Samuel and Amanda Chambers

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Elijah Abel

Samuel Davidson Chambers was born on 21 May 1831 in Pickens County, Alabama. He was the son of James Davidson and Hester Gillespie. His father was his owner. His mother was one of his father’s slaves. After his mother was sold, Samuel was sold to Maxfield Chambers a resident of Mississippi. He grew up in Noxubee County, Mississippi, as an orphan and was kept as a slave until the end of the Civil War.

Embracing the Restored Gospel

In 1844, at the age of 13, Samuel was baptized by Preston Thomas, a recent convert to the Latter-day Saint (LDS) faith, after listening to him preach. The baptism and confirmation were held at night and had to be kept a secret as Samuel was a slave. For a quarter of a century, he had no further contact with the Church nor any hope of ever uniting with the body of the Saints. Unable to read or write, and lacking anyone to encourage him in his faith, he retained his testimony through the Holy Spirit.

Free at Last

While still enslaved, he married. However, shortly after the birth of his son, Peter, his wife died. On 4 May 1858, he married Amanda Leggroan, a slave (the property of David Lagronne of Mississippi) who was born to Green and Hattie Leggroan in Noxumbra County, Mississippi, on 1 January 1844. Samuel and Amanda never had any children. With the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, Samuel and Amanda gained their freedom. He turned to shoemaking and then to sharecropping to support his family.

The Journey to Zion

Samuel remained steadfast in his faith and in 1866 for four years he and his family prepared to migrate to Zion. In 1870, without the support and encouragement of fellow Mormons, the 38-year-old freedman left Mississippi with 26-year-old Amanda and teenaged Peter. They were accompanied by Amanda’s brother Edward (Ned) Leggroan and his young family. Edward and his wife were in their mid-20’s and they had three children under the age of six.

Their means of transportation for part of the journey was a simple, ox-drawn wagon. They had high hopes for the future, all the while having concerns about being Black and what their plight would be in the strange new land. Samuel was certain of one thing, “I did not come to Utah to know the truth of the gospel, but I received it away back where the gospel found me.”

Life in the West

They arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 27 April 1870. At that time the territory had 83,336 non-Indian inhabitants including 118 African Americans. At first, the Chambers and Leggroan families settled in the First Ward area of the city. Edward found work as a stable hand, and Samuel labored at a sawmill in Big Cottonwood Canyon. By 1872, the families had settled in the Eighth Ward (the Millcreek area southeast of Salt Lake), along with a third black family headed by Frank Perkins. Here Samuel commenced his successful career as a Utah farmer and fruit grower. By World War I, they had acquired a 30-acre plot of land; they received wide recognition for the quality of their produce, especially their grapes and currants. Samuel was awarded first prize in several agricultural fairs. Amanda was recognized for her cooking abilities, especially the cakes and pies prepared for LDS social functions.

Samuel and Amanda also became involved in LDS activities. As members of the Eighth Ward they attended meetings regularly, tithed and donated in response to additional Church financial requests. Amanda was baptized and Samuel accepted rebaptism in 1875. Because of his race, Samuel was prohibited from holding the Priesthood. He was appointed an assistant Deacon of Eight Ward and Amanda served a Relief Society “deaconess.” The primary responsibility of Deacons was to care for the meeting houses, a job consisting primarily of custodial duties - washing windows, sweeping floors, dusting benches, making minor repairs, opening doors and windows as needed in summer, and caring for heat stoves in winter. Samuel found joy in doing these tasks often telling his brethren, “I have joy in cleaning up and whatever I am called to do.” When wards were asked to provide deacons to usher at the summer Salt Lake Tabernacle meetings in 1875, Samuel was the Eighth Ward’s sole volunteer.

Perhaps his greatest service was expressing his testimony concerning his religious beliefs. He once stated, “I have been 29 years in the Church, and have never been dissatisfied yet.” Another time he told the deacons, “I thank God I’ve a standing in the church and kingdom of God.” He also admonished the younger Deacons that “we are called to act in the kingdom of God; we should respond to every duty.”

Samuel gave this powerful testimony on 11 November 1873:

I know we are the people of God, we have been led to these peaceful valleys of the mountains, and we enjoy life and many other blessings. I don’t get tired of being with the Latter-day Saints, nor of being one of them. I’m glad that I ever took upon me the name of Christ. It is our privilege to call our families together, and we can sleep sweetly, and rise and thank God in the morning for his care through the night. It is good when we can go about our business, and return, and find all right. I’ve a good woman, and that is a great blessing. I thank God, for my soul burns with love for the many blessings I enjoy. I’ve been blest from youth up, although in bondage for 20 years after receiving the gospel, yet I kept the faith. I thank God that I ever gathered with the Saints. May the Lord bless us and help us to be faithful is my prayer.

On 5 September 1874, Patriarch John Smith pronounced patriarchal blessings upon the heads of Samuel and Amanda Chambers. In Samuel’s patriarchal blessing, he was promised that if he were faithful he would live a long life (he was then 43 and he lived another 55 years after the blessing), would prosper materially, and his name would be held in remembrance among the Saints.

Throughout his life, Samuel remained illiterate but Amanda utilized a Guffey speller to teach herself how to read and write. In 1924, as a testament to their Church family’s high regard for the Chambers, numerous Saints attended their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary and the event was described in the Deseret News. Their funerals were also well attended.

Amanda Chambers died in 1925 at the age of 85. Samuel Chambers passed away four years later in 1929 at the age of 98. They were buried in the Elysian Gardens cemetery in the Millcreek area.

References