Chambers, Barzillai J. (1817–1895)

By: Alwyn Barr

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: September 18, 2019

Barzillai J. Chambers, pioneer and politician, was born in Montgomery County, Kentucky, on December 5, 1817, the son of Walker and Talitha Cumi (Mothershead) Chambers. He was commissioned a captain of the Kentucky volunteers by his uncle, Thomas Jefferson Chambers, and arrived in Texas in May 1837 as an aide-de-camp. After his discharge in 1838 he became a surveyor, first in South Texas, and in 1839 in Robertson County. In 1847 he was elected district surveyor of the Robertson Land District. He settled in Navarro County as a farmer and land dealer in 1855 and became an attorney in 1860. He was an ardent secessionist and served in the Texas State Troops in 1864. In 1867 with W. F. Henderson he donated the land for the establishment of Cleburne as the county seat of Johnson County. In 1871 he and J. W. Brown opened a private bank, from which Chambers retired in 1875. He was an alderman, and in the late 1870s he was an incorporator of a proposed narrow-gauge railroad from Dallas to Cleburne.

Politically, Chambers first gained notice with a newspaper article in 1868 opposing an interest-bearing national debt. He opposed ratification of the state Constitution of 1876 because of its homestead exemption and was defeated in his race for the legislature in 1876. He became a member of the Greenback party after the Democratic national convention of 1876 refused to adopt as strong a greenback money plank as he wanted, and he began to publish a Greenback paper in Cleburne. In 1878 he was again defeated for the legislature as a Greenback party nominee in Johnson County. He was an active party organizer and writer and in March 1879 attended the Greenback national convention at Chicago, where he was elected the Texas member of the national executive committee. In 1880 he was nominated for vice president by the Union Greenback Labor party and later by the national Greenback party to promote harmony between the two factions. He was forced to end his campaign, however, after breaking two ribs in a fall from a train in July. He continued to be active in the Greenback party through 1884.

Chambers married Susan Wood in Limestone County in 1852, but she died the next year. In 1854 he married Emma Montgomery, who died after having one child. The child died in infancy. Chambers then married Harriet A. Killough in Johnson County in 1861, and they had one son and two daughters. Chambers was a Mason and a member of the Christian Church. He died on September 16, 1895.

Alwyn Barr, "B. J. Chambers and the Greenback Party Split," Mid-America 49 (October 1967). H. L. Bentley and Thomas Pilgrim, Texas Legal Directory for 1876–77 (Austin: Democratic Statesman Office, 1877). A. J. Byrd, History and Description of Johnson County and Its Principal Towns (Marshall, Texas: Jennings, 1879). A Memorial and Biographical History of Johnson and Hill Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1892). Galveston Weekly News, March 18, July 15, 1880.

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Alwyn Barr, “Chambers, Barzillai J.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 24, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 18, 2019