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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 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 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:
    Common elements of a Loyalist petition:

    • date and place petition was written
    • identification of petitioner by name and current residence
    • description of service to the Crown or reason for claiming Loyalist status
    • the son of a Loyalist will identify his own name, his residence, the father's name (and his residence or perhaps whether he is deceased at the time), the service the father provided, and perhaps that he has reached the age of majority
    • the daughter of a Loyalist will normally provide the same kind of information as a son, but either her husband's full name, or her married surname, is given
    • children of Loyalists will have depositions or certificates from local magistrates, Justices of the Peace, or prominent citizens, attesting to their identity and that they have not yet received their due grant

    Variable elements of a Loyalist petition:

    • mentioning when the Loyalist came within the British lines year of arrival in Upper Canada
    • excuses for not arriving in Upper Canada earlier (before certain deadlines that helped define a Loyalist)
    • the petitioner may name an agent to oversee the business of locating the grant and obtaining his papers
    • a petitioner who received some land in the 1780s may be asking for additional acreage to bring his grant up to a certain level, according to his service rank or the size of his family
    • a request to exchange poor farm land for another location
Those government notations on the back of the petition (also microfilmed) are all-important for Loyalist status. "Recommended" was the word most-often used for final approval, and the initials UE or SUE or DUE will appear. You can usually decipher the petition's progress from one governmental agency or official to another. If there appears to be no recommendation at all, the petition had likely "stalled" at some point in the chain. Occasionally a note requires the petitioner to produce additional evidence, such as a discharge paper from a Loyalist Corps. Often these people petitioned again at a later date.

    Some examples:

    • In January of 1797, the earliest petition for a Peter Ruttan of Adolphustown, stated that he had "had the honor of bearing a Commission in his Majesty's Service as Capt in a Corps called the Jersey Volunteers". At this date he had already received 1,100 acres, and asked for additional grants to make a total of 3,000 acres (a captain's allotment). As well, Ruttan mentioned the precise location of his homestead residence, and suggested some neighbouring property that could fill some of his quota and give him convenient access to the Kings highway. His signature and the petition all appear to be written by the same hand. The first notation on the back of this petition by government officials indicates it was received at the Council Office a month later in February of 1797. The second notation was rather cryptic in that it was obviously added much later in time. It refers to a later petition by Ruttan in 1812, after which he was "issued Deeds [patents] for the remainder of his Military Lands"(4).

        Comment: A descendant will want to read any other petitions made by Peter Ruttan, and any Land Book references to him that may pre-date January 1797. The wary researcher will discern that more than one Peter Ruttan lived in that district and the same general time period! However, it is clear that this Peter Ruttan had been accepted as a Loyalist and was on the contemporary Loyalist list of the office involved. The index to the Upper Canada Land Petitions will actually show that Peter Ruttan made several petitions over a period of years to acquire title to his various lands.

    • On 21 June 1797 at Earnest-Town, David Lockwood "Loyalist" petitioned for a grant of land on the strength of his father's service as a Sergeant under Captain Halley's command, and further requested that the grant be made in the Niagarey District. His father, Joseph Lockwood, died in New York state some time after General Burgoyne's defeat. His widowed mother brought David into the province as a child. In this case as well, all the writing seems to be in the same hand, with a distinctive, bold signature. On the back of the petition we see the Clerk's notation, with David Lockwood's name followed by UE, as having been received 8 November 1797. The petition was read in Council on 13 November 1797, when it was recommended ("Recd") for 200 acres as UE. The Lieutenant Governor confirmed with his initials, and a warrant was issued 29 January 1798 (5).

        Comment: This is a fairly straightforward petition from the son of a Loyalist, although Lockwood gives a self-description as "Loyalist" and seems to think he will receive land on behalf of his father, rather than as a son. Upon receiving this petition, the recording clerk wrote the initials UE on the back, rather than SUE — undoubtedly from a hasty glance at the contents. So David Lockwood was accepted at this point as a Loyalist and allocated a 200 acre land grant. We will hear more about the Lockwood family at a later date.

    • On 28 January 1804 at Niagara, Magdalene Miller of Clinton township identified herself as daughter of John Brown of Thorold township, an Enrolled UE Loyalist, and wife of farmer Conrad Miller. She volunteered that she had one child, and was 23 years of age. It was signed by "her mark". JP Muirhead witnessed her signature on the petition, and on her sworn statement that she had never received any land, or Order for lands, in this province. Her petition was received 17 February 1804 by Ralfe Clench Esq (Niagara District Clerk of the Peace)(6); John Beikie (Clerk of the Executive Council) affirmed that the name of John Brown was on the UE List. On 20 February 1804 James Green (Civil Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor) referred the petition to the Executive Council and it was entered in Land Book E, page 377. The Council heard the petition on 10 March 1804 and the petitioner was recommended for 200 acres as the daughter of a UE, signed by H Allcock, "Chairman" (of the Council's Land Committee). Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter signed his approval. A final note, in what appears to be the Clerk's handwriting, said a letter was sent to the petitioner 24 October 1804 advising that a warrant had been given to Mr Detlor (of the Inspector General's office)(7).

        Comment: Magdalene Miller's petition is a classic example from the child of a Loyalist. Fortunate is the descendant who finds an unequivocal document like this. Genealogists may not necessarily want to interpret who all these officials were.
Some research tips and suggestions to this point —

  • Searching of the index to petitions should include more than the obvious spelling variations, like Scottish prefixes Mc, Mac, and M'. Pronunciation could be a factor; try sounding the surname aloud and using your imagination for potential variations. Difficulties in deciphering handwriting also influenced the indexers. Many children of Harmanus See, UE, were indexed under the surname Lee, due to similarities between the written capitals S and L. Descendants of Springsteen and Springstead Loyalists are still baffled that these two surnames were used interchangeably at times, along with Springsteel, Springstitch, and other seemingly unlikely-sounding versions.

  • Did the petitioner make his signature? Does the text of the petition seem to be in the same handwriting as the signature? If the petitioner was educated, he may indeed have written the whole document himself. If an agent wrote the petition on his behalf, this fact is not necessarily stated. Therefore you cannot conclude a signature is truly that of the petitioner unless the body of the petition indicates so, or unless it is compared with other evidence.

  • Petitions rarely mention a specific piece of property, in other words, will not indicate where the petitioner's grant was precisely located. Using the dates on a petition can quite often successfully correlate to an entry on the OntarioLand RecordsIndex where township-concession-lot names and numbers are given.

  • One should not assume that locating the exact property granted to children of a Loyalist means that person actually settled or lived there. This is easy enough to determine by consulting other land records. If the parent farm had been "outgrown" by rapidly increasing family members, the petitioner likely decided to develop a new homestead there. On the other hand, the property may have been leased out, or a local person may have been employed to clear trees and make improvements; selling it later as an investment was an option as long as it proved arable.

  • If an ancestor's name is not found in the index to petitions, there are alternative sources to look at. They will be covered in this column as we proceed further. One little-used source is the Upper Canada Land Board records 1789-1794, in the National Archives' RG 1, L 4 series. These are minutes, schedules of grants, some petitions, and reports collected by these district boards before the system was consolidated in the capital of York.

  • 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.

      1. Patricia Kennedy (Chief, Pre-Confederation Archives, Manuscript Division, National Archives of Canada), How To Trace Your Loyalist Ancestors, Ottawa Branch OGS publication no 82-9, revised 1982.

      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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