DCB/DBC Mobile beta


New Biographies

Minor Corrections

Biography of the Day


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

McCARTHY, JEREMIAH, surveyor; b. c. 1758, son of Calahan McCarthy and Catherine O’Brian, of County Cork (Republic of Ireland); m. 5 June 1780 Marie-Magdelaine Dubergès in the parish of Saint-Thomas (in Montmagny), Que., and they had six children; d. 29 June 1828 in Saint-Hyacinthe, Lower Canada.

In the period from 29 Oct. 1777 to 26 Feb. 1778 Jeremiah McCarthy is mentioned four times on the inspection lists of the Prince of Wales’s American Regiment, a loyalist unit recruited in New York State. By 6 Nov. 1779 he was living in the province of Quebec, at Saint-Thomas, and already owned a farm. However, the war was far from over, even if no military operations were taking place on the colony’s soil. Great Britain was still maintaining large forces in the St Lawrence valley, which were stationed in a number of parishes for strategic purposes, and also so that as many inhabitants as possible might contribute to the war effort. McCarthy billeted on his farm men from the German Anhalt-Zerbst regiment, which had arrived at Quebec late in May 1778 and was quartered at Saint-Thomas from 6 Nov. 1779 till 30 June 1780. He does not seem to have appreciated the experience much. On 21 July 1780 he applied to Governor Frederick Haldimand* for compensation, because his farmer’s home had been used as a guardhouse and he had been obliged to lodge the family in his own residence. Late in December 1779 the commissariat, which had to buy, hold, and distribute the army’s supplies and building materials, opened a storehouse at Saint-Thomas. McCarthy served in it as deputy commissary general from 24 Jan. 1781 until it closed in June 1783 as a result of reductions in the army’s strength.

While working in the commissariat McCarthy had done some surveys, as the first report in his registry, dated 6 June 1781, shows. His career as a surveyor really began, however, in 1783. By 1792 he had surveyed the entire Côte-du-Sud area, which stretched from Lévis to Rivière-du-Loup and from the shores of the St Lawrence to the Appalachians. His clientele came mainly from the parishes of Kamouraska, L’Islet, Montmagny, Lévis, and Bellechasse. He went as far as the seigneury of filet-du-Portage in 1790 and, in another direction, the Beauce region in 1784. At that period a surveyor did various jobs: chain-measuring, marking boundaries, laying out lots, farms, and entire ranges of homesteads, establishing or confirming dividing lines between seigneurial or other properties, confirming surveys, and preparing reports and plans required as a result of a sale, court order, or division of an estate among heirs. A surveyor’s career did not, however, bring the young Irishman living in a largely French-speaking region all the satisfactions he had anticipated. In a memoir sent to the Executive Council on 25 March 1784 he expressed great disappointment with a surveyor’s living conditions. His low wages meant that he could not provide for his own subsistence by his professional activity. They had, he said, been set with the work done by “line drawers” in mind, rather than that of surveyors like himself who were competent to survey great stretches of land. He asked that his wages be doubled. Despite his claim to be superior to “common surveyors,” McCarthy had to continue for several years with tasks he scorned. He was also afflicted with numerous health problems that confined him to the house for long periods. In 1786, for example, he was forced to remain inactive for more than a month. He told the acting deputy receiver general, Henry Caldwell*, in a letter dated 27 Nov. 1786 that his health was delicate and that he feared he would not long be able to do surveying.

McCarthy’s requests for recognition of his competence were not in vain. He was asked to participate in the large-scale surveys initiated by the government to encourage settlement by loyalists and accelerate population growth. In 1785 and 1787 he and Edward Jessup surveyed Augusta Township (Ont.). He was more involved, however, in the surveying of Lower Canada. The terms of the Constitutional Act of 1791 concerning land holding and the method of land granting had spectacular results on settlement and proved a gift from heaven for surveyors. McCarthy was amongst those who benefited from the new system by surveying townships and participating in the determination of the limits of those lands granted on seigneurial tenure and in the establishment of the exact boundaries of regions to be developed. In 1792 he surveyed in turn Armagh, Stoneham, and Tewkesbury townships. That year he did a survey of the Rivière Chaudière as far as Lac Mégantic. In 1793 he established two base lines by exploring the entire area between the barony of Longueuil and the Chaudière and that between the Rivière Saint-François and the Yamaska up to Dunham Township. He also worked with other surveyors on the survey of the St Lawrence, which was begun in the winter of 1792 and continued in 1793, 1794, and 1795. This was not an easy task: the surveys of the river done in 1792 did not match, so the work had be done over again the following year by McCarthy and Benjamin Ecuyer. Samuel Gale and Jean-Baptiste Duberger made use of their data to prepare a map in 1794 and 1795. The distances measured by McCarthy when he established the base lines turned out to be much less exact than anticipated, thus limiting the usefulness of Gale’s and Duberger’s map.

Administrative delays and political shilly-shallying over land distribution between 1795 and 1800 slowed surveying of the new townships considerably. Except for doing Milton and Granby townships in 1796, McCarthy worked almost exclusively for seigneurs and private individuals. Since moving to Quebec in 1791 he had acquired a good many clients in the neighbouring region, and he also continued to work occasionally on the Côte-du-Sud.

Around 1800, in compliance with regulations governing the granting of lands in the townships, requests for township surveys were handled through the Surveyor General’s Office, and McCarthy benefited from this arrangement; in 1800 he surveyed Thetford Township, in 1801 those of Shenley, Simpson, Stoke, and Windsor, in 1802 Tring, Somerset, Newton, Nelson, Farnham, and Buckland, and in 1803 Aston. During the same period he confirmed the boundaries of several seigneuries.

Things began to go wrong for McCarthy at the time when Aston Township, adjacent to the seigneury of Nicolet, was being surveyed. On 18 June 1802 he had received instructions from the acting surveyor general, Joseph Bouchette*, to survey and subdivide the township; he was also told to confirm with the seigneurs concerned that the boundaries of their properties were clearly determined. Relying on the plan of Aston prepared by McCarthy, the seigneur of Nicolet, Pierre-Michel Cressé*, proceeded to develop two ranges of homesteads, with 120 lots, on land that was actually in the township. When Kenelm Conor Chandler* bought the seigneury in 1821, the matter was far from settled and it brought him into conflict with the land agent for the township. On the strength of some remarks Bouchette had made, which in effect invalidated McCarthy’s survey as erroneous, inadmissible, and contrary to his instructions, the agent won the case around 1832.

The survey of Farnham Township and the seigneury of Saint-Hyacinthe, which McCarthy did in 1802, had even more serious consequences. It enabled the owners of the seigneury to recover 17,000 acres from the adjacent seigneuries, including Monnoir, which belonged to Sir John Johnson. Once more Bouchette showed his dissatisfaction with McCarthy’s work, but that did not cause his report to be rejected.

From 1802 the correspondence between McCarthy and Bouchette reveals serious shortcomings on McCarthy’s part, to the point that having reprimanded him in writing on 16 Dec. 1802, Bouchette was forced to summon him to Quebec on 30 May 1803. Bouchette had been discreet: he did not describe McCarthy’s conduct but spoke of a “collection of letters” concerning him. He decided he would no longer use his services. McCarthy then saw his career begin to go downhill. He received fewer and fewer requests for surveys, and had to leave Lower Canada for the period 1806–14 to work in Upper Canada. Among the surveys he did there was one of the village of Williamstown, undertaken for Sir John Johnson in 1813.

McCarthy moved back to Quebec in 1814, but during the next two years practised in the seigneuries and parishes in the lower reaches of the St Lawrence, at Trois-Pistoles, L’Isle Verte, Bic, and Rimouski. But he was suffering from alcoholism, which progressively made him unfit for his profession. He found refuge with Marie-Rosalie Papineau, Jean Dessaulles’s wife, at Saint-Hyacinthe, where he died on 29 June 1828.

