John Osgood, Master and Maker

Donn Haven Lathrop 1998


While I was working through a study of Phinehas Bailey, and of his relationships with various other New England makers, I noted that very little---there isn't even one entry in the BULLETIN Index---has been written of his master, John Osgood, and that that which has been written elsewhere is not all that accurate. In a short digression from Bailey's wanderings about New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, we'll look at a man who probably apprenticed in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and later worked in Haverhill, New Hampshire (and thereby caused a bit of confusion as to exactly where he worked), but it was in Haverhill, New Hampshire, that he lived and worked for the greatest part of his life.

John Osgood, 1770 - 1840

tall clock
Figure 1. A tall-case clock by John Osgood.  The dial is shown more clearly below.
John Osgood was born in North Andover, Massachusetts, 3 June, 1770, to Colonel John and (his second wife) Hulda (Frye) Osgood. The Colonel's first wife was the sister of Dudley and Michael Carleton, all of whom grew up on their father's ("Squire" Dudley Carleton) farm on the Merrimack River. Both Michael and the younger Dudley were clockmakers, and the latter was also a skilled cabinetmaker who later was to work in Bradford and Newbury, Vermont.

Charles S. Parsons wrote a very brief biography of John Osgood1, Phinehas Bailey's master, that, of necessity (he only had another 269 clockmakers to profile) left out some interesting biographical and career data. The following is partially adapted from the studies and research of Dr. Charles A. Currier of Andover, Massachusetts, whose primary horological interest was the clockmakers of the Merrimack and Connecticut River Valleys2, the data presented by Mr. Parsons, Haverhill Town Records, and the reminiscences of his grandson, from which the sketches below are taken.

Colonel Osgood died less than a year after John's birth, leaving his widow and the several children of his two marriages, ranging in age from 6 months to 28 years. Somehow, she managed to keep the broods together, and successfully reared them all.

1  New Hampshire Clocks and Clockmakers: Pg. 326.
2 ANTIQUES Magazine, January 1960, Pg. 15 ff.


Figure 2. A John Osgood tallcase clock dial, illustrating the script lettering thought to have been used primarily on his earlier clocks. The clock case is believed to have been made by Dudley Carleton in Bradford, Vermont. Photograph courtesy of Mr. Carlton Elsner.
There don't appear to be any records of young John's early life, but it's likely safe to presume that as a youngster he had the usual education then available. We do know that he was apprenticed in about 1783-84 to his "Uncle" Michael, who was a known clockmaker and tinsmith. I suspect his master was a gold- and silversmith as well, as John worked in both metals during his later career in Haverhill, New Hampshire, using the touchmarks, J O, and J. OSGOOD.

After his apprenticeship, young John returned to Andover, Massachusetts, in about 1791, and promptly went to work making clocks. At least two signed tall clocks are known with the script signature, "John Osgood--Andover".
Corner map
Figure 3. The map above shows the location of the house (marked 1) where Osgood lived when he was first married. A few years later he built a house (marked 2) just across the street, and a shop (not shown) just to the north of his house.
Figure 4. Osgood's shop is illustrated above.  The house was destroyed when the adjacent hotel caught fire in 1848.  Sketch from the Blaisdell Manuscript, courtesy Mr. Howard Evans.
His stay in Andover must have been rather short, perhaps one or two years at the most, because he removed to Haverhill, New Hampshire, very likely in mid-1793. The following advertisement appeared in Spooner's Vermont Journal, 4 November, 1793:

JOHN OSGOOD, Most respectfully informs his friends and the public, that he has lately opened a shop at the south end of Mr. John Montgomery's house; where he carries on the Clock and Watch business, with neatness and dispatch, and the least favors accepted by him.
N.B. Country produce taken in part pay for clocks.
Haverhill, Coos, Oct. 26th, 1793

3  His grandson wrote in 1876 that the apprenticeship years were spent in Salem, MA, (which seems to be highly unlikely) while Dr. Currier avers the apprenticeship was in Haverhill, MA. I suspect that his grandson is incorrect---both Michael and Dudley Carleton worked in Haverhill and its suburb, Bradford, MA.
4  All accounts written to date put Osgood in Haverhill as late as 1795, or "prior to 1795." However, that date is merely the year he was elected as Sealer of Weights and Measures. The discovery of this advertisement corrects a long-standing error.


A bit of geography; Coos (pronounced k os) originally Cohos or Cohoes, and sometimes Cos---even Cowass---is now the name of the northernmost county in New Hampshire. Haverhill, incorporated in 1763, was the original county seat. Before the final county boundaries were drawn in 1803, the entire area along the Connecticut River, from Charlestown, or Fort #4---the first settlement in New Hampshire---in the south to an undefined area in the north was known as Coos. Osgood's move to Haverhill may well have been influenced by his other "uncle", Dudley Carleton, already established as a cabinet-maker across the Connecticut River in Bradford, Vermont, who later made many of the cases for Osgood's tall-case clocks.

