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Formerly published by GlobalGazette.ca
Article Published July 31, 2000
Loyalist Petitions For Land Grants: Part Two
By Brenda Dougall Merriman, CGRS, CGL., author of United Empire Loyalists, A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada
Links to all four parts of this series:
Loyalist Petitions For Land Grants: Part 1
Loyalist Petitions For Land Grants: Part 2
Loyalist Petitions For Land Grants: Part 3
Loyalist Petitions For Land Grants: Part 4
In the previous article about petitions, I mentioned using the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library Catalog at a local branch Family History Centre, — to check the listings for your province under "land records". It should also be said that the FHL Catalog can be searched on the Internet at http://www.familysearch.org. You can also purchase the Catalog current to March 2000 on a CD-ROM through the same site.
It is our hope to accompany these columns with illustrative examples of actual documents. Although this will not happen before the next column, we may be able to insert such illustrations in the archived articles. The Editor and his technical crew can do magic things if they work 24 hours a day!
This column deals only with land petitions in detail for Upper Canada. Spellings and grammar, when quoted or paraphrased, are given as they appear in the documents. But in regard to the geographic area, Patricia Kennedy reminds us of an important point that often goes unconsidered: Upper Canada was created from Quebec in 1791, therefore "there are some petitions relating to Ontario Loyalists to be found in the Lower Canada Land records."(1). An account of petitions and land granting in the Eastern Townships of Quebec can be found in Mrs CM Day's book Pioneers of the Eastern Townships, originally published in 1863.
While we say that petitions were the beginning of a bureaucratic chain of paper documentation, this is a generalization that really refers to a period from the 1790s onward. I have allude in earlier columns to some contemporary confusion for ten years or more after the Revolution about whether a Loyalist's original piece of paper — a certificate or ticket — represented ownership of his land. Joy Ormsby describes how surveyor Philip Frey " ... wrote many of his ‘tickets' of possession on the back of playing cards which he gave to the settlers merely to provide them with the satisfaction of knowing the numbers of their lots."(2) This says a great deal about the settlers' desire for "proof" of ownership, and also about the insufficiencies of frontier supplies.
Early petitions for land grants were written either by the petitioner, or more often, by a literate person of the neighbourhood — township or county official, school teacher, clergyman, etc. The petitioner may have walked to the district or county town to find someone to perform this task, someone who was familiar with the acceptable format. The Loyalist petition's first arrival was at the Executive Council Office where it was recorded by the Clerk of that Office in his minutes (which are known as the Land Books), and on the back of the petition itself. Its next step was to be verified by the Inspector General's office as from someone on the Loyalist list of that office. From there, a successful petition would go to the Civil Secretary who booked it for reading before the Executive Council. There, the decision was made (yay or nay) for the Lieutenant Governor's signature. Endorsements were made along the way by each official. In general, this was the central system, with deviations and modifications.
The record made by the Clerk of the Executive Council assigned an alpha-numeric reference to the petition, and in the margin of the Land Book. The number begins with the first letter of the petitioner's surname. The petitions were bundled for filing chronologically according to their date of hearing. These are the references you find in the Index to Upper Canada Land Petitions — a name, an alpha-numeric reference, and usually a year and place name. Many bundles resulted over the years, as petitions were also made by people other than Loyalists. A reference like "A5/44" means bundle 5 of "A" petitions, and number 44 within that bundle. The index was originally created by the National Archives of Canada on library catalogue cards, microfilmed on their reels C-10812 to C-10836. The NA website http://www.archives.ca lists the alphabetical range on each reel. Land Book references are also included in the index.
There are two ways to find the appropriate microfilm numbers for the petitions you want to investigate. (1) Each index reel, at its beginning, lists the microfilm numbers for the actual petitions in that section of the index. (2) NA Finding Aid #1802 gives the essential information for obtaining the appropriate microfilm. After the bundle numbers reached as high as 20 or more, a new series began for most letters, starting with A1 again, and on. So you want to match the date/year on the index with the range of years in the films. For instance, "A5/44" may occur during the 1790s and again in the 1840s. Both these ways also tell you how to access microfilmed Land Book entries. Sometimes a volume number for a petition is shown on the index, and is definitely shown on the running footer of the microfilmed petitions. For full citation of the source in your personal notes or charts, that volume number should be noted.
