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CHEW, JOSEPH, Indian department official; probably b. in Virginia (U.S.A.) in the 1720s; d. 24 Sept. 1798 at Montreal (Que.).

Joseph Chew apparently began his military career as an officer in the Virginia troops. In 1747 he was a captain in the New York forces and was captured near Saratoga (Schuylerville, N.Y.) by Luc de La Corne. He was taken prisoner to New France, but his release was obtained in or before the summer of 1748. The war having been concluded, Chew set out for Maryland in January 1748/49 since he had the offer of “disposing of a Cargoe of goods” there. By 1752 he was living in New London, Connecticut, where he was marshal of the Vice-Admiralty Court. He was probably also still engaged in trade. In 1762, perhaps because he knew Sir William Johnson, a group of Connecticut speculators involved in a controversial land purchase along the Susquehanna River [see John Hendricks Lÿdius] sent him to discuss the settlement of the tract with the Indian superintendent.

During the late 1760s Chew encountered financial difficulties and was, he wrote, “Support’d almost wholy by . . . [Johnson’s] Bounty.” He moved to the vicinity of Johnson Hall (Johnstown, N.Y.) and became a justice of the peace, undoubtedly through Johnson’s influence. On 6 July 1774 he was appointed secretary to the Indian department. In effect he was secretary to Guy Johnson, Sir William’s successor, and in this capacity attended various conferences with the Six Nations.

In November 1775 Chew accompanied Guy Johnson, Christian Daniel Claus, Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea*], and others to England in connection with Governor Guy Carleton*’s reorganization of the Indian department. When the party returned to North America several months later, he seems to have undertaken active military service in the New York City area against the American rebels. During a campaign in eastern Long Island in 1777 he was captured by Americans. Evidently paroled, he subsequently served in the Connecticut region. These activities separated Chew from his wife and children, whom he had left at Johnstown in 1775, and their welfare was a constant anxiety to him. At the war’s end he sought compensation for his family’s losses, going to England as late as 1789 for that purpose. Apparently he was successful, for he received various benefits including a grant of land in Carleton County, New Brunswick.

During the war the Indian department had fallen into disorganization. Particularly acrimonious was a dispute between Daniel Claus and John Campbell over responsibility for the Canadian Indians. Sir John Johnson*’s appointment as superintendent general in 1782 alleviated some of the tension but Chew must have encountered difficulties when in the 1780s he again took up his duties as secretary. Sir John was somewhat ineffective as an administrator, and it was Chew who kept the department functioning. Working mostly in Montreal, he was responsible for the day-to-day correspondence with agents in the field and with other government departments. While the British retained the western posts and dreamed of creating a sphere of influence among the Indians of the Ohio-Mississippi country, Chew’s role was vital. In 1794 the signing of Jay’s Treaty, which relinquished the posts, reduced the department’s importance. Chew remained active as secretary until his never robust health deteriorated in the autumn of 1798. He died on 24 September apparently of a bronchial disorder.

Chew’s last years had been marked by renewed concern for his family’s welfare. He asked that his son John succeed him as secretary and sought a departmental appointment for his younger son William Johnson Chew. It is an indication of the high regard in which Joseph Chew was held that both requests were granted. John Chew served as secretary from 1798 to 1806 and William Johnson Chew was departmental storekeeper at Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) and Fort George (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.) from 1794 to 1809.

Douglas Leighton

PAC, MG 19, F1, F2, F6; MG 23, HI, 1, ser.3–4; RG 4, D1, 13, no. 1242; RG 8, 1 (C series), 1203 1/2, p.11; RG 10, A1, 486; A2, 11, pp.22, 37. PRO, PRO 30/55, 1, no.133. Conn. Hist. Soc., Coll. (Hartford), XVI (1916), 200, 322, 383; XVII (1918), 291. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.). Quebec Gazette, 29 Feb. 1816. Graymont, Iroquois, 81. E. C. Wright, The loyalists of New Brunswick (Fredericton, 1955), 269. R. S. Allen, “The British Indian department and the frontier in North America, 1755–1830,” Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History (Ottawa), no. 14 (1975), 5–125.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Douglas Leighton, “CHEW, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 27, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chew_joseph_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chew_joseph_4E.html
Author of Article: Douglas Leighton
Title of Article: CHEW, JOSEPH
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: August 27, 2014