Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Spencer, Asa
SPENCER, Asa, soldier, b. in Salisbury, Conn., in September, 1747; d. in Fort Covington, N. Y., in 1828. The first ancestor of the Spencer family, William, came from England to Cambridge, Mass., in 1631, and again in 1633 with his brothers, Thomas and Jared. William and Thomas were among the first settlers of Hartford, Conn., the former being a landed proprietor, a select-man of the town, and a deputy of the general court of Connecticut in 1639. He prepared the first revisal of the laws of that colony, and died in Hartford in 1640. His descendant in the fifth generation, Asa, served throughout the war of the Revolution, and was under Gen. Anthony Wayne at the storming of Stony Point. He early espoused the principles of Democracy under Thomas Jefferson.—His son, James Bradley, soldier, b. in Salisbury, Conn., 26 April, 1781; d. in Fort Covington, N. Y., 26 March, 1848, was an early settler of Franklin county, N. Y., raised a company for the war of 1812, and served as captain in the 29th U. S. infantry at Plattsburg. Subsequently he was county judge and surrogate, and held other local offices in Fort Covington, served in the legislature in 1831-'2, and was elected to congress as a Democrat, serving from 4 Sept., 1837, till 3 March, 1839.—Another son, Abner Peck, settled with his father and brother at Fort Covington, was captain in the 29th U. S. infantry in 1812, and, remaining in the army, was appointed military governor of Arkansas.—James Bradley's son, James Clark, jurist, b. in Fort Covington, Franklin co., N. Y., 29 May, 1826, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1848, and practised in his native town and in Ogdensburg until 1865, serving as U. S. district attorney for four years. He then removed to New York and entered into partnership with Charles A. Rapallo. From 1869 till 1872 he was a judge of the superior court of New York, afterward practising law until 1883, when he was appointed an aqueduct commissioner.—William's descendant in the fifth generation, Ambrose, jurist, b. in Salisbury, Conn., 13 Dec., 1765; d. in Lynns, N. Y., 13 March, 1848, was educated at Yale and Harvard, where he was graduated in 1783. He studied law under John Canfield, of Sharon, Conn., and settled in Hudson, N. Y., where he was appointed city clerk in 1786. He was elected to the assembly in 1793 and in 1795 to the state senate, serving until 1798, when he was re-elected for four years. He was the author of a bill, which became a law, to abolish capital punishment in all cases except those of treason and murder, substituting imprisonment and hard labor. He also secured the erection of a state prison near New York city. In 1796 he was appointed assistant attorney-general of Columbia and Rensselaer counties, and in 1802-'4 he was attorney-general of the state. In 1804 he became a justice of the supreme court, of which he was chief justice from 1819 till 1823. In 1808 he was chosen by the legislature, with Peter J. Munro, to prepare and report such reforms in the chancery system of the state as they should deem expedient. Judge Spencer possessed energy, resolution, and high legal attainments, and was a master of equity jurisprudence. He served as a presidential elector in 1809. He was the warm friend of De Witt Clinton, but separated from him on the question of the war of 1812, and in that year was active in the struggle to prevent the charter of the six-million bank. He was a member of the State constitutional convention of 1821. After he resumed the practice of law in Albany he held various local offices, and was mayor of that city in 1824-'6. He was then elected to congress, serving from 7 Dec., 1829, till 3 March, 1831, and during his term united with William Wirt and other philanthropists in endeavoring to arrest the injustice of the government toward the Cherokees. In 1839 he removed to Lyons, N. Y., where he engaged in agriculture. He was president of the Whig national convention in Baltimore in 1844. The University of Pennsylvania gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1819 and Harvard the same in 1821. His last public act was to address a letter to his fellow-citizens in opposition to a proposed amendment to the constitution providing for an elective judiciary with brief terms of office. His decisions are contained in the “New York Supreme Court Reports. 1799-1803,” edited by William Johnson (3 vols., New York, 1808-'12), and “New York Chancery Reports” (1814-'23). See “Memorial” of Ambrose Spencer (Albany, 1849).—His son, John Canfield, lawyer, b. in Hudson, N. Y., 8 Jan., 1788; d. in Albany. N. Y., 18 May, 1855, was graduated at Union college in 1806, and in 1807 became private secretary to Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins. He was admitted to the bar at Canandaigua in 1809, became master in chancery in 1811, judge-advocate-general in the army on the northern frontier in 1813, postmaster of Canandaigua in 1814, and assistant attorney-general for western New York in 1815. In that year he was also made district attorney. He was then elected to congress as a Democrat, serving from 1 Dec., 1817, till 3 March, 1819, and during his term was one of a committee to examine the affairs of the U. S. bank, and drew up its report. Fifteen years afterward, when Gen. Andrew Jackson was using this report against the bank, Mr. Spencer was found among its friends. In 1820-'1 he was a member of the state house of representatives, serving in the first year as speaker, and in 1824-'8 he was a member of the state senate, being a leader of the Clinton faction. In 1827 he was appointed by Gov. De Witt Clinton one of the board to revise the statutes of New York, and took an important part in that task. Joining the anti-Masonic party, he was appointed special attorney-general to prosecute those that were connected with the abduction of William Morgan, but resigned in May, 1830, having involved himself in a controversy with Gov. Enos T. Throop. In 1832 he was elected to the legislature, and in 1839-'40 he was secretary of state and superintendent of common schools. He was appointed U. S. secretary of war on 12 Oct., 1841, and on 3 March, 1843, was transferred to the treasury department, but, opposing the annexation of Texas, resigned on 2 May, 1844, and resumed the practice of law. He served on many state commissions and aided in the organization of the State asylum for idiots. In 1840 he was made a regent of Union college, which gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1849. He published an edition of Henry Reeve's translation of De Tocqueville's “Democracy in America,” contributing a preface and notes (2 vols., New York, 1838), and also, with John Duer and Benjamin F. Butler, a “Revision of the Statutes of New York” (3 vols., Albany, 1846). See “Review of John C. Spencer's Legal and Political Career,” by Lucien B. Proctor (New York, 1886).