Moses Morse

First American Watch

Moses Morse Pocket Watch

Debaufre Escapement

Moses Morse Debaufre Escapement

In 1795, Moses Leland Morse (1781-1831) joined Josiah Wheelock in Sutton, Massachusetts and about 3 years later in 1798 they formed a partnership making extraordinary watches of their own design. The firm Wheelock & Morse were one of the first, perhaps the first, watchmakers to offer a higher quality alternative to the traditional English verge escapement and fusee design that was typically being sold at this time in America.

Three surviving watches are known and all have the same Ă©bauche with distinctive off-set balance table and exposed going-barrel that appears to be unique to this firm. Two have a Debaufre escapement and one, that is in the Historic New England collection, has a Virgule escapement.

These going-barrel designed watches by Wheelock & Morse / Moses L Morse arguably mark the true beginning of the American watch industry. The parts not made locally, such as the dial, mainspring, hairspring, and fusee chain, were readily available from suppliers such as Daniel Waldo, Jr., of nearby Worcester, Massachusetts, who advertised in 1793 that he had watch faces, watch glasses, watch chains and all kinds of watch and clock maker's tools for sale (The Worcester Gazette, 12-19-1793; thanks to Michael Edidin for his research on Daniel Waldo). Luther Goddard's watchmaking operation may have inspired this firm. On the other hand, their well capitalized competition in nearby Shrewsbury may have contributed to this firm's demise.

Early American Watchmaking

Moses Morse Pocket Watch

This watch was in The Time Museum collection that was liquidated at auction in 2004. It is engraved Moses L. Morse, Keene, serial number 2. It features a calendar, rare double wheel Debaufre escapement, exposed going barrel (no fusee) and offset balance table chased with scrolls and flowers.

The silver pair cases are unmarked, also likely of America manufacture, with silver alloy content of approximately 90%. English sterling standard was 92.5% at the time, American coin silver was 89.24.

New-Hampshire Sentinel, Keene, Hew Hampshire, December 24, 1803, Page 3

The watch was made after 1803 when Moses Morse, likely the designer of these unique watches, relocated to Keene, New Hampshire when the partnership with Josiah Wheelock ended (Morse also pursued other interests and patented pin-making machinery and scales for weighing coins hydrostatically). His 1803 advertisement states:

"Watch Manufacture. Moses L. Morse Respectfully informs the inhabitants of Keene and its vicinity that he proposes to carry on the Watch Making Busines..."

Additional References and recommended reading:

  • American Horological Journal, Vol.1, No 6, New York, December 1869, p. 18

  • Rev. William A. Benedict, A.M., and Rev. Hiram A. Tracy, History of the Town of Sutton, 1704 to 1876, 1878

  • Donald Hoke, The Time Museum Historical Catalogue of American Pocket Watches, Rockford, Illinois, 1991

First Going Barrel Pocket Watch