Richard Small Ayer was born October 9th 1829 in Montville, Maine, the son of William and Caroline (Small) Ayer. He attended local schools, and then made living as a farmer and store owner.
In 1861 when the Civil War started Ayer joined the Union army as a private in the 4th Maine Infantry. He was quickly promoted through the ranks, but on March 22nd 1863 was mustered out of the service because of disabilities.
After the war ended Ayer moved to Warsaw, Virginia. He took part in the Virginia constitutional convention and represented the state as a Republican in the 41st United States Congress. After his term was up Ayer moved back to Montville, Maine. He served in the Maine House of Representatives in 1888. Ayer died December 14th 1896 in Liberty, Maine, and is buried in the Mount Repose Cemetery, Montville, Waldo, Maine.