TAP Into Your Town's News

West Orange — West Orange Top Stories

West Orange Colonial Clock Discovered

Cynthia Cumming

Friday, January 10, 2014 • 12:55am

WEST ORANGE, NJ - A West Orange colonial clock predating the Revolutionary War turned up at a flea market several years ago in central Illinois. An inquisitive collector was intrigued by a note attached to the door of the brass clockworks, offering vague clues to its origin.
 
Thanks to the efforts of West Orange township historian Joe Fagan, the clock's provenance has been confirmed and documented, telling a storied and historical tale.
 
The story begins in 1776 with Nathaniel and Mary Williams and their six children. Married in 1755, they lived in a small farmhouse built in 1730 by Nathaniel's father Amos, located by what is now the West Orange Board of Education building on Valley Way. Nathaniel's brother Benjamin lived nearby and both were prosperous farmers. The Williams' brothers grew up with a great sense of loyalty to the British Crown, remaining outspoken in their allegiance to England prior to the Revolutionary War. They often met with other loyalists in the area. The loyalists were known as Tories. They would meet near the present day intersection of Washington and Main Streets, and the area is known as Tory Corner to this day.

General George Washington ordered local militias in New Jersey to locate Tories in the spring of 1777. Although offered protection by the British, Nathaniel and Benjamin's farms were now endangered as the power of the local militias grew. Washington offered pardons to the Tories in exchange for their allegiance to the American cause. On the deadline date of August 5, 1777, Benjamin Williams accepted the deal, but Nathaniel did not.

Nathaniel Williams took his two oldest sons Amos and James and left his wife Mary and four younger children behind at the West Orange farm to join the British Army in New York. Nathaniel's property, the farm was expected to be lost, and be put up for public auction, but Mary petitioned to keep it and openly disagreed with her husband's political beliefs. Out of respect for Mary, the community did not bid against the five pounds Mary had to offer for the farm, and she was able to keep it.
 
Nathaniel gave his brother Benjamin his grandfather clock when he left, expecting to collect it upon his return to West Orange. Instead, he died of smallpox in New York in 1782. Benjamin's son Amos inherited the clock, who then passed it on to his son, the Rev. James Williams who pastored St. Mark's Church. Selena F. Williams, Rev. Williams daughter who lived at 510 Linden Place in Orange, inherited the clock next. Selena was a spinster and passed away on Aug. 11, 1922. 

It was not until 2008 when a collector spotted a brass clock at a flea market in Bloomington, IL and discovered a note attached to the clock's door, the only remaining piece of the clock's cabinet. He purchased the clock for $50 and the note,signed by Selena Williams, listing Benjamin Williams, Tory Corner and St. Mark's Church. Though unfamiliar to the buyer, he contacted Joe Fagan to inquire about it. Fagan was able to establish its historical provenance.

Fagan then offered to purchase the clock in 2011, but the collector declined. The collecter is now willing to sell the clock for $3,000.00 before placing it on the open market. Though the asking price is more than Fagan is able to personally afford, it is Fagan's hope that a benefactor is willing to purchase the clock and keep it in West Orange, where it can be viewed and appreciated for its historical significance. Fagan believes that the clock belongs in West Orange.
 
Contact Joe Fagan by going to his website at http://westorangehistory.com/.
 

 

TAP into your town! Get Your Town's News In Your Inbox: Click here to sign up.