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Article Published June 23, 2000


Brenda Dougall Merriman
Loyalist Petitions for Land Grants
By: Brenda Dougall Merriman, CGRS, CGL.
Email: merrigeneal@sympatico.ca


Now that we are discussing sources for "proving" a Loyalist ancestor, we can begin to look at the petitions made by the displaced, the refugees, and the disbanded Loyalist fighting men for land grants in British North America. (Please see former articles in this series for general information about Loyalist migrations and claims for redress of property losses.) This act of petitioning, by Loyalists, their widows, and their children, was a response to the British government, which in turn was responding to a desperate situation. With thousands of newcomers crowding the still-British northern colonies in America, immediate reaction was necessary to settle them.

Land petitions, as a record group, and related land-granting documents are more abundant than other sources (such as claims for losses or lists) and thus more relevant and important than any other single source for establishing Loyalist status. The UEL Association of Canada uses the word "proof" for a piece of documentation on the Loyalist ancestor; I prefer to use the word "evidence". This may be a matter of semantics, because I believe we mean the same thing. There are many shared similarities among Loyalist families for the recognition of status, which become especially evident in the petitions. The rules and regulations for determining whether a person was a Loyalist or not, were neither immediate nor static. It also becomes apparent that identical circumstances did not guarantee the same status to all applicants. The more one studies, the more one realizes the learning experience never ends!

In both the existing British colonies of Nova Scotia and Quebec, action was taken to allot parcels of land appropriate for supporting a family, in areas not encroaching on existing deeds of ownership, and to recognize "degree" of service to the Crown (initially, land granting in Upper Canada was structured according to military rank). A series of Royal Instructions to the provincial governors from 1783 to 1788 dictated the size and amount of "privileged" land grants to be dispensed.

In July 1783, the governors were instructed to allot 200 acres to non-commissioned officers of Provincial (Loyalist) Corps and Associated Loyalists; 100 acres to private soldiers; 100 acres to a family head; and 50 acres for each family member or single man. Field officers in the Loyalist Corps, as per instructions of August 1783, were to receive 1,000 acres; captains 700 acres; subaltern/staff/warrant officers 500 acres; and 50 acres for each of their family members. There was considerable unhappiness with this scale, because the officers of the 84th Regiment (Royal Highland Emigrants) had a noticeably higher allotment: 5,000 acres for field officers; 3,000 acres for captains; 2,000 acres for lesser ranks. Since the RHE had only attained status on the regular British Army establishment after the Revolution, but had performed as a Provincial Corps at the time, it was felt among Loyalists that all deserved the same compensation.

In 1787, the grant for Loyalists who were "general refugees" was raised to 200 acres, with the increase of 200 acres to each son and daughter. In 1788, the grants for Provincial Corps officers were matched with those of the RHE if they were classified as "Military Claimants" (.1). Herein lies a genealogical challenge for some. In Upper Canada records, Military Claimant (MC) as a class of land grant usually applies to soldiers of the regular British Army, and its Germanic allies. Obviously certain arguments can be made in individual cases where an MC grant in Upper Canada was actually to a Loyalist. If that particular man's children received their land grants as the son (SUE) or daughter (DUE) of a Loyalist, the argument has good evidence.

In Quebec, existing rural land ownership was still under the seigneurial system, although vast quantities of "wild land" were unsettled or unsurveyed upriver to the west, and indeed, from the Bay of Fundy westward to the Gaspé. A number of Loyalists were content to take leases of land on now-British-owned seigneuries like Caldwell's Manor and Christie Manor in the Eastern Townships near the border with Vermont and New York, but more were assertive about obtaining property in their own right. This was a direct result of their experience in the colonies where any newcomer or farmer had the expectation of land ownership.

