Peter Hill: United States First African-American Clockmaker

0 Posted by - May 16, 2023 - LATEST POSTS

Professional clockmaker Peter Hill was one of the few African-American clockmakers to work in antebellum America. Hill was a freed slave who opened up his first clock shop in the Burlington Township, a Quaker community near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

During this time, the Quakers were highly committed to helping educate and free slaves, and Hill was able to use this to his advantage. While he was still a slave, he served as a traditional apprentice to his master, Joseph Hollinghead, Jr., who was a clockmaker; the skill his father had taught him.

After Hill gained his freedom in 1795, he got married, purchased land, and set up his own little shop. He began making clocks and watches in his shop, which was attached to his home in Burlington, New Jersey.  He was never a rich man, but his skills allowed him to live a comfortable and independent life.

Only two of Peter Hill’s clocks survived the era. The first is a clock made for his neighbor Rowland Jones in 1812, which is now located at Westtown School in Westtown, Pennsylvania. The second is a tall case clock which is now held in the National Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Hill died in 1820.


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