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BULL, GEORGE PERKINS – Volume VII (1836-1850)

d. 5 Dec. 1847 in Hamilton, Upper Canada


Responsible Government

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Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

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CHAMBERLAIN, THEOPHILUS, soldier, jp, surveyor, and office holder; b. 20 or 27 Oct. 1737 in Northfield, Mass., fourth son of Ephraim Chamberlain and Anne Merriman; m. 15 May 1768, apparently in Danbury, Conn., Editha White, and they had two children; m. secondly 24 Dec. 1781 Lamira Humphraville, and they had eight children; d. 20 July 1824 in Preston, N.S.

It was a Chamberlain characteristic to answer the call of duty. Ephraim, a blacksmith, was killed during the New England expedition against Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), in 1745. An uncle adopted the seven-year-old Theophilus and saw that he received an education. In the Seven Years’ War the young man served with Burke’s Rangers. Ingenious, determined, and physically fit though Chamberlain undoubtedly was, no one could have done all the things during the next few years which are ascribed to him by two divergent sources.

The accounts agree that the rangers joined the British at Fort William Henry (also called Fort George; now Lake George, N.Y.), where Chamberlain shared in fighting and reconnoitring. In one skirmish he was one of two survivors. After the fort fell to Montcalm* in August 1757 the Indian allies of the French seized part of the British garrison. At the end of a march to the Indian encampment at Montreal several prisoners, headed by Chamberlain, escaped into the town. He and a friend were sheltered by one of Montcalm’s interpreters, a Northfield native. Dressed as women, the two were escorted to a nearby prison to prevent recapture, and then transferred to Quebec. From this point the accounts differ, but it seems likely that Chamberlain and a second Northfield man were exchanged for French prisoners. After his arrival in Halifax in October 1757 Chamberlain worked at an inn; by February 1758 he had saved enough for passage to Boston.

Joining his foster parents, who had moved to South Hadley, Mass., Chamberlain became foreman in his uncle’s tannery. Within a few years he entered Yale College, graduating ba in 1765. After studying theology under the Reverend Eleazar Wheelock at Lebanon, Conn., he was ordained a Congregational minister on 29 April 1765, and with a fellow minister was immediately dispatched to the settlements of the Six Nations in New York. By September 1767, however, he was teaching in a private Latin school in Boston. He also served briefly as minister of a Presbyterian congregation in Worcester, Mass.

By this time, Chamberlain had become interested in the teachings of Robert Sandeman. In 1768 he was re-ordained as a Sandemanian bishop, married, and moved to Danbury, where he set up a clothing business. Sandemanianism laid stress upon personal salvation, and the Danbury group had an especially sensitive religious conscience and strong convictions on civil duties. Overt persecution began about 1770, when Chamberlain and others found themselves before the courts for ignoring warnings to leave town. Within months of their appearance in court most of the group had moved to New Haven, Conn. There Chamberlain established a dry-goods store, which he soon abandoned, and in 1772 he returned to teaching. Ill will among the townspeople and the onset of the revolution again made the Sandemanians’ position difficult, since their faith required obedience to constituted authority. For their refusal to contribute to the war fund some, including Chamberlain, were imprisoned; they were then freed and allowed to go to British-controlled territory. Chamberlain and his family settled on a farm near Bedford Village, N.Y. In 1776 his infant son died, and in 1779 his wife. Two years later he remarried and by 1782 was teaching again, this time at a private school in New York City.

As the British occupation drew to a close, Chamberlain accepted a captain’s commission in the city militia from Sir Guy Carleton* with responsibility for arranging the transfer to Halifax of a group of refugees. With his family and friends he reached there in the early fall of 1783. Almost at once he was commissioned a justice of the peace, named a deputy surveyor, appointed to lay out a new township east of Dartmouth, and made agent to distribute land within the area, which at that time boasted only a handful of stragglers from the Dartmouth settlement. The actual grant in December 1784 gave Chamberlain and 143 others, including loyalists, blacks, disbanded soldiers, and Germans, a “plantation” of 32,000 acres in Preston, his name for the new township. Chamberlain himself received one of two grants of 1,000 acres. In April 1785, 194 refugees arrived from St Augustine (Fla), and fresh grants in 1785 and 1786 accommodated them and other newcomers. An additional 35 settlers received 4,700 acres in December 1787.

As Preston grew, Chamberlain’s duties increased. When some blacks complained about the quality of their lots or the fact that they had not received title, he replied that they had not paid his agent’s fees or had been “too negligent to look after their own interests.” Given official guidelines on lot sizes and his Sandemanian belief that responsibility was in direct proportion to proven will and ability to handle it, Chamberlain’s land allocations were reasonably fair. Some Halifax residents never occupied their lots, and in January 1792 most of the blacks left for Sierra Leone [see Thomas Peters*; David George*]. Many soldiers sold or abandoned their grants, and Preston was thus left mainly to the Sandemanians, of whom Chamberlain was the acknowledged leader. As his large family grew up and married into the prominent Sandemanian families in Halifax, he subdivided his acreage or acquired new grants for some of his children in Preston.

