A Mapmaker’s Life
This timeline pieces together the life of an “ingenious mechanic” who sought fame and fortune from his varied endeavours and inventions. He is best known today as the creator of the first map of the newly-independent United States.
Apprentices to Ebenezer Chittenden, a goldsmith
At thirteen years of age, Abel Buell was apprenticed to Ebenezer Chittenden in East Guilford (later known as Madison), Connecticut.
Marriage to Mary Chittenden
Abel Buell married Mary Chittenden, daughter of master goldsmith Ebenezer, and set up shop in Killingworth, Connecticut, as a worker in precious metals.
Arrest for counterfeiting
In December Abel Buell was arrested for altering currency—some sources indicate that he changed five shilling notes to five pound notes. Sentenced in 1764, all of Buell’s property was confiscated, one ear was cropped, his forehead branded with the letter “C” (for counterfeiter), and he was imprisoned.
Petitions for a pardon
Two months after Buell was imprisoned, he petitioned the General Assembly for a pardon. He was released from prison and ordered to remain within the confines of Killingworth. He joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of American patriots assembled to protect colonists from oppressive British rule and taxation.
Receives the first recorded patent in Connecticut
Throughout his lifetime, Buell was an inventor. His first invention was a lapidary machine that cut and polished gems, for which he received Connecticut’s first patent. Other inventions include a coin minting machine and machines for planting corn and onions.
Petitions for full freedom
In October, Buell petitioned (for the second time) to be free to leave the confines of Killingworth, Connecticut, arguing he had worked diligently to invent a machine that cut and polished gems. As proof, he presented a beautiful ring that he had made to the prosecutor; Buell’s freedom was fully restored.
Advertises his skill as a “Jeweller and Lapidar”
Receives £100 loan to establish a foundry
Buell petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly for a loan of £100 to establish the first foundry for making type in the American colonies. He committed to set up the foundry within one year and repay the loan in seven years.
Moves to New Haven, Connecticut. Wife, Mary, dies
The Buells moved from Killingworth to New Haven, Connecticut. Abel set up a silversmith shop and secured a building for his type-making foundry. He was also employed by Bernard Romans, American mapmaker. On September, 21, Mary Buell died.
Marriage to Aletta Devoe
On March 8, Abel married Aletta Devoe, known as “Letty”.
Participates in the Boston Tea Party
On December 16, 1773, Buell may have participated in the Boston Tea Party with his fellow Sons of Liberty.
Places ad for firearms
On March 4, 1774, Buell placed an advertisement for the sale of firearms and accessories in the Connecticut Journal.
Flees New Haven to avoid imprisonment for debt
Buell is sued for £500 by James Rivington, a New York publisher who commissioned Abel to make copper engravings for books. In addition, he is overdue in paying the £100 loan for a type foundry. He fled New Haven to avoid imprisonment. He appears to have traveled to Florida.
Aletta announces her intention to remain in business
On March 1, 1775, Buell’s wife Aletta published a long letter in the Connecticut Journal that defended her husband. The letter also stated that she was looking to hire one or two goldsmiths and one jeweller to keep Abel’s shop open.
Destruction of New York landmark
On July 9, Buell reportedly participated in the destruction of the statue of King George III at Bowling Green in New York. He is also reported to have been apprehended attempting to smuggle a large quantity of lead from the statue—for making type.
Aletta pays Abel’s debt
In August 1777, Aletta Buell declared that through hard work and saving she was prepared to pay her husband’s debt. On September 2, 1777, Aletta placed an ad for printing diplomas. This is the last known mention of Aletta.
Back in Connecticut, Buell places ads for auctions
On August 19 and September 2, 1778, Abel, now back in New Haven, conducted vendues (auctions) at an establishment named “Sign of the Coffeepot.”
Marriage to Rebecca Townsend
On May 28, 1780, Abel married for a third time. Rebecca Townsend came from a well-to-do aristocratic family. She soon gave birth to the first of their four children.
Places ad for apprentices
“Wanted immediately, Two or three likely young Lads, which the Subscriber will instruct in several ingenious mechanical Arts. ABEL BUELL, New-Haven, April 25.”
Publishes landmark map
In March Buell published the first map of the newly independent United States produced by an American. He used his skills as an engraver to produce the map using information from numerous source maps. It is not known how many copies of the map were printed.
Invents a coin minting machine
In 1785, Buell joined with seven investors to create the Company for Coining Copper. He invented a minting machine that was able to fabricate 120 coins per minute. With this machine Connecticut’s first authorized coin currency, “Connecticut coppers,” were produced.
Travels to England; learns textile trade
In 1789, Buell left New Haven and traveled to England. Uncovering the exact reason for his departure is difficult. One source states that he departed hastily after manufacturing unauthorized New York coins; another reports that he was sent by the Connecticut legislature as an industrial spy to learn about the techniques and machinery of the British textile trade.
Returns to New Haven; opens a cotton mill
Buell returned to America around 1793 and resided briefly at a cotton manufactory outside of New York City. He then returned to New Haven and erected a cotton mill in Westville, which opened in early 1795.
Places ad for services; no cotton products
Buell no longer seemed to be in the cotton manufacturing business, as is evidenced in a long ad he placed in the Connecticut Current. The ad mentions a wide variety of goods and services, but there is no mention of any merchandise or services that are associated with running a cotton mill.
Plies his trade as a silversmith
A beautiful example of Buell’s silversmithing skills can be seen in a set of communion cups that he made for the North Haven Congregational Church in 1797. Evidence suggests that Buell plied his trade as a silversmith 1770–1774, 1777–1789, 1796–1799, and for many years starting again in 1810.
Invents machines for planting onions and corn
“A useful machine has been invented by Mr. Abel Buel,” reported the Connecticut Journal, “for the purpose of planting onions… With this machine one can perform in the same time the labour of twenty. It opens trenches, drops the seed, and covers them in one operation.”
Moves to Hartford; third wife dies
In 1799 Buell moves to Hartford, fabricates military equipment and silverwork. In December 1800, third wife, Rebecca, dies.
Marriage to Sally; advertises for apprentices
At around 59 year of age, Abel married Sally. This was his fourth and final marriage. He advertised his business of repairing, cleaning, and polishing military arms, along with many other services that demonstrated the diversity of his skills. Buell also stated that he was looking for two or three apprentices.
Death of Sally Buell
Abel’s marriage to Sally was a short one. She died at the age of thirty-four; the couple had no known children.
Moves to Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Buell placed an announcement in the Farmer’s Herald that he had moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and set up a silversmith shop.
Becomes member of the Congregational Church
In 1813 the Congregational Church of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, experienced its largest ever revival and added at least 94 new members. At age 71, Abel Buell was one of those new members.
Returns to New Haven; dies penniless
Little is known about the final years of Buell’s long life. In 1822, he returned to New Haven, Connecticut. Not long after his return, at age 81, Abel Buell died in the alms house on March 10, 1822. His brief death notice described him as an “ingenious mechanic.”