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Tongue Plane

view Tongue Plane digital asset number 1
Chelor, Cesar, 1720-1784
wood and metal
Hand plane
Cesar (or Cesor) Chelor is the first identified African American toolmaker. He was the slave of Francis Nicholson, a prominent toolmaker in New England until 1752. In that year he was freed by Nicholson, who specified in his will that " . . . As to my Negro Man Cesar Chelor, considering his faithful Service, his tender Care & kind & Christian carriage, I do set him free to Act for himself in the world . . ."
After being freed, Chelor started making wooden planes, which were used to smooth wood surfaces or create elegant mouldings for architecture. He sold them to local carpenters and joiners. Chelor must have been successful in his tool-making business, for he was able to purchase land and pay property taxes. He was also a member in good standing of the Wrentham Congregational Church. In 1758 Chelor married Judith Russell; they had nine children.
Little information is known about the black residents of Wrentham, but they seem to have formed an active and engaged community. Chelor hired several local black men to work for him in his shop; black families were active members in the local church; and there are records that show that local black men fought in the French and Indian Wars. Wrentham blacks were also involved in the political and social activities of the period. Chelor's son-in-law, Pompey Edes, was listed as a member of the Boston "African Lodge" of Masons, and was a close friend and supporter of Prince Hall, who established the first African American Masonic lodge.
Chelor's planes can almost always be identified by their maker's mark: "C.E. Chelor, Living in Wrentham." Antique woodworking planes are a popular collectible, and can commonly be found at flea markets and estate sales. Due to their rarity and historical importance, the planes of both Cesar Chelor and Francis Nicholson are some of the most desirable and highly valued.
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Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution
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