CHIPMAN, WILLIAM HENRY, merchant, farmer, and politician; b. 3 Nov. 1807 in Cornwallis, Kings County, N.S., second son of the Reverend William Chipman and his first wife, Mary Dickey; m. 6 Jan. 1831 Sophia Araminta Cogswell, and they had nine children; d. 10 April 1870 in Ottawa, Ont.
About 1764 William Henry Chipman’s grandfather, William Allen Chipman*, had moved with his family from Rhode Island to Cornwallis where he had eventually built a sizeable fortune as merchant, farmer, and landowner and had held several elective and appointive positions in the county. William Henry’s father carried on the family businesses, established his own large farm, took a leading role in the Baptist Church, assisted in the founding of that church’s Horton Academy (1828) and Acadia College (1838), and held numerous public offices in Kings County, including justice of the peace. There was, then, a well-established family tradition of public service and business enterprise.
William Henry Chipman probably received little formal education as public facilities were scarce in Nova Scotia during his youth and King’s Collegiate School at Windsor, N.S., remained closed to “Dissenters.” The education that he did receive was of a more practical kind: at an early age Chipman was sent to Saint John, N.B., to the firm of Leverett DeVeber, apparently a family friend, to learn business and merchandising practices.
After his return to the Cornwallis district, Chipman began his long and successful career in business and farming, which he pursued relatively independently of his father’s enterprises. By the early 1850s he was a prosperous merchant dealing in general merchandise. His speculations in land and his dealings in mortgages in Cornwallis Township seem to have been more lucrative. During the 1830s and 1840s, he had acquired an impressive array of properties and held mortgages on even larger tracts of land. He also held mortgages on sailing vessels and loaned money to business ventures in the Kings County region. At his death the Novascotian credited him with “the largest fortune in that section of the province.”
In addition to his full business career, William Henry Chipman also followed family tradition in local politics. As early as 1832 he began serving as both clerk of the peace and clerk of licences for Kings County, filling the former position for 35 consecutive years. He also served after 1834 as deputy prothonotary, and after 1853 as prothonotary for the county, and between 1842 and 1855 as registrar of the Court of Probate. At various times he was appointed to investigate payment offered for land appropriated for public use, and served on county committees to examine such questions as the need for a poor-house in the area. The local school district also had Chipman’s energetic attention, as he paid the largest sums for maintaining the school and gave the most in making up recurrent operating deficits.
The climax of Chipman’s public career came in 1867 with his election as an anti-confederate member of parliament for Kings County to the first House of Commons of the new dominion. Again he was following family precedent, as the Chipmans appear to have been staunchly Reform or Liberal from the late 1830s. Elected with a large majority, Chipman joined fellow Nova Scotians in their battle for repeal of the union or better terms for their province. Although a follower of Joseph Howe*, Chipman was by no means subservient. At the stormy anti-confederate convention held in Halifax in August 1868, Chipman openly opposed Howe on the best means of obtaining repeal. He proposed that all anti-confederate members of the Nova Scotian assembly and the House of Commons “should forthwith tender their resignations” as “the best method of settling the difficulty between the Local and Dominion members and beyond all this, the most effectual way of obtaining repeal.” This was not, however, the policy adopted, and so Chipman and the other “antis” continued to sit in the House of Commons. His parliamentary career was cut short by a sudden and fatal attack of smallpox in the spring of 1870 in Ottawa. The day after his death the house adjourned on the motion of Howe, seconded by Sir John A. Macdonald*, and heard eulogies in which even Charles Tupper* joined, referring to him as “a member of one of the oldest and most respected families in his Province.”
That Chipman was not universally popular even in Kings County, however, was made quite clear soon after his death, when his son, Leverett DeVeber Chipman, announced his intention of seeking his father’s House of Commons seat. An anonymous broadside of 31 July 1872, signed “An Elector,” denounced the Chipman “compact” – “this old and corrupt ring.” There is no clear indication that resentment against “a family who has always monopolized the principal offices of this county” was widespread, but the fact that it was voiced at all is a significant comment on the impact of the Chipman family.
William Henry Chipman, with his numerous political offices and wide business interests, in many respects represented the height of the Chipman family influence in Kings County. Some of his children followed distinguished careers in the medical and political professions, but the dominant role of the Chipman family in Kings County was largely at an end.
Acadia University Archives (Wolfville, N.S.), ms Box 82 (school district 3, Cornwallis), Parade School, accounts, 1857–62; ms Box 91 (records of town meetings, Cornwallis, 1795–1862). Kings County Court House (Kentville, N.S.), Probate record books, nos.2, 3. PANS, MG 1, 181–218 (Chipman family papers). To the electors of Kings County, by an elector (Kentville, N.S., 1872). Christian Messenger (Halifax), 13 April 1870. Novascotian, 11, 18 April 1870. A Chipman genealogy, circa 1583–1969, beginning with John Chipman (1620–1708), first of that surname to arrive in the Massachusetts Bay colony . . . , comp. J. H. Chipman III (Norwell, Mass., 1970). Directory of N.S. MLAs. A. W. H. Eaton, The history of Kings County, Nova Scotia . . . (Salem, Mass., 1910).