Select Watts Miscellany

Here are some Watts stories and accounts over the years:

Richard Watts, Elizabethan Merchant and Benefactor

Richard Watts was a prominent merchant in Elizabethan London who was noted at the time for his philanthropy.  The following memorial was later erected on his hehalf:

"Sacred to the memory 
of Richard Watts Esq; 
a principal benefactor to this City, 
who departed this life September 10, 1579
at his mansion house on Bully-hill, called Satis
(so named by Queen Elizabeth of glorious memory)
and lies interred near this place,
as by his will doth plainly appear. 
By which will, dated August 22 and proved September 25, 1579
he founded an almshouse for the relief of poor people
and for the reception of six poor travelers every night
and for employing the poor of this City. 

The mayor and citizens of this City,
in testimony of their gratitude & his merit, 
have erected this monument in 1736.
Richard Watts Esq, then mayor."

Isaac Watts' First Hymn

A famous story about Isaac Watts tells how it all began.  The teenage Isaac complained bitterly to his father about the dreary Psalms sung in church.  He said the tunes were tiresome and the words meaningless.  His father encouraged him to see what he could do "to mend the matter".

Isaac went to his room and wrote his first hymn.  The next Sunday, Behold the Glories of the Lamb was sung in the Congregational chapel to which the Watts family belonged in Southampton.  The year was 1693 and Isaac was about nineteen years old at the time.

The Last Years of Gregory Watt

In 1801 Gregory Watt set off on European travels in the hopes of recovering his health.  He first stayed in Paris where he met the Scottish-American geologist William Maclure and together they traveled through war-torn France and Italy.  In Naples, despite Watt's consumption, they climbed and descended into Vesuvius and saw other evidence of recent volcanism.  At the time Watt thought this experience would change his mind about geological, especially volcanic, processes.  

Watt was inspired on his return home to make experiments on melting basalt and to study its cooling history and to also attempt a “lithological” map of Italy.  The first work led Watt to “sit on the fence” over the then much-debated question of the origin of basalt.  He believed it could have originated either from the action of heat or from water.  Meanwhile Watt's early 1804 map was a brave attempt to delineate up to 46 separate lithologies on a “proto-geological” map of Italy.  

Watt may well have met William Smith, the English pioneer of modern geological cartography, in Bath later in 1804 just before his death, but there is no further evidence.  The previous year he had become the main critic on matters geological for the Edinburgh Review and published there nine reviews, mainly on mineralogy. He died in 1804, aged just twenty seven.

The Watts Family and Rose Hill, New York

The first Rose Hill in New York was the farm acquired in 1747 by the John Watts who represented the city for many years in the Colonial Assembly.  It contained over 130 acres and lay on the East River between what were to become 21st and 30th streets and between the future Lexington Avenue and the water.  Watts' residence in town was at 3 Broadway, facing Bowling Green.  Watts himself was the son of Robert Watts of Rose Hill near Edinburgh who had come to New York around the year 1700.  John Watts named the farm in honor of his father's house back in Scotland 

As Loyalists, John Watts and his wife departed for Britain in 1775 and never returned.  They left Rose Hill and the house at 3 Broadway in the hands of their son John Watts who post-Revolution became a lawyer and politician in the city.  

The main house at Rose Hill burned in 1779 during the British occupation, but a deed from the 1780’s mentions "houses, buildings, orchards, gardens" on the land.  Parts of Rose Hill Farm were being sold off in the 1780s and in 1786 Nicholas Kruger acquired a lot at the north edge of the property, consisting of most of what is now the block bounded by 29th and 30th Streets and Second and Third Avenues.  There were at that time some venerable elms which stood at the corner of 28th Street and Lexington Avenue.

Frederick Watts and the Mechanical Reaper

The whole idea was silly.  Some "new fangled" machine to cut wheat?  When folks around Carlisle, Pennsylvania learned that attorney Frederick Watts was going to demonstrate a mechanical reaper on his farm to harvest a field of wheat - some new variety of winter wheat imported from southern Europe that he insisted would ripen a full week before their own - they were astonished.  Surely nothing could replace a team of hard-working men with grain cradles!  "Watts' Folly," they called it.  

Watts didn't mind the robust skepticism.  He was out to improve agriculture and show farmers that farm work could be faster and easier.  

So on a warm, sunny summer day in 1840, a crowd of between 500 and 1,000 people gathered at his farm, saw that, indeed, the grain was ripe and they examined the machinery as they prepared to witness the spectacle.  A horse and rider drew the equipment into the field followed by a man who was to rake up the wheat as it was cut.  

The contraption clattered and rattled as it began to cut the wheat and the rake man had some trouble keeping up, which began to cause difficulties with the machine.  The people hooted, jeered, and laughed. They knew it wouldn't work!  

Watts was beginning to get embarrassed.  But then a man stepped forward from the group and showed everyone the proper way to work with the harvester.  He was Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the machine called "McCormick's Reaper."  The fool thing worked after all!  The dubious Scots-Irish farmers were suitably impressed.  

Gentleman farmer Watts had successfully demonstrated that farm work could be made less burdensome and more efficient, two major objectives of the new way of farming that Watts and others sought to encourage.

A Watts Family in Australia

It would seem that many Watts from Stroud in Gloucestershire emigrated to Australia in the mid-19th century.  Samuel Elijah Watts was born there in 1845 and worked for a firm of solicitors in Birmingham before departing for Australia in 1863. 

He and his wife Lydia, whom he married in Sydney four years later, had no children.  Even so, they
were part of a large Watts family who had settled in various parts of Australia.  It was through Samuel’s gift of writing poetry and song that researchers were able to connect several of these branches of the family.  He was the nephew of Henry and Joseph Watts of Smithfield, NSW (Joseph, who died in 1873, donated land for the building of the Smithfield Methodist church).   Samuel was also named as executor in several family wills and witnessed several legal documents for other members of the Watts family. 

Samuel’s poetry writing was much admired and some thought that there was a family relationship to Isaac Watts the hymn writer.  But this has not been confirmed.

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