Surveyor of The Past


REUBEN SHERWOOD  Deputy Surveyor

Thomas Sherwood, the first actual settler in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, located on lot No. 1, in the first concession of Elizabethtown, in June, 1784.  At the commencement of the Revolutionary War he remained loyal to the British Crown, and escaping to St. John’s, Lower Canada, via Lake Champlain, was employed in the Secret Service, going into the States and enlisting men to serve His Majesty King George III. His two brothers entered the Continental Ar­my.

Soon after his settling in Elizabeth­town he was appointed a magistrate and a captain in the militia, and being a man of education was called upon to run the side lines of the lots for the first settlers, and to show them the loca­tion of their land. Though not a legal­ized Surveyor he had the instrument and understood its practical use.

His son,  Reuben,  was born in 1775. He studied with Ephraim Lay in the State of New York, then a British Province. There is no record of when he was ap­pointed a Deputy Surveyor, but he was conducting surveys of townships in 1799.

From 1809 to 1820 he was em­ployed in Government Surveys, subdivid­ing into township lots (on the single front concession plan) the whole or part of each of the following townships, viz:— Augusta, Bastard, Bathurst, Beckwith, Burgess, Crosby North, Crosby South, Drummond, Elizabethtown, Escott, Kitley, Lansdowne, Leeds, Marmora, Nel­son, Pittsburgh, Sherbrooke, Storrington, Nassagaweya, and Yonge.

In later years some of the surveyors who served their apprenticeships under Reuben Sherwood included John Stough­ton Dennis, later to become Canada’s first post-Confederation Surveyor Gener­al, Richard Birdsall, John McNaughton and W. Harry Kilborn. Excerpts from Sherwood’s diary, an account kept during his surveys of Nelson and Nassagawega townships, afford revealing glimpses of surveying conditions at the end of the second decade of the 19th century:

Extracts from the Diary of Reuben Sherwood, D.P.S., on the Survey of the Townships of Nelson and Nassagaweya.

SURVEY PARTY  Alexander Robertson

Chainmen Charles McLean, Alexander Hamilton

Axemen  Henry Glennon,, Nathaniel Gilchrist, J. B. Pichette, Francis Pichette

Monday, 25th February, 1819. —A snowy morning, the party all employed in arranging for bread, axes, pease, etc. Mr. Hopkins not at home. Mr. Chisholm also away. Gave men one quart of whis­key in the morn, and gave them one quart of spirits on the road up. Purchased from Ostrander, blacksmith, four axes, ready helved and ground, at eleven dol­lars.

Thursday, 4th March.— It snowed mostly all night and I could not get the stars in my telescope, in the morning opened and proved Wilmot’s line.

Saturday, 13th March.— Snowing again in the morning. I go out with the party and finish the 2nd concession line to 15 and road. Return again at 7 p.m.; find Hudson arrived. An exceeding cold night; about fifteen inches of snow on the ground. Broke my compass-glass in com­ing home.

Sunday, 14th March.— A cold day. The boys go out and bring three packs of biscuits in, and all get drunk.

Sunday, 21st March.— Hamilton and Baptiste leave me. I go out to Hop­kins. See Mr. Merritt in the evening with Capt. Chisholm. Go in search of snow-shoes, and travel all night, and next day breakfast at Ancaster.

Monday, 22nd March.— Obtain four pairs, and return by the way of Dundas. Meet McLean and Gilchrist on Dundas Street with a keg of whiskey, and sent out three pairs of the snowshoes. I sleep at Hopkins.

Tuesday, 23rd.— Go out and find all my party squibby, having drunk up my whiskey and their own, and they had not moved the camp.

Saturday, 27th March.— The snow having frozen last night, we mount the snowshoes and move to No. 6 in the 5th concession, and run said line to No. 11, all good land. A fine creek in No. 8 runs easterly.

Friday, 9th April.— A fine day. We move down to the east angle of the township again to commence the town-line. Robinson being in rear of us, the ice left him on the other side of the creek, and he could not get to us till I sent an axeman to him. The low lands all spash, and all the flats afloat, so that I could not make any headway. I prepar­ed for the meridian again and took it.

Thursday, 22nd April, 1819. —Commence the new township. Mosqui­toes bite some to-day.

Sunday, 25th.— A fine day. I go out with McCollum. Find the men asleep in the road.

Monday, 3rd May.— Start to York on old buck, and arrive at 7 in the even­ing.

Tuesday, 4th May.— Meet the Surveyor-General in the morning, and draw my lands in Nelson and Nassaga­weya.

