J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 01, 2018

“Captain Chambers has commenced a Suit in London”

In the early 1770s James Chambers criss-crossed the Atlantic between New York and London on the ship London. His name appeared regularly in the New York newspapers as shopkeepers announced they were selling the latest goods from Britain, as brought by Capt. Chambers.

During the tea crisis of 1773, Chambers promised the people of New York that he wouldn’t take on any cargo of tea for the East India Company. But in April 1774 he arrived with eighteen chests of tea that he had bought himself, hoping to sneak them past the city’s boycott.

That didn’t work, as I‘ve been relating. Chambers had to go into hiding for a couple of days before sailing back to London on another captain’s ship, along with 698 chests of rejected (but at least still intact) tea.

On 15 September, the Boston News-Letter carried this news item from New York:
We are informed, that Captain Chambers has commenced a Suit in London, for the recovery of the Damages he sustained in the destroying a quantity of Tea, which he some time ago brought to this Port.
That same month, the New-York Gazette carried a small advertisement for the sale of a schooner named Little-Peggy, ”James Chambers, Master,” as shown above.

The captain appears to have been cutting ties with New York. In 1776 and then again in 1778, Chambers wrote to the British government complaining about the destruction of his eighteen chests of tea and presumably seeking compensation.

The last news of Chambers that I found in New York newspapers made clear which side of the political conflict he had ended up on. He became a Loyalist. On 19 Oct 1778, the New-York Gazette reported:

Captain James Chambers, in a small Privateer belonging to the Island of Jamaica, has lately taken several valuable Prizes off Charlestown, South-Carolina: a large Brig was fitted out to take him, but he left the Station, and ’tis thought steered for New-Providence [in the Bahamas].
In contrast, Chambers’s trainee Thomas Truxton allied himself with the defiant Americans. In 1775, at age twenty, he commanded his own sloop trading with the West Indies, bringing in gunpowder. After the Royal Navy seized that ship off St. Kitts, Truxton made his way back to Philadelphia and signed aboard one of the Continental Congress’s first privateers. Eventually he would command the Continental Navy’s Independence and the U.S.S. Constellation.

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