Chew, Benjamin, 1722-1810

Alternative names
Birth 1722-11-19
Death 1810-01-20

Biographical notes:

Chief Justice Benjamin Chew (1722-1810) was the only surviving son of Dr. Samuel Chew and his first wife, Mary Galloway. Born in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, he would eventually serve as recorder of Philadelphia, attorney general, recorder-general, and chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania under the colonial government. After the Revolution, he was selected as the president of the High Court of Errors and Appeals. His 1747 marriage to Mary Galloway (1729-1755), produced four surviving children: Mary, Anna Maria, Elizabeth, and Sarah. His second marriage, in 1757, to Elizabeth Oswald (1734-1819), brought forth eight more children: Benjamin Jr., Margaret (Peggy), Juliana, Henrietta, Sophia, Maria, Harriet, and Catherine (Kitty). Chew's children increased the social status of the family through marriages to members of the Banning, Carroll, Galloway, Howard, Nicklin, Phillips, Tilghman and Wilcocks families. Tutored in the classics during his early years by Francis Alison, the elder Benjamin began his law studies at the age of fifteen, under the guidance of Andrew Hamilton, and concluded his formal education in 1744 at Middle Temple in London. Returning home upon the death of his father, he moved to Delaware, where he quickly became enmeshed in the political and legal affairs of Pennsylvania and the Lower Counties. His first appointment was as a representative to the Lower Counties' Assembly. Soon thereafter, he was chosen to act as a representative of the Penn family, assigned as secretary to the commission charged with settling the long-standing border dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Thus Chew became intimately involved in legal proceedings that eventually resulted in Mason and Dixon's survey of the boundary line. In addition, Benjamin Chew represented the colonial government in negotiating Indian treaties at Easton. In the mid-1750s, he was granted the post of attorney general for both Pennsylvania and Lower Counties, while also serving as the latter's speaker of the Assembly. Chew moved to Philadelphia in 1754 and built a successful private law practice to augment his public service career. As his various employments and enterprises flourished, Chew prospered, rising to the upper class in his adopted city. Chew owned an elegant town house on South 3rd Street. Here, he attended St. Peter's Church and associated with many influential people in the city. He became involved in other business interests, including iron works and land speculation. As a result of his close relationship with the Penn family, in 1774, Benjamin Chew was chosen to succeed his friend William Allen as chief justice of Pennsylvania. With the growth of tensions between the colonies and Great Britain, Chew at first supported the colonial cause but as the conflict became more intense, he did not advocate separation from England. His close ties to the proprietors and his unwillingness to support the revolution led to the loss of his government positions and banishment, with Governor John Penn, to Union Forge in New Jersey from 1777 to 1778. During this time, he kept up regular correspondence with his family. In 1777, the British occupied Cliveden, Chew's country house, which became a main stage of the Battle of Germantown in October of 1777. Cliveden had been sold before the revolution, but was repurchased by the family in 1797, later becoming the center of the Chew family's activities. Upon Benjamin Chew's return to Philadelphia, he increased his land purchases, ultimately acquiring extensive property holdings in Pennsylvania, adding to inherited properties in Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware. In 1791 he was appointed by Governor Thomas Mifflin to head the High Court of Errors and Appeals for the state of Pennsylvania, a position he held until 1806. At the end of his life, in 1810, Benjamin Chew had amassed a sizable fortune from land speculation and his legal practice.

From the description of Chew Family papers : Series 2. Benjamin Chew (1722-1810), 1659-1819. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania). WorldCat record id: 435804066


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  • Real estate investment
  • Speculation


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  • Westmoreland County (Pa.) (as recorded)
  • Somerset County (Pa.) (as recorded)
  • Fayette County (Pa.) (as recorded)