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Craftsmen Working in Colonial America and the New Republic PDF Print E-mail
Written by David L. Grinnell   
Sunday, 31 January 2016 17:53

by David L. Grinnell (GFA #95)

Three generations of the Dominy family of East Hampton, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York functioned as craftsmen from ca. 1760 to ca. 1850. Nathaniel Dominy IV (1737-1812) was a woodworker and metalworker producing tall case clocks, furniture, and repairing thousands of pocket watches. His son, Nathaniel Dominy V (1770-1852) practiced all forms of woodworking. His activity included work as a furniture joiner, millwright, house carpenter, cooper, and supplier of agricultural tools to farmers in East Hampton township – Sag Harbor to Montauk. Nathaniel V’s son, Felix Dominy (1800-1868) was trained to be a clock and watchmaker. He worked primarily as a maker of tall case clocks and repairer of pocket watches over a short time span of ca. 1815 to 1828 when technological unemployment forced him to forego craft activity and take a job as keeper of the Fire Island lighthouse.

Direct descendants of the Dominy craftsmen kept together and preserved the craftsmen’s shop equipment, tools, and manuscript material on their original site until 1946 thus preserving the only complete record of craftsmen working in colonial America and the New Republic.

The Dominy Craftsmen Collection will contain a revised and enlarged digital edition of With Hammer in Hand by Charles F. Hummel; the extensive collection of Dominy family manuscript material in the Joseph Downs Manuscript and Printed Ephemera Collection, Winterthur Library, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware; a video-taped lecture about the Dominy craftsmen; and a brief description of books owned by the craftsmen and members of their families.

(The Dominy Craftsmen Collection

Interestingly enough, there is a Grinnell connection to the Dominy Family as well as interaction with two Mayflower Pilgrim Families.

To get there, we have to begin with my paternal grandmother, Marie Marble Brown who married my grandfather, Clairmont Livesey Grinnell, Sr.2 Marie Marble Brown's mother was Bessie Marble Holland (GFA #I40688) born 17 Apr 1863, died 01 Jan 1924.3 Bessie's father was Benjamin Holland, (GFA #I40686), born ca. 1819, died 25 Jan 1888.4 Benjamin's father was Henry Hooper Holland (GFA #I15991) born c. 1791, died 16 Sep 1868.5 Here we digress for a moment, but we'll be back.

Henry Hooper Holland (GFA #I15991) was the grandson of Susannah Ladd (GFA I15925), who was the daughter of Benjamin Ladd and Mary Grinnell (GFA I15903).6 Mary Grinnell was the daughter of Thomas Grinnell (I15880) and Susana Sweet.7 Thomas was the son of Matthew Grinnell (GFA #I15880) and Mary A. Nichols.8 Matthew and Mary were my 6th great grandparents. Thus, my Grandmother Marie Marble Brown is the 5th cousin 2x removed of my Grandfather Clairmont Livesey Grinnell, Sr.

Now back to Henry Hooper Holland (GFA #I15991) who was the son of Henry Hooper Holland and Sarah Tefft (GFA #I15980).9 Sarah Tefft born ca. 1773 in South Kingstown, RI, died 10 Mar 1849, was the daughter of Daniel Tefft born 1 May 1743 and Sarah Hazard (GFA #I40694) born. ca. 1742 in Kingstown, RI and died ca. 1810.10 ,11 Sarah Hazard was the daughter of Oliver Hazard, born 13 Sep 1710 in South Kingstown, RI, died 14 Apr 1792. Oliver Hazard was the great grandfather of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry; his wife was Elizabeth Raymond (GFA #I40696).11 Elizabeth was the daughter of Joshua Raymond 12 and Elizabeth Christophers who was born 15 Feb 1698/9 in New London, CT and died 11 May 1730 in New London. Elizabeth 13 was the daughter of John Christophers, born 3 Sep 1668, died 2 Feb 1702 and Elizabeth Mulford. John Christophers 14 was the son of Christopher Christophers and Elizabeth Brewster, born 1 May 1637 in Duxbury, MA and died 1 Feb 1708 in New London, CT. Elizabeth 15 was the daughter of Jonathan Brewster, born 12 Aug 1593 in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, died 7 Aug 1659 in New London, CT and his wife Lucretia Oldham. Jonathan Brewster16 was the son of Mayflower Pilgrim Elder William Brewster born 1566/7 in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, died 10 Apr 1644, and his wife Mary; my 11th great grandparents.

