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Tams: A band of Brothers

tams&coSampson Tams was the second oldest of 7 brothers, six of whom left Staffordshire for the United States to make their fortune as merchants.[1]. He left the rest of his family behind and went first to New York arriving there by 1816.  In late December, he placed a notice in the local newspaper, published in early January 1817.  It announced the opening of his New Store.[2] He respectfully informed his friends and public that he had just arrived with a choice collection of Table, Tea and Desert Ware, which he is now opening at the store No. 94 William-street ... Being concerned in the manufacture of the above articles he is enabled to sell them at reduced prices.

Although his advertisement said that he was concerned in the manufacture no evidence survives to suggest that Sampson Tams or his immediate family owned a pottery; it seems more likely that he had been an employee in one of the many Staffordshire factories.  Perhaps he worked in the counting house dealing with overseas sales, and had a desire to see what the new world had to offer an ambitious young man with some knowledge of the pottery trade.

His first New York store may have been a short-term lease, or even a speculative venture to test the market. Sampson Tams moved twice in the next few months finally settling around the corner from William Street in Maiden Lane. Both these two thoroughfares were at the hub of New York’s retail market.  Adjacent to the financial district of Wall Street and within sight of the docks at South Street, Sampson Tams was perfectly situated to import and sell his wares.

southst from maiden laneHe advertised Blue and other Dining Sets … Dessert  … Coffee and Tea Sets, for resale in the city or packages for the country trade.[3]  Occasionally he lists the ships delivering his stock, HAVE just rec’d  per ships Rockingham, Amity &c …  a very excellent assortment of blue printed Dining Services, Coffee bowls and Saucers, Cups and Saucers, Pitchers and Basins, Jugs, Mugs &c.. while  the ships   Paragon, Elizabeth, Montgomery, Recovery, & Magnet  carried New Waterloo Tea Ware, Flower Pots and Vases, Chimney Ornaments … Blue Printed, Painted, edged &c. Ware of all descriptions.[4]

Sampson was not above turning his hand to selling anything that could bring money.  He advertised bales of cotton and rice from Wilmington North Carolina but perhaps the most fascinating advertisement was for the sale of a superb and elegant Panorama Painting … called the Battle of Paris which was executed by Henry Aston Barker, Esq. of London ... The Panorama represents the Allied Army entering Paris in 1814, and contains 3000 feet of canvas. Panoramas were a major form of entertainment in the 19th century and Henry Aston Barker was a leading entrepreneur in the field.  How Sampson Tams came to be the agent for the sale for such a thing is anybody’s guess.[5]

S Tams & Co

S Tams & Co 2

In the boom years following the end of the War of 1812, New York was one of the fastest growing cities in the world. However, the Era of Good Feelings ended in 1819, as the first American financial crisis saw banks failing and unemployment rising to previously unknown levels.  It was in this year that the business of S. Tams & Co, of New York  was dissolved.  His former partners, William Shirley and John Griffiths both continued in business separately in New York.[6]  By the end of 1819 or early in 1820, Sampson Tams moved to Philadelphia where his brother William was already in business.

William Tams began as a china merchant at 298 High Street, Philadelphia in 1818, moving to 302 High Street on the southwest corner of 9th street by 1819.[7]  Sampson joined his brother with occasional trips back to New York presumably to complete the final details of his removal to Philadelphia. On one such trip he narrowly escaped serious accident when the steam boat William Penn, on which he was a passenger,  caught fire travelling between New York and  Amboy, New Jersey.[8]

Despite New York’s growing population and the establishment of Washington as the capital city, Philadelphia in the early 19th century continued as the young nation's largest financial and cultural center.  On January 25, 1822, William Tams married Mary Brownlow Purviance of Fayetteville North Carolina, where he is recorded in the Commercial Gazette of 1823 in business owning a "Glass & Crockery Warehouse." His only son, William Henry Tams, was born in 1824 and shortly afterwards the family moved to Philadelphia. It was a busy few years for the Tams brothers. Tams & Co china merchants had relocated to 192 High Street, Philadelphia[9], and in May 1823, Sampson visited England where he encouraged his younger brother to leave Staffordshire.  James Tams arrived in Philadelphia on October 9, 1823 and Sampson returned a little later, arriving October 17[10]. 

TamsAndersonThe business of Tams & Co. was still in 192 High Street in 1824 when Sampson Tams married Ann Hennessy Deas.  However, they had moved a few doors away to 183 High Street by 1825 when Frederick Anderson, a local commission merchant, joined them. The Philadelphia Directory of 1825 listed Tams, Anderson & Tams, china store.   

GuildhallWilliam began making a long-term commitment to his new country, making a formal “Declaration of Intent” in September of 1825 to become a naturalized citizen. Sampson followed suit making his “Declaration of Intent” in October of 1829. [11]  Perhaps Sampson had waited to offer his first children the opportunity of British citizenship.  It seems likely that, in 1825 he had returned once more to the Staffordshire Potteries taking his young wife with him; some records suggest their first child Margaret Anne was born and christened in Burslem in October that year.  The family was certainly in Staffordshire in April 1828 when Sampson Tams Jr. was born, and they returned to Philadelphia in October aboard the ship Montezuma from Liverpool.  Perhaps part of the cargo was destined for the family business, which by then was listed Tams and Brothers, china merchants, at 243 High street[12].

