The Historic Stevens Family of Portland, Maine

Captain Isaac Sawyer Stevens (1748-1820) served in the Revolutionary War and is my ancestor. Isaac married Sarah Brackett (1749-1830) in 1769 and the family lived for many years in a home Isaac built in Portland, Maine.

Looking into the Stevens family, I learned that Isaac’s son Zachariah Stevens (1778-1856) was a prominent tinsmith in the Portland area. Intrigued, I decided to research him in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, using his name and the keyword “tinware.”

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for Zachariah Stevens and "tinware"
Source: GenealogyBank

This search brought up several newspaper articles about the history of tinsmithing, and particularly Zachariah’s role in American tinware.

An article about Zachariah Stevens and tinware, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 August 1968
Source: GenealogyBank, Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 August 1968, page 116

According to this Boston Herald newspaper article:

“Zachariah Stevens opened one of the first tin shops in 1789 [correction: 1798] in Stevens Plains, near Portland, Maine. Stevens and Pattison’s peddlars covered great distances, sometimes reaching as far north as Canada and as far west as Detroit in the May through November months and as far south as Louisiana and Missouri during winter and early spring.”

After a quick search on the Internet I found this image of one of his pieces at the American Museum of Folk Art.

Photo: tinplate trunk, by Zachariah Brackett Stevens, c. 1815–1835
Photo: tinplate trunk, by Zachariah Brackett Stevens, c. 1815–1835. Source: American Museum of Folk Art. http://collection.folkartmuseum.org/view/objects/asitem/items@:4635

The next newspaper article I found in GenealogyBank, by the Dallas Morning News, discussed Zachariah’s specific role in the development of American tinware styles: he created the first American-made tole. (Merriam-Webster defines tole as: “sheet metal and especially tinplate for use in domestic and ornamental wares in which it is usually japanned or painted and often elaborately decorated.”)

An article about Zachariah Stevens and tinware, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 14 December 1959
Source: GenealogyBank, Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 14 December 1959, page 8

This article also gave me another interesting piece of information about Zachariah: he trained to be a tinsmith “under Paul Revere.”

According to a third newspaper article, by the Boston Herald, Zachariah’s work is recognizable by its specific style:

“Sometimes the work of this plant can be distinguished because of the predominant use of off-white paints either for backgrounds or as parts of the decorations themselves.”

An article about Zachariah Stevens and tinware, Boston Herald newspaper article 27 June 1971
Source: GenealogyBank, Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 27 June 1971, page 50

Genealogy Tip: I was originally searching to learn more about my ancestor Isaac Sawyer Stevens, but after finding an interesting bit of information about his son Zachariah, decided to pursue that thread. Keep digging in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and find the long-lost stories of your family’s history.

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