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Tall Case Clock

Huston, William __Clockworks by ||Ray, Joseph __Case by ||Price, John __Case by
Place Made:
Augusta County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
walnut –yellow pine –brass
HOA: 97″ WOA: 20″ DOA: 12″
Accession Number:
This clock represents the only known southern work by the Philadelphia clockmaker William Huston (c.1739-c.1790). It is housed in an elaborate walnut case with a scroll pediment and carved rosettes that can be attributed to the shop of Augusta County, Virginia’s, earliest-known cabinetmakers, Joseph Ray (w.c. 1767-1799) and John Price (w.c. 1780-1797).

CLOCK WORKS: The face of the clock indicates that its works were made by clockmaker William Huston (c.1730-c.1789) when he worked in Augusta County, Virginia. Prior to the discovery of this piece, William Huston had been identified as an artisan who worked and died in Philadelphia. At least three clock faces are known with the name “William Huston” and the location “Philadelphia” on them. Huston’s biography is scanty but firm. He was the son of Philadelphian James Huston, he married Sarah Williams (d.1771) in 1765 in Philadelphia, and the couple had four children. In 1774 William was married a second time to Mary “Polly” Burke, daughter of John Burke, at Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The following year, William must have experienced financial difficulties, and his house on Front Street was sold “by the Sherriff.” Because William was no longer mentioned in Philadelphia records, and his father’s 1791 will referred to him as “William, deceased,” an assumption was made that he must have died in Philadelphia around 1775.

Recent research suggests a different narrative. In 1777, Huston’s father-in-law, John Burke of Philadelphia, purchased from Patrick Campbell a tract of land in the Scotch-Irish settlement of Beverly Manor in Augusta County, Virginia. For the eight years between 1782 and 1789, William Huston was listed in the Augusta County tax lists. In 1790 he was not listed, but his wife Polly was. When Huston’s father James made his will in Philadelphia in 1791, he referred to “the children of son William (decd.).” These facts suggest that Philadelphia clockmaker William Huston, along with his family, moved to Augusta County, Virginia, with his new father-in-law, John Burke, between 1775 and 1777, that he set up his clock-making shop, and probably died in 1789 or 1790. The face and works of MESDA’s clock would have been made during the fifteen-year period between 1775 and 1790 in Augusta County, Virginia, by William Huston, formerly of Philadelphia.

Complicating this narrative is the fact that very similar dials with the name “James Huston” engraved on them appear in two other clocks from the same Augusta County group. In 1789, the presumed year of William’s death, James Huston first appeared in the Augusta County tax list and remained on it through 1795. Also in 1795, William and Polly (Burke) Huston’s daughter Elizabeth married in Augusta County, and James Huston acted as surety. The witness to the marriage bond was John Burke, Polly Huston’s father. This legal document suggests that James Huston was probably the son of William Huston by his first wife Sarah Williams. James would have learned skills from his father William and consequently their work is quite similar. The Huston family shop would have produced clocks in Augusta County from roughly 1775 to William’s death around 1790, at which point James continued working the tradition until 1795. In 1796, he is identified in Augusta County records as having gone “to Baltimore.” James Huston later moved and worked as a clockmaker in Trenton, New Jersey.

CLOCK CASE: This clock case is attributed to the workshop of Joseph Ray and John Price, Augusta County’s earliest-known cabinetmakers and the progenitors of a regional style represented by a number of surviving case pieces with distinctive carved rosettes. These include several clock cases (for an example see CWF acc. 1992-124), a chest of drawers, and two high chests, one owned by Colonial Williamsburg (CWF acc. 1992.72) and one owned by MESDA (acc. 5749). For many years the furniture in this group was attributed to Gideon Morgan. However, this clock was made before Morgan’s arrival in Augusta County, which calls the attribution into question. Born in Massachusetts in 1751, Morgan spent his early years in Connecticut, served in the Connecticut militia during the American Revolution, and can be documented selling land in Saratoga Springs, New York, in the fall of 1787. He did not appear in Augusta County until 1790 when his name first appeared on county tax lists. As the clockmaker William Huston died in 1789 or 1790, the William Huston signed clock and its case were almost certainly made prior to Morgan’s arrival.