Surveyors were put to work in the wilderness areas even as the Loyalists began their work of making farms and homes. Western Quebec was quickly "divided" into four districts, each with a Land Board to oversee allocation of land by township, concession, and lot. The first organized townships were given numbers in the haste of process. In fact, what came to be called townships in the western or "upper" part of Quebec were referred to in official documents as seigneuries until Upper Canada and Lower Canada were created from Quebec in 1791. Conditions were attached that required the person "to settle and improve the said Lot, without delay" (.2). Other conditions would vary later on, concerning the clearing and cultivation of land, or the building of a house, to help ensure actual settlement rather than speculation in property values. Men from the disbanded Loyalist Corps were intentionally given land near their former officers; collectively, they would be strongholds of experienced fighting men for any future defense needs.

In Nova Scotia, a great deal of land had been granted earlier to absentee owners who resided mainly in Britain. The Saint John River valley and spots on the west side of Fundy Bay had also seen granting and settlement prior to the Loyalists' arrival. Some Loyalists took up vacant land that looked agriculturally promising and made their hardworking improvements, only to discover that ownership was in question. Escheated lands (taken back by the Crown for non-fulfillment of conditions by the original owners) sometimes became an advantage for the newcomers.

It seems that only in Upper Canada did the Proclamation of 1789 made by Lord Dorchester (formerly Sir Guy Carleton, Commander-in-Chief of British Forces during the last days of the Revolution) take serious hold, with regard to endowing all children of Loyalists with a land grant of 200 acres. Dorchester was appointed in 1786 to the position of Governor-in-Chief, the titular head of all British North American colonies, based in Québec City. As such, he outranked the Lieutenant Governors when he issued the Proclamation that also added the mark of honour for Loyalists and all their descendants — the distinction of using the initials "UE" with their names. This distinction has now long been regarded as applying to all Loyalist descendants (whichever colony their ancestor had located in) observing Dorchester's intention " ... to reward the spirit of loyalty and industry, to extend and transmit it to future generations ... "(.3).

The "technical" details of how an ancestor applied for, or received, a land grant, are of importance in understanding how an imperfect system operated. Most of the genealogical problems encountered today, in "proving" the Loyalist ancestor's status as UE, are rooted in those old, evolving bureaucratic regulations and masses of paper.

Using Upper Canada as an example, the Loyalists — and for that matter, other settlers who included demobilized soldiers from the regular British and German troops — received certificates or tickets with specific lot-concession-township locations inscribed. In 1796, all Loyalists were called upon to register with District magistrates to present their claims of eligibility for the waiving of all costs and fees, — and to reaffirm allegiance to the Crown. These rolls became the basis of a list of Loyalists (which, we know, multiplied into a number of lists), and also served as a register for militia purposes (discussed in the column of 25 February 2000).

Petitions began to come from Loyalists who wished to confirm their property ownership, perhaps because they had missed a deadline, or to increase the size of their grant up to "standard", or because they had lost their original papers. Sometimes a family member petitioned on behalf of a deceased Loyalist, to confirm a grant or ensure his name was on "the list". Sometimes a petition was requesting the lease of a desirable property; reserve lands set aside for clergy or crown support were not being sold at this time, but could be leased. And of course, as their children matured, they too were requesting their own land grants. All of these involved providing information on their eligibility for UE status.

Where are these petitions located? Many collections are at provincial archives, but those for Lower and Upper Canada are held at the National Archives of Canada. In addition, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has microfilm copies. If you are near a branch of the LDS Family History Centres, check their Family History Library Catalog under "Canada" and then under various provinces for "land records". If copies are in their holdings, they can be borrowed through the local Family History Centre you are using.
  • NOVA SCOTIA — Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management, 6016 University Ave, Halifax, NS B3H 1W4 http://www.nsarm.ednet.ns.ca RG 20, Grants and Petitions; indexed (also indexed by counties in Gilroy, Loyalists and Land Settlement in Nova Scotia, 1980) See also land grant maps (first grants in each district): Crown Lands Office, Department of Natural Resources, 1740 Granville St, Halifax B3J 1X5; copies available


