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Primary Source of the Month
Frederick Douglass was trained as a caulker, and he often worked in that capacity during his enslavement in Maryland. He was thwarted by racism when he attempted to find work as a caulker in New Bedford, Mass., after he escaped from slavery in 1838. This caulker's tool chest is similar to the one Frederick Douglass may have used. A caulker's job was to use waterproof materials to stop up the cracks between the planks of boats so they didn't leak. This involved, among other tasks, filling the cracks with oakum (untwisted strands of old ropes) and sealing planks with tar.
This caulker's tool chest belonged to Wesley Mac Peters, Jr., who worked in Colonna's Boat Yard, Western Branch, Port of Norfolk, VA. The tool chest is made out of low grade camphor wood planks. The interior is unfinished wood. There are two trays that sit in the top of the chest to hold smaller hand tools. The chest contains eighteen caulking irons, two drill bits, five chisels, three leather thimbles, three thumb stalls, five mallet heads, two mallet handles, tape measure, scraper, metal rod, and a collapsible stool (consisting of a canvas piece stretched on two pieces of wood and two sets of wooden legs which fold up), for a total of forty-three pieces.