Daniel Spencer, 1741 - 1801


shop joiner; cabinetmaker, chairmaker

Place of work

Providence, Rhode Island, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island

Place of birth

East Greenwich, Rhode Island

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Daniel Spencer's career as a furniture maker is documented by three sources. A desk and bookcase (RIF2912) has his signature on one of the interior drawers. He also is known to have made a mahogany clockcase for the Newport clockmaker Thomas Claggett, as well as two mahogany tables with fluted legs for the Providence merchant William Chace, both of which are discussed below.

Daniel Spencer is said to have been born October 8, 1741, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, the eldest son 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 house and shipwright, and Mary Tripp. His younger brotherThomas Spencer was also a shop joiner. His uncle, John Goddard, was the Newport cabinetmaker.

After her husband's death, Margaret Spencer sold real estate in East Greenwich in 1755 and probably moved back to Newport where she supported her children ranging in age from seventeen to three through shopkeeping. (2) Daniel would have been fourteen-years old at the time of the sale of the property in East Greenwich and may have started his apprenticeship at about that time, if not earlier. He probably trained in Newport as a shop joiner, possibly with, but certainly with the help of his uncle John Goddard. He would have come of age and completed his apprenticeship in 1762. He married Ann Easton of Newport on September 18, 1764.

When his mother died in 1765, Daniel was appointed her executor and advertised for claims against the estate in the Newport Mercury on October 21, 1765. (3) The estate proved to be insolvent and the following month his uncle John Goddard, described as a mariner, and Robert Taylor, tanner, were appointed commissioners to examine claims against the estate. (4) Daniel's other responsibilities in administering in mother's estate involved payment of twenty-five pounds on March 13, 1765, to Samuel Slocum for his mother's coffin. (5) He also filed two suits in the Newport County Court of Common Pleas in November 1767 to recover funds owed to the estate; in both those cases he was identified as a cabinetmaker of Newport. (6)

Evidence of his work as a furniture maker is found in the suit he brought against the Newport clockmaker Thomas Claggett for a mahogany case Spencer delivered on October 31, 1767, that cost three hundred pounds old tenor. (7) By 1771 he was identified as a joiner of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, when he was sued by William Robinson and Rebecca Taylor, administrators of the estate of Robert Taylor of Newport. (8) In November of that year Spencer's real estate in Newport was sold by the court to satisfy the debt; that Spencer rented that real estate while living in Dartmouth is provided by an advertisement in the Newport Mercury June 24, 1771, in which John Ewen, a staymaker from London, announced his removal to a new location from the house of Daniel Spencer. (9) That month Spencer was identified as a shop joiner of Dartmouth in a suit brought against him for money due by note. (10)

By 1778 Daniel Spencer had relocated to Providence, Rhode Island, as indicated by a notice of September 26 in the Providence Gazette stating that a large bay mare stolen from the widow Barker's in Tiverton could be delivered to Daniel Spencer of Providence. (11) The next year John Ewen, perhaps his former tenant in Newport, and Spencer appraised the estate of Jonathan Fairbanks in Providence. (12) Suits brought against him in the Providence Court of Common Pleas between 1780 and 1785 in which he is variously identified as a cabinetmaker or shop joiner, show that he continued to have difficulties meeting his financial obligations. Three of the plaintiffs were members of the woodworking community-the house joiner Josiah Snow, the cabinetmaker Robert Brattle, and the shop joiner Joseph Martin. (13)

The most interesting of the cases for evidence of his career as a furniture maker is the suit brought by William Chace, a Providence merchant, for whom Spencer had signed a note on January 8, 1784 to be repaid in "two good mahogany fower foot Tabels Fluted Leges Stuf and Workmanshipe to be good" to the value of nine pounds with the balance in cash. (14) In this same time period there were also a series of cases involving Daniel and his brother Thomas, a shop joiner of East Greenwich and later merchant in Albany, New York. (15) In 1785 Daniel was jailed for lack of estate to pay his debts. (16) Like other artisans he engaged in other activities, including horse hire, to earn a living. (17)

Administration of his estate was granted on April 6, 1801, in the Providence probate court. (18)


(1) Margaret Spencer was appointed to administer estate of Thomas Spencer, son of John, on April 27, 1753, and the inventory was taken on April 13, 1753. East Greenwich Probate, microfilm number 0926804, Family History Library, 2: 50–56. For Thomas Spencer's death see James N. Arnold, Vital Records of Rhode Island, 1638-1850, 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.)

(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, R. I.

(3) Newport Mercury October 21, 1765, p. 1, http://infoweb.newsbank.com; Newport Probate Administration Bonds 1762–1769, vol. 2, p. 153, microfilm no. 0942000, Family History Library.

(4) Newport Mercury, November 11, 1765, p. 3, http://infoweb.newsbank.com.

(5) Newport Town Council and Probate 1766–1768, vol. 15, p. 106, microfilm no. 0945000, Family History Library.

(6) Margaret Spencer's activities as a shopkeeper are documented by accounts submitted in evidence in suits brought by her son Daniel as administrator of her estate, see Newport Court of Common Pleas, vol. H, pp. 123–124, May 1768 term, cases 225 and 226, Rhode Island Judicial Archives, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

(7) Newport Court of Common Pleas, vol. H, p. 198, November 1768 term, case 29, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket.

(8) Newport Court of Common Pleas, vol. H, p. 691, May 1771 term, case 21, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket.

(9) Newport Court of Common Pleas, vol. I, p. 79, November 1771 term, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket. Newport Mercury, June 24, 1771, p. 4, http://infoweb.newsbank.com.

(10) Newport Court of Common Pleas, vol. I, p. 48, November 1771 term, case 178, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket.

(11) Providence Gazette, September 26, 1778, p. 3, http://infoweb.newsbank.com.

(12) Providence Probate, Books of Wills, vol. 6, p. 272, Providence City Hall, R.I.

(13) For Snow see Providence Court of Common Pleas, vol. 7, p. 266, June 1780 term, case 23; for Brattle see Providence Court of Common Pleas, vol. 7, p. 700, June 1785 te