Gideon Morgan’s connection to woodworking in Augusta County is incontrovertible. He appears to have opened a business almost as soon as he arrived in Augusta County. He placed a notice in the local newspaper in 1793 advertising that he needed “TWO Journeyman Cabinet Makers and two House joiners.” Two of his entries in the Archibald Stuart Ledger were dated 1794 and 1795, the year he was paid for “chimneypieces” and “door pedaments” made for Stuart’s house. The rosettes on the chimney pieces are similar, but not identical, to the rosettes found on the case pieces in this group. A later woodworking firm co-owned by Gideon Morgan and Joseph Pippitt is listed in the Stuart Ledger from 1797 through 1802, and it supplied Stuart with a sideboard, two sofas, a dozen mahogany chairs, and one easy chair. In 1802 the firm insured their lot in Staunton, including a 25’ x 25’ joiner’s shop. Considering the 1797 to 1802 time period and the forms produced—sideboard, sofas, and mahogany (not walnut) chairs, it is likely that the shop’s output was neoclassical in design. Around 1810 Morgan left Virginia and moved to Kingston, Tennessee, where he lived the rest of his life as a tavern keeper and merchant.

After carefully reading early Augusta County records, MESDA Research Associates have identified the county’s earliest cabinetmakers who are responsible for this group. The first is Joseph Ray. Ray is documented as having come “from Ireland,” to Philadelphia, and “from thence to Augusta County” in July of 1740 with another family, probably as a young boy. By 1759 Ray must have been an accomplished woodworker, for during the French and Indian War he was appointed Superintendent of a Company of Artificers at Ft. Ligonier in western Pennsylvania. As such, he would have overseen craftsmen who repaired old objects and created new ones for soldiers at the fort. After his service, he returned to Augusta County, and in 1767 took his own indentured servant, a young man named John Price, to the “carpenter and joiner trade” for four years. Joseph was listed every year in the Augusta County Tax List from 1782 to 1795. He had died by 1799.

In 1780, Joseph Ray’s apprentice John Price had taken his own indentured “cabinet-making” apprentice, a young man named William Hunter. A 1790 receipt in the Judge Archibald Stuart Papers at William & Mary records that John Price paid Joseph Ray 7 shillings and 6 pence, covering Archibald Stuart’s debt to Ray. A 1792 receipt that charged Stuart for “one dining table, mending a bedstead, one chair for [his] lady, and mending two chairs” has both Joseph Ray’s and John Price’s names, suggesting that the two men still worked together. A third receipt dated 1793 documents that Price charged Stuart for a “canopy for the bedstead, mending a table, mending a chair, [making] 2 curtain rods, and [making] a window.”

That same year John Price took another apprentice, a thirteen-year-old boy named James Wilson. When Price made his will in 1797, he left his “cabinetmaking tools” to the then seventeen-year-old James Wilson. Those tools were not insignificant: they included numerous saws, planes, turning chisels and gouges, hammers, a dovetail saw, a glue kettle, and thirty-eight chisels. Within two months of Price’s death, Gideon Morgan’s son Luther Morgan took the same James Wilson as an apprentice to the cabinetmaking trade.

Ray and Price were at the center of a complex woodworking network in Augusta County. This cabinetmaking circle began by 1767 with the Scotch-Irish emigrant Joseph Ray, who that year began training John Price, who in 1780 began training William Hunter, and in 1793 James Wilson. Gideon Morgan joined this already established woodworking sphere around 1790 when he moved to Augusta County, bringing his thirteen-year-old son Luther Morgan with him. It is possible that in 1797, when the firm of Morgan and Pippitt was established, all of these men were working in the same shop. That could explain why, when Price died in 1797, twenty-one-year old Luther Morgan took Price’s most recent apprentice, James Wilson, under his wing. The Ray-Price shop made MESDA’s William Huston clock case, as well as MESDA’s high chest of drawers with identical carved rosettes, in the 1770s or 1780s. MESDA’s two walnut case pieces are among the earliest surviving works from this important Augusta County group.

RELATED OBJECTS: For an example of William Huston’s Philadelphia work, see a clock in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA 1931-124-1). An example of his son James Huston’s work is in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection (CWF acc. 1992.124). MESDA owns a high chest of drawers from the same cabinetmaking group (MESDA acc. 5749), and a double chest from this group is the Colonial Williamsburg Collection (CWF acc. 1992.72).

DESCRIPTION: Walnut case on bracket feet. The lower part of the case has fluted quarter columns and a raised panel with indented corners flanked by fluted quarter columns. The middle section of the case has a door with indented corners flanked by fluted quarter columns. Hood has and arched top pediment with flower-carved rosettes and three slightly compressed ball and spire finials. Door is arched-shape and glazed with arched-shape glazed windows on the sides. Dial is silvered brass with elaborate rococo engraving. The name and place “Will. Huston / Augusta” is at the top of the dial inside of a circle and bracketed by C-scrolls. Dial indicates hours, minutes, seconds, and the day of the month.

Credit Line:
Anne P. and Thomas A. Gray MESDA Purchase Fund