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Clocks & Clockmakers

IN COMMON WITH OTHER CLOCKMAKERS OF THE TIMES, those in New Jersey did not undertake the making of cases. They depended on experts in cabinet work, hence we find examples of such skilled craftsmen as Mathew Egerton and his son of New Brunswick and James Topping of Chester. Undoubtedly other cabinetmakers helped to meet the demand, but the frequent absence of labels and the necessity of depending on details of construction make identification difficult.

The first definite record of a New Jersey clockmaker is the following advertisement which appeared in the New York Gazetteer of November 23, 1747:

    Aaron Miller, clockmaker in Elizabethtown, East Jersey, makes and sells all sorts of clocks after the Dutch manner, with expedition. He likewise makes compasses and chains for surveyors; as also bells of any size, having a foundry for that purpose and has cast several who have been approved to be good; and will supply any person on a timely notice with any of the above articles at any reasonable rate.

Miller was of Dutch extraction and went to Elizabethtown from New York, where he learned his trade. His clocks are rare, but those attributed to him show evidence of splendid workmanship. The best example known to the writer stands about seven feet high and is finished in mahogany. Its design is simple, with few embellishment except a conservatively scrolled top adorned with three brass balls, the middle surmounted by the small figure of an eagle. The hours are indicated with Roman numerals, and the face is designed for declaring the phases of the moon and days of the month.

The account books of Samuel Woodruff, then treasurer of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown, show that in the spring of 1759, a public clock was installed by Aaron Miller in the belfry of the structure. Although no charge is recorded for his work, £10.6.9. is shown as the expense of painting the one face and for carpentry. A separate item of £1.89 is listed for a "clock rope."

The dates of Aaron Miller's arrival in Elizabethtown as his marriage to Elizabeth Hatfield, descendant of one of its pioneer families, are not known. Apparently he was in business for many years, and is supposed to have taught his trade to a grandson, Kennedy Miller, son of Robert Miller, who did not become a clockmaker. Clocks of the younger Miller had the characteristic inlay that marked most of those made in Jersey. In addition they had under the hood an eagle and sixteen stars.

In his will, dated August 28, 1777, Aaron Miller left part of his clockmaking tools to his son-in-law, Isaac Brokaw, husband of his daughter, Elizabeth.

Brokaw was born in Raritan, Somerset County, in 1746, and died in 1826. As a young man he went to Elizabethtown and became apprenticed to Miller. Isaac Brokaw's marriage to the daughter of Aaron Miller was blessed by three sons, one named Aaron after his grandfather, Cornelius, and John. Isaac began his trade in Elizabeth around 1770 and remained there until 1790, when he removed to Bridge Town, on the south side of the Rahway River, which is now known as Rahway. The tall clocks he made in Elizabeth are marked "Isaac Brokaw, Elizabethtown" and those made in Bridge Town are marked "Isaac Brokaw, Bridge Town." His clocks rank high in quality and one of the best examples remains in the possession of the Miller family, whose members continue to live in New Jersey. It has the familiar Brokaw dial, with Roman numerals to indicate the hours. It shows also the phases of the moon and the days of the month, and the maker's name is across the bottom, followed by the word Elizabethtown.

The elder son, Aaron, was working as a clockmaker in Bridge Town as early as 1805 and the second son, John, was in business with him in 1810. Aaron's earliest clocks are marked "Aaron Brokaw, Bridge Town" and those of late make "Aaron Brokaw, Rahway, E.J.," the initials standing for East Jersey. One of John's clocks, still in good running order, has a pewter dial.

For cases, the Brokaws went to the Egertons at New Brunswick, Rousett & Mulford, cabinetmakers in Elizabethtown, and John Scudder, who lived on the Rahway-Westfield Road.

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