[Chapter II][p. ]
How They Lived
A large amount of manuscript material relating to the three Dominy craftsmen has survived in the form of account books, letters, weather books, bills, receipts, and notes. Over one hundred and thirty items are now preserved in the Joseph Downs Manuscript and Microfilm Collection at the Winterthur Museum. The Long Island Collection of the East Hampton Free Library also has an impressive group of manuscripts containing information about the Dominys. These documents provide rare insight into both the economic and social lives of Nathaniel Dominy IV, Nathaniel Dominy V, and Felix Dominy. It is the purpose here to discuss evidence reflecting the Dominy craftsmen's religious, educational, political, and—occasionally—philosophical interests.
In her excellent East Hampton History Jeannette Rattray writes that "for two hundred years East Hampton had but one church, the Presbyterian."1 It is to be expected, therefore, that the Dominy family were members of this denomination, and indeed both Nathaniel Dominy IV and Nathaniel Dominy V were baptized in the second building of the First Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1717, north of the present Guild Hall in East Hampton. Surprisingly, after noting that Nathaniel Dominy V was baptized on February 18, 1770, the records of the First Presbyterian Church are remarkably void of Dominy names. The next reference to a Dominy was made on May 29, 1852, when it was noted that the same Nathaniel had died at the age of 82 of the "disease" recorded as "old age."2 No indication is given, therefore, of Felix Dominy's religious affiliation; but while he lived in East Hampton, he undoubtedly attended services with his grandfather and father at the Presbyterian Church.
There is evidence of the family's continued connection with this church, because in 1802 Nathaniel Dominy (IV or V) was appointed a "tythingman," whose duty was "to complain of misbehavior at public worship to a civil magistrate."3 As late as 1855 the Presbyterian Church was the only place of worship in East Hampton. Until 1848 the principle of separation of church and state was not observed in the village; the town trustees managed every detail of the church's property and acted as its governing body. Nathaniel Dominy IV, for example, served as Town Supervisor from 1777 to 1780.4 The Reverend Lyman Beecher, minister of the First Presbyterian Church from 1799 to 1810, was a customer of the Dominys.5 In such a monolithic religious climate, it is not unreasonable to assume that Felix Dominy was also a member of the Presbyterian Church.
Each of the three craftsmen was literate, and there is ample evidence that they received formal schooling, although how much or in what school or schools is not known. A school was functioning in the village of East Hampton as early as 1655, a few years after the first settlers established homes. The "Town House" served as a school for many years, with tuition and support being private. With the passage of a state law in 1812, "common schools" became [p. 20] publicly supported, and by 1840 it was reported that East Hampton had schoolhouses in seven districts. One of these schoolhouses, dating from 1750, was in "district No. 6," referred to locally as "down Hook."6 This area, near the site where Nathaniel Dominy V built a windmill in 1806, was a very short distance from the Dominys' house and shops. It is conceivable that both he and his son Felix attended this school. Although their purpose is not known, Felix Dominy, Abraham Hedges, and Jonathan Osborn III purchased the "hook schoolhouse" in 1830 for $60 from a town committee composed of Nathaniel Dominy V and Nathaniel Huntting.7 Clinton Academy, the first college preparatory school on Long Island, was founded at East Hampton in 1785. By 1815 its enrollment had reached 156 pupils,8 and it is entirely possible that both Nathaniel Dominy V and Felix Dominy received schooling there. Unfortunately, few records of this school and no list of early graduates have been found. Felix Dominy clearly believed in the value of a good education; two receipted tuition bills for the schooling of his son (Nathaniel VII [1827–1910]) in 1833 and 1834 so testify.9
It is axiomatic that a clockmaker should be conversant with mathematical principles and able to read directions in handbooks or in letters from his customers. Nathaniel Dominy IV may have received such instruction as part of his apprenticeship to a clockmaker or in the program offered by East Hampton's schools. A clue to his degree of literacy and to the possible location of his formal training in clockmaking is found on the inside cover of Nathaniel Colson's The Mariner's New Calendar, revised by William Mountaine and published in London in 1761. In this book he wrote: "Nathaniel Dominy ye 3d / His Kalender Bought of Mr Bird at / New Port June ye 29th AD 1762 / Price 5£ old Tenner." Nathaniel IV used the designation "ye 3d" because both his grandfather, Nathaniel II, and father, Nathaniel III, were still living and using the designations of senior and junior. In 1816 Nathaniel Dominy V inscribed the same book, and in 1826 Felix Dominy did likewise. A nocturnal made by Nathaniel Dominy IV was patterned after instructions and an illustration in this book (Illus. XII, XIV).
