Ward Chipman, 1748-1824

Ward Chipman was a prominent New Brunswick lawyer, judge and Loyalist. "Chippy," as he was known to his friends, was born in Massachusetts to a successful lawyer. He graduated from Harvard University in 1770 and studied law with Jonathan Sewall.

Chipman supported Britain during the American Revolution. In 1777, he acted as Deputy Muster-Master General in New York under Edward Winslow, who remained a great friend of his. When New York was evacuated in 1783, Chipman travelled to Britain; only a year later, he was appointed Solicitor-General for New Brunswick.

P.A. Ryder commented that "(Chipman's) life mirrored that of the Province of New Brunswick from 1784 to 1824." Chipman played a part in many important events and was involved with some critical issues that arose in the province. Besides representing the Crown in border disputes with the United States and Nova Scotia and sitting in New Brunswick's first House of Assembly, Chipman also drew up the Charter for the city of Saint John. In 1806 he became a Legislative Councillor, and in 1809 he was made a puisne judge in the New Brunswick Supreme C Read More

Ward Chipman, 1748-1824

Ward Chipman was a prominent New Brunswick lawyer, judge and Loyalist. "Chippy," as he was known to his friends, was born in Massachusetts to a successful lawyer. He graduated from Harvard University in 1770 and studied law with Jonathan Sewall.

Chipman supported Britain during the American Revolution. In 1777, he acted as Deputy Muster-Master General in New York under Edward Winslow, who remained a great friend of his. When New York was evacuated in 1783, Chipman travelled to Britain; only a year later, he was appointed Solicitor-General for New Brunswick.

P.A. Ryder commented that "(Chipman's) life mirrored that of the Province of New Brunswick from 1784 to 1824." Chipman played a part in many important events and was involved with some critical issues that arose in the province. Besides representing the Crown in border disputes with the United States and Nova Scotia and sitting in New Brunswick's first House of Assembly, Chipman also drew up the Charter for the city of Saint John. In 1806 he became a Legislative Councillor, and in 1809 he was made a puisne judge in the New Brunswick Supreme Court.

Chipman's marriage to Elizabeth Hazen allied him with one of the oldest families in the province. Isabel Louise Hill stated that, "as long as he lived, suggestion of reform was considered an attack upon the constitution" 

His public life did not always run smoothly. Although he won a seat in the first House of Assembly, he never succeeded in winning a seat in future elections. After the 1795 election, he wrote a letter to the Gazette. He explained that his friends wanted him to demand a recount of the votes, but he graciously refused, noting that such an action would "probably give rise to such dissentions and animosities to the disturbance of the public peace... and which I should poorly merit the character I boast of, if I did not study to prevent" (Gazette, Sept. 1, 1795: p.1). The loss was evidently a great blow to Chipman: "I had hoped, that my unwearied and laborious exertions in the service of the Province, from its earliest period to this day, not only without any pay or emolument, but with great inconvenience and injury to myself, had entitled me to the fullest confidence of my fellow-citizens; and a wish still to contribute all in my power to the Public Weal, had reconciled me to a continuance of the same sacrifices."

Chipman's role in R v. Jones has received much praise. David Bell notes: "Chipman's supposed opposition to slavery is generally cited as one of the chief glories of his career". Ryder lauded Chipman as, "a legal pioneer in the struggle to aid the afflicted."  This image of Chipman as a "volunteer for the rights of humanity"  is obscured, however, by his role in a trial several years later, in which he acted for the slave owner. In 1805, a black slave, Richard Hopefield, attempted to prove his status as a freeman to the court. Samuel Denny Street, Chipman's co-counsel in R v. Jones, acted for Hopefield while Chipman acted for the master. David Bell has remarked that Chipman's 1805 brief is one of the "most extensive legal defenses of slavery ever offered in British North America". Historians have attempted to explain Chipman's abrupt about-face in 1805. Bell suggests that during the 1800 trial, Chipman was trying to curry favour by presenting himself as a progressive abolitionist in order to secure a judicial appointment. Barry Cahill proposes that Chipman saw slavery not as a moral issue, but as a legal issue. This view enabled him to argue both sides of the slavery debate, depending on the needs of his client. 
Chipman's later actions further confuse the picture. During the War of 1812, hundreds of slaves left the United States and arrived in New Brunswick under British protection. Each family was promised a 50-acre lot in the Loch Lomond area near Saint John. When the ex-slaves arrived, however, they did not receive titles to the land, but only three-year licenses. Also, despite their complete lack of funds, they were informed that the land was to be surveyed at their own expense. In 1816, President Hailes asked Chipman for his help in settling the ex-slaves. The following year, Chipman wrote to the government in support of the slaves. He insisted that it was "a cruel thing that they should have been sent by Government, to this, to them inhospitable, climate, and left without any aid in making a settlement". He suggested that the government should arrange and pay for the lots to be surveyed. The government agreed to conduct the surveys, but when they still refused to fund them, Chipman himself contributed a large portion of the money.

Chipman's views on slavery remain a mystery. He was a conservative politician, lawyer and judge, but his actions regarding slavery did not always follow this conservative path. The 1800 trial was the first time that slavery had come up for a legal decision in New Brunswick, and Chipman's views on slavery have mostly been remembered in accordance with this case.

In 1823, only months before his death, Chipman was named President and Commander in Chief of New Brunswick.


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Learning Objectives

Learners will understand the difficulty in discovering the real views of a trial lawyer whose courtroom tactics supported opposing views at various times in his career.

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