William Claggett is included in Patrick T. Conley’s Rhode Island’s Founders from Settlement to Statehood. Conley’s book, written in 2010, lists 57 names of the most historically important members of the State of Rhode Island. He is the only clockmaker to be included.
William Claggett was a clockmaker, watchmaker, compass maker, organ builder engraver, printer, lecturer, author and scientist.
William Claggett is considered one of America’s earliest clockmakers. He is thought to have been born in Wales in 1696. He came to the Colonies, first to Boston sometime before 1714. Here he married by Cotton Mather to Mary Armstrong on Oct. 21, 1714. She was the daughter of Mathew and Margaret Armstrong. Their marriage record exists. In 1715, he placed his first advertisement which he identified himself as a “Clock-Maker near the Town-House.” By 1716, he had moved to, and settled in Newport, Rhode Island until his death in 1749. Here he was admitted as a Freeman. His original house still stands and is located at 16 Bridge Street. This is not true of his shop which was located to the west of the Brick Market. This building was demolished after his death in order to make access to Long Wharf. His neighbors included the brothers Job I and Christopher Townsend both of whom were cabinetmakers. It appears Mary died some time around 1727. William then married his second wife Rebecca and she was named in his will. It should also be mentioned that William had at least five children. His son Thomas, born in 1730 and died in 1767, was also a clockmaker. William’s daughter Mary married James Wady of Newport. James Wady was also a clockmaker. Two other daughters, Hannah Threadkill and Elizabeth Claggett and a son Caleb are mentioned in his will.
William was civic minded and was a member of the 7th Day Baptist Congregation as well as a founding member of Newport’s local fire company. He kept close ties to Boston and we also know that he had other interests. He was a talented engraver. So much so that he printed paper money for the state of Rhode Island in 1738. He was a merchant, as well as an author. He manufactured musical instruments, and was a dabbler in science and electricity. In 1746, he put on a public demonstration of electricity that was generated by a machine he made. He performed a similar demonstration in Boston the following year. Interestingly, the monies generated from these exhibitions were given to charity. It is also thought he introduced Benjamin Franklin to this science. Certainly, he had a first rate mind.
Examples of his work demonstrate his ability to make high quality clocks. Today, very few examples are known. It is well documented that he built the original tower clock for the Trinity Church. The Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport is the oldest lending library in America. It has an example of a tall clock that was donated to them in 1948 by Bishop Samuel Babcock who was a descendant of the original owner, the Staton family. This clock was thought to have been made in 1723. A second clock, a wall clock made circa 1732, is at the 7th Day Baptist Meeting House. This clock is thought to have been the earliest wall clock made in America.
A most rare Queen Anne Block and Shell tall case clock made by William Claggett of Newport, Rhode Island. This handsome… read more