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)
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
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.
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