Two years later Osgood was elected Haverhill's Sealer of Weights and Measures, therefore he must have very quickly established himself as a reputable businessman in the community. Business must have been rather good, as attested to by the following advertisement that appeared in the [Concord, NH] Mirrour for 27 February, 1795:

Wanted, For three, six or twelve months, A Journeyman Clock Maker, Who is a good workman---to whom generous wages will be given by the subscriber. John Osgood. Haverhill, Coos, Feb 16, 1795.

On 4 March, 1797, John Osgood married Sarah Porter, whose parents, William and Mary Porter, had moved to North Haverhill from Boxford, Massachusetts, in 1790. The couple had seven children, all born in Haverhill, where Osgood also served as town clerk and town treasurer for several successive terms. He also did well in accumulating property; not only did he own the house and shop in town, but a farm located on the eastern edge of town. This farm, with William Porter, brother to Mrs. Osgood, installed as caretaker, was close to Tarleton Pond (now Lake Tarleton), where Osgood could indulge in his passion for fishing. His youngest daughter, Charlotte, married Daniel Blaisdell, a lawyer and politician of Hanover, New Hampshire, who also served as the Treasurer of Dartmouth College for forty years. John Osgood, Jr. became a clock- and watchmaker--predominantly the latter--a trade he pursued in Boston until his death in 1860. Only one clock by the younger Osgood is known.


Figure 5. Two toys, cut from a sheet of tin, that Osgood made for his grandson. The toys were attached to the stovepipe with a bent wire, and would spin in the rising hot air.  Sketch from the Blaisdell Manuscript, courtesy Mr. Howard Evans.

Rev. William F. Whitcher, the Haverhill Town Historian, quoted Osgood's grandson, Alfred Blaisdell;

"He [John Osgood] was rather below the medium height, very quiet and unobtrusive, but genial and sociable...he was offered the position of Deacon in the Congregational Church, a position he declined because of a slight lameness which he deemed unfitted him for the duties of the position. He was a devoted disciple of Isaac Walton, and Tarleton Pond, as it was then called, had great attractions for him. He lived for a time in the Nathaniel Bailey house, where he carried on his work until the demands of his business led him to build a shop across the way, almost directly west of the Bailey house. This was a square, one story building with two windows in front between which was a 'Dutch' door. On the lower half he liked to lean to chat with those passing by. There were two rooms; in front, a salesroom, and in back, his workroom where there was a forge for melting the brass for the clocks and the old Spanish dollars for the spoons, buckles, etc. In his later years, Osgood built a house which stood north of the Exchange Hotel, on Main Street. All this, some years back, was burned in a fire which consumed the hotel and other buildings."5

from a hand-written and hand-illustrated manuscript by Mr. Blaisdell of his reminiscences concerning John Osgood, his grandfather, set down 36 years after his grandfather's death6. The manuscript makes for some rather fascinating reading, but unfortunately says very little of Osgood's clockmaking activities. The slight lameness mentioned above was the result of a "white swelling", also known as tuberculous arthritis7, that eventually resulted in a near-total loss of joint mobility. Mr. Blaisdell expresses regret that after his grandfather's death many of the lead patterns for knee and shoe buckles were melted down to make small hatchets for his amusement, and that,

5  Rev. W. F. Whitcher:  The History of Haverhill, New-Hampshire., Ppg. 609-610.
6  From Mr. Blaisdell's original handwritten manuscript. Unfortunately, the reminiscences commence when the author, the son of Osgood's youngest daughter, was only seven years old. Even though they are not of a technical nature, they do provide a good glimpse of Osgood in his later years.
7  From Merck: "Tuberculosis of Bones and Joints: When primary TB occurs during childhood while the epiphyses are open and the blood supply is rich, bacilli often disseminate to the vertebrae and the ends of the long bones, where disease may develop either then or months, years, or decades later...the joints most commonly involved are those that bear weight, but bones of the wrist, hand, and elbow also may be involved, especially if they have been traumatized."


probably because his heirs were not at all mechanically minded, "...all tools and personal property were sold at auction and disappeared forever.", regardless that many years later his grandson spent a good deal of time searching for them.

hatchet & engine
Figure 6. The small lead hatchets cast to amuse a small boy, and Mr. Blaisdell's recollection of the appearance of the wheel-cutting engine.  Sketches from the Blaisdell Manuscript, courtesy Mr. Howard Evans.

