Peter Hill Tall Case Clock

Peter Hill (1767-1820) is one of the few African American professional clockmakers known to have worked in antebellum America. A freed slave, he had a shop first in Burlington Township and then in Mount Holly, New Jersey--two small, predominantly Quaker communities near Philadelphia.
Undoubtedly the Quaker commitment to educating and freeing slaves benefited Hill. While still a slave, he served a traditional apprenticeship with his master, Joseph Hollingshead, Jr., a clockmaker whose brother John and father Joseph, Sr., practiced the trade as well. Hill gained his freedom in 1795. He married, set up a workshop of his own, and purchased land in Burlington. He also may have continued to work for either or both of the Hollingshead brothers for a time. Hill never became rich, but his status as a skilled freedman in a Quaker community permitted him to live comfortably and work independently.
Only a few clocks by Hill are known to survive. The movement of the Smithsonian example, which dates from about 1800, closely resembles English clocks of the period. The painted dial, marked "No. 30/ Peter Hill/ Burlington," is an English import. The clock's walnut case is attributed to the cabinetmaker George Deacon, whose shop was only a few doors from Hill's own home and workshop in Burlington.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
ca 1800
Hill, Peter
Physical Description
"brass" (movement material)
wood (case material)
overall: 91 in x 22 in x 11 in; 231.14 cm x 55.88 cm x 27.94 cm
Place Made
United States: New Jersey, Burlington
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Domestic Furnishings
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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