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Maker(s):Chelor, Cesar
Culture:American (1720-1784)
Title:cornice plane
Date Made:1775-1784
Type:Tool - Woodworking
Materials:wood; base metal: iron
Place Made:Massachusetts: Wrentham
Measurements:Overall: 5 1/2 in x 13 1/2 in x 4 1/16 in; 14 cm x 34.3 cm x 10.3 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2022.9
Credit Line:Gift of Amy Ramage Lyman, daughter of John Hilton Lyman and great great niece of Catherine Ramage Bliss of South Deerfield
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield
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Description:
Cornice plane produced by African American planemaker, Cesar Chelor (1720-1784), of Wrentham, Massachusetts. The plane is stamped on the end (or toe): "CE*CHELOR / LIVING*IN / WRENTHAM," "EM," and "AA." Chelor learned the art of plane making from his enslaver, Francis Nicholson (1683-1753), who also worked as a planemaker in Wrentham. In 1753, Nicholson died, and, as stipulated in his will, Chelor was freed. In his will, Nicholson also provided Chelor with woodworking tools and land, thereby supplying him with the necessary capital to establish his own business. Chelor continued to work as an independent planemaker in Wrentham for some thirty years following his emancipation until his death in 1784. It was during this time that this cornice plane—used for creating complex moldings, such as crown moldings—was likely made.

Construction: Cornice plane of large rectangular shape stamped on the toe (or front of the plane) with several marks. The plane is chamfered along its top left and side edges, and the corners of the plane feature lamb’s tongue chamfering. The top edge along the back of the plane is rounded, and the top edge along the front is square. The base of the handle (or tote) fits into a shallow, rectangular-shaped mortise, and is secured into place with a single screw. The top of the iron blade and wooden wedge (or key) are rounded. The front, back, and right sides of the plane are flat, and the left side (or stock) is stepped. The stock has a projecting lower edge that forms the fence, and cove molding along its midsection. The bottom (or sole) of the plane includes a fence along with compound cove and serpentine shaped curves.

Label Text:
Unnamed Figures, May 1, 2024-August 4, 2024: Born about 1720, Cesar Chelor is the earliest documented Black planemaker in colonial America. Chelor learned the art of plane making from his enslaver, Francis Nicholson (1683-1753), who worked in Wrentham, Massachusetts. During his enslavement, Chelor likely made many of Nicholson’s planes, but his contribution was hidden behind the stamp that marked various planes produced in Nicholson’s shop: “F. Nicholson, Wrentham.” In 1753, Nicholson died, and as stipulated in his will, Chelor was emancipated. Nicholson provided Chelor with woodworking tools and land, thereby supplying him with the necessary capital to establish his own business.

Chelor continued to work as an independent planemaker in Wrentham for some thirty years following his emancipation until his death in 1784. His shop proved to be a success as evinced by the number of planes that survive bearing his mark, and the high quality of those planes, including this example boldly stamped, “CE CHELOR LIVING IN WRENTHAM.” One of many different types of planes produced by Chelor, cornice planes created complex moldings, such as crown moldings, used to decorate interior woodwork and furniture. The plane also possesses an owner’s initials, “E.M.,” which likely belong to Elias Mann (1750-1825), a White cabinetmaker and housewright from Stoughton and Northampton, Massachusetts, who was possibly the plane’s original owner. The plane’s survival serves not only as a material reminder of the skill of its maker and the prosperity of a Black-owned business in early America, but also lends insight into the relationships formed between enslaver and enslaved and the patronage of Black businesses by White craftsmen in 18th-century New England.

Tags:
tools; enslaved persons

Link to share this object record:
https://museums.fivecolleges.edu/test/detail.php?t=objects&type=ext&id_number=HD+2022.9

Research on objects in the collections, including provenance, is ongoing and may be incomplete. If you have additional information or would like to learn more about a particular object, please email fc-museums-web@fivecolleges.edu.

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