Learning About Ancestors is Awesome

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By Linda Cicoira — Thomas M. Chandler, a native of Drummondtown, which later became Accomac, turned clay on a potter’s wheel producing functional items like milk pans, pitchers, jugs, and even chamber pots, in the 1800s.

He was so good at it he has been referred to as “a master potter whose skills provided financier Rev. John Trapp (1798-1876) with the means to keep his pottery in operation.” Chandler earned that praise from his work in South Carolina but he still manages to provide a source of pride from his native land.

The Miles files from the Eastern Shore Public Library website states, “The 1840 census lists Chandler as living nearby the proprietors of the Phoenix Factory, a stoneware manufactory,” in South Carolina, where Chandler landed after being in the military and marrying a woman from Edgefield District, S.C.

Many of Chandler’s creations have surpassed the test of time and were recently shown at a South Carolina museum, where Chris Chandler, a descendant who grew up in Onancock, visited in July and was awed.

“Thomas Chandler set a new standard and is pretty much known for changing the look and the fashioning of utilitarian stoneware pottery in the South,” said Chris Chandler, who now lives in Norfolk. “I think that in itself is pretty amazing … Who knew so much information was out there on a Chandler who had been dead for over 160 years. And what an incredible life he led … it was well worth the excursion to see this exhibit and to experience a piece of history that somehow links my DNA to this incredible and talented craftsman.”

Chris Chandler plays blues and rock with the band HammerHead, from Portsmouth, Va., and the Shore group, Corn Funk Revue. He’s been writing songs, playing guitar, and singing since he was a kid. So his kinship with his ancestor is natural.

Chris Chandler and his wife, Rita, got to the exhibit, which ended July 20, on the last day. “We talked with some folks who had driven all the way from Alabama to see it.” They weren’t fellow Chandlers. “They were just interested in his work. They then asked me if I was related and I held up my genealogy book and talked with them about the connection and growing up the Eastern Shore. It was pretty awesome! And to see that Eastern Shore exhibit sign and all, well, made me really proud to be a Shoreman.”

Thomas Chandler’s father apprenticed with a Windsor chairmaker in Baltimore. His uncles were also chairmakers.

Thomas Chandler worked at the Phoenix Factory for several years before partnering with Trapp. Pottery from both places is similarly decorated with iron slips. Thomas Chandler founded his own pottery in 1850, when an advertisement in the Edgefield Advertiser directed customers to Kirksey’s X Roads, in Edgefield District. His jugs were marked “Chandler Maker, — Warranted.”

The Chandlers are also descendants of Capt. Edmund Scarburgh, a burgess at Jamestown and Anthony West, one of the first families in Virginia.

Now Chris Chandler sometimes plays his music in Craddockville, at a chairmaker’s studio. It’s the Eastern Shore full circle. The modern musician, who is in his early 60s, bought a book about the potter while visiting the museum, but he has yet to learn what kind of musician Thomas Chandler was.

“When Thomas signed up for the militia in 1832, he listed his occupation as a musician, not as a potter,” said Chris Chandler. “When I read that, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Not sure why, but that little bit of personal info really made him truly real to me and … well, family.”