WATERBURY CLOCK FACTORY: An obscure notation in the back of the diary of Rev. R. Y. Russell, probably made by his son, James N. Russell, reveals that the elder Russell purchased a clock from Thomas E. Suggs of the Waterbury Clock Factory. Suggs purchased his clock works from Seth Thomas of Plymouth Hollow, Connecticut and assembled them before selling. Russell says, “the business was located at Bullocks Creek, probably on the Pinckney Ferry Road.”
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YORK COUNTY CLOCK MAKERS
In a book on Southern clock makers we found the following: “A letter from Miss Mary M. Baugham, librarian at the Kennedy Library, January 4, 1935, said that the library had an inquiry from a reader concerning a clock with the following inscription: ‘T. E. Suggs Co., York County, S. C. Made at Waterbury, York district of South Carolina.’ This is on paper inside the clock. At the bottom of the sheet is printed ‘P. Carey’s Print Co., Yorkville.” The clock has wooden works and has an imprint that looks like 1733 or 1788 in the wood. A letter from S. Sgt. W. W. Ashby, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, November 25, 1941, reads in part: ‘I have bought a clock from one of the residents of Morven, North Carolina. … It is made of wood operating weights and about three feet tall. It is very old judging by the figures on the face, the worn parts and the writing on the inside which reads: PATENT CLOCKS/Invented by ELI TERRY/Made and sold at Waterbury, York District/South Carolina/by T. E. & G. W. Suggs & Co.’ This presents a neat little vignette that will require further investigation.”
It so happens that there is additional information about the Suggs brothers and their clock making enterprise. Jerry L. West of Bullocks Creek, York County, in “Thomas Suggs” Ye Old Clock Maker” says that in 1982 he personally found a grave in the Bullocks Creek cemetery that “gave a clue as to who this clock maker was.” The grave was of the infant son of T. E. Suggs and N. M. Suggs. The date was July 6, 1845.
Mr. West did further research and discovered that the father of Thomas E. Suggs was George Suggs who had come to York District from Virginia and settled in the Bethel community. George Suggs had three wives, (1) Mary Catherine Sanders, mother of Thomas E. and John; (2) Sarah Ward, mother of George W.; and (3) Nancy Robinson. The Bethel community plantation was called Waterbury after the original Suggs home in Connecticut but the Waterbury Clock Factory was in Bullocks Creek, a large section of southwestern York County.
West found Suggs land transactions on both sides of the Broad River in the period 1844-46. He also found that Thomas E. Suggs owed $4,000 to Seth Thomas of Connecticut due December 25, 1848. West makes the statement that there were other clock makers in the Bullocks Creek area. Mr. Osborn Dickson of Lockhart had a clock that originally had the lettering on it, “Carolina Fashion Clocks, made in Bullocks Creek District” He also found the tradition that Eli Terry had lived in the same area.
1842 – W. I. Clawson, William Clawson’s relative, was commissioner of equity of York District He presided over the trial, but the case was not heard in regular court because slave codes required that slaves be tried in “slave courts.” The slaves had admitted guilt from the beginning. Clawson sentenced the slaves to be sold “parts West” and to never return to South Carolina. Thomas N. Pettus, a cousin of Stephen Pettus, was selected to escort the slaves and sell them. His eligibility was based on the fact that he had occasionally served as a sheriffs deputy and had been to Alabama “three or four times.” Thomas Pettus was deputized by the sheriff to carry out the court’s assignment. Having been involved in the building of “carryalls,” the Southern frontier’s version of the Plains covered wagon, he decided to take along a half dozen to sell to Alabamians planning to move even farther West. The wagons would carry a large number of Seth Thomas clocks on consignment from the firm of McElwee and Sutton of Yorkville. Pettus would get a commission on the clocks he sold. Before he left, he also advertised that he would deliver letters and papers for hire as far as Chambers City, Alabama. (Information courtesy of and from: YCGHS – The Quarterly Magazine – THE MURDER OF STEPHEN PETTUS by Louise Pettus)
In addition to the above accounts there is another source of information about early distributors of clocks in York District. There was a York District Equity Court case in 1852, “Maria Campbell vs. Sutton” which was basically a suit by Mrs. Campbell against Alexander C. Sutton over the sale of two slaves. In the course of the trial it is revealed that Sutton and his co-partner Jonathan McElwee, who operated a business in Yorkville called McElwee and Sutton, had a trade which sent peddlers on the road from Yorkville over the Carolinas and as far as Alabama.
Thomas N. Pettus, brother of Maria Campbell and an occasional agent of McElwee and Sutton, testified that he had sent an order of 50 clocks to Cheraw, S.C. See A Historical Sketch of People. Places and Homes of Bullocks Creek. South Carolina by Rev. Jerry Lee West, published by the Chester District Genealogical Society, Richburg, S. C., 1986, pp. 36-38. Maria Campbell, alias Mariah Sutton, was first married to Capt. Peter Campbell. They divorced in Tennessee ca. 1840. In April 1841 she married Stephen Partlow Sutton, brother of Alexander C. Sutton of the firms of McElwee and Sutton. Evidently she wished to disassociate herself with the Sutton family at this point and reverted to her former name.
In Chambers City, Alabama Pettus met up with C. C. Horn, an employee of McElwee and Sutton, who told him that he had no more clocks on hand. Various records and receipts show that McElwee and Sutton were wholesaling clocks from 1845 at least until 1847 when the equity court case “Seth Thomas vs. A. C. Sutton” was settled for $613.84. Freight bills showed shipments from Yorkville to Kingston, Ga. and Cheraw, S. C. Marion, S. C. was another point of distribution for McElwee and Sutton.
Visitors to the Historical Center of York County can see two early clocks on display. One is a Suggs clock with a floral design made “at Waterbury” and the other is a mantel clock with an American Eagle on top of the case which is marked “Yorkville, S. C.” Both are thought to be ca. 1840. (Information courtesy of and from: YCGHS – The Quarterly Magazine)
CLOCK PEDDLARS WANTED!
12 PERSONS are wanted by the subscriber to PEDDLE CLOCKS in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, to whom good wages will be paid. Apply immediately. May 31st, 1851 A. M. Jackson (The Compiler, Yorkville, S. C.)
R&R Note: Much of the information on the Suggs Clocks printed here was freely provided Mr. West by researchers – historians, Mr. Sam Thomas and W.B. Fairey during their tenure with the Historical Center of York County, York, S.C.
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