Way Back When … 1795
The Fairfield Museum’s current exhibition, “Make Your Mark,” is full of items relating to how artists and craftspeople leave their mark on their work and on society. This week we highlight clockmaker Joseph Bulkley, who left his mark on Fairfield society and whose 1795 clock is on display in that exhibition.
When Connecticut was the biggest clock producer in the Americas, Joseph was at the forefront. The youngest of Deacon David Bulkley and Sarah Beers’ 10 children, Joseph was baptized May 18, 1755 at Green’s Farms Congregational Church. Due to similarities between Joseph’s work and that of fellow clockmaker John Whitear, Sr., scholars suggest that Bulkley may have been an apprentice to Whitear starting in 1769. The Bulkleys lived not far from the Whitears’ shop and Joseph’s sister Sarah had married John’s son Benjamin in 1764. In addition, Joseph’s expertise in wooden clock cases may have been partially from his father, as David was a cabinet maker by trade.
Joseph later became a private and sergeant in the American Revolution. From July to December, 1775, he served on tour near Boston, captained by Ebenezer Hill in the 1st Company, 7th Regiment of Connecticut troops. From 1780 to 1781, he served the coast guards of Long Island Sound, established after the Burning of Fairfield. Between both services, on July 27, 1778, Joseph wed Grizzel Thorp, with whom he had 12 children (two of whom died young).
Some discrepancies in primary sources and the fact that his life was not well documented make it unclear exactly when Bulkley died. Despite a date of June 2, 1815, age 60, on Joseph’s tombstone at the Old Burying Ground, his church death record reports a date of June 4, 1813, age 58. The journal of Jonathan Bulkley complicates the matter, reporting that Joseph “died at Mill plain Thursday June 3 1813 ... of the prevailing Fever after a Short Illness of one week aged about 60 years.”
Three of Joseph’s clocks are currently on display at the Fairfield Museum, one in the Creating Community exhibition, another in the research library, and the third in the Make Your Mark exhibition. The 1795 clock in Make Your Mark is one of his earliest known works. The crude castings of the dial ornaments, the simple decoration of the second hand’s dial opening, and the clumsy engraving suggests that this clock was made early in Bulkley’s career. Come see the clock in person The Fairfield Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be closed on July 4.
And if you want to re-live the Burning of Fairfield, some tickets remain for the Museum’s new interactive performance, Road to Independence: The Burning of Fairfield, to be held this weekend. Tickets are online at Fairfieldhistory.org/programs-events/.
Thanks to Fairfield Ludlowe High School intern Thomas Holtz for his research for this column.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10a.m.-4 p.m. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org.