Nathaniel Dominy IV's literary interests and intense religious convictions are revealed in the inscriptions he used to ornament the dials of his clocks. The illustrations and catalogue of his products in Part Three of this book contain numerous examples of these inscriptions, but the one engraved on the back of a clock dial in 1787 (No. 203) is particularly significant (see p. 279). Although the moral statements on these clock dials do not constitute original thinking, they illustrate the close religious ties to daily life held by these craftsmen and Nathaniel's belief in original sin. Other craftsmen, even if so inclined, may not have been competent to express themselves so well. Nathaniel had a vehicle for these thoughts and used it in a direct manner. After reading the inscriptions used on his work, one is not surprised to learn that in 1790 Nathaniel purchased John Milton's Paradise Lost through a neighbor, Samuel Hutchinson (see Appendix B, p. 380).
Letters written by the Dominys show that they could express themselves succinctly and spell in more than a simple phonetic fashion. All three craftsmen kept their own business accounts and weather books or diaries. Those kept by both Nathaniel Dominy IV and Felix Dominy [p. 21] show a preoccupation with the passage of time that must be common to most clockmakers.10 Felix Dominy's sense of humor is reflected in his "Journal of Weather & Heat." A joke that he may have originated, but more likely recorded, was entered at the end of his notations for October, 1822: "Why is a nail drove in the ceiling like an old man———Ans. Because they are
Another month is past & done
they fly like clouds before a summers sun.11
Although the Dominy craftsmen seldom advertised in local newspapers, they apparently read them avidly. Receipts survive showing that Nathaniel Dominy IV subscribed to Alden [p. 22] Spooner's Suffolk Gazette and Felix Dominy to Samuel Phillips's Republican Watchman, both published in Sag Harbor.12 An essay penned by Felix Dominy but signed "Olio" could indicate that he was a regular contributor to Long Island newspapers under that pseudonym. Written in East Hampton, February 24, 1825, it was sent to Hiram Herskell (Haskell?) of Huntington, New York.13 At the end of the essay were instructions to place the phrase "I like to see" wherever the abbreviation "Do" appeared in the first part of the essay, and "I dislike to see" when "Do" appeared in the second part. While the essay is long, it clearly expresses the conservative nature of this third-generation craftsman and the traits, as well as habits, that he had been taught to revere. The perception shown by this twenty-five-year-old artisan and his recognition of the changing world in which he lived were not often so well recorded in contemporary documents of the period:
What I like to see—I like to See a Man attend to his own business and let his neighbor's alone – I like to see a man keep his wood-pile cart & waggons out of the street Do a man wear the breeches in his own family Do a farmer keep his fences in good repair his cattle on english hay & his daughters drest in home-spun – Do a Merchant in his store – Do a Blacksmiths' shop open in the morning & a good stock of Iron on hand – Do a Shoe-maker make his shoes of good leather instead of rye meal & size – Do a Taylor keep his goose bright & his elbows going – Do a Carpenter keep his saw in good order & not stand out too often for higher wages – Do a Cooper make barrels without flags & joints without a driver – Do a Weaver make 30 yards of cloth in a day – Do Hatters use less paste & glue, & more elbow grease – Do a School-master keep regular hours, establish his authority, or quit the business – Do a Miller carry a straight hand – Do a Priest without his Sunday face, & use evry [sic] persuasion with decency – Do Doctors understand their business – Do Lawyers scarce & out of employ – Do a Drunkard in imagination, but not in reality – Do a Constable that is a mechanic & always employ'd at his trade – Do a Man become religious when he has something else to do – Do a Young Man decently drest & occupying some useful station in society Do a Young Lady handsome, well informd, well drest, but not vain of either –
