Andrew Billings: Silversmith
Silversmithing is the art of taking silver and other precious metals and making them into objects such as jewelry and serving wares. The golden age for silversmiths is said to be the 17th and 18th centuries. Elaborate pieces were handcrafted by some of the greatest artists the world has ever known. In the late 18th century, Andrew Billings was Poughkeepsie’s own silversmith, and while his name is not as well-known as Paul Revere’s, his story has some similarities.
Andrew Billings was born in Stonington, Connecticut in 1743. By 1773, he had established himself as a silversmith in what was then known as the Village of Poughkeepsie. Right about the time he had set up shop, Billings (like Paul Revere) became concerned with King George’s treatment of his Countrymen, and decided to volunteer his services in the Revolution. Billings signed up as a private and worked his way up to be Captain in a 2nd New York Regiment commanded by General Peter Gansevoort. He served throughout the war and even corresponded with the likes of George Washington and Henry Knox.
When the war was over, Billings returned to Poughkeepsie to continue his silversmith business. He had also married into one of the wealthiest families in the Hudson Valley in 1778, when he married Cornelia Livingston. In the 1790 census, he lived in Poughkeepsie with at least seven children and two slaves (slavery would begin to end in New York with the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1799). He was a Master Mason with Solomon’s Lodge here in Poughkeepsie, and served as the President of the Village. His business was trouble-free except for the night of May 31st, 1789. A man named Francis Uss had broken into Billings’ store and stole merchandise, including watches and plates. At the trial, Uss confessed to other burglaries and stealing several horses. In the 18th century, these crimes meant execution by hanging, which for Francis Uss took place on July 31st.
Billings’ work is considered some of the finest in New York from the late 18th century. Several of his pieces are in art museums and collections throughout the country. He was also an excellent engraver and made the Seals for the City of New York and a gold badge for the Society of Cincinnati. Billings died in 1808, and the Poughkeepsie Journal ran a full obituary for him. This was a rare thing to do early on in the paper’s history and indicated that you were someone important. He and his wife Cornelia, who died in 1820, were buried in the first Christ Church cemetery. The cemetery would have been located just east of the first Christ Church, on the corner of Church and Market Streets. The graves in that area, including those of the Billings, were moved to Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery by the mid-19th century.
Photo-01 – Copy of a painting of Andrew Billings – LH Collections.
Photo-02- https://www.diplomaticrooms.state.gov/objects/american-silver-tankard-3/ – A Tankard made by Andrew Billings – The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Photo-03- https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/6656 – A Porringer made by Andrew Billings, The Met, New York City.
Stow, Millicent. “Andrew Billings, Silversmith of Poughkeepsie,” New York History: Quarterly Journal of New York State Historical Society, July 1944, 379-380.
George Barton Cutten and Amy Pearce Ver Nooy, “Silversmiths of Poughkeepsie,” Yearbook, Dutchess County Historical Society, Vol 30, 1945.
Poughkeepsie Journal – 4 Aug 1790, 4 May 1808.