New handles leads to ‘tool sleuthing’

Earlier this spring I decided to change the handles and knobs on my planes to a more traditional look. I have many old tools to model, so I picked some I thought were the most comfortable and took them home one evening. I had them all laid out on the kitchen table and was making tracings and patterns. On a plow plane by H. Wells, I noticed that the owners stamps on the front both had the same last name. I mentioned this and the names to my wife, who was in the other room on the computer. I wondered out loud whether the two were related.

About 15 minutes later, my wife said ” I found one of the guys”. The two names were R.O. Stetson and G.W. Stetson, Jr. I was assuming they were probably father and son. But who were they?  R.O. Stetson came up on a page of the history of the Millers Falls Co.  Millers Falls acquired the Goodell Pratt Co.  Goodell Pratt acquired the Stratton Bros. Level company in 1912.  R.O. Stetson had purchased the Stratton Bros. Level Co from his 83 year old father-in-law Edwin Stratton in 1902.  Edwin started the company with his brother Charles in 1869. Now if you are a tool collector, you surely are familiar with Stratton Bros levels. They were high end tools made of exotic woods like rosewood and had a unique brass edging on all sides and even the level sight cutouts were trimmed in brass.  One of the sources I found discussing them said that the brass edging pieces were so precise, it took 1000 pounds of pressure to press them in place.

This was starting to get interesting.  If father and son,  G.W. must be the father,  since he was the Junior.  The Millers Falls history page listed R.O. Stetson as Roland Stetson.  I later found this to be incorrect, and that his name was really Raymond O. Stetson.  This was a major error that cause me a lot of dead end searching!

I next went to the Massachusetts archives and typed in the names and towns. Well. there were dozens of G.W. Stetsons and of course not one Roland Stetson.  I finally got lucky when I somehow got on the Family Search website.  Having never done any genealogy research before, I was amazed to see what was available. They had the original documents from census rolls, death certificates, birth certificates, marriage certificates, even photos of graves and cemetery locations.  It took a lot of searching, but I finally got it figured out (I think).

G.W. Stetson, Jr. was born in 1831.  His father was George W. Stetson (of course).  He was born in 1805.  George’s wife was Mary Wilde Stetson, born in 1800.  She and George were married Sept. 8, 1831.  George Jr. was born Dec. 4, 1831!  You do the math.  His mother, Mary, died on Dec. 20th, 1831. I assume it was from complications from childbirth. George Stetson Jr. was listed as a carpenter/joiner in the census roll of 1860.  He married his wife Emiline on Dec. 30, 1857.  Their child Raymond was born in 1865. He married his wife Edith Stratton in 1901, one year before buying the Stratton Bros. Level Co. from his father-in-law Edwin Stratton.

I couldn’t have picked a more interesting family to research. The Stetsons are an amazing family. George Jr. is the 7th generation descendant of Cornet Robert Stetson, who was born in England and came to this country in the early  1630’s . He had 7 sons and 2 daughters. The family still owns the original homestead in Massachusetts. Actually there is a corporation called the Stetson Kindred that owns it. They have done a phenomenal amount of family research and publishing. The Stetsons were a very influential family in American development. There is still Stetson University and the Stetson mansion in Florida. Didn’t one of them make hats?

I’ve often wondered about the owners of the various antique tools that have the their names stamped on them.  It was fun to actually learn  about  two of them and to find out one of them was the owner of a famous tool company. His father was a carpenter/joiner and they were both descendants of one of the first families going back to the Plymouth Colony.  I think I’ll contact the Stetson Kindred to see if any of them would be interested in their forefather’s plow plane.