What I dislike to See—I dislike to see a Man wear rings in his ears for it shows his head lacks ballast – Do a Farmer let his fences get down Keep his cattle on straw, ride a poor horse hard, & dress his daughters in silk – Do a Merchant red in the face, his store dirty, full of Negroes & stink of rum Do a Blacksmiths anvil rusty – Do a Shoe maker's tools & leather scatter'd round his shop & his lasts all mouldy – Do a Carpenter set down to whet his tools & at the same time begin a long story –
I dislike to see a Weaver at work with ragged gears & a broken reed – Do the rats eat up my hats – Do a Schoolmaster beat his brats – Do a Miller's hogs fatter than his neighbors – Do a Priest meddle with politics – Do all Lawyers & most Doctors – Do Drunkards at all – Do women scold or undertake to rule their husbands – Do a Young Lady display too much of neck or ancles in company –14
The many references to Felix Dominy's education and interests suggest that they were more extensive than those of his father and grandfather. The natural consequence was that Felix's ambitions were broader. When he was nineteen years old, his good friend David Baker wrote him a letter in which he either mocked Felix's studies or perhaps paid him a compliment: "When you get your language completed you better advertise for a school. I should like to come."15 Local Indian life and natural history were among Felix's interests. On at least one occasion he corresponded with John Scudder, of the American Museum in New York City, about a "natural curiosity" mentioned in Morse's Geography, "a limb from a tree growing on [p. 23] Naupeag beach E. H., the limbs of which are so thick that 8 or 10 men can lie at length and roll around on the top without any danger of falling." A portion of the limb was sent with the letter for Dr. Scudder's examination.16
This letter was signed by "Major" Felix Dominy, his rank in the New York State Militia. Felix was intensely interested in the militia and politics, and he seems to have devoted considerable attention to them. His interest in the military was apparently sparked by the War of 1812, which occurred when he was twelve years old and while he was still attending school. Politically, he composed, or "borrowed," poetry to voice his enthusiasms. The East Hampton Free Library has a manuscript copy of a poem in Felix Dominy's hand entitled "Tompkins' Election." Although it may have been composed by Felix, it was more likely copied from a handbill or newspaper of the time. The poem's protagonist, Daniel D. Tompkins (1774–1825), was elected governor of New York State in 1807, 1810, 1813, and 1816. As commander-in-chief of the New York State Militia, he directed its activities during the War of 1812. From 1817 to 1825 he served as Vice President of the United States.17 Apparently his democratic tendencies appealed strongly to the Dominy craftsmen and especially to young Felix:
Triumph of PrinciplesCall'd to the governmental chair
By half a million's voice;
A character so bright, so fair,
Is worthy of the choice.A name expiring envy owns
Has robb'd her of her breath;
And fell detraction vents her groans,
As in the pangs of death.And malice casts a dying glance,
And bites her serpents tongue;
For all she ever could advance,
Was—"Tompkins is too young!"And youth is an atrocious crime,
Devoid of sense or wit—
So Walpole, on a certain time,
Declar'd to William Pitt.When William saucy youth reply'd,
Though vast your life appears,
Your crimes, your follies and your pride,
Are equal to your years[.]No matter whether young or old—
Where born, of whom or when;
For true republicans all hold
To principles not men—And now, while war impending lowers
And threatens to decend [sic]
[p. 24] From discords O ye gracious powers
Our citizens defendFrom governors, though grey with age,
Who have apostates prove,
And sacrifice to party rage
Their patriotic love:From senators who strive to bribe
The counsels of the state,
And all the treason-favouring tribe
Howeve[r] would-be great:From demagogues of every name,
Who all their arts employ,
The people's passions to enflame—
The people to destroy.The Monarchist, we often find,
Is loyal to his King;
The hog acts after his own Kind,
The scorpion hath his sting:Some fed'ralists are men of worth,
Some virtues have though hid;
But of all animals on earth,
0 save us from the Quid!
