Variations of the plug and feather method have been used since ancient Egyptian times. With this simple mechanical technique, the stone was first measured and marked. Bronze plugs and feathers were then hammered into the cavities previously dug with a chisel and mallet. This was the most common method used by the Egyptians to extract limestone and sandstone. Evidence of this method for cutting the obelisk in Aswan among the quarries is clearly visible.  The technique was also used by the Romans. 
On Dartmoor, Devon, England, the process known as feather and tare was used around 1800 to carve up large blocks of granite found on the ground.  For example, it was used to make the tracks for the Haytor Granite Tramway in 1820.
In New England, the plug and feather technique was first mentioned in The New-England Farmer; Or, the Georgical Dictionary (1790) by Samuel Deane.
Deane wrote: "… another method of breaking rock that is usually known and sometimes less expensive is this: Drill two holes in a stone that visibly changes with the grain. Then fill each hole with two semi-cylindrical pieces of iron and insert a long steel wedge between them. This will split the stone open and often yield very neatly shaped pieces for construction.” (pages 268-269)  In 1803,
Governor Robbins was a member of a committee tasked with building a new state prison in Massachusetts. During a fortuitous encounter later that year, Robbins contacted Mr. Tarbox, who used a modified version of the plug and feather method described by Deane. Rather than using just two holes, the Tarbox drilled as many holes as needed, spacing them six to eight inches (15–20 cm). Robbins hired Tarbox to teach his technique to quarries in Quincy, Massachusetts. Within a year, the price of the stone removed from the quarry fell by half. The method spread quickly and became the basis for the modern plug and feather method, which is still used today.