Henry Will


Pewterer Henry Will is said to have been born in Germany April 1734. He is said to have been the son of New York City pewterer John Will (active 1752-63) who emigrated from Niewsted on the Rhine. He was of German ancestry. Henry is said to have been the older brother of reknowned Pennsylvania pewterer William Will. We seek naturalization information for this individual who probably was not born in America.

This sketch will focus on his time and work in Albany.

In 1761, he had received a license to marry one Magdaline Haan. He is said to have been married at the Reformed church in New York City in November. In 1776 and 78, their daughters were christened at the Albany Dutch church. (Witnesses were Albany German pillars Paul and Elizabeth Hogstrasser and also Alcasatian newcomer John Maley.) We seek birth/baptism records from other churches to fill out the family identified on subsequent surveys that probably began to form during the early 1760s.

In October 1765, he was identified as a pewterer when he "P" (paid) for the "Freedom" of New York City.

In 1766, the name of "Henry Will" was crossed off a Schenectady assessment roll.

His account book covering the years 1763 to 1800 details his business in New York City, Albany, and with clients from in-between. A substantial number of "Albany names" appear in it for the war years - his time in Albany. But, we cannot be certain that all of those in question are Albany people and not same-named downriver clients. Numerous examples of his work can be viewed online. We seek specifics on Will's creations from his time in Albany. However, future metalware manufacturer Gerrit Witbeck seems to have supplied him with rock salt and other commodities. We are more comfortable regarding his business with Albany merchant John Maley during 1785.

Probably a different Henry Will served in the East Camp militia in 1767 and later as an ensign and lieutenant in a German Camp militia company.

He probably left New York ahead of the British occupation. On April 11, 1776, a Manhattan newspaper noted that:

Henry Will, Pewterer, Acquaints the public that he has removed to Albany, to Albany where he intends to carry on the Pewterer's business in all its branches. As he has hitherto been favoured with the custom of his friends in and about Albany, so he hopes to merit their continuance; - an assortment of Pewter war will be constantly kept by him; old pewter will be exchanged for new, or cash given for it.

During those years, he was among a sizeable (and diverse) number of New Yorkers who found refuge in Albany. In August 1776, he wrote from Albany to Surgeon Matthew Manus (probably Matthias Maus at Ft. George) listing supplies he had procured. During the war years, his name appeared on an Albany-based list of subscribers for clothing.

In May 1778, he was able to vote to elect Patriot stalwart Dr. Samuel Stringer alderman in the third ward.

In March 1779, his real and personal property were valued on the assessment roll for Albany's third ward. The October assessment listed the name of Peter Young just below Will. At that time, a number of German background newcomers lived in that North End neighborhood.

After the war, his name appeared on a list of those who would be accorded a bounty right in conjunction with a militia regiment composed of men from the city of Albany. However, we seek information on the specific war-related activities of an artisan who turned forty just before the outbreak of hostilities.

July 1785, the New York paper reported that he had returned to his house in New York ant that he had resumed the pewtering business.

By 1787, he had returned to New York where was named co-executor of the estate of the late John A. Stuart. At that time, he was identified as a pewterer of New York City. He was identified as the treasurer of the German Reformed Church and of the "Musical Society" of New York in 1789. (His daughter married there in 1798.) By 1790, his East Ward household with ten people was configured on the census in New York City.

He is said to have retired wealthy in 1793. During the 1790s, a Henry Will represented New York County in the New York State Assembly.

His name does not appear on the rolls of the Albany Mechanics Society dating from the early 1800s. However, we are not at all certain of a connection and have not pursued him once he left Albany.

Refugee pewterer and wartime Albany resident Henry Will is said to have died in New York about 1802.

biography in-progress


the people of colonial Albany Sources: The life of Henry Will is CAP biography number 1497. This sketch is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources.

Published in 1996, the Henry Will Account Book: A Record of His Pewtering and Related Activities in New York City and Albany from 1763 to 1800, compiled by Donald L. Fennimore, offers a comprehensive introduction to this pewter's work, includes an alphabetical listing of his clients, and fascimile images of the ledger pages. This remarkable work also is the source of much of the family-based information on his life and on other particulars that are beyond our research in the community-based resources noted above.

Surviving examples of his work: MMOA; Wolf Pewter; also about thirty large-size images of his products appear in Fennimore's must-read edition.

first posted 3/10/14