End &c Amen
Felix Dominy's paper18
The Dominy craftsmen shared an interest in politics and public service. Nathaniel Dominy IV was among the "males in East Hampton capable of bearing arms" who signed Articles of Association and a nonimportation agreement on June 17, 1774.19 The following year he was listed as a sergeant in Captain Ezekiel Mulford's twelfth company.20 This apparently was a local defense group, for all indications are that Nathaniel Dominy stayed in East Hampton throughout the War for Independence.21 He was elected town supervisor in 1777 and reelected in 1778 and 1779. Four justices of the peace serving with him constituted the town board. The esteem in which the Dominys were held may account for the fact that Nathaniel IV's grandson Felix was also elected town supervisor in 1834 and 1835.22
Nathaniel Dominy IV served as an overseer of the poor (as did his son, Nathaniel V) and, as noted before, he may have acted as a "tythingman." Other public offices held by this craftsman included inspector of common schools, town trustee, and sealer of weights and measures. In addition to being town supervisor, Felix Dominy also served as an overseer of highways and, for at least two years, as one of East Hampton's pound masters. The latter position had nothing to do with weights and measures; it was concerned with the impounding of stray livestock.23 When Felix Dominy decided to abandon his craft trades and seek other employment, he found his political activity more than a little useful in obtaining a job.
At the outbreak of the War of 1812 Nathaniel Dominy V probably considered himself too old, at 42, to be active in the militia. In terms of the average life expectancy of males at the [p. 25] beginning of the nineteenth century, he was probably right. Felix Dominy was, of course, too young. Within a few years after the war's end, however, Felix elected to become an active militiaman himself. On October 12, 1818, he was ordered to appear at the "usual place of parad[e] at Bridghamton, …completely Equipped for Military Improvement and Inspection." 24 On June 3, 1822, Felix drew a small sketch of a rifle or musket in his weather book with the notation "Training."25 By 1824, after at least six years' service, Felix had risen to an officer's rank, because in that year he purchased in New York City "1 Gilt Md [mounted] Sword" for $10 and "1 Red Belt complete" for $2.26 The Republican Watchman, published in Sag Harbor, described the Fourth of July celebration in East Hampton in 1827 and revealed Felix's promotion to captain together with other news combining patriotism, politics, and recreation in the manner that appealed to Americans of the period:
Captains Miller and Dominy, with their respective companies in fine order, escorted the procession to the meeting house. Volunteer Toasts By N. Dominy [among others]—May liberty and virtue increase, legislation decrease, and penal codes famish for want of prey.27
Felix's promotion had probably taken place recently, because on August 15, 1827, he purchased equipment indicative of his new rank:
6 dozen Red, plated, Infantry Coat Buttons [$]2.63 4 yds. Plated Vellum Lace 1.00 2 16 in. White Plumes 2.50 2 Black Silk Cockades & Eagles .50 4 Plated Diamond ornaments 1.00 1 pr. plated Epauletts 6.5028
By December 15, 1828, he had been promoted again, for he was addressed as "Major Felix Dominy" in the following letter:
You will perceive by the enclosed that we begin to think seriously of celebrating the approaching 8th Jan. We doubt not that our patriotic friends in E. Hampton will cheerfully unite with us in this undertaking. We shall get at least 25 subscribers in this village; & I hope you will obtain as many or more in your place. Including those from Bridgehampton & Northampton & some others, I think we may fairly calculate on 70—I hope with proper exertion to obtain 100. The powder will be subscribed for separately from the dinner. I believe the expence of dinner had better be limited to 75 cents. It will be an inducement to some to subscribe. I trust you will make the necessary exertions to procure subscribers. Let us hear from you as early as possible. A Ball in the evening has been mentioned But the expediency of that can be settled after the dinner arrangements are made.29
The following year, 1829, Felix Dominy was referred to as "Brigade Inspector, 33d Brigade, New York State Infantry," in a letter from his father-in-law, General Jeremiah Miller, first postmaster of East Hampton.30 There are no further references to advancement after this date, and it is likely that this was the highest rank Felix attained in the militia.