  • NEW BRUNSWICK — Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, PO Box 6000, Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1 (located on the University of New Brunswick campus) http://gov.nb.ca/archives/e RG 10, Land Petitions 1784-1850; arranged chronologically and then by surnames; Loyalists' names with reference to regiments and county locations (when available) are listed alphabetically in Wright, The Loyalists of New Brunswick, 1955. See the PANB website to link with the searchable online "Land Grant Database at UNB"


  • PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — Prince Edward Island Public Archives & Records, PO Box 1000, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7M4 (on Richmond Street in that city) http://www.gov.pe.ca/educ/archives/archives_index.asp RG 5, Petitions 1780-1915; the Archives' "Master Name Index" is compiled from dozens of the Island's earliest records, including petitions 1770 [sic]-1837, written requests accepted. The website offers only general descriptions of their collections.


  • QUEBEC — National Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa ON K1A 0N3 http://www.archives.ca RG 1, Executive Council Records, L 3 L, Lower Canada Land Petitions, 1764-1841; nominally indexed; website gives microfilm numbers for index films to borrow through inter-institutional loan (from home page, go to "services to the public" then "researcher services" then "genealogy research" and click on "land records") Also Langelier, List of Land Grants By the Crown in the Province of Quebec from 1763 to 31st Dec. 1890, published by the province in 1891.


  • ONTARIO — National Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa, ON K1A 0N3 RG 1, Executive Council Records, L 3, Upper Canada Land Petitions, 1791-1867; nominally indexed; website gives the same information as above for index films and microfilm borrowing. Archives of Ontario, 77 Grenville St., Toronto, ON M7A 2R9 (copies of NA microfilms, both indexes and petitions) http://www.archives.gov.on.ca from the English home page, go to "genealogical research" and then "land records" See also OntarioLand RecordsIndex at AO & FHL for grant locations.
In the next article on the subject of petitions, we will look at their style, content, significance, and how they were processed by the contemporary powers. Since the subject is so important, it may extend to several additional articles, including the other land documents created during contemporary procedures.

Reading and Browsing

  • NEW BOOK - Peter Wilson Coldham, American Migrations 1765-1799The lives, times, and families of colonial Americans who remained loyal to the British Crown before, during and after the Revolutionary War, as related in their own words and through their correspondence. New in 2000. .


  • Lillian Gates, The Land Policies of Upper Canada, University of Toronto, 1968.

  • The Olive Tree www.rootsweb.com/~ote On this site, Lorine McGinnis Schulze provides many choices; scroll down the home page to the main menu for "Loyalists in Canada"; start with "General Information on Loyalists"; you can choose a province and find resources for land records.


  • To join a Loyalist email list, send a message (nothing is needed in the subject line) to:

      UNITED-EMPIRE-LOYALISTS-L@rootsweb.com (put subscribe in the message box) Majordomo@listserv.northwest.com (put subscribe loyalists-in-canada in the message box) The first is currently the most active list. There is plenty of historical discussion and the airing of personal genealogical stumbling blocks. Sending your own query to a list could mean that someone else will share their experience, or perhaps a UEL Association Branch genealogist will reply. This can be of great benefit if you are working on an application for the UEL Association. In any event, your participation will ensure that you are not working in isolation.
  • Footnotes:

    1. ) Patricia L Kennedy, How To Trace Your Loyalist Ancestors, Ottawa Branch OGS Publication No 82-9; 1971, revised 1982.

    2. ) For example, certificate issued to John Boyce and John Dorin and familys [sic] for lot 22 concession 6 in the Seigneurie of Matilda on 9 November 1787 (Archives of Ontario, RG 1, Crown Lands Papers, C-IV, Township Papers, p 1589, Matilda, MS 658 reel 292).

    3. ) Audrey Kirk UE and Robert F Kirk, Introduction to Loyalist Lineages of Canada, 1783-1983, p xix; Toronto Branch United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada, published by Generation Press, Agincourt, ON, 1984.



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