For the past 36 years I have devoted my career to the study and application of Traditional American Woodworking. I have focused on the technology of the early nineteenth century, the tools, materials and techniques of the woodworking trades. I chose that time period because I thought that it had been largely overlooked. Because of my location I focused on the state of the trade in the West. I gained some experience in the Mid-west and was familiar with the information available about Eastern woodworking, and chose pioneer and rural settlement influence rather than the metropolitan urban trends.
I have recently come to the conclusion that better than 50% of what I was looking at was a direct product of England. Yes, the Mother Country, the one that lost two wars to us, from whence many of us emigrated. Here in Utah in the 1850’s about 54% of the population was from Britain and brought traditions and tools with them.
The number of tools that I have from England is about 40%, 10% from elsewhere and half American in origin, with many of those from England. I am not playing down the significance of other emigrants and we are all emigrants except the autochthonous people. Sheffield Steel and tools made from it are among the finest in the world. Also the most prolific in production, the shear quantities drove down prices world wide.
Old World practices such as guilds, associations, societies, apprentices, etc were copied on this continent with adjustments to more resources and less labor. The direct opposite of European supply/population ratio. We were reliant on imports, we couldn’t make everything we needed. We even attempted to use the same language.
With established trade and a couple of disputes out of the way, England was the best game in town. Influences like Moxon, Hogarth, Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Nicholson, et al from publications and guides and printed tool and hardware catalogues of the period were felt on this side of the ocean, can not be denied.
Repressed during Colonial rule to repair work only, little was produced until free from those constraints. The end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century saw a burgeoning industry of tool manufacturing in America. But if you look at those tools, many are patterned after English examples. But American production could not keep up with American demand and imports were necessary.
Perhaps the situation here in Utah and the West is unique. Our pioneer and settlement period took place much later in North American History Settlement on the East coast began in the early 1600’s and that didn’t occur out here until 1847. California and Oregon were occupied with some settlement a bit earlier.
Prior to that the Hudson Bay Fur Company and other British enterprises were exploiting the rich fur trade of North America to satisfy European fashion demands. David Douglas a botanist for the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, spent years in the Pacific Northwest and the Douglas fir is named after him. The Spanish and French also claimed land in North America, which were later purchased or taken.
During the mid nineteenth century an enormous amount of money was spent on a Trans Atlantic Telegraph Cable from America to England. The first in 1857 failed, the one later in 1866 after the American Civil War worked. We were able to call home.
The introduction of steam technology, developed in England was employed in the woodworking trades and adapted to sailing ships. This reduced the crossing time from 4 to5 weeks under sail, under steam the time was cut in half. Steam power to mills and shops replaced water power which was seasonal and froze in the winter time.
Another unusual and perhaps singular distinction in Utah emigrants is that most of them had come directly to Utah Territory directly from their country of origin. Many of course were from the States, but the majority had only a brief passing through America and brought their customs, traditions, knowledge and tools with them. It is possible to determine the cultural origins of a piece of local furniture by its construction, especially dovetails. Danish, German and English styles are reflected in what they made.
Am I an Anglophile, well William Shepherd, my great great, great, great grandfather arrived on this continent from England in 1755, so maybe I am. And Moses Trader Shepherd, my great great grandfather was out here in the early 1850’s. Funny thing is, I own two reproduction American flags, the 13 star flag that flew during the American Revolution and the 15 star, 15 stripe flag that flew during the War of 1812.
We even used the Pound and Shilling as currency and British Gold and Silver was legal tender in America until 1857. And the English Foot is 12 inches long. I once had pickled English Walnuts, hulls, shell and meat, they were quite tasty but have not ever seen them again. And then there is English Marmalade (with bitter Seville oranges) on a toasted English Muffin, well, what can I say.
And while we have had our differences over the centuries, we have been reliant on each other in an economic relationship that has benefited both countries. And I would like to give credit for much of the woodworking done in America to its origins, influences and assistance from England.
So, smell the Roses, have a little ‘bubble and squeak’, raise a glass of single malt and God Save the Queen.