Thomas Spencer, 1752 - 1840


Occupation

shop joiner

Place of work

East Greenwich, Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island, Albany, New York

Place of birth

East Greenwich, Rhode Island

Place of death

Athens, New York

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Biography

Thomas Spencer was born April 23, 1752, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, the youngest child of Thomas Spencer (1717–1753), a shipwright, yeoman, cordwainer, and at the time of his death in 1753 High Sheriff of Kent County, and his wife Margaret Goddard Spencer (1718–1765). (1) His paternal grandparents were John Spencer, a carpenter, and Mary Fry. His maternal grandparents were Daniel Goddard, a housewright and shipwright, and Mary Tripp. His older brother Daniel Spencer was also a shop joiner. His uncle, John Goddard, was the renowned Newport cabinetmaker.

Thomas Spencer's father died when he was only a year old. After his father's death, his mother sold real estate in East Greenwich in 1755 and moved back to Newport where she supported her children, through shopkeeping, selling dry goods and provisions, such as sugar and tea. (2) Her sons Daniel and Thomas were undoubtedly trained in Newport as shop joiners. Thomas's apprenticeship probably took place between 1765 when he would have been fourteen years of age and 1772 when he reached his majority. A year later describing him as a "shop joiner" records him in East Greenwich, the town of his birth, where he bought a small lot of land "where he now dwells." (3) There were six or so shop joiners living in East Greenwich at the time Thomas was trained whose work has yet to be identified. (4) Since Thomas was living in East Greenwich immediately following the completion of his apprenticeship, it is possible that his apprenticeship took place there. He made a mahogany desk and bookcase for Nathanael Greene in 1775 (RIF1447) and given the similarity of his desk and bookcase with the work of Newport cabinetmakers the likelihood that he trained in East Greenwich seems remote. Differences in construction techniques between Spencer's desk and bookcase and the work of his uncle, John Goddard, suggest that he did not train with his uncle. (5)

No other furniture by Thomas Spencer has been identified and that may be because his career as a furniture maker was short-lived. He was still in East Greenwich in 1776 when he married his first cousin Mary Stafford, but following the model of his mother he soon turned to shopkeeping and was identified as a retailer in Providence by 1783. (6) As was true for other Rhode Islanders, New York State offered the promise of greater economic opportunity. In July of 1783 Spencer, described as a merchant of Providence, signed an indenture to rent two lots of land in the town of Lansingburgh, a town on the east side of the Hudson and north of the city of Albany. (7) By 1786 he was described as a trader of Albany. (8) He advertised the location of his business in Albany as 3 Court Street, opposite the Dutch Church beginning in 1789 until 1794 when he announced that Thomas Spencer & Co. had a new location on his wharf at the lower end of State Street.(9) This move to a new location was preceded by his acquisition of a water lot on April 13, 1793.(10) On June 18, 1793 he signed an indenture to obtain seven lots in what was called the great pasture from the ministers and elder of the Dutch Church. (11) The last real estate transaction in Albany is on July 1, 1795 when he and his wife Mary sold of one of the lots from the great pasture purchase. (12) In the Albany Chronicle for October 9, 1797, he is described as merchant, late of this city, meaning Albany, in the notice of the death of his wife Mary in Bethlehem, a town just south of the city. He died in Athens, New York, in 1840. (13)

BWC and PEK


1. Margaret Spencer was appointed to administer estate of Thomas Spencer, son of John, on April 27, 1753, and the inventory was taken April 13, 1753. East Greenwich Probate, vol. 2, pp. 50–56, microfilm number 0926804, Family History Library. For the death of Thomas Spencer, Sr., see Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850, 2:116. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002), Originally Published as: Vital record of Rhode Island 1636–1850: First Series: births, marriages and deaths: a family register for the people, by James N. Arnold. Providence, RI: Narragansett Historical Publishing Company. For the birth of Thomas Spencer, Jr., see Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850, 1:69.

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2. The real estate of thirty square rods had a dwelling house, a barn, half a smoke house, and was sold on July 31, 1755, see East Greenwich Land Evidence, vol. 7, pp. 287–288, East Greenwich Town Hall, Rhode Island. Margaret Spencer's activities as a shopkeeper are documented by accounts submitted as evidence in the Newport Court of Common Pleas session of May 1768 in suits brought by her son Daniel as administrator of her estate, see vol. H, p. 123 and p. 124, cases 225 and 226, Rhode Island Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket.

3. Lot seven in the plat was forty-five feet by forty-feet on the county road, see East Greenwich Land Evidence, vol. 9, pp. 212–213, East Greenwich Town Hall, Rhode Island.

4. The following individuals worked as shop joiners in East Greenwich at the time Thomas Spencer would have been apprenticed: Benjamin Dexter (died 1774) shop joiner, East Greenwich (East Greenwich Probate, vol. 3, p. 167, East Greenwich Town Hall, Rhode Island ); Gideon Myers (w. 1772) shop joiner, East Greenwich (Washington County Court of Common Pleas Record Book, vol. H, p. 388, Rhode Island Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket); Comfort Searle (w. 1774), shop joiner, East Greenwich, of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, by 1783 (East Greenwich Land Evidence, vol. 9, pp. 289–290, 531–532, East Greenwich Town Hall, Rhode Island ); James Searle (w.1764–1777, d. 1778 or 1779), shop joiner, Providence and East Greenwich, Rhode Island, brother of Comfort (East Greenwich Land Evidence, vol. 9, pp. 370–371, East Greenwich Town Hall, Rhode Island; Providence County Court of Common Pleas Record Book, vol. 5, p. 291, Rhode Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket); and Caleb Weeden (w. 1763), shop joiner, East Greenwich (Washington County Court of Common Pleas Record Book, vol. F, p. 374, Rhode Island Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket).

5. Patricia E. Kane, "A Newly Discovered Rhode Island Cabinetmaker Thomas Spencer of East Greenwich," Antiques 177, no.3 (April/May 2010): 114–119, ill.

6. Daniel Spencer shop joiner and Thomas Spencer, retailer, both of Providence, sued John Lasells, of Providence, Providence Court of Common Pleas Record Book, vol. 7, p. 520, case 166, Rhode Island Judicial Archives, Pawtucket.

7. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 10, pp. 351–353, Albany County Hall of Records, New York.

8. Newport Mercury, December 28, 1786, p. 4.

9. Albany Gazette, August 6, 1789, p. 4; December 16, 1790, p. 3; June 21, 1790, p. 4; January 27, 1791, p. 1; New-York Daily Gazette, October 25, 1793, p. 3; Albany Register, January 13, 1794, p. 1; January 20, 1794, p. 4; February 3, 1794, p. 4; July 14, 1794, p. 3; November 10, 1794, p. 4; December 15, 1794, p. 1.

10. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 14, pp. 111–123, Albany County Hall of Records, New York.

11. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 16, pp. 177–178.

12. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 16, pp. 199–202.

13. Spencer's will was written January 14, 1835 and proved April 27, 1840, Greene County Wills, Vol. F, pp. 95–97, Vedder Research Library, Coxsackie, New York.