It is through Mayflower Pilgrim Elder William Brewster and his wife Mary that we now make our descent. Their daughter Fear Brewster, 1606-163417 married Isaac Allerton, another Mayflower Pilgrim and my 11th great grandfather (through his first wife Mary Norris). Their son, Isaac Allerton Jr. 18 married an Elizabeth. They had a daughter Elizabeth,19, 20, born 27 Sep 1653 who married as her second husband, Simon Ayers (or Eyres) and they had a son Benjamin Ayers born 19 Jun 1688 21. Benjamin married Deborah Parsons and they had a daughter Elizabeth, born 9 Apr 171722. Elizabeth married Nathaniel Dominy, born 14 Dec 1714, died 30 May 1778. They had a son Nathaniel Dominy, born 25 Jul 173723, died 23 Oct 1813.24

1 Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

2 Birth, marriage and death certificates

3 Death certificate with date of birth and parents

4 Death certificate with age at death and parents

5 Beaman, Alden G “Rhode Island Vital Records, New Series (Princeton, MA Rhode Island Genealogical Research Institute, 1981) v:8 page 341 birth and death with parents

6 Beaman, Alden G. “Rhode Genealogical Register (Princeton, MA. Rhode Island Families Association 1986) 2nd ed. V:1 pp. 177-178; Arnold, James N. “Vital Record of Rhode Island 1636-1850” (Providence, Narragansett Historical Publishing Co. 1894) v:5:II:17 marriage (BL&MG).

7 See discussion on GFA #I15903 by Lawrence Grinnell

8 Arnold, v:I:II:122 birth (TG)

9 Beaman, RIVR v:8:341 birth (HHH with parents)

10 Beaman, RIGR v:1:178

11 Beaman, RIGR v:1:197; Tefft, Rachel Saul “The Descendants of John Tefft 1614-1676” p. 24 showing same birth and death dates for Daniel Tefft and his marriage to Sarah Hazard. Robinson, Caroline E. “The Hazard Family of Rhode Island 1635-1894 (©1895 by author at Boston) p. 26 shows the birth of Sarah Hazard to Oliver and Elizabeth (Raymond) Hazard and the birth of Sarah's sister, Mercy Hazard; p. 62 shows the birth of Mercy Hazard and her marriage to Freeman Perry; p. 63 shows

the children of Mercy and Freeman Perry including Christopher Raymond Perry; p. 103 shows the birth of Christopher Raymond Perry and p. 104 show his marriage to Sarah Alexander and the birth of their children including Oliver Hazard Perry. This proves the statement of Rachel Saul Tefft on p. 24 that “Sarah Hazard (who married Daniel Tefft) was a first cousin (should be “great aunt” in today's nomenclature) of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry” and that this is, indeed, the wife of Daniel Tefft.

12 Merrick, Barbara Lambert “Mayflower Families in Progress:William Brewster of the Mayflower and the Fifth Generation Descendants of his son Jonathan” (Plymouth, GSMD, 1999) p. 206

13 Merrick, pp. 205; “Mayflower Families in Progress:William Brewster of the Mayflower an His Descendants for Four Generations” (Plymouth, GSMD, revised 3rd ed. 2000) p. 74

14 Merrick, pp. 73, 21

15 Merrick, pp. 20, 7

16 Merrick, pp. 6, 4

17 Merrick, pp. 4, 12-13

18 Merrick, pp. 13, 30-32

19 Merrick, pp. 32, 102-103

20 Merrick pp. 103; Wakefield, Robert S. “Mayflower Families Through Five Generations:Family of Isaac Allerton” (Plymouth, GSMD 2013) v:17:p. 19

21 Wakefield, pp. 20, 53

22 Wakefield, pp. 53, 176

23 Wakefield, p. 176 (person # 250 (I)

24 A famous clockmaker. His clocks are valuable collector's items. "Dominy Clocks". Shot and killed a British soldier stealing peaches in the Revolution.

A clock built by Nathaniel Dominy IV (1737-1812); the dial says, O' trifle not, till time's forgot ...''

From their little shops on North Main Street in East Hampton, the Dominy family presided over a remarkable domain. Between 1760, when they opened their doors, and 1840, when the last sales were posted, Nathaniel IV, Nathaniel V and Felix -- father, son and grandson -- turned out 90 clocks and nearly 900 tables, dressers, desks and chairs. They repaired watches and guns, built houses and windmills. On or off the workbench, no job was too big or too small. Nathaniel IV served as a town trustee, inspector of common schools, sealer of weights and measures. Nathaniel V was an overseer of the poor. Early in his career, Felix designed the arm-and-hammer symbol of the New York Mechanics Society; near the end, he covered the dome of the Montauk Lighthouse, using 220 feet of copper sheeting and 1,080 rivets.

Yet what was most extraordinary about this family of clock makers and cabinetmakers was how typical they were. At a time when a new nation was struggling to take hold, craftsmanship -- especially rural craftsmanship -- was about necessity more than art. And craftsmen did whatever else they had to to survive. As Dominy scholar Charles F. Hummel put it, "If the Dominys had to rely strictly on the production of clocks, they would have starved to death.''