In July 1796 about 550 maroons from Jamaica arrived at Halifax. These descendants of escaped slaves had warred with the Jamaican authorities for more than a year, and when the fighting ended in March 1796 they had been deported to Nova Scotia. There they were supported financially by the Jamaican government and were assigned superintendents. Although the maroons were not at first Chamberlain’s responsibility, he oversaw the surveys and allocations of land purchased for them in Preston. For a time he also acted as schoolmaster, and in July 1797 he was requested to share some duties connected with their supervision. When he threatened to withhold rations the formerly unwilling maroons finally began to work their lands. On 9 July 1798 Chamberlain was named superintendent of the maroons, replacing Alexander Howe*. Using his former tactics he was able to get them to work, but found them as exasperating as they found life in Preston. From then until the removal of the maroons in August 1800 Chamberlain occupied Maroon Hall, built by Francis Green* and acquired by the Jamaican government as the superintendent’s mansion.

Apart from French and American prisoners temporarily resident there, few people moved into Preston in the following years. Vacant properties hampered development, especially the maintenance of roads, and Chamberlain in vain urged the escheat of these lands. After the War of 1812 he welcomed a government proposal to settle a group of freed slaves as a chance to fill empty lands, afford assistance in repairing roads, and supply needed labourers for the original settlers. The unoccupied lands were duly escheated, and in order to provide space for a reasonably compact settlement Chamberlain and some others relinquished part of their properties in exchange for acreage elsewhere. During the summer of 1815 Chamberlain laid out portions of the proposed lots, and in the fall he supervised the issue of provisions and the arrangements for the storage of supplies for the refugees. He continued to report on the progress of the new settlers until the end of 1816, when this last of his major public responsibilities ended.

Chamberlain’s long career was many-sided. He was a pragmatist with principles: as circumstances or conscience required, he moved with little hesitation from one task to another, wasting no time on regret, salvaging what he could, seeking new solutions to old problems or taking on new challenges. His driving force was an inner tension resulting from a practical nature tempered with religious conviction and moral conscience. With Chamberlain, action followed decision: when he found Congregational tenets wanting he became a Sandemanian; when political beliefs ruled out rebellion he started a new life behind British lines. His loyalism was typical in that it was based on the political and social need for a duly constituted figure of authority irrespective of the figure itself. Yet his Sandemanianism insisted on individual independence, permitted no double standards, and saw time, education, and Christianity as the great equalizers. Honesty, work well done, thrift, and acceptance of responsibility brought their own rewards. It was men such as Chamberlain who set Nova Scotia on course; the brittle gaiety of government circles and the shadowy half-world of the Halifax waterfront were peripheral to real development, and he no doubt grew impatient with both.

Yet Chamberlain was on friendly terms with several lieutenant governors. Sir John Wentworth* in fact placed his natural son Edward Lowe in the old man’s house and under his legal custody. His home life was irreproachable and he retained the loyalty of lifelong friends. Chamberlain’s portrait reflects his mixture of human vanity and spiritual humility; his will, made at age 87, provides a deeper insight into his character. He greatly loved the countryside around his home, having given it his name and having left his mark upon it with his surveyor’s instruments. Before he died on 20 July 1824, he asked to be buried in the small cemetery near the church built for the maroons atop a high hill in Preston.

Gertrude Tratt

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, C51 (Theophilus Chamberlain) (mfm. at PANS). PANS, Biog., Theophilus Chamberlain, diary (mfm.); MG 1, 164C (typescript); 1184B (photocopies); 1619A (photocopies); RG 1, 419, no.41. Nova-Scotia Royal Gazette, 21 July 1824. Loyalists in N.S. (Gilroy). Richard Hildreth, History of the United States of America (6v., New York, 1848–71), 3. Historical essays on the Atlantic provinces, ed. G. A. Rawlyk (Toronto, 1967; repr. 1971). Murdoch, Hist. of N.S., vol.3. Francis Parkman, A half-century of conflict (2v., Boston, 1892). [A. G.] Archibald, “Story of deportation of Negroes from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 7 (1891): 129–54. F. E. Crowell, “New Englanders in Nova Scotia . . . ,” Yarmouth Herald (Yarmouth, N.S.), 11 Oct. 1932. J. N. Grant, “The 1821 emigration of black Nova Scotians to Trinidad,” N.SHist. Quarterly, 2 (1972): 285–92. E. B. Harvey, “The Negro loyalists,” N.SHist. Quarterly, 1 (1971): 181–202. “House linked with historic name,” Mail-Star (Halifax), 8 Jan. 1954. “Living links with the past,” Halifax Herald, 24 June 1897. “Portraits,” N.S., Provincial Museum and Science Library, Report (Halifax), 1934–35: 30. C. StC. Stayner, “The Sandemanian loyalists,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 29 (1951): 62–123.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gertrude Tratt, “CHAMBERLAIN, THEOPHILUS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 5, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chamberlain_theophilus_6E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/chamberlain_theophilus_6E.html
Author of Article:   Gertrude Tratt
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   December 5, 2023