A Clockmaker Named Claggett

Newport, Rhode Island, founded in 1639, was among the most successful port cities in the British North American colonies prior to the American Revolution. It boasted active intercoastal and trans-Atlantic trade connections and a vital core of creative craftsmen. Those overseeing its civic affairs were forward looking and adept politicians who fostered an environment that was receptive to and encouraging of freedom of thought and action. These circumstances provided the perfect setting for William Claggett, one of America’s most gifted clockmakers and practitioners of science.

060_FPCWilliam Claggett (ca. 1694–1749) and his two most notable apprentices, his son Thomas (died 1795) and his son-in-law, James Wady (died 1759) are remembered as having made some of the most remarkable clocks in pre-Revolutionary America—remarkable for their beauty and complicated mechanisms. Their clocks are even more notable for the distinctive cases local cabinetmakers fashioned to house them. Yet, in spite of the respect collectors and historians hold for these men, there remain many unanswered questions about them and their work.

Research is being conducted under the auspices of Winterthur Museum and the Newport Historical Society for a scholarly book on these men and their extraordinary clocks. The authors seek and will gratefully receive any information about these talented craftsmen pertaining to their lives. They would also be pleased to learn the existence of their handiwork including clocks, scientific instruments, musical instruments, and other related artifacts. Readers are asked to contact dfennimore@winterthur.org with any pertinent information.

Post by Donald Fennimore, Curator Emeritus, Winterthur Museum. Mr. Fennimore and Frank L. Hohmann III are the co-authors of Stretch: America’s First Family of Clockmakers.

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