Update on the plane maker J. R. GALE

by Richard Slaney
Jan. 22, 2014

          Jonas R. Gale, the plane maker, was born in Millbury, MA on March 30, 1808. “At the age of 18, he went to New York City, and there entered the plane factory of his cousin, Enos Baldwin, and became proficient in the manufacture of jointers' tools.(note 1). 
Gale moved to Providence “in the spring of 1829,” having just turned 21 years old. (note 2). By late 1829, Gale was a partner with Samuel Cummings in “Cumings & Gale,” plane makers; Cummings having previously worked alone in Providence since late 1827.  Both Gale and Cummings had lived in New York City before moving to Providence, and Gale followed Cummings to Providence when given the opportunity to form a partnership in plane making with him. (note 3) The two plane makers knew each other from their New York City days, and it is believed that Samuel Cummings, who was three and one half years older than Gale, also worked for, and or apprenticed to, the plane maker Enos Baldwin. (note 4)

       The tool researcher Barry Weaver has skillfully laid out in detail Galeʼs work history in Providence in a 1992 article titled “77 Weybosset Street ?” and Barryʼs findings have been summarized in the book “GAWP4.” (notes 5&6). But from new information developed by Barry Weaver after the publication of his article, we now know that in September 1836, Jonas R. Gale, age 28, sold his Providence plane making business and moved to Alton, Illinois, a trading town on the Mississippi River, where he “invested in a mill and other property(note 7).  The mill was a sawmill on the Shields Branch stream in Alton, with Gale having a one half ownership interest.  (note 8) While living at Alton, Gale was a supporter of the abolitionist newspaper publisher Elijah Lovejoy and he suffered property loss through mob violence in the riot that resulted in Lovejoyʼs murder on Nov. 7, 1837 (note 9). When Gale had first visited Alton in the summer of 1836, his return trip to Providence included a stop in Tazewell County, Illinois where he was shown a large stretch of undeveloped prairie land which he envisioned as a future farming community able to support its own town. His vision was brought to fruition when he joined with the “land promoter and ardent early American temperance advocate” Edward Delavan to form a land company that purchased the land in Tazewell County from the U. S. Government, divided it into 160-acre tracts of land and then sold the tracts at public auction in Providence on November 24, 1836. (note 10). Gale, a stockholder in the land company, purchased at the Providence auction one of the 160 acre tracts of land in what was to become Delavan Township, Illinois. After living for 18 months at Alton, Gale moved in 1838 to his 160 acre farm in Delevan, where for 45 years he farmed the land.  In 1883 Gale, age 75, moved with his family to Denver, Colorado, where he died in December, 1891. (note 11)

       Jonas Gale's work output in Providence from 1833 through 1836, when he was working under his own name, is impressive. A conservative estimate is that he made 500 planes, with perhaps 100 surviving today. Most of his Providence planes have the same J.R.Gale name stamp, an embossed stamp with sawtooth borders, with the name preceded by a cluster of 7 dots and followed by a single dot acting as a period. (note 12) The same die sinker who made this stamp in 1833 had earlier made both the "S. CUMINGS" and the "CUMING & GALE" name stamps. A different "J. R. GALE" embossed stamp has been found on at least four Gale planes also thought to have been made in Providence. (note 13) This stamp was made by a less skilled die sinker and lacks the detail of Gale's commonly found stamp.

        The only evidence of plane making by Gale after he left Providence is the report of one plane with an incuse name stamp "J.R.Gale", a stamp markedly different from the two embossed name stamps he used during his Providence days. (note 14)  It would seem that Gale, by having a new stamp made, intended to resume plane making.  This might have been during the 18 months he lived in Alton, but judging by the late appearance of the name stamp more likely at some point after he settled on his Delavan farm.  But whatever his intent, the evidence is that he did not take up plane making again in any significant way after leaving Providence. The 1880 Federal census entry listing him as a "plane maker" probably results from the pride of a 72 year old man hanging on, if only in name, to the trade he mastered in his youth. (note 15)


Note 1. “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois”. Published by Andreas, Lyter & Co. 1873. The information on Jonas R. Gale is in the section of the atlas that has biographical sketches of the founders of Tazewell County, Illinois. Gale, living in 1873, provided the publishers with first hand information that reads in the atlas entry like an autobiography.

Note 2. Ibid.

Note 3. When Samuel Cummings married Lydia Everett on June 1, 1828 in Dorchester, MA, he is "of New York City". See Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records / Dorchester / Publishments of Marriages 1799-1849 "
Note 4. It is certain that Samuel Cummings received formal instruction in the art of making wooden planes. His earliest signed planes, those made in Providence, show a practiced hand working in a settled tradition of plane making. Skillfully made with a big city look, Cummings planes are minimalist in style, without decorative flourishes. I believe he received his training in the shop of the plane maker Enos Baldwin, born 1783 in Cavendish, VT., who worked in NYC from 1822-1829.  Cummings planes and those of Enos Baldwin share several stylistic details, also found in the planes made by Jonas R. Gale, who did apprentice to Enos Baldwin.
Note 5. Article titled " 77 Weybosset Street ? " in the " Catalog of American Wooden Planes " (Published by Mike Humphrey). Issue No. 4, Sept. 1992
Note 6. “A Guide To The Makers of American Wooden Planes.” (GAWP). Mendham, New Jersey: The Astragal Press. Fourth Edition. 2001. Expanded and revised by Tom Elliot
Note 7. " Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois " 1873
Note 8.  The sawmill information is from the "Alton Evening Telegraph", Nov. 11, 1887, Page 3
Note 9.   " Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois ". 1873  While living in Providence, before moving to Alton, Gale signed a petition calling for the convening of a Rhode Island State Anti-Slavery Convention, which was held in Providence on Feb. 2, 1836
Note 10.  "Delavan, 1837-1937: a chronicle of 100 years". Published by the Federal Writers Project.  1937. Pages 13-16 describe the land auction held in Providence on Nov. 24, 1836 and the subsequent events that led to the formal organization of Delavan Township in 1850.
Note 11.  Jonas R. Gale is listed in the 1884, 1887 and 1888 "Corbett & Ballenger's" Denver city directories. He was buried on Dec. 7, 1891 in the Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado. The directory and burial information were researched by Barry Weaver.
Note 12.  This J.R.GALE name stamp is the "A" stamp in GAWP-4.  The online site " Early RI Toolmakers & Tradesmen" has a clear image of the "A" stamp.
Note 13.  This J.R.GALE name stamp is the "B" stamp in GAWP-4.  The online site " Early RI Toolmakers & Tradesmen" has a clear image of the "B" stamp, taken from a pair of side rabbet planes. Another of the "B" stamped planes in a private collection also has the identical "WARRENTED" mark that is found on at least six "CUMINGS & GALE" planes.
Note 14.  This incuse stamp is the "C" stamp in GAWP-4
Note 15.  Federal Census entries for Jonas R. Gale, Delavan, Tazewell County, Illinois list his occupation in 1850 as "Farmer"; in 1860 as "Farmer"; in 1870 as "Carpenter", and in 1880 as "Plane maker".