Mr. Blaisdell also mentions a "machine shop" to the east of Osgood's shop, on what is now Court Street in Haverhill. The two-story machine shop was owned by a Michael Carleton8, and Mr. Blaisdell writes of seeing three gun barrels being bored simultaneously on the second floor. The "motive power for this shop was a horse who travelled around in a circle pulling behind him a lever attached to a vertical shaft..." on the ground floor.
Evidently some of these guns were sold by Blaisdell's uncle Alfred in St. Louis, Missouri. This uncle, John Osgood's second son, had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, many years earlier to engage in the hardware business, and was killed in 1852 on the Mississippi River when the boiler of the steamboat on which he was travelling exploded.

Osgood was quite a prolific maker, according to his numbering system---the highest number found to date is #313. We can safely assume that Osgood was at work for some 49 years, from 1791 to 1840. If he indeed did make 313 clocks, that would average out to just over six clocks a year---well within the realm of possibility---on which more later. He numbered his clocks on the back plate of the clock movement, a practice followed by his apprentice9, Phinehas Bailey. All of these clock movements, whether timepieces, or time and strike, are tall-cased. The sole known exception is the gallery clock he made in 1838, very likely his last clock, as he was then 68 years old. His only known apprentice was Phinehas Bailey, whose Memoirs prompted this research on him, and as a consequence, on the lives and relationships of the other clockmakers discussed

8  This may be the shop of Osgood's other "uncle", Michael Carleton, but no corroborative data has been found.
9  The Bailey clock illustrated in the article on Bailey (BULLETIN #315, Pg. 461) is numbered 28. The Blaisdell manuscript relates that there were several apprentices and journeymen working for Osgood, but none of these names have been recorded.


in this series of papers. His son, John Jr., may also have been his apprentice. Mr. Blaisdell recalls that his grandmother mentioned the names of several apprentices or journeymen, but he does not remember any of their names. It is known that Bailey joined three other apprentices10 at the time of his apprenticeship with Osgood.

In 1797, Osgood further advertised:

A Journeyman Clock Maker, who is a good workman, may find good encouragement to work by the month or movement, at his shop in Haverhill, Coos. A boy, 14 or 15 years old, is also wanted, as an Apprentice to the above mentioned business, and may have good encouragement by applying to me. John Osgood.
Courier of New Hampshire, March 21, 1797.

Osgood was not only a clockmaker, and a gold- and silversmith, but a valued member of the town. He not only served as the Sealer of Weights and Measures, but was also at one time or another the Town Clerk, the Town Treasurer---all of these were elective posts---and for many years was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Haverhill Academy. John Osgood, clockmaker, silversmith, goldsmith, and town officer, died at the age of 70 in his home on 29 July, 1840, of consumption. It is likely that Osgood contracted tuberculosis early in life and as Footnote 7 indicates, it may be decades before the disease fully manifests itself.

Figure 7.  The floor plan of Osgood's house.  The small bedroom just off the kitchen is likely where he died.  Sketch from the Blaisdell Manuscript, courtesy Mr. Howard Evans.

The gallery clock fell into disrepair over the years, and by 1950 had been still for some time. A photograph in the cited article in ANTIQUES Journal shows it missing the minute hand---whatever other faults it may have developed are unknown. It was finally "repaired" in the early 1960's---with an added electrical drive to replace its original weight drive---but the hands are replacements. The movement has since been restored to its original condition---the electrification has been removed---and the clock is still keeping time, these 170 years later.

10  Bailey is the only named apprentice.  Bailey's eldest daughter, in her undated manuscript; A Father's Legacy, writes: "He found in Mr. Osgood's shop three other apprentices who were to be his most intimate associates for some time to come." Who these apprentices were can only be the subject of speculation.


galllery clock
Figure 8. The gallery clock, signed John Osgood, given to the then "First Congregational Church & and Society." The original hand form is inset at lower left. On the right is the back of the clock, showing the movement, the weight and the pendulum.  Photographs courtesy of Mr. Carlton Elsner.

It may seem odd to the reader that Osgood is credited with the prodigious output of some 313 clocks, if his numbering system is to be believed. A quick examination of the particulars of his life and locale may somewhat alleviate the disbelief.

Osgood began his clock-making in 1791 in Andover and Haverhill, Massachusetts. At least two clocks from Andover are known. Unfortunately, the Haverhill, Massachusetts, and the Haverhill, New Hampshire, clocks cannot be distinguished, other than perhaps through a detailed examination of various early and late movements, and a cataloging of the changes in construction as his style matured.