—Another son of Ambrose, William Ambrose, naval officer, b. in New York in 1793; d. in New York city, 3 March, 1854, was appointed midshipman in the U. S. navy, 15 Nov., 1809, became lieutenant on 9 Dec., 1814, commander on 3 March, 1813, and captain, 22 Jan., 1841, and resigned on 9 Dec., 1843. He was acting lieutenant in Com. Thomas Macdonough's victory on Lake Champlain, 11 Sept., 1814.—Another son of Ambrose, Theodore, clergyman, b. in Hudson, N. Y., 24 April, 1800: d. in Utica, N. Y., 14 June, 1870. He entered the U. S. military academy, but left it to study law, and, beginning to practise in Auburn, N. Y., became district attorney for Cayuga county. Afterward he studied theology, was pastor of the 2d Congregational church in Rome, and preached also in Utica. Retiring from active work, owing to impaired health, he was made secretary of the American home missionary society for central and northern New York. He was the author of “Conversion, its Theory and Process Practically Delineated” (New York, 1854), and other theological works.—Thomas's descendant in the sixth generation, Ichabod Smith, clergyman, b. in Rupert, Vt., 23 Feb., 1798; d. in Brooklyn, N. Y., 23 Nov., 1854, was graduated at Union in 1822 and was principal of the grammar-school in Schenectady, N. Y., until 1825, and of an academy in Canandaigua, N. Y., until 1828. After studying theology he was licensed by the presbytery of Geneva in 1826, and on 11 Sept., 1828, was appointed colleague pastor, with the Rev. Solomon Williams, of the Congregational church in Northampton, Mass., remaining until 1832. He then became pastor of the 2d Presbyterian church of Brooklyn, N. Y., which charge he held until his death. From 1836 till 1840 he was professor extraordinary of biblical history in Union theological seminary, New York, of which institution he was a founder. In 1830 he was offered the presidency of the University of Alabama and in 1832 that of Hamilton. The latter college gave him the degree of D.D. in 1841. His best-known publication is his “Pastor's Sketches,” which passed through many editions, and was republished in England and France (2 series, New York, 1850-'3). After his death appeared “Sermons,” with a memoir by the Rev. James M. Sherwood (2 vols., 1855); “Sacramental Discourses” (1861); and “Evidences of Divine Revelation” (1865).—Jared's descendant in the fourth generation, Joseph, soldier, b. in East Haddam, Conn., in 1714; d. there, 13 Jan., 1789, joined the northern army in 1758, and was major in the 3d Connecticut regiment under Col. Nathaniel Whiting. He served as lieutenant-colonel in the two following campaigns, rose to the rank of colonel, and was one of the eight brigadier-generals appointed by congress at the instance of Gen. Washington on 22 June, 1775. Taking offence when Gen. Israel Putnam, a younger officer, was appointed over him, he was about to retire from the army, but, deciding to remain, served near Boston until its evacuation, and then marched with his division to the defence of New York. On 9 Aug., 1776, he was appointed major-general, and opposed the evacuation of New York. Gen. Spencer was ordered in 1778 to take command at Rhode Island, which was surrounded by Admiral Sir Peter Parker. The British army having taken possession of Newport, Gen. Spencer assembled a large force at Providence, but the enterprise proved a failure, and, after remaining in the vicinity for several weeks, the militia was dismissed. Gen. Spencer was censured for the failure of this expedition, but a court of inquiry attributed the result to forces beyond his control. He resigned on 14 June, 1778, in consequence of an order of congress to inquire into the reasons for his failure, and afterward appeared but little in public life.—His brother, Elihu, clergyman, b. in East Haddam, Conn., 12 Feb., 1721; d. in Trenton, N. J., 27 Dec., 1784, was graduated at Yale in 1746, and, with a view to becoming a missionary to the Indians of the Six Nations, studied their dialect and prepared himself for this office under the Rev. John Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards, accompanying the latter to the Indian conference in Albany in 1748. He was ordained on 14 Sept., 1748, and, after laboring in western New York, was appointed pastor of the Presbyterian church in Elizabeth, N. J., in 1750, holding this charge until 1756, when he was called to the Presbyterian church of Jamaica, L. I. About 1758 he was appointed by Gov. James De Lancey chaplain of the New York troops that were forming for service in the French war, after which he labored in the contiguous congregations of Shrewsbury, Middletown Point, Shark River, and Amboy, N. J. In 1764 he was sent by the synod of New York and Philadelphia with the Rev. Alexander McWhorter on a mission to organize the irregular congregations of North Carolina, which district they again visited in 1775 at the request of the Provincial congress of that colony. As he had contributed to the cause of independence, the Tories were embittered toward him, and on one occasion burned books and papers of his that had fallen into their possession. From 1769 until his death he was pastor of the Presbyterian church in Trenton, N. J. He was frequently called “Readymoney Spencer,” from his facility in extempore address. From 1752 until his death he was a guardian of Princeton college. The University of Pennsylvania gave him the degree of D. D. in 1782. In 1759 he wrote a letter to the Rev. Ezra Stiles, afterward president of Yale, on “The State of the Dissenting Interest in the Middle Colonies of America,” which was published and attracted attention.