Although it is generally believed that the use of public executions for moral instruction and entertainment for the populace had ceased by the end of the eighteenth century, Felix Dominy's militia career provides one indication that as late as 1835 sporadic cases were known [p. 26] on Long Island. In that year Felix received a letter from General David Williamson, of Aquebogue, inviting him, together with a Captain Parsons and all staff officers, "to attend the Execution at Riverhead with me," on January 16, "in full uniform." General Williamson added that the request for the militia's attendance had come from the Suffolk County sheriff and that "two Companies of horse, two Companies of Artillery, one Company of Infantry With the band of Musick" were expected to be present.31
Dancing seems to have been an approved, as well as a more pleasant, form of recreation in East Hampton, and Felix Dominy enjoyed the popular dances of his day. He would undoubtedly have been in favor of the "Ball" proposed by Mr. King in the letter quoted above. During the 1830's a dancing school was held at General Miller's home with instruction by a French master. Felix paid $1.25 for "tuition in the art of Dancing" and listed the dances he had learned plus the instructions for performing them. These included the "New Cent[u]ry hornpipe, Miss Bruce's reel, Morning star, Morgiana, Shantruse, Colley's hornpipe, Washington Reel, Molly hang the kettle on, Derang's hornpipe," and the current sensation, the "Paddywhack."32
Fishing, hunting, and occasional jaunts to pick ripe fruit were diversions close at hand for the Dominy craftsmen. Although the records tell only of Felix Dominy's activities, these pastimes were certainly enjoyed by Nathaniels IV and V and their families at an earlier period. Entries in Felix's weather journal show that between May and the end of July, 1822, he went fishing for "cod" at Montauk, went to Gardiner's Island for an unnamed species, and caught twenty-six fish at Three Mile Harbor. In the same year he records that he spent July 9 and 10 "cherrying" at Gardiner's Island with Nathan Barns. September 3 and 4 were spent on an "Island voyage, Girls & Boys, peaches ripe."33 Letters from his friend David Baker confirm that wild-fowl shooting was a sport as well as a source of food. In one letter Baker asked Felix, "Please to give me a detail of your tramp on Montauk, did you get that thanksgiving goose—I guess you had your labor for your Pains, Hard work for little Gains—." The second letter, probably written in the same year, 1819, inquired: "I want to know if you heard any fireing last evening the boys built a fire with shavings in the street here & in a few minutes the fowl began to come ducks of every description brant & wild geese gulls &c I shot at the geese once & J Mulford shot twice at the brant and then our fire was gone it was fine sport I assure you."34
Today it might be assumed that these idyllic pastimes were indulged in by young men who had not yet taken on vocational responsibilities. Such was not the case. Felix Dominy had been in training as a watchmaker since 1815 and had worked on his first clock two years later, at the age of seventeen (No. 230).35 The Dominy craftsmen seem to have combined a healthy, rounded, vigorous interest in the world and were not solely concerned with shop production or the rendering of services.[p. 27]
2 Records of the Town of East Hampton, Long Island, Suffolk Co., N.Y. (Sag Harbor, N.Y., 1905), V, 423, 427–28, 435–36, 474, 499, 632.
9 Bills from J. H. Dayton, Aug. 19, 1833, and David Baker, Jr., July 5, 1834 (DMMC, MSS 59x9.90, 59x9.92).
10 Account Book B (DMMC, MS 59x9a); Account Book and Day Book, Nathaniel Dominy V, 1798–1847 (DMMC, MS 59x6); Account Book, Nathaniel Dominy V, Felix Dominy, and Nathaniel Dominy VII, 1809–1862 (DMMC, Microfilm 310, original manuscript in Long Island Collection, EHFL); Account Book, Felix Dominy, 1818–1827 (DMMC, MS 59x9.21); Weather Diaries, Nathaniel Dominy IV, 1806–1812 (DMMC, MS 59x9.6); Weather Diary, Felix Dominy, 1821–1823 (DMMC, MS 59x9.43) .
