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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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