Last time, we continued our search for possible kin of Jonathan M. Clark in Lower Canada by looking at a map found in the Lower Canada land petition archives. Please take a moment to peruse that post and look at the manuscript map of Stanstead Township, Lower Canada from the very early 1800s.
That map was contained in the land petition file of one of Stanstead’s earliest and largest landowners, Isaac Ogden. The Lower Canada Land Petition archives are a tremendous resource for studying the early settlement of the province, but the files are often very large. And, for those of us accustomed to the system of federal land patents used in the United States, the Lower Canada land petition and land grant system is sufficiently different that it may be hard to understand and navigate.
Today’s post will focus on one element of that system in particular, the unique, and often corrupt land petition practice known as the system of township leaders and associates. It has a complicated history, so rather than paraphrasing, let me quote at length from the official provincial report that I discussed in an earlier post, the List of lands granted by the crown in the province of Quebec, from 1763 to 31st December 1890, printed by order of the Quebec Legislature by C.-F. Langlois, Printer to Her Most Excellent Majesty the Queen, Quebec, 1891, beginning on page 7:
In practically abolishing the system of land grants, according to the seigniorial method, the act of 1791 introduced into the country all the evils and troubles which the British Government sought to avoid by the instructions of 1663 and g[a]ve rise to the plague of large land-holders which has so greatly hindered the settlement and material advancement of the Province. Under the seignorial regime an individual might, without any trouble, obtain huge grants of land inasmuch as he was obliged to concede land to any bona fide settler who applied for it. But under the system of free grants and free tenure, as established by the act and instructions of 1791, owing to the neglect or connivance of the provincial authorities, a single individual could obtain a whole township and close it to settlers; this has unfortunately happened in a considerable portion of the Eastern Townships. It was under this regime that the system of township leaders and associates originated, which, in less than 15 years, from 1796 to 1809, gave 1,457,209 of the best Crown Lands into the possession of about seventy persons, one of whom, Nicolas Austin, obtained in 1797 a quantity of 62,621 acres of land in the township of Bolton.
The system was carried on as follows: A person wishing to thus take possession of a portion of the public domain, first came to an understanding with the members of the [Provincial] Executive Council and the officers occupying the highest positions, to secure their concurrence and that of the Governor. He afterwards came to an understanding with a certain number of individuals, picked up at hap-hazard, to get them to sign a petition to the Governor. praying for the granting of the land he desired. To compensate them for this accommodating act on their part, he paid his associates a nominal sum, generally a guinea, in consideration of which they at once retransferred their share to him as soon as the letters patent were issued. Sometimes one or two of the associates kept a lot of 100 or 200 acres on a grant covering several thousands of acres, but this was the exception, not the general rule. For that purpose stationers sold blanks of such re-transfers, the form of which. as shewn in 1821 before a committee of the Legislative Assembly, had been prepared and drafted by the Attorney-General.
These frauds were committed with the knowledge of the Executive Council, several of whose members even used this means to obtain large grants of public lands: Prescott, one of the Governors of the time, wished to stop this waste of the public domain, but he brought down upon himself the hatred of the Executive Councillors who, headed by Judge Osgood, managed to obtain his recall. Sir Robert Shore Milne, Prescott’s successor, showed himself better disposed towards the spoilers of the Crown domain and to give them a tangible proof of his good intentions, he had a grant given to him[self] of 48,016 acres in the townships of Compton, Stanstead and Barnston.
A historical table of Lower Canada’s largest grants and grantees follows, see pages 8-10 of the List of Land Grants for details. Note that in the omitted table, the 1810 grant given to Sir R. S. Milne in Compton, Stanstead, and Barnston townships adds up to 48,062 acres, and not 48,016 acres as mentioned above. The text continues at the bottom of page 10:
These figures show how the public domain was disposed of at that time. These extravagant, not to say scandalous, concessions, continued for a long while without the grantees taking the slightest trouble to fulfill the conditions of settlement which were nevertheless in force.
These excessive grants virtually closed the public domain to colonization. As the large proprietors did not even wish to open roads through their properties, it was impossible to pass through them to take up lands situated in rear, and bona fide settlers were unable to obtain land without passing through the Caudine Forks of the large proprietors. The Legislative Assembly took up the matter and upon its representations, the Imperial Parliament, in 1825, passed the act 6. Geo. II. chap. 59ss. 10 and 11, establishing a court to ascertain whether the conditions of settlement attached to each grant had been fulfilled and if they had not been to declare the grant forfeited in favor of the Crown. As the majority of those who were likely to be dealt with by this court were the most influential in the Province, they found means to nullify this measure of reform; two or three cases submitted to this court of escheats at Sherbrooke were dismissed for informalities in the proceedings and every thing remained in statu quo. […] The system of township leaders and associates commenced to fall into desuetude about 1806 and, from that date, almost all the large grants were made in each case in the name of one individual or of a single family. […]
These violations of the instructions of the Imperial Government which sequestrated the best part of the public domain in favour of a few speculators, were encouraged by the Imperial Government itself. Thus, of his own accord, the Duke of Portland gave 48,062 acres to the Governor Sir Robert Shore Milnes and 12, 00 acres to each of the members of the Executive Council constituting the Land Commission which had given all the extravagant and scandalous concessions up to that date.
The key information is this: A person wishing to thus take possession of a portion of the public domain [the “leader”], first came to an understanding with the members of the [Provincial] Executive Council and the officers occupying the highest positions, to secure their concurrence and that of the Governor. [The leader] afterwards came to an understanding with a certain number of individuals [the “associates”], picked up at hap-hazard, to get them to sign a petition to the Governor. praying for the granting of the land he desired. To compensate them for this accommodating act on their part, he paid his associates a nominal sum, generally a guinea, in consideration of which they at once retransferred their share to him as soon as the letters patent were issued.
This is why genealogists and other researchers may find the Lower Canada land petition and land grant archives so maddening to use. It was often the case that a leader or group of leaders would set their eyes on one of the unsettled Eastern Townships. They would then visit a neighboring Vermont or New Hampshire town, and there they would pay 20 or 50 or even 100 “associates” to sign a petition for a grant of the desired land.
But it was—frequently—a scam. These New Englanders often had no intention of settling in Lower Canada. Instead, they would go along as the “leader” or leaders paid them each a nice tidy sum, such as a guinea, if they would sign the petition and then fill out a form to sign back their just-petitioned-for land to the leader(s). For the non-migrant New Englander it was not a bad sum for a day’s work. For the future Eastern Township land speculator, it was an easy and cost-effective way to obtain enormous land holdings and keep them as investments for future sale and profit.
In future posts, we’ll try and sort the New England Clark families that really migrated to Stanstead and other, nearby, Eastern Townships, from the many non-migrating Clarks that only signed on as “associates” to pick up a quick, one-time payment from a land speculating “leader.”
If you haven’t done so, you might want to check out some of our previous posts on Lower Canada land and settlement and how it may relate to Jonathan M. Clark and his kin:
- Monday: Map Day!–Lower Canada, 1802
- Deep in the Documents
- Searching the Lower Canada Land Petitions
- Monday: Map Day!-Lower Canada 1815
- Monday: Map Day!-Lower Canada Ranges and Lots
And by the way, the reference to “Caudine Forks” is a pretty fancy way to say “dead ends,” and has got to win some sort of prize for Best Metaphor from Antiquity in a Government Report, or something.