The population of Haverhill, New Hampshire, was about 550 in 1795, rising to 875 in 1800, and 2,183 in 1830. Just across the Connecticut River lay the Vermont towns of Bradford and Newbury, and just to the north was the town of Woodsville. In that the majority of the population were fairly recent immigrants and likely hadn't brought a clock with them on their travels, Osgood may have had a captive buying audience. His working life was about 47 years, if we accept that the gallery clock dated 1838 was indeed his last, and 313 clocks spread over those 47 years works out to just over 6 clocks per year.  Phillip Zea11 notes that Jedidiah Baldwin sold six tall-case clocks in 1795, just a few miles south in Hanover, New Hampshire, although he was not able to maintain that output level even with a population level nearly thrice that of Haverhill. In the 18 years from 1793 to 1811, Baldwin made a known 55 clocks, just over 3 per year, but his sales may have been curtailed somewhat by the more or less transient nature of the population surrounding Dartmouth College. The thought occurred that Osgood was able to make a profit by charging less for each clock, and making up the difference in quantity, but an original (date unknown) bill of sale for an Osgood clock records a charge of $30 for the movement, and $35 for the case, while Baldwin was known to charge $33 for the movement and $20 for the case. Dr. Currier wrote that he knew of 27

11  To Making one of Saturn's Moons: Jedidiah Baldwin and the Urbanization of the Upper Connecticut River Valley, 1793-1811.  Pg. 27.


Osgood clocks in 1960, and that Osgood had been commissioned to make five clocks at one time for the Stevens family of Haverhill.  Unfortunately, all of Osgood's records disappeared after his death. Osgood appears to have been a thoroughly conventional maker. He made timepieces, conventional time/strike clocks, and clocks with moon phase dials, but evidently was not a maker with an horological curiosity that led him into experimentation and the construction of unusual clocks. Dr. Currier notes that the gallery clock made in 1838 has a movement nearly identical to the earliest known clock made nearly 50 years earlier. Of the 27 (about 9% of the total) clocks Dr. Currier examined, 2 (7%) were timepieces, 4 (15%) were moon phase, and the other 21 (78%) were conventional time/strike. The Osgood clock illustrated in Parsons' New Hampshire Clocks and Clockmakers (Figs. 191-196) has a thoroughly conventional movement that accomplishes the intended task of telling time and striking the hours without any embellishments whatever. Perhaps we can conclude that Osgood's success with his clocks reflects his long stay in the same town, his acceptance as a reliable and worthy businessman and Town official, and the New Englander's philosophy of simplicity and usefulness.


I would like to express my particular appreciation to Mr. Howard Evans for his kind permission to use the illustrations from the Blaisdell manuscript, and to Mr. Carlton Elsner, who took the trouble to search through his files for the photographs of the Osgood gallery clock, and of his Osgood tall clock.

Just a foot note to Carlton's life: He was the sole (and volunteeer) caretaker of the 1844 Stephen Hasham tower clock in the Congregational Church, making the trip to the clock room weekly for 25 years, and funded many of the clock repairs out of his own pocket. That was how I met him---the clock needed repairs---as did some of his own clocks, and formed a friendship that I treasure. Carlton died at the age of 87 this past summer. He will be missed.


BITTINGER, John Quincy, History of Haverhill, N.H.,:  Haverhill, N.H. [Cohos Steam Press] 1888.

BLAISDELL, Alfred Osgood, Handwritten manuscript: His recollections of his grandfather, John Osgood, of Haverhill, New Hampshire.  Brooklyn, New York, 1876.  Courtesy Mr. Howard Evans, who also permitted the use of the illustrations.

CURRIER, Dr. Charles A., John Osgood, Clockmaker of the Merrimack and Connecticut River Valleys (as told to Brooks Palmer).  The Antiques Journal, Babka Publishing Company, Dubuque, Iowa.  January, 1960.

FILLION, Robert G., Haverhill Corner, (N.H.) National Historic District:  Privately printed by Robert Fillion, Woodsville, N.H. 1991.

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.

MEMOIRS of Rev. Phinehas Bailey, written by himself. These five pages were evidently edited out of the Vermont Historical Society typescript (perhaps in an effort to remove the family's domestic difficulties from the public eye) and are found in this manuscript (transcriptionist unknown) held in the collections of the Bennington Museum.  Courtesy the Bennington Museum.

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

WALBRIDGE, John Hill, compiler, The Town of Haverhill:  A History of Haverhill and Wells River to 1897.  Privately printed by Robert Fillion, Woodsville, N.H. 1991.

WHITCHER, Rev. William Frederick, History of the Town of Haverhill, New-Hampshire.  Rumford Press, Concord, New Hampshire. 1919.

WHITNEY, Louisa M. (Bailey), A Father's Legacy, an undated, unpublished typescript (transcriptionist unknown) manuscript.  An uncritical and highly edited biographical treatment of Phinehas Bailey.  Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society.

ZEA, Phillip, To Making One of Saturn's Moons: Jedidiah Baldwin and the Urbanization of the Upper Connecticut River Valley, 1793-1811.  Unpublished manuscript held in the Special Collections, Baker Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. 1979.

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