Samuel and Amanda Chambers: Lesser-Known Pioneers
Editor's Note: This is the seventh in a series telling the stories of significant black Mormons in history. Read earlier posts:
- The Introduction to the series
- The story of Jane Manning James
- Pastor Hinckley's apology for racism
- The story of Green Flake
- The story of Quaku Walker Lewis
- Romney and Race
I was not so well placed as these young brethren here, most of you were born in the church. I was born in a condition of slavery, and received the gospel in that condition. I realized I had done right. I received the spirit of God. I was only between 12 and 13 years of age. I was from 23 to 25 years and never heard another word of the gospel. After the war I was made free, then I went to work 4 years and made money and came out here. It is not only to the Gentiles but also to the African, for I am of that race. (Samuel D. Chambers, December 8. 1874)
Though the photo of Samuel and Amanda Chambers on the Freedman Bank CD for genealogical research is commonly seen, their lives are not well known. Samuel Davidson Chambers did not join the pioneer trek with other Mormons in 1847. He was still enslaved, having been baptized in 1844, seventeen years before the Civil War began.
As did so many slaves, Sam saw his family divided when his mother was sold off. Later, it was his wife who was taken, though the records are unclear as to whether she died or was sold.
Slaveholders often disregarded family relations among their "property" and easily separated parents from their children. As we review the horrors of slavery, these divisions are particularly heart wrenching. The act of splitting up a family, especially when done by compulsion, should motivate us to reassemble what was fragmented, to speak their names. We recognize each name as sacred, the one thing that survives on a tombstone to remind us that a life was lived, grief borne, joy celebrated. Each belongs to parents, usually to a spouse, to their children.
Samuel Chambers was born May 21, 1831, in Pickens County, Alabama, but was soon sent to Mississippi. There, he heard Mormon missionaries and was persuaded that their message was true. Elder Preston Thomas secretly baptized him at night. Sam was between twelve and thirteen years old, though when he reflected upon his youth in later life, he did not find it strange that he should have found his faith at such a young age. "Joseph was a boy and also Samuel, and the Lord spoke to them, so we see the Lord is willing to speak to boys," Sam said on December 14, 1875. He kept this secret baptism to himself until his emancipation, and later testified, "I did not come to Utah to know of the truth of the gospel, but I received it away back where the gospel found me."
Margaret Blair Young teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. Her best known novels include the Standing on the Promises trilogy, co-authored with Darius Gray. These three books give the history, with some fictional liberties taken, of Black Mormon pioneers. The updated and revised versions will soon be available through Zarahemla Press and at Amazon.com. Gray and Young also made the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, now available wherever LDS books are sold, and shown monthly on the Documentary Channel. Young is currently working on a film about Mormon missionaries in Africa, titled Heart of Africa.