The place name on an index card may reflect the town or township the petitioner lived in, or it may be the place to which he went for the actual writing or delivery of the petition. For example, "York" is likely the most frequent place name in the entire index, and should not be discounted in connection with a potential ancestor. He may have travelled to the capital himself in order to have the petition properly written and delivered. Married women are more often indexed by the surname of the husband (with their birth surname in brackets) but of course a judicious researcher will look for both surnames.
Other documents created in the chain of procedure were an Order-in-Council which the Executive Council Clerk extracted from his minutes, along with a warrant of survey to forward on to the Attorney General, who prepared a fiat. The words fiat and warrant have been used by various government departments or officials. The growing number of papers then went to the Surveyor General who would consult his records to ensure that the petitioner had not previously received his entitled grant, and to make an appropriate location of land. He issued a description for the petitioner, or nominee, with a "metes and bounds" identification of the property; this record also shows references to the previous documents. The papers mentioned in this paragraph are located in the Crown Lands collection (RG 1) at the Archives of Ontario, in different series.
The word petition, and the usage of other terminology, is related to the archaic sense of prayer, ie, a supplicant entreats the powers-that-be to grant the desired request, — a request that may also be seen as His Majesty's bounty or gratuity. Thus, petitions customarily begin with a formal salutation to the current representative of the Crown in the colony. For example, in 1789, Jeptha Hawley's petition began, "To his Excellency the Right Honourable Guy Lord Dorchester, Captain General Governor & Commander in chief of the Colonies of Quebec, Nova Scotia & New Brunswick & their dependencies — Vice Admiral of the same, Captain General & Commander in chief of all his Majesty's forces in the said Colonies & in the Island of Newfoundland &c"(3). It is also common to see a great deal of et cetera marks soon after the governor's name! The phrase "In Council" may also appear at the end of this salutation, in recognition that the governor and his council made the decision to approve or reject someone's eligibility.
The text of the petition is normally headed by the name of the petitioner (sometimes called the memorialist) who is about to "humbly sheweth" his reason for requesting a free land grant. Sometimes a descriptive phrase in the heading, such as "Drummer in the Kings Royal Regt of New York" or "who served in the Late War under Capt Halley's command" will describe the petitioner and introduce his claim for the free land grant. The closing of the text usually contains another formal expression that the petitioner or memorialist "as in duty bound shall ever pray...", while awaiting the verdict.
Even though you've been given an outline of the procedure, bureaucratic practice was somewhat fluid depending on many considerations — whether the petitioner was known locally for his (or his father's) service during the Revolution, whether he had influence in local or provincial circles for smooth passage, whether he used an agent who "knew the ropes", whether he could be confused with other petitioners of the same name, and so on. It is clear that some people were held up waiting for a long time, while others breezed through the system in a matter of days.
It has been said many times that the majority of Loyalist petitions for land were created by the children of Loyalists. Although many of the original Loyalists lived well into the 19th century, their initial land grant allotments by the early Land Boards met their entitlement, especially if they served as Privates. Their first certificates were sufficient for replacement by a Crown patent. So it is rare to see a petition from a Loyalist requesting an "initial" grant. They did write petitions, but usually for other reasons.
Although I will call the following points the "elements" of a Loyalist petition, inevitably there are exceptions and anomalies. There is always some danger in trying to over-simplify for instructional purposes. If a Loyalist or one of his children made more than one petition, these points in general would only apply to the first one:
Variable elements of a Loyalist petition:
The discussion of land petitions will continue into future articles. We have not yet approached some of the major or minor problems that arise in identifying the ancestor's contemporary status as a Loyalist. Thanks to all who have sent messages regarding the column.
2. "Building a Town: Plans, Surveys, and the Early Years of Niagara-on-the-Lake" by Joy Ormsby, p 23, in The Capital Years, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1792-1796 (Dundurn Press, 1991).
3. National Archives of Canada, RG 1, L 3, Upper Canada Land Petitions, vol 251, "H" Bundle miscellaneous, no 64, microfilm C-2107.
4. National Archives of Canada, RG 1, L 3, Upper Canada Land Petition, vol 446, "R" Bundle miscellaneous, no 14, microfilm C-2804.
5. National Archives of Canada, RG 1, L 3, Upper Canada Land Petitions, vol 284, "L" Bundle 3, no 53, microfilm C-2125.
6. In this case, the officials signed their full names rather than merely initialing; their positions within the government were learned from Frederick H Armstrong's Handbook of Upper Canadian Chronology (Dundurn Press, 1985).
7. National Archives of Canada, RG 1, L 3, Upper Canada Land Petitions, vol 332, "M" Bundle 6, no 86, microfilm C-2194.
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