By: Dr. Richard and Robert Elgin
Elgin Surveying & Engineering, Inc.
310 East 6th Street
Rolla, Missouri 65401
Goldsmith Chandlee was one of the most notable American clock and instrument makers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Born August 18, 1751 in Nottingham, Maryland, Goldsmith was the oldest son of Quaker Clockmaker Benjamin Chandlee, Jr. (1723-1791) and Mary Folwell Chandlee (died 1806). He was named for his maternal grandfather, Goldsmith Folwell. Of Irish descent, Goldsmith's grandfather was Benjamin Chandlee, Sr. (1685-died c.1745), known as "the emigrant" who came to Philadelphia from Ireland in 1702.
Characterized as the "Six Quaker Clockmakers" in a 1943 book by that title, the first of the six clockmakers was Abel Cottey (1655-1711). He probably built the first clock in America. A clock, marked "Abel Cottey, Philadelphia" is dated 1709. One of his apprentices and Cottey's future son-in-law was Benjamin Chandlee, Sr. ("the emigrant"), the second Quaker clockmaker. Benjamin, Sr. had six children, one of them being Benjamin, Jr., the third Quaker clockmaker. Benjamin, Jr. had five children, three of which became clock and instrument makers: Goldsmith, Ellis and Isaac Chandlee. These brothers are considered the fourth, fifth and sixth Quaker clockmakers.
Goldsmith apprenticed under his father in Nottingham, Maryland and by the time he was 24 he was an experienced craftsman. In 1775 he moved to Stephensburg (now Stephens City), Virginia and then on to Winchester, Virginia in 1783. There he built a brass foundry and a shop where he produced clocks, surveying compasses, telescopes, money scales and other instruments of metal. His business was located on the northwest corner of Cameron and Piccadilly Streets where he owned several buildings and also resided. Besides making clocks and compasses, he was active in many civic activities. He was a member of the volunteer fire company, was a justice of the Corporation of Winchester; sat on the Bench of Justice of Hastings Court of that city; and he drafted deeds, mortgages and various legal papers and acted as executor of estates. He was recognized as a leader of financial circles in northern Virginia and established a counting house in which he bought an sold bills of exchange, bonds, notes, soldiers certificates and military warrants. He also dealt in land and owned large tracts of land in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky.
Goldsmith married three times. He first married in 1776 Ann White (died 1781). From this union came three children, one being Benjamin III (1780-1822) who also was an instrument maker. In 1784, Goldsmith married Hannah Yarnall (1750-1810). From this union came four children, one being Goldsmith, Jr. (1788-1842). In 1811, Goldsmith married Eunice Allen (1753-1822). They had no children.
Goldsmith Chandlee must be counted as one of the most notable American compass makers. His compasses are works of art and were technically advanced. The compass faces show fine design, craftsmanship, engraving and ornate decoration. Technically his compasses were the most advanced of their day. He made both plain and vernier compasses. All known Goldsmith Chandlee compasses but one have his "L" and "T" table (for converting tenths of perches to links and vice versa). All known Goldsmith Chandlee compasses have an outkeeper and dial that converts outs to poles, the invention of which (or its application to a compass) we can attribute to him. Some of his compasses also have a counter where the surveyor could tally the miles chained. Most of Chandlee's compasses have the name of the person for whom the compass was made emblazoned on it. All known Goldsmith Chandlee compasses are marked "Winchester" (Virginia). Probably the most notable person for whom Chandlee made a compass (but not the most elaborate known Chandlee compass) was Lawrence Washington, nephew of another surveyor, George Washington. That compass is displayed at Mount Vernon.
Goldsmith has been described as a small, sparse man with dark brown hair. He is said to have been fond of company and "much given to entertaining." He died in Winchester on March 4, 1821 and was buried in Center Meeting graveyard on the Valley Pike. After his death his personal property was sold at auction. Sixty-six items, mostly tools, compasses, clocks and compass parts were purchased by his apprentice, George Graves (1792-1873). There are only a few known Graves compasses, and they have the same features as the Goldsmith Chandlee compasses. (Goldsmith's son, Benjamin III, also was an instrument maker. His known compasses have the same features as his father's.) In the 1950's Goldsmith Chandlee's body was removed to the Hopewell Centre Meeting graveyard north of Winchester where his grave is today marked with a simple headstone marked "G. Chandlee."
Collectors and researchers always are curious as to how many compasses Goldsmith Chandlee may have produced. There are no known Goldsmith Chandlee production records and his compasses are not numbered. Through various sources, the authors know of fourteen Goldsmith Chandlee compasses. He probably made many more.