Gongs

On October 30, 1794 and December 11, 1795, Thomas Jefferson made notations in his Memorandum Books concerning the purchase of two pairs of gongs.[1]  It appears that the earlier of the two was related to a gong procured through Henry Remsen, Jr., in New York. Jefferson stated, "The Chinese have a thing made of a kind of bell metal, which they call a Gong, and is used as a bell at the gates of large houses, &c. It is in fact precisely of the shape and size of a camp oven, about 20. I. diameter and 5. I. deep . . . I wish for one to serve as the bell to a clock, which might be heard all over my farm. . . ."[2]   After consulting with the owner of a ship engaged in the China trade, Remsen informed Jefferson that provisions had been made to meet his request.[3] In due time two gongs arrived at Monticello.

There is no information available from Jefferson's records and notes about the original design of the gong housing on the northeast portico roof. It appears in all early illustrations from 1827 on. The wooden housing was replaced during the 1955 roof restoration with a new housing fabricated of sheet metal with an enamel finish.

One of the gongs appears to have been installed as part of the apparatus of the [[Great Clock]] being used to sound each half and hourly time. This gong is of a hammered brass-like metal, is approximately 1/16 inches thick, twenty-two inches in diameter, and five inches deep. Silvio Bedini, in his article, Thomas Jefferson, Clock-Designer,"[4] , suggests, but without evidence, that the [[Great Clock]] gong represents the 1795 purchase.

A second gong with a Jefferson provenance but with varying dimensions was presented to Archibald Stuart of Staunton, Virginia in 1797 [5],  and is now owned by a Stuart descendant. It is believed this gong represents the 1795 purchase. The whereabouts of the other two gongs have not been ascertained.

Footnotes

1. This article is based on R. Martin, Monticello Research Report, 1990.

2. Jefferson to Remsen, 13 November 1792, Julian P.Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, et al, eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-),  24:617.

3. Remsen to Jefferson, 19 November 1792, Ibid., 641. Jefferson to Richard Harrison, 1 December, 1792, Ibid., 685.

4. Silvio Bedini, "Thomas Jefferson, Clock Designer," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 108(1964): 163-180.

5. Jefferson to Stuart, 4 January 1797.  Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 29:253.

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