PENNOYER, JESSE, surveyor, office holder, jp, mill owner, farmer, and militia officer; b. 16 April 1760 in Amenia, N.Y., son of Joseph Pennoyer, a Methodist minister, and Lucy Crippen; m. Martha Ferguson, and they had 12 children; d. 1 Dec. 1825 in Waterville, Lower Canada, and was buried at East Hatley (Hatley).
Jesse Pennoyer received a good education. In the American revolution he and his family supported the rebel side; on 1 Jan. 1777 he enlisted in the 4th New York Regiment, and he was discharged three years later. Why and when he changed countries and allegiances is not known, but in 1788 he was in the province of Quebec, where he received a surveyor’s commission.
Pennoyer was first employed by Thomas Dunn* on his seigneury of Saint-Armand, near Missisquoi Bay, and then was sent by the deputy surveyor general to what would become Upper Canada. He was to survey the district set aside for the loyalists, lay out a road from Cornwall to Kingston, and then mark the boundaries of the new townships, among them Oxford, on the Rideau River.
The opening of the Eastern Townships to settlement brought Pennoyer back to Lower Canada, where in 1792 he was assigned the task of surveying the lower reaches of the Rivière Saint-François. It was at this time that he picked up a controversial account of the expedition Robert Rogers* had led against the Abenaki village of Saint-François-de-Sales (Odanak) in 1759 and of a combat near the subsequent site of Sherbrooke. The surveyor general commissioned him to survey and subdivide several townships around lakes Champlain and Memphrémagog, including those of Dunham, Sutton, Potton, and Barnston. Pennoyer was aware of the attractions of the region and asked for the grant of Compton Township to himself and his colleagues Nathaniel Coffin* and Joseph Kilborn, who, like him, had been received into the masonic lodge Select Surveyors No.9 on 13 March 1793. On 10 Oct. 1794 he was appointed commissioner to select recipients for lands at Missisquoi Bay, a duty he carried out diligently, but with no scruples about attending to his own interests.
In 1797 Pennoyer was appointed a justice of the peace for the district of Montreal, a commission renewed in 1799 and 1810. He received a similar one for the district of Trois-Rivières in 1811, 1815, and 1821. In August 1797, after David McLane* had been convicted of treason and executed, Pennoyer wrote to Dunn about others associated with McLane. Having gone to Vermont with Coffin to investigate Ira Allen’s intentions, in September he informed Governor Robert Prescott* that Allen was trying to send 20,000 weapons to Lower Canada.
Shortly afterwards Pennoyer supported the group of malcontents who had met at Missisquoi Bay to protest against the government’s delay in making land grants. He helped prepare a strongly worded memoir that he handed to Governor Prescott in December after signing it along with his friends Gilbert Hyatt and Samuel Willard.
On 31 Aug. 1802 Pennoyer and his 20 associates each received 1,200 acres in Compton Township. Having sold his properties in Saint-Armand seigneury, where he had been living, Pennoyer settled near the falls named after him and built mills on lands there that he busied himself clearing. From then on he worked indefatigably for the region’s development and called numerous meetings to ask for roads to the Rivière Chaudière and the United States, as well as along the Saint-François. In 1807 he submitted a plan for a road from the Connecticut River to Ireland Township, which he had surveyed. This plan was taken up again by Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson*], and between 1838 and 1843 a road was built that bore his name.
The region’s other needs did not escape Pennoyer’s attention. In 1805 he took a memoir to Quebec asking for law courts, registry offices, parliamentary representation, and the establishment of a Protestant clergy. In 1806 he had tried to grow hemp, and in 1809 the government granted him a salary of £200, plus £100 to defray the cost of promoting and growing a crop for five years. There was, however, no market for it, and the War of 1812 brought an end to an experiment that had proved ruinous for him.
Pennoyer held the rank of captain in the Eastern Townships militia, which had been organized in 1805 by Sir John Johnson. In 1808 he was posted to the 5th Townships Militia Battalion and in 1812 he became its commanding officer. This appointment was no sinecure, since his men were scattered over a distance of a hundred miles or so, and he devoted his energies to it. Although he was promoted major early in 1813, his authority was not always sufficient to rally the men, who were eager to defend their own fields but not much disposed to join the force quartered at La Prairie. Johnson was furious when he learned that his orders were being called in question, and on several occasions Pennoyer had to apologize or give explanations for his men’s conduct. His military career came to an end in 1821. He continued to practise as a surveyor, and on 23 Dec. 1824 he signed a survey of the village of Sherbrooke.
Pennoyer had been greatly affected by the death of his eldest son, John, in 1820, and that of his wife two years later. Having been ill for a short time, he died on 1 Dec. 1825, in the presence of his large family; he was mourned by many friends. Possessed of a strong personality and uncommon vision, he had wielded great influence in his milieu. Through his efforts and his perseverance he had contributed to the advancement of his adopted country.
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Agriculture, Agriculture -- Farmers, Armed Forces, Armed Forces -- British, Business, Business -- Manufacturing, Legal Professions, Legal Professions -- Justices of the peace, Office Holders, Office Holders -- Officials, Surveyors
North America, North America -- Canada, North America -- Canada -- Ontario, North America -- Canada -- Ontario -- East, North America -- Canada -- Quebec, North America -- Canada -- Quebec -- Trois-Rivières/Eastern Townships, North America -- United States of America