Friday, 14th May.— Come out, and all hands squibby, nearly. I settled my accounts thereabouts.Memorandum of “camp furniture” used on the survey of Augusta in 1810, as given in Reuben Sherwood’s notes:—4 axes., 1 hatchet , 6 tin cups, 4 iron spoons, 2 wooden spoons , 1 tin pan, , 1 camp kettle , 1 tin pail, 3 bags, 8 blankets ,1 gun Pouch, horn and shot-bag , 1 compass and chains , 1 marking-iron, Old case of protracting instruments.




Re:  Reuban Sherwood - Surveyor in Marmora in the early 1800's

After his home was invaded by a group of his Patriot neighbours and he narrowly escaped a sentence of life imprisonment for his political beliefs, Justus Sherwood served in the Loyalist forces, negotiated with Patriots on behalf of the British, was involved in secret service activities, and ultimately was a leader of Loyalist settlers in what became Upper Canada.

Sherwood was born in Newtown, Connecticut on 7 March 1747, the tenth child of John and Hannah Sherwood. He moved to Vermont about 1771 and married Sarah Bottum about 1774. They had three daughters and two sons.

He was a frontier farmer, dedicated to his family, community and king. He knew, and sympathized with, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys who carried on a long struggle to attain Vermont’s independence from New York. He did not however, support their revolutionary activities. As a result, in 1776, local Patriots raided his home, destroyed his belongings, and arrested him. After a revolutionary court condemned him to life imprisonment in Simsbury Mines in Connecticut, he escaped and fled to Bennington where his wife had gone to be with her family. Here he spoke out against the rebels who subsequently captured him and had him publicly flogged.

In 1777, he made a getaway, this time with a group of Loyalists among whom was his cousin, Thomas. They went to Crown Point where they met Sir Guy Carleton who assisted them in reaching Quebec. The next year, he and Thomas joined the Queen’s Loyal Rangers under the command of Colonel John Peters. After the regiment’s defeat at Saratoga, Justus spent three years with his wife and family at St. John’s, Quebec doing secret service work. Thomas was also living at St. John’s with his family, including his son, Reuben, who enlisted in the Loyal Rangers in 1782 at age 14. Thomas was a scout for the British at this time, as well.

In 1780, Governor General Frederick Haldimand sent Justus back to Vermont to negotiate with Ethan Allen for the exchange of prisoners and the eventual return of Vermont to the British Empire. The British defeat at Yorktown destroyed whatever feeble hope there was for reconciliation, although Sherwood seems to have continued on good terms with the Allens.

A South West View of St. Johns, Quebec
National Archives of Canada/C-002003 Artist: James Peachey, ca. 1784

For the next two years, Justus Sherwood continued to carry out intelligence work in Northern New York and New England. The Treaty of Paris, which officially brought peace, found Sherwood involved in settling Loyalists in what was left of British North America.

He carried out an extensive inspection of the Gaspé shoreline as far as New Brunswick and, in 1783 led a party of Loyalists to the Kingston-Bay of Quinte area where he began the surveys of the new townships. Reuben Sherwood was one of his assistants.

The decision to open the area along the St. Lawrence west of Montreal is a reflection of adamant opposition to any plan to locate Loyalists on the seigneuries of Quebec. Loyalists preferred settling on the new lands to the west. Thomas Sherwood’s family also settled in the new townships along the St., Lawrence. Reuben received 200 acres in Elizabeth Township as a veteran and began clearing land and building timber rafts with his father and cousin, Justus.

By 1785, Justus had installed his family on a new farm in Augusta Township, just west of present-day Prescott. By 1792, he had constructed a grist mill on one of his properties. He served as Land Commissioner for Lunenburg District and Justice of the Peace. He died in the summer of 1798 at Trois Riviéres while taking one of the timber rafts to Quebec.

Reuben served as captain of guides on the St. Lawrence during the War of 1812. In February 1813, Americans raided Brockville and captured approximately 50 men including his younger brother, Adiel, a captain in the Leeds Militia. Through trickery, Reuben was able to capture two American officers and arrange for the release of his brother and another officer in exchange for their release.

For many years, Reuben earned his living as a government surveyor. His survey records are preserved in the Archives of Ontario.

Originally published in United Empire Loyalists- Pioneers and Settlers, A Teacher’s Resource.

For further information: Fryer, Mary Beacock, Buckskin Pimpernel – The Exploits of Justus Sherwood, Loyalist Spy, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1981