Notes on New England Edge Tool Makers, II

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This article previously appeared in The Gristmill, No. 89 December 1997


Notes on New England Edge Tool Makers, II

Oliver Sawyer (1794-1836), (O. Sawyer), Edge Tool Maker, Bolton, MA, ca. 1808-1836

Roger Smith

Sawyer Tombstone
Fig. 1. Oliver Sawyer’s headstone with tools carved at top.

Oliver Sawyer was born February 3,1784, the son of Calvin and Abigail Sawyer. Oliver’s first wife was Polly Whitcomb. They were married April 12, 1809. Their children were Horace, born Feb.22, 1811, Roxanna, baptized May 13, 1812, and Oliver, Jr., baptized December 13,1813. Sometime prior to 1821, Oliver’s first wife died. In that year, he married Azuba Whitcomb Holman, a widow, And sister of his first wife.

Oliver’s father, Calvin, and his older brother, Elijah, were both blacksmiths. However, information indicates Oliver probably learned the trade from his brother. Elijah purchased a house with a blacksmith shop in Bolton, MA, in 1797. Apparently, several generations of blacksmiths had worked and lived there prior to that. This tradition continued, because even after Oliver’s death in 1836, several more generations of blacksmiths used the shop.

In 1808, Oliver purchased the house and shop from his brother Elijah (perhaps in anticipation of his forthcoming marriage in 1809.) Oliver was 25 at this date and probably established as a blacksmith. An existing account page for Oliver indicates that his work was not always toolmaking. The large number of tools signed 0. SAWYER that are extant today would indicate the major emphasis of his work was toolmaking.

He was certainly proud of his profession, as indicated by the edge tools and hammer carved into his headstone (Fig. 1). His life was short-lived. He died on March 25,1836, at the age of 52. His second wife, Azuba, survived him by three years, dying on June 4,1839, at age 55. An estate inventory of his tools and equipment was taken on April 2,1836. (To be published in a future article.)

Most of the surviving tools known are hot-stamped, O.SAWYER. CAST STEEL (Fig. 2). A large strap hinge on an inside door of a home in the adjacent town of Berlin, MA, is stamped O.SAWYER. BOLTON, and the silage chopping block knife shown in Fig. 3, is stamped 0. SAWYER. CAST STEEL. BOLTON MASS.

Tool collectors and others traveling through Massachusetts usually use Route 495. If you are interested in viewing the Sawyer headstone, exit 495 N. onto Route 117 (exit 27), turn left and stop at the cemetery next to the entrance to Rt. 495N. The Sawyer headstone is the ninth from the left in the front row directly behind the stone wall. (Park in the small driveway at the left when facing the cemetery.) The Oliver Sawyer house was located right inside the arch created by Rt. 495 and the northbound exit ramp to Rt. 117. It was relocated a mile away, but is privately owned and not open to the public. The blacksmith’s shop is long gone.

The author would like to hear of other tools marked 0. SA WYER.

Shave and Hatchet Silage Knife
Fig. 2. Cooper’s curved drawknife with 9 3/8-inches long blade. Overall length is 15 3/4-inches. Stamped 0. SAWYER. CAST STEEL. Shingling hatchet with replaced hickory handle, 11 1/2-inches long blade 3 5/8-inches wide. Stamped 0. SAW- YER CAST STEEL on both sides. (Author’s collection.) Fig. 3. Silage chopping block knife with 21-inch long blade. Overall length is 46 inches. Stamped 0. SAWYER. CAST STEEL. BOLTON, MASS. (Author’s collection.)