The Ward Chipman Slavery Brief
from the Archives and Special Collections at the University of New Brunswick
In 1800, Ward Chipman and Samuel Denny Street defended the right of a Slave woman, Nancy, to obtain her freedom. There was no existing legislation in New Brunswick on slavery and Chipman and Street offered their services pro bono in an attempt to establish a precedent. Although the two young Fredericton lawyers were not successful in their bid to free Nancy from her owner, Caleb Jones; their efforts are considered seminal in directing the course of New Brunswick law. The trial lasted more than a year and was heard by four judges. Four counsellors offered briefs. The trial resulted in a split decision and Nancy was returned to Jones. Within a year, proponents of slavery introduced legislation that would ostensibly protect slaves, while at the same time entrenching slavery as a legal institution. The legislation was never passed.
Ward Chipman, 1748-1824
Ward Chipman was a prominent New Brunswick lawyer, judge and Loyalist."Chippy," as he was known to his friends, was born in Massachusetts to a successful lawyer. He graduated from Harvard University in 1770 and studied law with Jonathan Sewall. Chipman supported Britain during the American Revolution. In 1777, he acted as Deputy Muster-Master General in New York under Edward Winslow, who remained a great friend of his. When New York was evacuated in 1783, Chipman travelled to Britain; only a year later, he was appointed Solicitor-General for New Brunswick. P.A. Ryder commented that "(Chipman's) life mirrored that of the Province of New Brunswick from 1784 to 1824." Chipman played a part in many important events and was involved with some critical issues that arose in the province. Besides representing the Crown in border disputes with the United States and Nova Scotia and sitting in New Brunswick's first House of Assembly, Chipman also drew up the Charter for the city of Saint John. In 1806 he became a Legislative Councillor, and in 1809 he was made a puisne judge in the New Brunswick Supreme Court. Chipman's marriage to Elizabeth Hazen allied him with one of the oldest families in the province. Isabel Louise Hill stated that, "as long as he lived, suggestion of reform was considered an attack upon the constitution" (Hill, p. 160). His public life did not always run smoothly. Although he won a seat in the first House of Assembly, he never succeeded in winning a seat in future elections. After the 1795 election, he wrote a letter to the Gazette. He explained that his friends wanted him to demand a recount of the votes, but he graciously refused, noting that such an action would "probably give rise to such dissentions and animosities to the disturbance of the public peace... and which I should poorly merit the character I boast of, if I did not study to prevent" (Gazette, Sept. 1, 1795: p.1). The loss was evidently a great blow to Chipman: "I had hoped, that my unwearied and laborious exertions in the service of the Province, from its earliest period to this day, not only without any pay or emolument, but with great inconvenience and injury to myself, had entitled me to the fullest confidence of my fellow-citizens; and a wish still to contribute all in my power to the Public Weal, had reconciled me to a continuance of the same sacrifices."