12 Receipted bills from Alden Spooner to Nathaniel Dominy, Sr., 1804–1806 (DMMC, MSS 59x9.3, 59x9.4); receipted bill from Samuel Phillips to Felix Dominy, May 17, 1834 (DMMC, MS 59x9.91).
13 Although Felix Dominy expressly asked for "one of your papers" of Dec. 2, 1825, apparently this publisher had not been in business long as he is not listed in Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820 (Worcester, Mass., 1947). The American Eagle was published in Huntington from 1821 to 1826 and in Sag Harbor from 1817 to 1821. See Winifred Gregory, ed., American Newspapers, 1821–1936 (New York, 1937), P. 454. No publisher for the American Eagle is given.
15 Letter from David Baker, Jr., East Hampton, to Felix Dominy, East Hampton, Nov. 8, 1819 (DMMC, MS 59x9.19).
16 Letter from Felix Dominy, East Hampton, to Dr. [John] Scudder, New York City, Aug. 13, 1831 (DMMC, MS 59x9.85). This was John Scudder, Jr., son of the founder of the American Museum who died in 1821. In a New York City Directory the younger man is listed as "Scudder, doctor John. occulist (celebrated for inserting artificial human eyes, and treating diseases of the eye) American Museum, professional office 360 Broadway." The American Museum was at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street. See Thomas Longworth, Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register and City Directory (New York, 1831), pp. 567, 711. The museum can be seen in a water color by Arthur J. Stansbury, drawn about 1824–1825, now owned by the Museum of the City of New York (52.100.16).
19 Newton J. Dominy, Genealogical History of the Dominy's Family (Dublin, Ohio, 1956), pp. 23–24, gives the signing date as June 17, 1775. The complete text and the names of all signers are reproduced in this source. Frederic Gregory Mather, The Refugees from Long Island to Connecticut (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1913), pp. 257-658, 1061-1062, gives the voting date for a non-importation agreement by East Hampton inhabitants as June 17, 1774 and the signing date as May 5, 1775.
20 Henry P. Hedges, A History of the Town of East Hampton, New York (Sag Harbor, N.Y., 1897), p. 33.
21 A war tale, repeated many times in Dominy family histories, may be traced to Henry Onderdonk, Jr., Documents and Letters Intended to Illustrate the Revolutionary Incidents of Queens County, N.Y. (New York, 1846), p. 82. "Apr. 7 '79—a soldier, by permission, was carrying a white bag of peaches from the orchard of Mrs. Hunting at E. Hampton, when Nath'l D[ominy], supposing lie had a goose under his arms, fired and killed him. Domini at first determined to stand a trial (conscious of his innocence) but by advice of his friends, fled." Frederic Mather’s alphabetical list of those who fled Long Island to Connecticut, does not contain Nathaniel Dominy IV’s name or the name of any other member of the Dominy family.
23 Records of the Town of East Hampton, IV, 283, 389, 395, 401, 404–5, 408, 411, 415–16, 426–27, 496, 503.
24 Letter from Captain E. Jones, Sag Harbor, to Felix Dominy, East Hampton, Oct., 1818 (DMMC, MS 59x9.16).
26 Bill from Henry Young, New York City, to Felix Dominy, East Hampton, May 12, 1824 (DMMC, MS 59x9.44) .
29 Letter from P. Parker King, Sag Harbor, to Major Felix Dominy, East Hampton, Dec. 15, 1828 (DMMC, MS 59x9.53).
30 Letter to Felix Dominy, East Hampton, Sept. 27, 1829 (DMMC, MS 59x9.55). Felix Dominy married Phebe Miller on Oct. 28, 1826. See Rattray, EHH, p. 290.
32 Bill from L. Robinson to Felix Dominy, undated (DMMC, MS 59x9.170); notes by Felix Dominy, undated (DMMC, MSS 59x9.174, 59x9.175). See also Rattray, EHH, p. 46.
Copyright © 1968 by The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc.
Additions and corrections copyright 2017 by Charles F. Hummel
Markup copyright 2017 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin