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Volume 24, Number 4 — April 2017

Backcountry Makers

Valentine Baugh's incised signature and a date can be seen on the metal works in the tall case clock, possibly the only local example of his signed work.
Valentine Baugh's incised signature and a date can be seen on the metal works in the tall case clock, possibly the only local example of his signed work.

Valentine Baugh: silversmith, watch and clockmaker

By Betsy White | September 11, 2012

Valentine Baugh was among the large numbers of Germans who formed one of Southwest Virginia's earliest settler groups.

He appeared in Abingdon's records as early as 1805, when he purchased the Main Street house that was to be his family's home for more than a century. Valentine was an artisan; and if Abingdon can be used as an example, the early artisan community was largely German and tended to live and work together in the same neighborhood. Valentine and Martha Baugh's household included six sons and three daughters, and nearby were the homes and workshops of a cabinetmaker, tinsmith, silversmith, weaver, blacksmith and printer.

Valentine was born in Frederick, Md., May 5, 1775, and baptized the following month into the Evangelical Lutheran Church. He was the son of Balthasar and Rosina Bach, who were both born in Ottweiler, Germany, immigrating to America around mid-century. Valentine had several sisters, two of whom married John Fessler (one marrying her brother-in-law after her sister's death), who was a Swiss clockmaker. In 1798, shortly before moving to Abingdon, Valentine Bach advertised in one of Frederick's local newspapers as a watch and clockmaker. With the family connection, it seems likely that Valentine trained under Fessler.

With the move to Abingdon, Valentine Bach changed the spelling of his last name to Baugh. His incised signature and a date can be seen on the metal works in the tall case clock shown here, possibly the only local example of his signed work. The case itself is attributed to Baugh's neighbor, John Erhart Rose, a cabinetmaker, also of German descent, who trained in Philadelphia before migrating to Abingdon.

The clock is dated 1814. It was to be some years before the census takers noted occupations; and though Baugh may have carried on his trade as a clockmaker during the subsequent years, no further examples of his work as a clockmaker have been found. In 1850, the first census that noted occupations and only a year before his death, he listed himself not as a clockmaker but as a silversmith. Here again, examples of silver with his mark have not surfaced. However, lending credibility to the family vocation was his son, Caleb, who, like his father, was listed as a silversmith in 1850 and 1860 and, as a jeweler and watch repairer.

The Baugh family was active for many years in Abingdon's business and civic affairs. Another son, Leonidas, served as Abingdon's "clerk in court" for over 20 years, as well as editor of The Democrat, an Abingdon newspaper. The two brothers lived near their sisters, Catherine and Rosanna, who remained in the family home as spinsters. In living memory were two of Valentine's granddaughters, Minnie and Ethel Baugh, who kept the Main Street home well into the 20th century, becoming local historians who helped found the Historical Society of Washington County.

Valentine Baugh died in 1851 at age 76 and is buried in Abingdon's Sinking Spring Cemetery.


This is the first of a series of articles related to Betsy White's new book, Backcountry Makers: An Artisan History of Southwest Virginia & East Tennessee, to be published in 2013 by the University of Tennessee Press.Virginia & Northeast Tennessee, was published in 2006 by the University of Virginia Press.

A! ExtraTopics: Art, Crafts