Ebenezer Parmelee (1690-1777)

 

Ebenezer Parmelee was a native of Guilford, Connecticut. This colonial craftsman has been called “the father of Connecticut clockmaking.”

Born in Guilford on November 20, 1690, he was the son of Isaac Parmelee and Elizabeth Hyland. Isaac’s grandfather, John Parmelee was an original settler of Guilford in 1639. Elizabeth’s father, George Hyland, was a sheep farmer and builder of this house in 1660 (what is now the Hyland House Museum).

In 1719, a year after his marriage to Anna Cruttenden, Ebenezer’s parents deeded this House and their land to him for forty pounds. Ebenezer had nine children, four of them died during an epidemic in 1736.

Ebenezer learned fine carpentry from his father. In addition to doing cabinetry, he also was a boat builder and also a trader (as the town allowed him to build a wharf on the Guilford Sluice in 1741). Ebenezer’s woodworking skills are evident in the Hyland House. He is credited with updating the house in the 1720’s, with the addition of bolection mouldings and the signature balustrade front staircase which extends from the first floor to the attic.

However, he is remembered best as a clockmaker.

By 1714 Ebenezer Parmelee had two apprentices. In Connecticut Clockmakers of the Eighteenth Century, Penrose Hoopes documented his influence on other clockmakers, whom he had trained, and who worked throughout Connecticut Colony. His clock movements were made out of wood or brass. According to Hoopes, unlike most 18th century clockmakers, Parmelee also made the cases for his clocks. This is believable as he had also learned carpentry.

Until the loan of the cherry tall case clock by Kirtland H. Crump in the 1990s, the Dorothy Whitfield Historic Society had been unable to identify an extant example of Parmelee’s domestic clockmaking.

Ebenezer Parmelee is recognized as maker of the oldest tower clock in the American colonies. It was made for the Guilford Congregational Society, which built a 120 foot steeple on its second meeting house. Parmelee’s clock was installed in 1726. This clock had a hammer to strike the “great bell” which had been bought in Boston. Guilford’s town history recalls that “from the spire at nine o’clock each night Saturday, rang forth the peals of the bell to summon the good people to seek their beds.”

Whenever the clock was out of order, Ebenezer was called to fix it. So important was this task that in 1741 he was relieved from other town responsibilities – customarily assigned to each citizen – as long as he kept maintaining the tower clock. As the clock was made out of wood, dryness was a problem, and sometimes parts would have to be rebuilt.

Ebenezer Parmelee’s clock kept time on the town green until 1893. It is now on display in the Henry Whitfield Museum.

He also made a brass works clock for the Meeting House in New Haven around 1740. As told by N. Hudson Moore in The Old Clock Book, “the won, not to be done out of its money without due value received, tried the clock for two years. It proved a good time keeper and then they paid Mr. Parmilee (sic).”

Ebernezer lived in Guilford all of his life, and served as town clerk from 1771 until 1776. He died on September 1777. His tombstone is in Alderbrook Cemetary, on the same street where his craftmanship is preserved at the Hyland House.