Within months of Sampson’s return, the brothers’ dissolved their partnership by mutual consent, newspapers reporting that Sampson would deal with outstanding accounts. [13] William and James continued in business as Tams & Brothers moving premises fairly regularly[14].  Sampson disappeared from the Philadelphia records for a few years, reappearing in 1835 when he is listed separately from his brothers as an importer of “china ware”. [15]  By this time, Edwin had arrived in Philadelphia followed in 1837 by the youngest brother Jesse, when the firm is listed as S. & J. Tams & Co., china and glass importers and dealers of 227 High Street.  By 1840, John Tams[16] had arrived in Philadelphia and it seems James takeE&J.Tams storedetails a leadership role, the company trading as James Tams & Co. until 1847 -48 when James disappears from the Philadelphia records.  The firm of  E. & J. Tams takes over in 1848, Edwin and John Tams being listed as the proprietors, while Sampson continues as a merchant from his home address. 

Both Sampson and William Tams did well from both business and marriage.  In 1845 and 1846 volumes were published purporting to report the worth of the wealthy citizens of Philadelphia.[17]  It seems that Sampson and William Tams made a considerable fortune, although the reporting is not consistent about the extent of Sampson’s wealth. We read in 1845   
     Tams Sampson      $200,000           
     Made his money in the crockery business and a good whig

     Tams William         $50,000
     Made his money in the crockery business and a good whig

And in 1846

    Tams, Sampson $100,000
    An Englishman by birth; came to this country very poor, and by enterprise           
    and  Industry in the china and crockery business amassed this large fortune.

     Tarns,(sic)  William $50,000
     An Englishman by birth, and brother of Sampson Tams, made his money also 
     in the china and crockery trade, and acquired some by marriage to a
    Miss Yohe.

The partnership of E. & .J. Tams was still in business in 1850 but by 1851 Edwin was acting as a merchant in his own right, and John took a new partner trading as Tams & Hammond. It was a short-lived venture and by 1853, the business had disappeared from the records.  Edwin and William were the only Tams listed in the directories after this date but do not appear to have been working together.   After about 1839 William seems to play no part in the business and is listed as a gentleman, resident at various addresses in Philadelphia.  Indeed there  may have been some family dispute as in 1861.  William is convicted and fined $6033 for defrauding the family of the late James Tams, and the following year there was a sheriff’s sale of his property. 

There is very little evidence that this branch of the Tams family were involved in manufacturing pottery, no doubt they sold the products of their home industry and occasionally commissioned patterns they knew they could sell or which were requested by customers.    It may have been their Staffordshire origins and long experience that gave them the idea to identify their special imports with marks similar to that used by pottery factories. Both impressed and printed marks may be found.


[1] All christened in the parish of Stoke–upon-Trent: Michael 1792, Sampson 1794, William 1797, James 1804, Stephen 1807, Edwin 1809, Jesse 1814.  Born to Michael & Sarah Tams  Stoke-upon-Trent  & Hanley Parish registers.
[2] The National Advocate, New York, January 18, 1817
[3] New York Gazette & General Advertiser, May 9, & 21, 1818
[4] New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, September 18, 1818, November 17  &  18, 1818 and January, 20 & 29, 1819
[5]  New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, 02-23 & 02- 26- 1819;   For an example of the panorama of the Battle of Paris see
[6] New-York Gazette & General Advertiser; 08-16-1819, 09-10-1819, 08-17-1820
[7] Philadelphia Directory & Register published by J. A. Paxton,  1818 & 1819
[8] The New-York Columbian; 12-19-1820
[9] Philadelphia Index or Directory, 1823
[10] Philadelphia 1800-1850 Passenger and Immigration Lists
[11] William Tams took the Oath of Allegiance October 21, 1829, Sampson Tams took his Oath of Allegiance September 26, 1832.  See Philadelphia Naturalization Records.
[12] Philadelphia 1800-1850 Passenger and Immigration Lists and Philadelphia Directory & Stranger’s Guide for 1828
[13] Pennsylvania Gazette March 20, 1829 & Louisville Advertiser April 8 1829  announced that partnership  of Tams & Brothers was dissolved by mutual consent with claims to go to Sampson Tams at 234  Market st.  Signed by Sampson, William & James Tams. March 20, 1829
[14] See Philadelphia Directories.Some of the changes of address may be the result of street name  number changes in Philadelphia.
[15] Philadelphia Directory & Stranger’s Guide for 1835-36,  published by Robert De Silver April 1835
[16] John may have been a step-brother or a cousin. No John born to Michael & Sarah Tams has yet been identified.
[17] Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of Philadelphia by a member of the Philadelphia Bar: Philadelphia, G.B. Zieber & Co. 1845,  and Memoirs and auto-biography of some of the wealthy citizens of Philadelphia, with a fair estimate of their estates--founded upon a knowledge of facts (1846)
[18] William’s first wife Mary Brownlow Purviance Tams died in 1830, Miss Yohe would have been his second wife, but no record of the marriage has yet been traced.