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WENMAN (Winman), RICHARD, businessman and office-holder; b. in England; d. 28 Sept. 1781 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, in his 70th year.

In June 1749 Richard Wenman immigrated with the first settlers to Halifax in the ship Charlton accompanied by his wife and his son Amos. According to the list of settlers Wenman had been a quarter-gunner in HMs Advice. On 27 July 1751 he married a recent widow, Ann Pyke, née Scroope, mother of John George Pyke*. Together the Wenmans managed the orphan house in Halifax. Apart from this responsibility and his share of the civic duties required of regular inhabitants, Wenman held a number of official positions and launched a range of business ventures. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1762, represented Halifax Township in the House of Assembly from 1765 to 1770, and was commissioned captain in the Halifax militia in 1770. His commercial activities included a brewery, a rope-walk established in 1754, contracts for supplying the jail and workhouse, and real estate dealings in town and country.

A man of considerable landed property, Wenman was assessed amongst the ten wealthiest property-owners of Halifax in 1776. His lands were obtained by grant, private treaty, auction, and mortgage. He was one of the original grantees of Lawrencetown in 1754, and ten years later he petitioned successfully for 500 acres near present Sackville known as Wenman Hall farm. His town property, much of which he leased, included some choice commercial lots such as the Market House lot, which he acquired in 1760 and for which he paid nearly £600 over 18 years. One of his houses, adjoining the orphan house property, became the temporary lodging of the Reverend Jacob Bailey* after his flight in 1779 from Pownalborough (in the vicinity of West Dresden, Maine). Bailey especially admired its English country garden stocked with hawthorns, willows, and fruit trees. Wenman was also a slave owner. Cato, a liveried house servant, ran away temporarily in 1778, but he was sufficiently esteemed by his master to be granted his freedom under the terms of Wenman’s will.

In comparison with his diversified and apparently thriving entrepreneurial activities, Wenman’s role as keeper of the orphan house was a minor concern. But his connection with the institution was a long one, beginning with its establishment in 1752 as a “Public Charity.” Its 32year dependence on the imperial government was unintentional on the part of its originators. In the 1750s the establishment was seen largely as a means of training a labour force in an under-populated colony. Lieutenant Governor Charles Lawrence* also feared that the absence of such an institution would encourage destitute settlers to sell children to the Acadians, whom he described as anxious for Romish converts. It seems more likely, however, that the main function of the orphan house and, after its dissolution in the 1780s, of the facilities provided for children in the poorhouse till the mid 19th century was the care of the illegitimate offspring of the military and naval establishments in a town that catered fulsomely to the garrison presence. Criticism by the Board of Trade that the Wenmans’ superintendence of the orphan house cost more than their care of the children encouraged Jonathan Belcher to reduce the establishment of 40 children at a cost of £713 in 1760 to one of 25 children at £384 in 1762. The zealous Governor Francis Legge further economized by reducing the appropriation to £250 in 1774. Nonetheless, the orphan house provided a tidy sinecure for Wenman and a ready supply of labour for his rope and beer production. The day-to-day supervision devolved on Ann as matron, under the watchful eye of the Reverend John Breynton as guardian, and she outlived both the keeper and the asylum, dying in 1792. Meanwhile the Wenmans’ daughters Susanna and Elizabeth Susanna improved their social position through marriages to Benjamin Green Jr, the provincial treasurer, and Lieutenant William Pringle of the Royal Nova Scotia Volunteers.

Judith Fingard

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Book 2, pp.296–97 (will of Richard Wenman, 26 Sept. 1781); Book 3, pp.89–90 (will of Ann Wenman, 18 Feb. 1792) (mfm. at PANS). Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), 2, pp.371, 381, 391, 406; 3, p.62; 4, pp.28, 101, 119, 121, 122, 123; 5, pp.22, 140, 248; 9, pp. 128, 130; 10, pp.89–91, 184; 11, p.215; 12, p.62; 15, pp.300–1; 18, pp.46–50 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, RG 1, 29, no.25; 30, no.18; 32, no.23; 164, p.195; 168, p.41; 397; 411, no.7; 417. PRO, CO 217/14, ff.186, 347; 217/16, f.237; 217/18, ff.63, 205–6, 216, 218–25; 217/19, ff.145, 151; 217/20, ff.26v–27, 30; 217/50, ff.125–26; 218/4, ff.177v–78; 218/5, f.49v; 218/6, ff.25v–26, 72v, 96v, 186. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Registers of baptisms, burials, and marriages, 27 July 1751, 30 Sept. 1781 (mfm. at PANS). N.S., House of Assembly, Journal, 1765–68. N.SArchives, I, 507. Halifax Gazette, 7 July 1753, 29 June 1754. Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 6 Oct. 1778, 2 Oct. 1781. W. S. Bartlet, The frontier missionary: a memoir of the life of the RevJacob Bailey . . . (Boston, 1853), 168–71. Brebner, Neutral Yankees. Relief Williams, “Poor relief and medicine in Nova Scotia, 1749–1783,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XXIV (1938), 40–45.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Judith Fingard, “WENMAN, RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wenman_richard_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wenman_richard_4E.html
Author of Article: Judith Fingard
Title of Article: WENMAN, RICHARD
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: October 21, 2014