Daniel Spencer, 1741–1796


shop joiner; cabinetmaker, chairmaker


Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island, Lexington, Kentucky

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Daniel Spencer is said to have been born October 8, 1741, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and was the eldest son of Thomas Spencer (1717–1753), a shipwright 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 herself and her children 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 his uncle John Goddard. He would have completed his apprenticeship about 1762. He married Ann Easton of Newport on September 18, 1764.

Daniel was appointed executor of his mother’s estate in 1765. (3) The estate proved to be insolvent and his uncle John Goddard, described as a mariner, and Robert Taylor, tanner, were appointed commissioners to examine claims against the estate. (4) On March 13, 1765 Daniel paid twenty-five pounds, 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; Spencer rented that real estate while living in Dartmouth; in the Newport Mercury June 24, 1771, 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)

In an advertisement dated December 30, 1772, Daniel Spencer announced he had opened a cabinet and chair making business in Providence. (11) 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. (12)

Further evidence of his career 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. (13) 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. (14) In 1785 Daniel was jailed for lack of estate to pay his debts. (15) Like other artisans he engaged in other activities, including horse hire, to earn a living. (16)

Spencer worked as a cabinetmaker in Lexington, Kentucky, in the early 1790s and died there in 1796. (17) Administration of his estate in Providence was granted on April 6, 1801. (18)


(1) Administration of the estate of Thomas Spencer, 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) 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 and Country Journal, January 1, 1773, p. 3. The author thanks Mark Tracy for bringing this notice to my attention.

(12) 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 term, case 183; for Martin see Providence Court of Common Pleas, vol. 7, p. 438, December 1782 term, case 95; for the other case see Providence Court of Common Pleas, vol. 7, p. 641, December 1784 term, case 122, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket.

(13) Providence Court of Common Pleas, vol. 7, p. 644, December 1784 term, case 149, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket.

(14) Providence Court of Common Pleas, vol. 7, p. 520, December 1783 term, case 166; Newport Court of Common Pleas, vol. J, pp. 189, 202, 281, May 1785 term, cases 196, 279, 281, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket.

(15) Newport Court of Common Pleas, session of June 1785, vol. J, p. 213, Rhode Island Judicial Record Center, Pawtucket.

(16) The State of Rhode Island paid him for horse hire, see Treasurer's Receipts, October 1784, Rhode Island State Archives, Providence.

(17) The author thanks Tara Chicirda for information on Spencer’s Kentucky career.

(18) Providence Book of Wills, vol. 8, pp. 485, 486; docket A3559, City Hall, Providence, R. I.