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Posted on: March 14, 2022

Early West Goshen Clock Makers

West Goshen Historical Clocks article

Very little is known about two of the clock makers from Chester County, in the early 19th Century, who resided in the Goshen/West Goshen area.  One of them was Joseph Cave who is believed to have resided in the old serpentine farmhouse on the bend of Goshen Road and Marshall Street in West Goshen. 

Joseph was the oldest child of Thomas Cave and Lydia Matlack.  Records seem to indicate that he was born in 1799 as his name appears on the tax records of 1780.  He grew up in Philadelphia as his father was a Superintendent of the City Watch, a Deputy Keeper of the State Magazine, and a grocer.  Thomas Cave and his brother-in -law, Jonathan Matlack, received 56 acres of land in Goshen Township on December 15, 1814, from the estate of Jonathan Matlack, Sr., who was Thomas Cave’s father- in -law. The parcel totaled 220 acres and these 56 acres were divided from the whole to his daughter’s husband and his son, Jonathan.  There were nine children in Jonathan Sr.’s family to split the acreage. Lydia assumed title to the property in May of 1815, when her husband, Thomas Cave, died.  She then jointly owned the property with her brother until her death in 1817.  She and Thomas had six children.  In her will there is a stipulation that from her estate $3.00 was to be paid to Jonathan Gause as tuition for Reuben, who was her son Joseph’s younger brother.  Jonathan Gause was a teacher at the West Chester Academy, and this suggests that at that time the family was living in West Goshen since it was after the split in 1817, from Goshen to East and West.

Joseph was a single man as is evidenced in the tax record where Joseph is listed in the 1820 tax record as a watchmaker and single freeman.  Where Joseph learned the trade of watchmaking is not known.  There are four known tall case clocks with the Joseph Cave signature of the painted dials and West Goshen listed under his name.  Two were in the Matlack family, one in the collection of the Historical Society and one was in the possession of the collection of the then First National Bank.  Again we know that these clocks were made after 1817 due to the township split. In 1821, Joseph moved himself and his new wife from West Goshen to West Chester.  A Village Record Newspaper ad lists in April 1821, that he has left the Caleb Matlack property in West Goshen and moved his business to Gay Street in West Chester. Tax maps indicate that the Matlack family owned over 350 acres in West Goshen. The tax records of West Chester in 1822 list Joseph Cave as an Inmate which indicates that he was now married.  His wife’s name was Sarah. 

The early years of 1820 to 1830 saw business slump in the borough and this may be the reason that Joseph Cave and his family moved to Marshallton around 1824. He advertised in the American Republic Newspaper in May of 1825 that his business was carrying on and that he would provide tall case clocks at a price of $25.00 to $30.00 which were available on short notice and in warranted good condition.  In today’s market that would equate to $875.00.  At this point he made the clockworks and the cases were said to have been made by Thomas Ogden.  His residency in Marshallton was short lived because by April 1826, a new ad appeared in The Village Record that he was back, but on Church Street now.  His move back to West Chester was troublesome as he filed for bankruptcy in November of 1827. The Matlack side of his family seemed to bail him from monetary troubles as the debtor’s hearing was discharged.  From 1827 to 1835, Joseph Cave was still listed as a Clockmaker.  There are 5 known clocks with a painted dial and signed with West Chester under his name.  No clock has turned up with Marshallton under his name which might indicate the reason for the return to West Chester.

His mahogany or walnut clock cases stood eight and a half to nine feet tall, and the painted dials featured flower or shell designs with moon dials featuring ships and landscapes.  The face themes were either sea or landscapes.  He also had date notches, second, minute and hour hands all hand made.  Records also show that not only did his business make the clockworks, but he was also known for the cleaning and repair of tall case clocks as his name appears inside some cases with the notation that said clock was cleaned by Joseph Cave.  Interesting because the “go to “clock cleaner and repair gentleman was John Pittman.  Mr. Pittman’s name appears in many of the old area clocks and many found in the collection of the Historical Society and Winterthur.  A clock cleaned by Joseph Cave would be a rarity.

The other clockmaker from West Goshen was David Underwood.  There is almost nothing available on him or his business.  This might indicate that the clock business was a sideline from his main source of income. The tax records indicate that he was a resident of Goshen Township from 1796 to 1801 long before the split in 1817.  His father, John, was known to have been in Goshen as early as 1765 and served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.

Author: Michael Pillagalli

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