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

BULLETIN of the NAWCC, #184, Pg. 427; #250, Pg. 380; #251, Pg. 463; #293, Pg. 723. #295, Pg. 223. Various references to Hale.

CARLISLE, Lillian Baker, Vermont Clock and Watchmakers, Silversmiths, and Jewelers, 1778-1878: The Stinehour Press, Lunenburg, Vermont. 1970.

CHELSEA Centennial: Chelsea (Vermont) Centennial Committee: proceedings of the centennial celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the settlement of Chelsea, Vermont, together with the Orange County Veteran Soldier's reunion, September 4, 1884: Sentinel Printing Company, Keene, New Hampshire. 1884.

ECKHARDT, George H., United States Clock and Watch Patents, 1790-1890. The Record of a Century of American Horology and Enterprise. Privately printed, New York. 1960.

GILMAN, W. S., Committee Chairman for the Chelsea Historical Society, Chelsea, Vermont, 1784-1984, Shire Town: Northlight Studio Press, Barre, Vermont. 1984.

HARRIS, J. Carter, The Clock and Watch Maker's American Advertiser (1707-1800). Unpublished manuscript held at the NAWCC Library. 1984

MEMOIRS of Rev. Phinehas Bailey, written by himself. Incomplete 55 page typescript transcribed 1902 by Louisa M. Bailey (Mrs. Joel F.) Whitney. Courtesy the Vermont Historical Society.

PARSONS, Charles S., New Hampshire Clocks and Clockmakers: Adams-Brown Co., Exeter, New Hampshire. 1976.

___, Unpublished collation of entries extracted from the Hale Account Book, Windsor, 1804-06, held in the NAWCC Library. 1987.

STEARNS, Ezra Scollay, History of the town of Rindge, New Hampshire, from the date of the Rowley Canada or Massachusetts charter, to the present time, 1736-1874, with a genealogical register of the Rindge families. Press of G. H. Ellis, Boston, Massachusetts. 1875.

THOMPSON, Zadock, History of Vermont, Natural, Civil, and Statistical, in Three Parts. Published for the author by Chauncey Goodrich, Burlington, Vermont. 1842