Chambers, John (1754–1837), printer and United Irishman, was born in Dublin in January 1754, the son of a wine merchant and his wife, Elinor, daughter of Charles Carter of Chapelizod, Co. Dublin. Apprenticed to a printer by his widowed mother (1 July 1767), he was printing on his own account in Dublin by 1775 and a few years later moved to premises in the city at 5 Abbey Street (December 1781). He represented St Luke's Guild (the stationers’ guild) on the Dublin common council (1789–98). After being elected guild master (24 August 1793), he secured full rights for catholic members. Chambers has been described as ‘probably the finest of all the printers in Dublin of this period’ (Phillips). At least seventy-eight titles have been identified as his productions, among them his own Cyclopaedia (1782); he was important for the high quality of his printing, beginning with his edition of Richard Savage's Works (1777) and best seen in his editions of William Guthrie's An improved system of modern geography (1788) and Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1796). When his premises were burnt down (7 January 1792) they were described as ‘the completest printing office ever erected in this kingdom’ and his loss was estimated at above £3,000. In 1797 he both became a director of the Bank of Ireland and opened a large warehouse for the sale of merchants’ and traders’ account books.
A radical, Chambers was a correspondent of Mathew Carey (qv) and an associate of James Napper Tandy (qv); he reprinted An argument on behalf of the catholics (1791), the most effective of the pamphlets of Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv), for the newly formed Belfast Society of United Irishmen (October 1791). Later he was admitted to the Dublin Society of United Irishmen (November 1792). One of the society's most active members, he was one of its committee on parliamentary reform. After the transformation of the United Irish societies into a revolutionary movement, Chambers was, according to Samuel Turner (qv), one of the national committee (January 1797). On a visit to London to buy type and paper (c. July–August) he also engaged in political business and may have met Bartholomew Teeling (qv), a source of intelligence on the Irish policy of the French government. When his premises were raided and ransacked by the authorities in a series of arrests of United Irishmen (March 1798) Chambers was not to be found. A reward of £300 was offered for his capture (22 May); he surrendered and was imprisoned at Kilmainham (24 August). After the failure of the United Irish rebellion, Chambers was detained with other United Irish leaders at Fort George in Scotland (1799–1802). On his release he went to France and was a close associate there of Thomas Addis Emmet (qv).
Three years later he arrived in New York (August 1805). For many years he was in business as a stationer on Wall Street and was prominent, with Emmet, William James MacNeven (qv), and William Sampson (qv), among United Irish exiles in the American city. The four of them set up the New York Association for the Relief of Emigrant Irishmen (1816), one purpose of which was to encourage Irish migrants to move into the interior. In retirement Chambers was president of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick (1828–33). He died in New York on 8 February 1837. A protestant, he married (December 1780) Christian Mary (d. 1796), a daughter of Christopher FitzSimon of Castlekeely, near Carragh, Co. Kildare. The FitzSimons were decayed catholic gentry and may have been connections of an archbishop of Dublin, Patrick Fitzsimons (qv). John Chambers's elder son, Charles, joined him as a partner in New York (probably in 1808); a daughter married Richard Caldwell (1770?–1812), a United Irishman from Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, whose death sentence (1798) was remitted on condition he leave Ireland for America; another son, John, continued the printing business in Abbey Street from 1808 till the 1850s.