Thomas Spencer, 1752–1840


shop joiner


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

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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, possibly with his brother Daniel since their drawer marking systems were similar. A year later describing him as a "shop joiner" a deed records him in East Greenwich, the town of his birth, where he bought a small lot of land "where he now dwells."(3) He made a mahogany desk and bookcase for Nathanael Greene in 1775 (RIF1447) (4)

Spencer 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.(5) 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.(6) By 1786 he was described as a trader of Albany.(7) 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.(8) This move to a new location was preceded by his acquisition of a water lot on April 13, 1793.(9) 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.(10) The last real estate transaction in Albany is on July 1, 1795, when he and his wife Mary sold off one of the lots from the great pasture purchase.(11) 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.(12)

Benjamin W. Colman and Patricia E. Kane

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, Salt Lake City. For the death of Thomas Spencer, Sr., see Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850, 2:116. (Online database:, 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, R.I.: Narragansett Historical Publishing Company. For the birth of Thomas Spencer, Jr., see Rhode Island Vital Records, 1636–1850, 1:69.

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. Margaret Spencer's activities as a shopkeeper are documented by accounts submitted as evidence in the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, 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, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.

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, R.I.

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

5. Daniel Spencer shop joiner and Thomas Spencer, retailer, both of Providence, sued John Lasells, of Providence, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Providence County, Record Book, vol. 7, p. 520, case 166, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.

6. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 10, pp. 351–353, Albany County Hall of Records, N.Y.

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

8. 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.

9. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 14, pp. 111–123, Albany County Hall of Records, N.Y.

10. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 16, pp. 177–178, Albany County Hall of Records, N.Y.

11. Albany Book of Deeds, vol. 16, pp. 199–202, Albany County Hall of Records, N.Y.

12.Spe ncer's will was written January 14, 1835 and proved April 27, 1840, Greene County Wills, Vol. F, pp. 95–97, Vedder Research Library, Coxsackie, N.Y.