But money is just one measure of success. The Dominys, for all their precarious finances, left a priceless legacy: virtually every tool, every account book, every piece of shop equipment, more than 1,300 pieces in all. Discovered in a Southampton warehouse in 1957, the trove is one of the largest and most complete of the colonial era, and offers researchers an unrivaled look at the day-to-day workings of craftsmen from the peak of the handcraft era in the mid-1700s until its decline in the industrial revolution a century later.

It was akin to what an Egyptologist would encounter unearthing the tomb of an ancient pharaoh,'' says Hummel, curator emeritus of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, Del., where the Dominy workshops have been re-created.

The survival of so much gives us a wonderful picture of the state of technology throughout the western world, because so much of what the Dominys were doing was similar to what craftsmen were doing in France, Germany and England.''

Although they called them manufactories,'' shops like the Dominys' were run on sheer muscle power, aided by simple tools and basic machinery. Large-scale equipment like the great wheel lathe demanded strenuous effort to turn a chair leg or a table base. Yet because craftsmen built towering clock cases one day and repaired delicate watches the next, they also demanded smaller tools. The Dominys amassed a prodigious array, including 37 different planes, 30 different bits and two dozen different files, some acquired from customers who paid their bills with gimlets and saws. What those tools produced was as straightforward and utilitarian as the equipment itself. Surely the Dominys were worldly enough to understand the blossoming design community beyond East Hampton. But their clients were mostly farmers, who had no need for lavishly carved Philadelphia Chippendale chairs.

In colonial America and in the new republic, farm people spent money on what kept them in business -- livestock, farm equipment and land, not clocks,'' says Hummel.

Dan Failey, senior director of American furniture and decorative arts at Christie's auction house, says that if any one piece embodies Dominy style, it's the splat-back chair, a simple piece they could produce quickly and in large numbers. Similarly, though Dominy tall clocks are unadorned, there is often a twist -- say, a pewter dial engraved, "Death don't retreat to improve each beat.'' As the 19th Century faded into a new era of assembly-line technology, handcraftsmen could no longer compete with factories turning out clocks faster and cheaper. But even before then the Dominys were losing ground to entrepreneurs such as Nathan Tinker of Sag Harbor, who opened a warehouse in 1823, shipped in ready-made furniture and advertised that he could supply any article of household furniture'' on short notice.

And that might have been the end of the Dominy story -- another craft family felled by time and technology -- except for Connecticut antiques dealer Rockwell Gardiner, who stumbled over some old tools during a 1957 buying trip to Ethel Marsden's shop in Southampton. What Gardiner suspected -- and what Winterthur confirmed -- was a trove of Dominy clock and woodworking tools.

Many had assumed the tools had vanished, if not when the Dominy house was sold in 1939, then surely when it was torn down in 1946 or when the adjoining clock shop was sold. But what Gardiner uncovered was just the first batch.

Robert M. Dominy, a great-grandson of Felix and one of the last Dominys to live in the family homestead, had loaned hundreds more tools to the East Hampton Historical Society in the 1940s and had effectively forgotten about them. But, Dominy said, soon after Winterthur bought the tools in Marsden's shop, he discovered that the East Hampton Historical Society had upped and sold its cache - his cache -- to the museum.

Someone said they thought I was dead,'' said Dominy, who is 81 and lives in Atlanta. When he showed up with ownership papers, the tools were returned to him and Dominy immediately gave them to Winterthur.

Three years later, Winterthur opened a Dominy wing, with detailed replicas of the Dominy shops, based on drawings made by the 1940 Historic American Buildings Survey and on Dominy family recollections. Just listen to Robert Dominy:

They put a door in the reconstructed shop, and I said, "It's in the wrong place -- it's four inches out of line." So they moved it. They said, "If that's the way it was, that's the way it will be.'' For in those details lie the lives of generations of craftsmen.

A Dominy Windsor chair; it and the clock are at the Custom House in Sag Harbor. Legacy Wood From Honduras? No problem In the early 1790s, Sag Harbor merchant William Johnson Rysam asked Nathaniel Dominy V for a set of nine mahogany Windsor chairs. Problem was, Rysam wanted to use mahogany from his plantation -- in Honduras.

Rysam came to Dominy and said, I was wondering if you could build a wind-driven sawmill that I could ship to Honduras and set up there to cut the mahogany board,''' said Dean Failey of Christie's auction house. Construction was no challenge for Dominy, who would build nine East End windmills around the turn of the century. But the rest of the adventure certainly was.

After Dominy tested the mill on East Hampton's Study Hill, he dismantled it and shipped it to Sag Harbor, then loaded it onto Rysam's 202-ton brig, Merchant. When the mill arrived in Honduras, Rysam reassembled it in his groves, sawed the mahogany, then shipped the boards back to Dominy -- as if this were all a normal part of furniture-making.

We think of the world as so isolated in that era,'' says Failey, yet here are these chairs, signed and dated 1794 by Nathaniel Dominy, who is so proud of them.''

(The Dominy Craftsmen Collection

Last Updated on Sunday, 31 January 2016 18:09