Joseph Ellicott 
One of the earliest and most famous Pennsylvania clockmakers, Joseph Ellicott (1732-1780), a quaker, was born in Bucks County about 5 miles from Doylestown and near the Buckingham Meeting House on the main road between New York and Philadelphia (Mathews, 6). He was the eldest of five sons to Andrew and Ann Bye. Mechanically inclined and a mathematical genius, he worked as a surveyor and designed and built mills and associated machinery. However, he is most well-known as a clockmaker, and the maker of one of the most important colonial clocks in American history, the four-sided astronomical and musical clock that he built in 1767 with the help of his oldest son, Andrew, that is in the Smithsonian collection (see below for more information about his son, Andrew). He was friends with Ben Franklin and David Rittenhouse, no doubt attracted by each others scientific inclinations. 

In 1766, Ellicott traveled to England to collect a large inheritance and met members of The Royal Society including the renowned astronomer and mathematician James Ferguson, and distant relative John Ellicott, a renowned London clock and watchmaker. Joseph keeps a journal of his trip to England. He has a clock movement and repeating watch that he made with him that he showed to Ferguson and others. While in England, he has a dial made for his watch and visited a number of people in the watch trade including a watch spring maker and tool maker. He returned to America on September 21, 1767 on the ship Charming Rachel after a miserable 52 days at sea. In 1772, Joseph and his brothers acquired a large tract of land near Baltimore, Maryland and they leave Pennsylvania. They build a grist mill, cotton mill, iron foundry, saw mills, smithies, stables and general store, and are instrumental in modernizing agriculture in the region. Known as Ellicotts Mills, it is later renamed to Ellicott City in the 19th century.

No surviving watches by the Ellicotts were known until a private party in Milford, New Jersey offered this example for sale in the late 1980’s. It is very likely that Joseph acquired this watch during his travels to England in 1766. It has never been displayed until now. This is one of only a few American watches that survive from colonial America (prior to the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War) and it is in remarkable original condition.
 
Joseph Ellicott
 
Joseph Ellicott
  
 
Joseph Ellicott
 
Joseph Ellicott
  
Maker:
Number:
City:
Date:
Joseph Ellicott
202
"Pencilvania"
1765

Description: Fusee movement with a verge escapement, square baluster pillars, white enamel dial with intricate hands and pierced asymmetrical balance table. The movement is signed "Josh Ellicott Pencilvania 202". The matching silver pair cases with Chester assay date mark for 1765 and case maker’s mark “RW” that may possibly be Ralph Wakefield of Liverpool. Makers were known to begin their numbering in the hundreds and I suspect that Ellicott began his at 200 making this his second watch.  

The Joseph Ellicott watch contains two watch papers. The first is for Henry Cliffton at Fair-View, King-Wood and the second is for J. A. Everitt, Northampton Street, Easton. The Everitt paper has a servicing date for 1820. 

On a side note, Joseph’s eldest son Andrew became an eminent surveyor, and clock and instrument maker in his own right. He's recommended by Benjamin Franklin to survey lands in the Niagara Falls/River area, and received an appointment from President George Washington and worked with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson as the principal surveyor for laying out Washington D.C., the new capital city, replacing planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant in 1792 (brothers Benjamin and Joseph participate). The Ellicott’s befriended the free slave astronomer and scientist Benjamin Banneker who also worked with Andrew on the Washington D.C. commission. Andrew also developed the plan for Erie, Pennsylvania, was George Washington's representative to negotiate and survey the boundaries with Spain in Florida, and helped prepare the Lewis and Clark Expedition with equipment and training in 1803.


References and recommended reading:
  • James Gibbs, Pennsylvania Clocks and Watches, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984, pp. 109-110
  • Frank Hohmann III, Timeless Masterpiece American Brass Dial Clocks, Hohmann Holdings LLC, New York, p. 333
  • Catharine Mathews, Andrew Ellicott, His Life and Letters, The Grafton Press, New York