Wordworking Plane Cesar Chelor

(Stock Photo Credit: AntiqueTools.com)

My grandfather, Walter Roswell Truman Smith, is a collector of early American woodworking tools. I love visiting him and Grandma Daisy in Connecticut and exploring their eighteenth-century barn filled with thousands of tools from every imaginable trade.

Grandpa knows the history behind every single tool in his collection. A few years ago, the popular TV series “Antiques Roadshow” was coming to Washington, DC, near where I live; it’s my mom’s favorite show, so my dad got us tickets. I asked Grandpa whether he had anything that might be fun to get appraised. He gave me a woodworking plane stamped with the name “Cesar Chelor,” the first documented African-American toolmaker in North America.

On the day of the show’s taping I waited at the “tool table” until it was my turn with the appraiser. I showed him the plane and repeated everything that Grandpa had told me about Cesar Chelor: that he had originally been a slave belonging to this country’s earliest known plane-maker, a man named Francis Nicholson; and shortly before Nicholson’s death in 1753, he gave Chelor his freedom, and bequeathed Chelor his workshop and the tools to keep it going.

The appraiser was very quiet while he carefully examined the tool. I was really excited (and a little nervous) when he loudly announced: “This needs to go on the show!” The crew immediately began filming us.

Grandma and Grandpa thought it was so cool to see me on national television when the segment aired a few weeks later. Apparently my grandfather had given me an amazing gift, probably the “jewel” of his entire collection. It turned out to be worth over $6,000!
It would be just like my grandpa not to have made a big deal about it.

I feel very lucky to be related to this world-class tool collector/home-builder/fire-builder/gardener/squirrel-catcher. I can’t imagine any better company. (Except maybe Grandma: world-class macaroni-and-cheese-maker/carrot-cake-baker.)

JACK T. (13)