If McCarthy’s career as a surveyor ended rather lamentably, he was scarcely more successful in business. He was interested solely in real estate. In 1786 he and Duncan McDonald bought the seigneuries of Ristigouche and Port-Daniel in the Gaspé. But the sale was annulled that year, and ten years later the two seigneuries reverted to the crown. The Executive Council agreed to repay McCarthy the sum he had invested in the venture. In 1793 McCarthy made a request for Buckland Township in association with Captain T. A. Wetherall. The matter dragged on, since Wetherall had not been able to secure the financing to develop the township, with the result that in 1800 McCarthy made a request for 1,200 acres in Barford Township for himself and his family. There is no indication that he ever received them.

McCarthy’s contribution to teaching deserves mention. In 1789 he published an announcement in the Quebec Gazette that he would “teach a few young Gentlemen (not exceeding six at a time) . . . Euclid’s elements or geometry, trigonometry both Plain and Spherical, algebra, astronomy, conick sections, geography, or the use of the globes and maps, mensuration, gauging – gunnery, fortification, architecture, dialling, mechanicks, navigation, surveying in all its branches both in Theory and Practice.” After moving to Quebec in 1791 he opened a school for mathematics in his home on Rue des Carrières. His courses, which were offered in French or English, helped train a considerable number of surveyors. He passed his knowledge on to his son Jeremiah, who was commissioned as a surveyor in 1797 and worked almost exclusively with him, and to the surveyor Louis Charland*.

Despite a most promising start, Jeremiah McCarthy’s career appears to have been an unending series of failures. It is tempting to lay all the blame on alcoholism, where it may in part belong. The consequences of his surveying of Aston and Farnham townships, however, tarnished his reputation just as much, whether his surveys were accurate or not. If he had no luck with his efforts to become a seigneur or obtain land in the townships, there is no indication that he lost any sizeable sums in them. He seems to have had no backing among the governing classes, and what he obtained fell far short of his ambitions.

Gilles Langelier

The surveyor’s reports of Jeremiah McCarthy for 1781–1817 are at ANQ-Q, CA1-45.

ANQ-Q, CE2-7, 5 juin, 13 sept. 1780; 22 oct. 1781; 29 déc. 1782; 10 nov. 1784; 7 avril 1786; 1er août 1787; CN1-92, 1er mars 1793; E21/357, 21 janv., 16 févr., 3 mai, 1er juill., 12 août, 7 oct. 1802; 5 sept. 1803; 20 août 1804; P-239: 72. BL, Add. mss 21853: 36–37, 64–126; 21877: 124, 127–28. PAC, MG 9, D4, vol.8, sect.A7: 517 (mfm.); MG 23, GII, 10, vol.3: 916–24, 935–41; MG 30, D1, 20; National Map Coll., NMC-26878; NMC-57718; RG 1, L3L: 29331–445, 36132–68, 62080, 62103–8, 63521–31, 63554, 64102–14; RG 4, A1, 26: 8681–83; 62: 20007–8, 20011, 20015, 20019, 20024, 20028; RG 4, B33, 18; RG 8, I (C ser.), 1895: I, 19, 25, 32. Québec, Ministère de l’Énergie et Ressources, Service d’arpentage, carnet d’arpenteur, A22, A22A, A22G, B33, F3B, M27A, N2, N6D, S10A, S17A, S24A, T8, T14, W16; Surveyor general office, letter-books, vol.2, 16 Dec. 1802, 30 May 1803. “Surveyors’ letters, notes, instructions, etc., from 1788 to 1791,” AO Report, 1905: 418–19. Quebec Gazette, 7 Aug. 1783, 5 Feb. 1789, 24 Nov. 1791, 16 March 1814, 7 July 1828. Maurice Saint-Yves, Atlas de géographie historique du Canada (Boucherville, Qué., 1982). Jules Bélanger et al., Histoire de la Gaspésie (Montréal, 1981), 164. Caron, La colonisation de la prov. de Québec. C.-P. Choquette, Histoire de la ville de Saint-Hyacinthe (Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué., 1930), 86. V. E. DeMarce, The settlement of former German auxiliary troops in Canada after the American revolution (Arlington, Va., 1984).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gilles Langelier, “McCARTHY, JEREMIAH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mccarthy_jeremiah_6E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mccarthy_jeremiah_6E.html
Author of Article:   Gilles Langelier
Title of Article:   McCARTHY, JEREMIAH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   October 2, 2023