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Hummel, Charles F. / "English Tools in America: The Evidence of the Dominys" from Winterthur Portfolio
(Winter 1965)

English tools in America: the evidence of the Dominys,   pp. 27-36 PDF (3.2 MB)

Page 35

A craftsman often supplemented his income by selling imported tools
to others in the same trade. In Annapolis, Maryland, a firm of cabinet-
makers, John Shaw and Archibald Chisholm, imported "a neat and general
assortment of joiners and Cabinetmakers tools" from London. Their list
proves that brass-mounted tools, usually considered an innovation of the
early nineteenth century, were in use by American woodworkers before
the Revolution:
Neat brass mounted stocks [bit stocks or braces] with 36 bits
for each; common ditto with one bit for tapping casks; jack, try-
ing, smoothing and jointer planes; double iron'd trying and
smoothing ditto, double member'd sash planes; astrical [astra-
gal], oyes, quarter round, and snipe bill ditto, beed [bead]
planes with box edges; square, screw, and side rabbet planes;
sash, moving, and common fillasters; cornice, raising, nozing and
neck mould planes; table, cock, bead, and spring ditto; deal
groving planes of diferent sizes brass mounted; plows with 6
irons; and one regular set of hollows and rounds, &c."
One other factor contributed to the popularity of English tools. Trans-
portation costs in the United States were so high before 1840 that
distribution of American tools would have been unprofitable, even if an
extensive industry had developed. The report of a United States Senate
Committee, written in 1816, pointed out that "a ton of goods could be
brought 3,000 miles from Europe to America for about nine dollars,
but . . . for the same sum it could be moved only 30 miles overland in
this country."23 Reliance on foreign tools is further documented with a
statement by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander James Dallas in the
same year. His report to the Congress about proposed tariff rates classified
hardware, ironmongery, and cutlery as "manufactures which were so
slightly cultivated as to leave the demand of the country wholly, or almost
wholly dependent upon foreign sources for a supply."24
Some writers have suggested that urban craftsmen used imported
tools and that rural artisans either made their own or had them made by
other local craftsmen.15 To some extent this was true; geographical lo-
cation and a rural economy probably were determining factors. Craftsmen
in the Dominy family, who used both English and American tools, may
have been more representative of rural artisans. At the tip of Long Island
in the village of East Hampton, three generations of the Dominy family,
Nattianiel IV (1737-1812), Nathaniel V (1770-1852), and Felix (1800-
1868), were clockmakers and cabinetmakers from about 1757 to about
1840. Residents of East Hampton were isolated by land but were in an
excellent position to use Gardiners Bay and Long Island Sound for trans-
portation to New York. The Dominy account books reveal the purchase
of tools from an individual who sailed every week to New York City.
22 The Maryland Gazette, Supplement, May 6, 1773, as quoted in Prime, p. 182.
" As quoted in GEORGE ROGERS TAYLOR, The Transportation Revolution, 1815-1860, in The
Economic History of the United States, ed. HENRY DAVID et al. (New York: Rinehart & Co.,
Inc., 1951), IV, 132-133.
2 J. LEANDER BISHOP, J History of American Manufactures from 1608-1860 (Philadelphia:
Edward Young & Co., 1866), II, 221-223.
' CARL BRIDENBAUGH, The Colonial Craftsman (New York: New York University Press, 1950),
p. 41.

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