Chambers, William, Sr. (fl. 1750s)
William Chambers, Sr. (fl. 1750s) was a pioneer carpenter in Orange County, N. C., and the probable builder of the First Orange County Courthouse in Corbinton (Hillsborough). This William Chambers, one of several colonial settlers with the same name, lived in the “lower section of Hyco,” that is, in what is now Person County, where he was appointed constable in July, 1754. He was not a member of the Quaker colony near Corbinton nor the one at Cane Creek where members of the Samuel Chambers family were interred. Like the Quaker leader Joseph Maddock, who contracted to build the first Orange County Jail, Chambers is one of the few builders identified for mid-18th century Hillsborough; their identities and the descriptions of their work are known through early county records.
The first entries in the Minutes of the Orange County Court of Please and Quarter Sessions indicate that William Chambers, Sr., of Hyco was a well-regarded and unusually competent man. His is one of the first names to appear on the first pages of the minutes, when he was recorded as foreman of the first Orange County Grand Jury impaneled and sitting at Col. John Gray’s house, Grayfields, on Sept. 9, 1752. At that first meeting, the county justices approved the following minimum specifications for a frame Orange County Courthouse to be built at Piney Ford near Haw River, by one of their body, Marmaduke Kimbrough. The justices document called for a “Courthouse—thirty-two feet long, twenty-two feet wide, eleven feet pitch, framed & weatherboarded with feather edge plank & shingled Roof & finish the inside work according to direction of the Commissioners afsd [aforesaid].”
When it was later determined to establish the county seat at Eno Ford on the Eno River, rather than on the Haw River, the specifications for the courthouse were evidently handed unaltered to the new undertaker, who may or may not have been William Chambers, Sr. The record does not identify the contractor for the courthouse nor any payment for its construction. The modest courthouse appears on C. J. Sauthier’s Plan of the Town of Hillsborough (1758).
The new “Courthouse in Corbinton” (Hillsborough), built on Lot 1, Court Square, was ready for the December, 1756 meeting of the county justices. They promptly called upon Chambers for alterations and additions: “Ordered, that Mr. William Chambers, Sen. do make a window over the Center of the Magistrates’ bench, a window in the west end of the upper room of the Courthouse, a Table and two forms [benches] for the Petit Jury and Conveniency’s [sic] for keeping the window shutters open and make his charge for the same to be paid by the Sheriff, &c.” From this record, it has been surmised that Chambers had built the original courthouse.
Further work was ordered to be done on the public buildings, but not by Chambers. This included in September, 1758, paying one Thomas Reid for mending the prison and making a closet under the courthouse stairs, and in September 1759, ordering four barrels of tar to be put on the courthouse to “protect it from the Inclemency of the Weather”—a common strategy for weatherproofing frame buildings. Meanwhile, William Chambers, Sr., had on December 12, 1758, gained permission to build a water grist mill on Marlow’s Creek in the Hyco area. Although none of his buildings are known to survive, Chambers is the first builder to have been recorded in the early settlement of Hillsborough and vicinity. As is often true, it is not certain whether as contractor, he actually accomplished the carpentry work himself or had workmen in his employ for the purpose.
Editor’s note: Even with additional resources made available on the Web since Mrs. Engstrom wrote this biographical essay, little is known of Chambers’s life. One genealogical website (https://www.geni.com/people/William-Chambers-II/6000000017613861724) describes a William Chambers II (1720/1728-1801) who may be this same William Chambers. This man was reportedly born in Halifax County, Va., to William and Judith Harrelson Chambers, married Elizabeth and had several children born in Pennsylvania, in Caswell, Orange, and Rowan counties in North Carolina and in Albemarle County, Va.; he died in Roxboro, Person County, N. C. Other genealogical websites give alternative information for a William Chambers with some similar life events. There are numerous men by this name in the same region and period.
- Mary Claire Engstrom Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Minutes of the Orange County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Orange County Records, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Contributors:William Chambers, Sr., builder (improvements)Dates:1756Location:Hillsborough, Orange CountyStreet Address:Lot 1, Hillsborough, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicNote:Chambers may have built the first courthouse, but that is not documented; he soon contracted to make requested improvements.