CHEWETT (Chewitt), WILLIAM, surveyor, office holder, jp, and militia officer; b. 21 Dec. 1753 in London; m. 1791 Isabella Macdonell, and they had four children; d. 24 Sept. 1849 in Toronto.
Having graduated as a hydrographic engineer from the East India College in London, William Chewett sailed in 1771 to Quebec where, three years later, he entered the service of the deputy surveyor general, John Collins*. During the American siege of Quebec in 1775–76, Chewett drew plans of the fortifications and determined the distances of the enemy batteries. In 1777 he was appointed acting paymaster at Île aux Noix and Fort St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) where he worked until 1785. He then returned to Quebec and the Surveyor General’s Office.
Chewett was a dedicated office holder whose career was characterized by numerous frustrations. The Executive Council’s decision in 1791 to discontinue the settlement program for military claims the next year jeopardized his position, causing the disappointed surveyor to write Collins: “I now find I have been serving my whole life for nothing, . . . there is no surveyor in the same line as myself, that has the same right to expect a continuation from having been always on service. . . . I trust you will be able to find me some employment either in our department or some other before the expiration.”
That trust, was well founded and by 1792 he had secured a spot in the administration of the new province of Upper Canada. Chewett had hoped for the post of surveyor general, which went instead to David William Smith. He always maintained that Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe*’s “promises to me were numerous, and well known to the principal people of almost the whole of the two provinces, from himself and all of which have ended in a mouthful of moonshine.” He blamed “false insinuations and unfavourable reports” for his failure. Chewett became senior surveyor and draftsman. He lived with his family in Williamsburg Township until 1796, when they moved to the new capital at York (Toronto). He received another disappointment in 1798 when he did not succeed Christopher Robinson* as deputy surveyor of woods; President Peter Russell* would not support his appointment because he feared the additional responsibilities would hamper Chewett’s effective performance in his other duties.
In 1800 Chewett became registrar of the Surrogate Court for the Home District. The following year he served as returning officer in the by-election won by Angus Macdonell* (Collachie) in Durham, Simcoe, and the East Riding of York. That same year Collachie was dismissed as clerk of the House of Assembly but Chewett’s lobbying to replace him was unsuccessful, despite strong support from Smith and Chief Justice John Elmsley*. When Smith returned to England in July 1802 he left joint supervision of the surveyor general’s office to Chewett and the first clerk, Thomas Ridout*. Chewett once again sought the surveyor-generalship. Smith resigned in 1804 and, although Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter* had promised to recommend Chewett as his successor, Charles Burton Wyatt was appointed. During his tenure in office Wyatt attempted to have Chewett removed from office but the Executive Council would not agree. Wyatt himself was suspended in 1807 by Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore*, whereupon Chewett and Ridout again assumed temporary responsibility for the office. In the fall of 1809 Ridout, with Gore’s blessing, went to England to lobby for the vacant office. Chewett was left in sole charge until Ridout returned the following year with the surveyor general’s commission. In an apparent act of compensation by Gore, Chewett received the first clerk’s job to add to his collection of offices.
In addition to his various posts in the surveyor general’s office, Chewett was a justice of the peace in the Home District for many years. He had a long association with the militia, serving as a captain first in the Eastern District and later at York. By the War of 1812 he commanded the 3rd York Militia. He acted as a draftsman to Major-General Isaac Brock* at Detroit and along the Niagara frontier, and when in April 1813 Major-General Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe* retreated from York, Chewett and William Allan*, the senior militia officers, negotiated the terms of capitulation with the victorious American force. During the war Chewett was also a member of the Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada. He retired from the militia in 1818 because of failing health.
As a surveyor and draftsman Chewett drew plans and elevations for, and supervised the construction of, residences for Simcoe, Elmsley, and Smith. As well, in 1796 he surveyed with Æneas Shaw* the reserves for York’s church, jail, court-house, and market square. He may also have assisted Smith in the preparation of the first printed map of Upper Canada which was published in 1800. Later Chewett advised Ridout on drafting a new map of the province to replace the one destroyed during the American occupation of York in 1813. Although he frequently mapped townships and districts, as well as the province as a whole, his name is found on only one published map, issued in London in 1813. After Ridout’s death in 1829 Chewett became acting surveyor general for the last time. Upon learning that Samuel Proudfoot Hurd* had succeeded Ridout, Chewett sought permission to retire. It was granted and, after Hurd took up office in 1832, he retired on full pay.
Throughout his career, William Chewett’s ambition was consistently thwarted. He had been acting surveyor general often but, despite his long service, he never won the long-sought office, or a seat on the Executive Council. His last memorial, to Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne* and the House of Assembly in 1831, reveals an embittered man frustrated by colonial patronage and societal barriers. Yet as a surveyor he compiled, copied, and submitted more maps than any of his contemporaries (and probably more than anyone in the history of the surveyor general’s office), making in the process an extensive contribution to the settlement of Upper Canada and the permanent cartographic record of the province’s development.
Extracts from a journal kept by William Chewett for 1792–93 comprise most of the “Biographical sketch of the late Colonel Chewett” printed in the Assoc. of Ontario Land Surveyors, Proc. (Toronto), 1890: 101–16. An engraving of Chewett made from a miniature on ivory by Hoppner Francis Meyer is reproduced on the frontispiece to the volume and discussed on p.101 of the biography; the original engraving is in the association’s library in Toronto.
ANQ-Q, E21/356. AO,
© 1988–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Richard J. Simpson, “CHEWETT, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chewett_william_7E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Richard J. Simpson|
|Title of Article:||CHEWETT, WILLIAM|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||March 21, 2023|