© Donn Haven Lathrop 2008
The late Charles K. Aked has already taken us through the Amorous Clock,
that first-ever description of a clock prompted by some young woman's
charms. I must say that the poem, as it was presented to us, was
rather highly edited. I seem to recall that there are a few expressions
and statements therein which have very little to with clocks, or with
any sort of mechanical entity. The editing was to the point---it
addressed the subject at hand---rather than the emotions at hand.
Because the dial is usually the first item on a clock most of us notice,
this series on women involved in various aspects of clock and
watchmaking will begin with a few notes on Candace Roberts, daughter of
Gideon Roberts (considered to be the pioneer clockmaker in Bristol,
Connecticut) who japanned and decorated tinware, and painted dials for
her father, James Harrison, her brother Elias Roberts, and for Eli
Terry. Distin & Bishop, in The American Clock state that
Miss Roberts was also a tablet painter, but none of the (Connecticut
Historical Society) references allude to her painting anything other
than tinware and dials; furthermore, she died before the tabletted shelf
clock was produced in this country.
Candace was born in Bristol, Connecticut, on Christmas Day, in 1785 to
Gideon and Falla (Hopkins) Roberts. She appears to have spent her early
years in the usual household duties of her day, but was evidently quite
a gifted (and independent, particularly for that time) young woman, as,
in later years, she worked "out" in different occupations; clerking in
stores, working at local taverns, and sewing for friends and the
village tailor. From age 15 on (in 1800), she began keeping a diary in
which she at first merely noted her activities in household work and
attendance at Sunday meeting, and then in 1802 began recording the
pleasures and sorrows of her professional and social lives. She took
great delight in parties and dances, making note of her fancy dresses,
of singing at parties, and of staying out late. She quite likely
inherited her talent for painting from her mother, also a japanner and
ornamenter of tinware, who is believed to have designed and painted
clock dials for her husband's clocks.
She records in June, 1802, her first painting job away from home, at the
tin shop of Nathaniel Bishop in the Red Stone Hill section of Bristol,
where she "flowered tin," "japanned tin," or "drawed flowers upon tin"
at various times until September, 1802. Her next job was at the
establishment of Elijah Manross in Forestville, where she worked from
December, 1802 through October, 1803. Elijah was a tinsmith, who owned
his own shop, as well as a general store and a livery stable.
In November of 1803, Candace went to Farmington to paint at the tin shop
of Asa Andrews. The only diary entry about her work was "this week was
very steady to work in the shop." She was active socially, to the point
that diary entries refer obscurely to a broken heart (she wrote in her
diary, "I find time cannot efface everything"), and a general decline in
her health, for which she "went to East Haven for a few days for the
benefit of the salt water." Her health gradually improved, and she was
able to go back to work a year later, for James Harrison in Waterbury.
The trip to Waterbury was undertaken in a snowstorm which turned to
rain, and the party had to stop and dry their clothes several times on
the way. Harrison had been making wooden clocks by hand since about
1790, until he installed a waterwheel in 1802. His brother Lemuel and
Col. William Leavenworth, also a tavernkeeper, were associated with him
in making clocks. Candace worked for Harrison during five different
sojourns in Waterbury between December, 1804 and May, 1806, where she
was joined in employment, at one time or another, by her brother Elias,
and a friend, Almira Mitchell. Elias established his own home and shop
in Bristol in 1805, where Candace stayed and worked for him during short
periods in the latter part of 1805 and early 1806.
Waterbury social life evidently suited her very well, as diary entries
refer to visits to friends and socials and dances at various places.
Indeed, she mentions that three A.M. was a usual time to end her social
day, and that after one "verry, verry good ball," she "felt like a
stewed Quaker" the following day. Further, her diary entries become
concerned with "the one I love dearest," and "that elegant figure."
This shadowy and nameless one may well have been a clock man, as he
evidently spent some winters in the South, possibly peddling clocks, and
is mentioned as keeping company with her brother Elias.
In 1805-06 Candace divided her time between Bristol, Plymouth, and
Waterbury. The Eli Terrys were her hosts and employers five times
between August of 1805 and July of 1806. She may have painted some of
the dials Terry used in his tallcase clocks, as he had not yet invented
his shelf clocks.
Candace was a pioneer in her field, which was the forerunner of American
industrial painting, as she began her career about three years after
japanned tinware became a viable commercial entity. She had a freedom
of opportunity to move about, work, and earn a living, as well as a
social freedom which somehow doesn't fit our preconceived notion that
all women in this period were sequestered in the home. Her friend
Almira Mitchell was evidently also a painter who was hired by James
Harrison, as was a woman known from Candace's diary only as Sophie, who
accompanied her on her first journey to Waterbury. It's unfortunate
that Candace never signed or otherwise identified her work, but her
diary records an interesting view of the clock and tinware businesses
of her day. If you own an Eli Terry tallcase, the dial just might have
been painted by Candace Roberts.
In late 1806, she fell ill with either typhoid fever or typhus. Long
months before her "elegant figure" returned from his southern journeys,
and sixteen short days before her twenty first birthday, Candace Roberts
died on the 9th of December, 1806.
This is the most detailed account I have found of any woman who was
involved in a specific aspect of actually making, or contributing
directly to the making, of a clock. The above is adapted from an
article by Shirley Spaulding DeVoe, published in the Bulletin of the
Connecticut Historical Society. Other accounts are much shorter, but a
bit of reading between the lines establishes that women were quite
competent in many aspects of horology. Their evident talents range from
the 1369 inspiration for Jean Froissart's The Amorous Clock,
through the actual making of a complete clock or watch; their
competencies in carrying on horologically oriented businesses to the
chronicling of horological history.
Candace Roberts Bibliography
COFFIN, Margaret. The History and Folklore of American Country Tinware, 1700-1900:
T. Nelson, Camden, New Jersey. 1968.
DeVOE, Shirley Spaulding, The Tinsmiths of Connecticut. Middletown, Conn.,
Published for the Connecticut Historical
Society [by the] Wesleyan University Press. 1968.
___, Candace Roberts; 1785-1806, Japanner and Ornamenter:
Bulletin of the Connecticut Historical Society,
Vol. 27, Pg. 85ff.
DISTIN, William H. and BISHOP, Robert, The American Clock:
E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. New York. 1976.
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