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Q: Finding information on a deceased person ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Finding information on a deceased person
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: banana1944-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 31 Dec 2004 16:09 PST
Expires: 30 Jan 2005 16:09 PST
Question ID: 449844
I have a clock made by Simon Willard, a clockmaker from Roxbury, MA in
the 18th and early 19th century.  This clock has written on the dial
"warranteed for Nathaniel Brewer." (Warranteed for meaning made for..)
 I would like to know who Nathaniel Brewer was and what his profession
was. I believe he probably lived in New England..most likely in
Massachusetts..probably the Boston area, and was prominent, as Simon
Willard was an expensive clockmaker.  Thanks for your help.  R.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 31 Dec 2004 18:01 PST
Hello banana1944-ga,

Turns out that Nathaniel Brewer was a not uncommon name a century or
so ago, so it's hard to pin down your fellow.  I came across one
reference from 1891 that seemed right on the money, however, but there
wasn't a heck of lot of information about Mr. B:

Summer Residence Burned

The summer residence of Nathaniel Brewer of Boston, situated near the
Swampscott line, was burned, this morning; loss $15,000 to $20,000;

That's as much as I can find, but it doesn't quite strike me as $50
worth of information.  I'll let you know if anything else turns up.

In the mean time, let me know...does this sound like your man?
Subject: Re: Finding information on a deceased person
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 01 Jan 2005 06:54 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello again,

It turns out we got a lucky break on Mr. Nathaniel Brewer.  I managed
to uncover enough information to pinpoint the likely Mr. Brewer (or at
least the right Brewer family) and to provide a wee bit of detail
about the Brewers.

I have to speak in the plural since there is a Nathaniel Brewer as
well as a Natahniel Brewer Jr., both of whom were semi-prominent
businessmen in Boston in the latter part of the 19th century.

At a site called Damrell's Fire -- devoted to Boston firefighting
history -- there is a terrific series of 19th century directories that
can be searched here:

Seven directories have been made available online, scanning a period
from 1845-1875.  The Directories largely include business listings in

Entering [ brewer, nathaniel ] in the search box -- and making sure to
select all the directories as your "Search Source" -- pulls up 10
records for Boston citizens by the name of Nathaniel Brewer listed in
the directories for those periods.

In the Directories for 1845 and 1855 there is a listing for:

Nathaniel Brewer
Weigher and Gauger
11 Central Wharf

and the 1872 Directory has a listing for:

Nathaniel Brewer Jr.
Real Estate Broker
12 School

The other records for Nathaniel Brewers do not include occupational
information, so it's difficult to know if they are one and the same as
the two Brewers I just listed above.

In addition to the summary information from the Directories, the
Boston1872 site includes images of two of the complete Directories for
1870 and 1872.  The latter includes the listing for Nathaniel Jr under
the category of Real Estate Agents:
Boston City Directory of 1872
Real Estate Agents

Brewer, N. Jr. & Co. 12 School

You might want to spend some time exploring the Boston1872 site, as
there's a lot of pertinent information here, including the prominent
business streets of the time (such as School Street), and other good
context information.  For instance, a search on [ Simon Willard ] will
turn up the directory listings for the well-known makers of "watches
and chronometers".


Nathaniel Sr. was listed as a "Weigher and Gauger" and was one of
quite a number of businesses with a similar occupational title.  Which
raises the question -- What the heck is a "Weigher and Gauger"?

A Google search on the term turns up the following tidbits:
Another Nathaniel -- Nathaniel Hawthorne -- was also a Weigher and Gauger
Weighers and Gaugers frequented Boston for some reason, and some of
them, at least, seemed to live pretty well:  "He was a weigher and
gauger in Boston, with an elegant residence at Auburndale in the city
of Newton, Mass..."

From the context of some of the search results -- including a Supreme
Court case -- it seems clear that a Weigher and Gauger was pretty much
as the name implies:  an official certifier of weights and measures at
a time when such a task could not routinely be entrusted (as it is
today) to tabletop scales and the like.


Another major source of information beyond the Directories is the old
federal census records that are available through several subscription
sources (though they are not available on the internet to
non-subscribers, so I cannot provide direct links to the sources.)

Nathaniel Brewer shows up in the 1870 census for Boston, which is
fortunate, because this particular census included both occupation and
financial information on those surveyed:

Age: 65  
Occupation:  Weigher and Gauger
Value of Personal Estate:  $30,000

I believe the value of the estate was a considerable sum back in those days.


I hope you realize what a lucky coincidence it is to be able to find
so much information on a more-or-less random individual from the 19th
century.   The fact that the Brewers were prominent businessmen, and
that their history was in Boston -- one of the most well-documented
cities in the US --  certainly helped matters quite a bit.

Of course, it's hard to say with 100% certainty that either Nathaniel
Sr. or Jr. was, in fact, the particular Brewer for whom your clock was
manufactured.  But I certainly think there's a high likeliehood that
one of these two is your man.

I trust this answer fully meets your needs. However, before rating
this answer, please let me know if you'd like any additional
information.  Just post a Request for Clarification, and I'll be happy
to assist you further.

All the best in the new year ahead...


Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 01 Jan 2005 07:42 PST
I almost forgot.  The newspaper article that I mentioned above --
Summer Residence Burned -- comes from The Fitchburg Sentinel (Mass.),
January 7, 1891.

Request for Answer Clarification by banana1944-ga on 01 Jan 2005 08:09 PST
Thanks so much.  I believe this is our man! Mr. Brewer was indeed a
man of means.  A summer house costing $15 - $20,000 would have been a
castle in those times!  You were the greatest help.  I will check out
the websites you suggested.  R. Spencer

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 01 Jan 2005 09:14 PST
Thanks for the feedback, and I'm very glad to hear we hit the target!

Have fun digging around on the Boston1872 site.  I think you'll enjoy it.

banana1944-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
A really good and thorough answer to my rather difficult question!

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