Benjamin F. Chamberlain, Randolph, NY Abolitionist, Judge

This information is from:  Note from Sue M. Cross, Town of Mansfield Historian. Chamberlain is another of the men that helped to free the wife and son of run away slave Joseph (Jo) Norton whose tale is told in Eber Pettit's Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad, ed. Willard McKinstry, Fredonia, Ny 1879. William Pitt Angel from Ellicottville, NY was another whose signature was on the letter to Hon. E. T. Foote that is discussed below. 

 By Douglas H. Shepard

This location is Private property.

Benjamin Chamberlain, Jr. (1791-1868) was most likely the person who appeared twice in the Anti-Slavery Collection of the Foote papers, even though Chamberlain was a lifelong Democrat. He was one of five men signing a letter of 6 February 1845 from Ellicottville addressed to Hon. E. T. Foote, proposing to raise $100 toward the purchase of freedom for a woman and her son, who were held in slavery in Washington, D.C. Then, Foote’s response of 8 February 1845 was addressed to those five men, including Chamberlain.

He was born on 31 July 1791 in Mount Vernon ME to Benjamin Chamberlain and Tryphena Tibbetts (Kinney) Chamberlain. By 1801 they had moved to Belfast NY. In March 1807, Benjamin Chamberlain, Jr. made his way to Hamilton, now Olean NY, where he began working at the saw mill of Major Adam Hoops and did other lumbering jobs for some five years.

Chamberlain then began working on his own, putting up a saw mill in Great Valley. Soon after, it burned and he had to rebuild. In 1819 he married Lucy Hooker. After Cattaraugus County was organized, Chamberlain was appointed and later elected as sheriff, serving from 1820 to 1828. He was appointed First Judge in Cattaraugus County, serving from 1833 through 1841. He later became President of the Cuba Bank. He was an important contributor to the establishment of the Randolph Academy, later known as the Chamberlain Institute.

Chamberlain was a member of the Democratic Party, and as an elector in the presidential election of 1852, he voted for the anti-abolitionist candidate Franklin Pierce. However, in the memoirs of Eber M. Pettit, a well- known Underground Railroad (UGRR) conductor and stationmaster, Pettit said about some Democrats, “There are now living … several men who were active agents on the UGRR, and voted the Democratic ticket up to 1860, and others who will believe themselves Democrats and dyed in the wool, but had been converted from five to twenty years earlier just by the simple process of ‘taking stock’ in this institution.”

Chamberlain and his family had settled in Randolph by the time of the 1850 census and his house may be seen on the 1856 Map of Cattaraugus County in Lot 7 of the Town of Randolph. He died in Ellicottville on 18 February 1868.

Source: the Foote papers

More information 

Benjamin F. Chamberlain was born in the state of Maine in the Town of Mount Vernon on July 31, 1791. His family move  to Allegany County in New York when he was 10 years old. In  March 1801 Benjamin left home at the age of 16 barefoot and with only the clothing he was wearing.  He went to Olean looking for employment. He first  found work with Major Hoops. He was employed in saw-mills and lumbering for five years.  With determination and his small savings he set off to work for himself.  He set up a saw-mill in Great Valley where he carried on a successful business all his lifetime.  Rebuiling the mill after a devastating fire that destroyed the mill as well as a huge amount of sawed lamber, he lost all he had.  He was left without a dollar and somewhat in debt. He was determined to go on with the  encouragement of his faithful companion.  Securing a  loan and rebuilding, his buisness from that time prospered.  He engaged mostly in lumbering on the Allegany River. Chamberlain was not merely an overseer in the business, but used an axe and oar.  During the early years of his business he worked as long and hard as any laborer. His wife was very much involved in the operation. While he was at market with lumber she managed things even hiring help as needed.  Chamberlain had various business interest besides lumbering and farming. He dealt in mercantile, lands, and banking. He was president and the principal stockholder of the Cuba (NY) Bank.   Involved with the political history of Cattaraugus County, he held the office of sheriff for various years. He served as a Judge of the Court of Commom Pleas of Cattaraugus County.  In 1852 he served as a member of the Electoral College of the State of New York. 

Chamberlain for many years resided in an elegant home in East Randolph.  He had a great interest in schools in the county and gave liberal contributions to the Randolph Acadamy and Allegany College.  In recognition of his benevoence the name of the Academy was changed,by act of the Legislature, to that of the "Chamberlain Institution".

Judge Benjamin F. Chamberlain died in Ellicottville February 10, 1868.

this information is found in the History of Cattaraugus County, 1879, edited by L.H. Everts


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