Richard Gamble, barber and perukemaker of Williamsburg in the middle years of the eighteenth century, appears to have remained a bachelor all his life. Other than this he seems to have been no more improvident than the average craftsman of his time. That is to say, he came—or was brought—into court with startling frequency in an endless round of suits to collect unpaid debts.
He was in good company. Going to the law was part of the colonial way of life in Virginia, and everyone from a town’s least citizen to the colony’s greatest planter engaged in it. In fact, suing and being sued had some of the aspects of a game: the plaintiff in one case might shortly be defendant in another and witness in a third—and keep right on doing business with the other parties in all three cases!
Court records abound with evidence that Williamsburg wigmakers were just as impecunious and as contentious as any of the rest. Mr. Gamble, however, had an additional distinction—of a sort. While most debt cases reached settlement out of court or ended in judgment for the plaintiff, Gamble actually went to jail for debt. In the Virginia Gazette of May 8, 1752, appeared this announcement to the public:
BEING prevented carrying on my Business as usual by an Arrest for a Debt not justly my own. I hereby give Notice, That I have taken into Partnership with me Edward Charlton, late from London, who will carry on the Business, at my Shop, next Door to the Raleigh Tavern, in Williamsburg. Gentlemen, who please to favour us with their Orders for Wigs, &c. may depend on being well and expeditiously serv’d and oblige
Their very humble Servant Richard Gamble.
N. B. All Persons who are indebted to me, are desired to pay the same to Mr. Alexander Finnie, who is properly impowered for that Perpose.
Alexander Finnie, co-defendant with Gamble in at least one large suit for debt—perhaps the one that led to Gamble’s “Arrest”—was himself a wigmaker who had abandoned the craft for the arduous pleasures of innkeeping. He was proprietor at the time of the Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg’s largest and most famous hostelry.