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Biographical Profiles
Richard Chambers
By Natasha Jones

The Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia offered many challenges to settlers during the latter half of the seventeenth century. While good farming land was abundant and a rising tobacco trade made the cultivation of the land an economically prosperous endeavor, settlers faced the hazards of high mortality rates, conflicts with the indigenous people of the area, fluctuating demands for tobacco, and the local impact of political upheavals in England.

The wealthy had the best chances of success in the Chesapeake region of the eastern colonial frontier, able to acquire both land and the servants to work it through the headright system. These servants faced greater odds of finding prosperity, starting in servitude and often promised little more than clothing and a few items to help them get established once released from service. Yet some who came to the Eastern Shore as indentured servants overcame the odds and managed to learn trades, become property owners, and participate in the legal and civic affairs of their communities. Richard Chambers was one such person.



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Chambers' story began in October of 1665, when he met Henry Smith in the British port city of Bristol and agreed upon a four-year length of indentured servitude in Virginia. As part of the terms of indenture, the forward-thinking Chambers stipulated that that he be able to either work for himself on Saturdays or be paid five pounds sterling annually if the former condition could not be met.[1] He also received Smith's agreement that he would be given a bellows, anvil, and vice at the end of the duration of his service.[2] After these conditions had been agreed upon, Smith transported him to Virginia, claiming his headright and putting him to work at his home in Accomack County.[3]

With what originally appeared to be a good set of circumstances for his period of indenture and later independent settlement as a craftsman, Chambers must have experienced disappointment and regret upon becoming familiar with the temperament and behavior of his new master. Smith consistently treated his servants in a cruelly abusive and negligent manner, a habit that resulted in the death of at least one servant. Chambers and his servant peers were left to appeal to the Accomack County courts for humane treatment, testifying to Smith's abuses of both themselves and his own family members.[4]

Along with this general mistreatment and poor conditions, Smith offered further injury by declining to honor the initial terms of Chambers' indenture. Smith denied him the right to work for his own gain on Saturdays, refused to release him from service after the four-year period had expired, and withheld the blacksmith's tools.[5] In a display of determination to protect his future interests, Chambers turned to the legal system for aid. In all three cases the court ruled in his favor, going so far as to send the sheriff to seize the promised tools from Smith's keeping.[6]

When eventually threatened with imprisonment in Virginia, Smith diverted his assets to Maryland and relocated to Somerset County.[7] In a mysterious contradiction of the previous conditions and circumstances in Accomack County, Chambers accompanied Smith to Maryland, where the latter claimed the former's headright for a second time.[8] While the two continued to cross paths and contend with one another in the Somerset County courts until--and even after--Smith's death, the twenty-five-year-old Chambers was a free man in Maryland, able to pursue his own livelihood and success.[9]

Between the years of 1672 and 1723, Chambers bought and patented several land tracts in the Manokin region of Somerset County, establishing a plantation and eventually accumulating approximately 1,000 acres of land.[10] In May of 1676, he married Mary Ivory/Ivery, a woman who had been born in Accomack County and who had moved to Somerset County in 1663.[11] She died prior to the writing of Chambers' will in 1726, leaving his estate to be divided among his four remaining children and two grandchildren.[12] One of his daughters, Mary, married into the Brereton family and produced two heirs by 1726.[13] Another daughter, Olive, appears to have remained unmarried.[14] His only son, Richard Jr., was unsuccessful in establishing a family and producing heirs, leaving his estate to be divided among several cousins.[15]

While Chambers was recognized as a blacksmith and a planter, he was also involved in the legal and civic aspects of the Somerset County community.[16] He served as a juror and occasional foreman of a jury in several cases involving economic and criminal suits, acted as an appraiser for an inventory, administered the debts and goods of a deceased friend or community member, and took the role of attorney in the sale of a property for another.[17] He also served as an Overseer of the Roads for the Manokin Hundred district and received payment for participating in an expedition against the Nanticoke Indians in 1678.[18]

Chambers signed an address of loyalty to King William, Queen Mary, and the Protestant religion in 1689. He was also selected to serve as a vestryman for Somerset Parish when it was established under the terms of the Church of England's 1692 Act of Assembly. Along with serving as a vestryman and signing the loyalty address, he also acted as a juror in at least two cases involving moral crimes, making it clear that he saw value in participating in the religious concerns of the community.[19]

He lived to be approximately 84 years old, dying sometime before December of 1728.[20] The possessions he left behind did not reveal a household equipped with many luxuries, with most of the furniture, household items, and livestock in his estate being described by appraisers as "old."[21] Yet when taken as a whole, the items and experiences that he accumulated through the span of his life tell a story of overall success.

Chambers started as an indentured servant, surviving the abuse and exploitation of a notoriously cruel master and using the law to fight for his personal well-being and interests. After settling as a free man in Maryland, he managed to negotiate the economic, political, religious, and environmental challenges of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century life on the Eastern Shore to establish a family, acquire land holdings, and serve as an active member of the local community. Through these activities, he earned enough respect to permit his daughter to marry into a prominent family and established the means to provide foundations of security for his other children.

Yet of all of Chambers' properties and possessions, it is perhaps the humble anvil and blacksmith tools found in his home after his death that offer the most poignant and relevant commentary on his legacy. While they may not have been the same tools that the Accomack County sheriff had confiscated on his behalf almost sixty years prior to his death, they stand as symbolic reminders of his modest beginnings and personal determination, qualities that define and embody what we think of as the frontier spirit of the colonial Eastern Shore.





