John Chambers, the second governor of Iowa territory, was born October 6, 1780, at Bromley Bridge, Somerset county, New Jersey. His father, Rowland Chambers, was born in Pennsylvania, of Irish parentage. According to a tradition in the family, their remote ancestors were Scotch, and belonged to the clan Cameron. Having refused to join the rebellion of 1645, they migrated to Ireland, where, by an act of parliament, on their own petition, they took the name of Chambers.
Rowland Chambers espoused with enthusiasm the cause of American independence, and was commissioned a colonel of New Jersey militia. At the close of the war, reduced in circumstances, he immigrated to Kentucky, and settled in Washington, then the county seat of Mason county. John Chambers, the youngest of seven children, was then fourteen years old. A few days after the family settled in their new home, be found employment in a dry goods store, and the following spring was sent to Transylvania seminary, at Lexington, Kentucky, where he remained for less than a year, and returned to his home.
In the fall of 1797, Mr. Chambers became deputy to Francis Taylor, Esq., clerk of the district court. The duties of his office being light, he devoted himself to the study of law. In Nov., 1800, Mr. Chambers was licensed to practice law.
In 1803, having now entered upon a career of uninterrupted professional prosperity, he was married to Miss Margaret Taylor of Hagerstown, Md., a sister of the gentleman in whose office he studied law. She lived but about three years, and in 1807, he married Miss Hannah Taylor, the sister of his first wife.
In 1842, Mr. Chambers was chosen to represent his county in the legislature, and would have been returned at the next session but declined. The war with Great Britain had begun, and Gen. Wm. Henry Harrison, then governor of Indiana, was invited to take command of her troops, then being organized to defend Ohio from the forays of the British, aided by their savage allies. After the defeat of Winchester, Gov. Shelby offered Mr. Chambers a place on his staff, which he was compelled to decline, having previously promised Gen. Harrison to accept a position on his staff. Being summoned by the general to the front, he joined him about the first of September, at Camp Seneca, on Sandusky river, and was announced as aid-de-camp to the Commander-in-chief, with the rank of major. He remained with Gen. Harrison until the close of the campaign, rendering efficient service.
In 1815, Mr. Chambers was again elected to represent his county in the state legislature (lower house). He did not enter political life again until 1828, when he served out the unexpired term of Gov. Metcalfe in congress, but refused to be a candidate for reelection. From 1830 to 1832, he was again called to serve in the state legislature. In 1832, he was offered a seat on the bench of the supreme court of Kentucky, but declined it. Again, in 1835, he was nominated by the governor to the senate for the same office, and confirmed, but was obliged to resign before he had taken his seat, because of his health.
In 1832, he had suffered the loss of his wife. She was a lady of cultivated mind and elegant manners, and had made his house a happy and attractive home.
In 1835, he was again elected to represent his district in congress. He was reelected in 1837, and served until the close of the 25th congress, in March, 1839. It is a sufficient compliment to his ability and industry as a legislator to say that he succeeded the Hon. Elisha Whittlesey, so long and favorably known in that position, as chairman of the committee on claims, one of the most laborious and responsible positions in the national legislature.
Between 1815 and 1828, Mr. Chambers held, for several years, the office of commonwealth's attorney for the judicial district in which he lived. He was, during that period, at the zenith of his reputation as a lawyer and advocate. He met the giants of the Kentucky bar in important civil and criminal trials, and his efforts were attended with great success. Mr. Chambers closed his congressional career in 1839, with the purpose of resuming the practice of law, but at the earnest request of Gen. Harrison, he accompanied him throughout that memorable canvass during the presidential campaign of 1840, and presented the claims of his old commander. He afterward accompanied the president elect to Washington, and temporarily performed the duties of his private secretary.
While in Washington, Mr. Chambers was urged by President Harrison to accept some office requiring his residence there. This he declined, but afterwards accepted the appointment of governor of Iowa. On the 13th of May, 1841, he entered upon the duties of his office. His success in his administration of the affairs of the territory was well attested by the approbation of the people, and by the hearty commendation of those in authority in Washington, especially for his management of Indian affairs. In 1844, his term of office having expired, he was reappointed by President Tyler, but was removed in 1845, by President Polk, for party reasons.
Gov. Chambers' infirm health forbade his engaging in any regular employment after his return to Kentucky. His latter years were spent mostly with his children, whose affection and respect were the chief conditions of his happiness. During a visit to his daughters, in Paris, Ky., he was taken sick at the house of his son-in-law, C. S. Brent, Esq., and, after a few weeks, breathed his last on the 21st day of Sept, 1852, in his seventy-second year.
(An Illustrated History of the State of Iowa, 1876)
Submitted By: Cathy Danielson
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