What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Benjamin Willard, Clock-Maker.”
Benjamin Willard, one of the most prominent clockmakers in eighteenth-century America, placed an advertisement in the December 16, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post to inform the public that he had moved from Lexington to Roxbury. He assured customers who had already purchased clocks from him with the intention that he would provide any necessary maintenance that they “still may have the same Care taken by applying to him at Roxbury.” He also directed customers to his original shop in Grafton, where an employee made clocks “as well as at Roxbury.” Like many other artisans, Willard promoted domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, as alternatives to imported items. He declared that consumers acquired clocks made and sold at his shop “on much better Terms than those that are purchased from foreign Countries.” Accordingly, he advocated that colonists who needed clocks “as well as other kind of Mechanical Performances” should support his workshop, especially since “there have been large Sums of Money sent away for foreign Work which may be retained to the Emolument of this Country.” The clockmaker referenced trade imbalances with Great Britain that had played a role, along with duties imposed on certain goods, in inspiring nonimportation agreements in Boston and other towns in the late 1760s and early 1770s.
Today, a collection of more than eighty clocks constructed by Willard, his three younger brothers, and three generations of the Willard family are on display at the Willard House and Clock Museum in North Grafton, Massachusetts, the second site mentioned in the advertisement. Those clocks are exhibited “in the birthplace and original workshop of the Willard clockmakers, along with family portraits, furnishings, and other Willard family heirlooms.” This public history site allows visitors to “step back in time” (surely the pun was intended!) and “witness a unique and important part of America’s technological, artistic, and entrepreneurial history.”