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WETMORE, THOMAS, lawyer, office holder, militia officer, politician, and jp; b. 20 Sept. 1767 in Rye, N.Y., fifth of the eight children of Timothy Wetmore and Jane Haviland; m. 17 March 1793 Sarah Peters in Gagetown, N.B., and they had 12 children; d. 22 March 1828 on his estate, called Kingswood, at Kingsclear (near Fredericton), N.B.

Thomas Wetmore came to New Brunswick “with the loyal Emigrants” in 1783 and settled with his father, Timothy Wetmore, first in Carleton (Saint John) and then in Gagetown. He studied law in the office of Ward Chipman, became an attorney in 1788, and was admitted to the bar in 1790. Entering into partnership with his father, he was appointed deputy surrogate, clerk of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, and registrar of deeds and wills for Queens County. In 1793 he married Sarah Peters, the daughter of judge James Peters. This union and the subsequent marriages of his children linked Wetmore to a wide network of prominent families, but for many years his influence with the leading members of the provincial élite was tenuous and he was unable to acquire “the favours of Government.” Because of the limited opportunities in Gagetown, Timothy Wetmore eventually returned to the United States and Thomas relocated in Saint John. In 1796 he was selected as clerk of the Supreme Court; however, the chief justice, George Duncan Ludlow*, decided that the post should not be held by a practising lawyer. Two years later Thomas sought to become clerk of the Common Council of Saint John, replacing Elias Hardy*, but he did not possess sufficient influence.

In 1808, when the provincial militia was embodied during a temporary crisis in Anglo-American relations, Wetmore served as a lieutenant-colonel in charge of the militia units stationed in Saint John. By his exertions he won the support of Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnstone, who was shortly to become administrator of the colony, and judge John Saunders, the commander of the militia around Fredericton; through their influence he became recorder of the city of Saint John and also attorney general, succeeding Jonathan Bliss, in July 1809. The former position Wetmore found “burthensome” and he relinquished it in 1811, but he remained attorney general until his death. In 1809 Wetmore had also been elected to the House of Assembly for Saint John County and City. He took his seat in January 1810 and played an active part in the deliberations of the assembly. In 1813, as attorney general, he was ordered by the lieutenant governor to move to the seat of government in Fredericton, and he did not reoffer himself as a candidate for Saint John County and City in the elections of 1816. In 1817 he was given a seat on the provincial council and was sworn in on 22 December, but he was never one of the inner circle of government advisers under either Major-General George Stracey Smyth or Sir Howard Douglas*.

A strong supporter of the established church, Wetmore served on the board of the College of New Brunswick and for a time as president of the Fredericton branch of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He also served as one of the justices of the peace for York County and as chairman of the York County Agricultural and Emigrant Society. His primary interest, however, was his legal business. Since his extensive private practice necessitated his going on circuit, he conducted all crown prosecutions himself, even after it was determined that the attorney general had no legal right to monopolize them. His income, especially from fees on land grants, was sufficiently large that he declined the offer of a judgeship in 1815, although he became a candidate for the post of chief justice in 1822, losing out to Saunders. His last years were not happy ones. In 1821 his eldest son, George Ludlow Wetmore, was killed in a duel and his wife died in 1827. Wetmore withdrew from political activity. His expenses exceeded his income and when he died in 1828 he was virtually insolvent. He was succeeded as attorney general by Robert Parker*.

In 1809 Administrator Martin Hunter* described Wetmore as “unquestionably the ablest and best qualified Barrister” in New Brunswick. In fact, Wetmore was a competent lawyer but not an outstanding one, and he does not appear to have made any significant contribution to the evolution of the law or the legal profession in the colony. He was also of marginal importance as a politician. As with many second-generation loyalists his primary claim to preference was that his family had been “ever firm in their loyalty.”

Phillip Buckner

[There is a small collection of Wetmore letters in the Saunders papers, UNBL, MG H11, and an even smaller collection in the Winslow papers, UNBL, MG H2. A number of letters written by Wetmore while he was attorney general can be found in PANB, RG 2, RS8, attorney general, 1/1, and there is scattered correspondence in PRO, CO 188 files, and in PANB, RG 10, RS 108. Also useful are N.B., House of Assembly, Journal, 1810–15 and 1836, app.I, and the Executive Council minutes for 1817–28, PANB, RG 2, RS6, A2–3. The only secondary source of any value is Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton and Raymond), although there is a useful genealogy in J. C. Wetmore, The Wetmore family of America, and its collateral branches: with genealogical, biographical, and historical notices (Albany, N.Y., 1861).  p b.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Phillip Buckner, “WETMORE, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wetmore_thomas_6E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wetmore_thomas_6E.html
Author of Article: Phillip Buckner
Title of Article: WETMORE, THOMAS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1987
Year of revision: 1987
Access Date: July 22, 2014