The Reed Family Planemakers: John Jr., William, Edward, and Charles; and In-Laws Hiram Clark and Albert L. Gleason

Article excerpt

This story begins with the accidental rediscovery of two pieces of historical information that Louise had discovered some twenty-five years ago - an 1818 newspaper notification that a letter was waiting at the post office in Utica, N. Y., for John Reed Jr. and a Xerox copy of a page from a typewritten manuscript by John J. Walsh describing how John Reed, a Utica planemaker, came to this country, settled in Utica, and began making woodworking planes.1 The pertinent excerpt from that manuscript appears below.

John Reed was born in Wales and came to this country in 1801. Landing in Philadelphia, he traveled inland, finally reaching his destination at Utica. Several of his brothers came with him. One of them was David Reed, a builder, under whose hands later on most of the warehouses then used along the Erie Canal were built.

John Reed was himself a carpenter and knowing that carpenters' planes were most[ly] imported and costly, he decided to make his own. In 1826, the first plane ever made here and among the first manufactured in the United States, was fashioned in a low roomed kitchen of an old house standing at 46 Elizabeth Street. The plan of making planes was successful and for a time the manufacture was carried on in the kitchen, each plane being painstakingly fashioned by hand. Later on a shop was built in the rear of the house. In this were placed a horse power and a huge grindstone upon which the knives of the planes were sharpened. The first shop was twenty feet square but this was enlarged twice until what was then considered a large building was in use. In this [shop] twelve journeymen and two apprentices were kept busy. Dana & Co., the hardware dealers on Genesee Street took all that they could make. The old shop, weather-beaten and worn, in the rear of 46 Elizabeth Street was remodeled into [a] livery stable about 1895.2

The foregoing story of the beginning of John Reed's planemaking career piqued our interest since it was different from what Ken and Jane Roberts had published in their work titled Planemakers and Other Edge Tool Enterprises in New York State in the Nineteenth Century.3 Their information was based primarily on the 1850 United States Census and the 1855 Oneida County Census for New York State.

This new information raised several questions for us. What were the origins and sources of Walsh's narrative shown above? When did John Reed Jr., the planemaker, and his family enter the United States? Was the John Reed Jr., who had a letter waiting for him at the Utica post office in 1818, the same person as the planemaker in Utica? If so, since he lived in Utica before 1818, had he started producing planes around 1826 as cited by Walsh or around 1820 as indicated by the Robertses? Were the other Reed planemakers cited by the Robertses and in a previous article on planemakers in the Utica City Directories related to one another?4 Finally, what was the history of the Reed plane factory, and what became of it?

The answer to the first question about Walsh's source of information required an extensive search. After a significant effort, the source of that information was located, and it turned out to be a newspaper interview with Edward Reed (John Reed's son) that had been published in 1895.5 While searching for Walsh's source, many new and interesting details about the Reed family and their planemaking activities in Utica, New York, were uncovered.

The first result of the search yielded a thesis written by Paul Demund Evans in which he states:

Meanwhile, in Utica, more Welsh had settled. Richard Frances, about 1797, had come from Pembrokeshire, probably several other Welshmen with him. John Adams came in 1800 and in the same year John Williams and his family, a farmer from Pembrokeshire. And in 1801 there came a large number of energetic and enterprising young Welsh people, mostly from South Wales. Their number has been estimated at close to one hundred. …