Footnotes:

1     Peter Wilson Coldham, The Bristol Registers of Servants Sent to Foreign Plantations 1654-1686 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1988), 214.
      Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 128, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).




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2     Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 107, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

3     Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 36b, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

4     Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 67-75, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      See also Reel #78, pp 80-88, 110-114,128-137.

5     Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 148-149, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 169, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      See also Reel #78, p 128.

6     Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 187, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

7     Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, Accomack County Courthouse, Accomack, Virginia (microfilm, Reel #78, 123-127, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

8     Somerset County Land Office, Patent Record, 1670-1673, 16, 40 (microfilm, SR7357, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

9     Atwood S. Barwick, trans., Archives of Maryland Online: Somerset County Judicial Records, 1671-1675 [database on-line] (Lakeville, CT: Maryland State Archives, 1999, accessed 24 February 2004); available from http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/; 86:51, 87:290, 86:63-64, 24:423-424.

10     Somerset County Land Office, Patent Record, 1679-1683, 24, 366 (microfilm, WK26-1, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Somerset County Land Office, Patent Record, 1679-1683, 24, 315 (microfilm, WK26-1, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Somerset County Land Office, Patent Record, 1682-1688, 25, 382 (microfilm, WK26-2, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Somerset County Land Office, Patent Record, 1682-1688, 25, 418 (microfilm, WK26-2, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Somerset County Land Office, Patent Record, 1724-1728, PL6, 197 (microfilm, SR7465, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Atwood S. Barwick, trans., Archives of Maryland Online: Somerset County Judicial Records, 1671-1675 [database on-line] (Lakeville, CT: Maryland State Archives, 1999, accessed 24 February 2004); available from http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/; 87:496.

11     Somerset County Land Records, 1649-1720, I.K.L., 33, Clerk of Court, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne, Maryland (microfilm, CR 50,078, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Somerset County Land Office, Patent Record, 1661-1664, 5, 210 (microfilm, SR7347, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

12     Richard Chambers, Maryland Prerogative Court Wills, 1726-1760, 19, 548 (microfilm, SR4413, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

13     Richard Chambers, Maryland Prerogative Court Wills, 1726-1760, 19, 548 (microfilm, SR4413, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

14     Rebecca F. Miller, Abstracts of Commissions and Affidavits: Judicial Records 1717-1767 (Princess Anne: Miller's Choice Genealogy, 1994), 6.

15     Richard Chambers [Jr.], Maryland Prerogative Court Wills, 1743-1744, 23, 343 (microfilm, SR4417, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

16     Atwood S. Barwick, trans., Archives of Maryland Online: Somerset County Judicial Records, 1692-1696 [database on-line] (Lakeville, CT: Maryland State Archives, 1999, accessed 24 February 2004); available from http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/; 535:66, 405:228
      Somerset County Land Records, 1706-1715, CD, 381, Clerk of Court, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne, Maryland (microfilm, CR 31,806, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

17     Atwood S. Barwick, trans., Archives of Maryland Online: Somerset County Judicial Records, 1692-1696 [database on-line] (Lakeville, CT: Maryland State Archives, 1999, accessed 24 February 2004); available from http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/; 87:106, 87:151-152, 87:448, 87:286, 87:412-413, 87:395, 89:48, 89:105, 535:66, 535:127, 405:158.
      Somerset County Land Records, 1722-1726, GH, 192, Clerk of Court, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne, Maryland (microfilm, CR 41,369, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).

18     Atwood S. Barwick, trans., Archives of Maryland Online: Somerset County Judicial Records, 1692-1696 [database on-line] (Lakeville, CT: Maryland State Archives, 1999, accessed 24 February 2004); available from http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/; 191:15, 7:100.

19     Henry C. Peden Jr., M.A., Colonial Maryland Soldiers and Sailors 1634-1734 (Westminster: Willow Bend Books, 2001), 61-62.
      Atwood S. Barwick, trans., Archives of Maryland Online: Somerset County Judicial Records, 1692-1696 [database on-line] (Lakeville, CT: Maryland State Archives, 1999, accessed 24 February 2004); available from http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/; 8:139-141, 23:22.
      Mary Klein, "Mission on the Manokin: 1681-1698" in Of Ancient and Apostolic Lineage: Somerset Parish 1692-1992, Alice Mae Beauchamp and others (Princess Anne: Arcadia Publications, 1999), 1-5.
      Clayton Torrence, Old Somerset on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1966), 150-155.
      Atwood S. Barwick, trans., Archives of Maryland Online: Somerset County Judicial Records, 1692-1696 [database on-line] (Lakeville, CT: Maryland State Archives, 1999, accessed 24 February 2004); available from http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/; 405:134, 191:39-42.

20     Rebecca F. Miller, Abstracts of Commissions and Affidavits: Judicial Records 1717-1767 (Princess Anne: Miller's Choice Genealogy, 1994), 6.
      Richard Chambers, Maryland Prerogative Court Inventories, 1729-1730, 15, 252-254 (microfilm, SR4333, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).
      Also see Accomack County Orders, 1666-1670, for depositions with ages.

21     Richard Chambers, Maryland Prerogative Court Inventories, 1729-1730, 15, 252-254 (microfilm, SR4333, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland).




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