The Upper Canada Land PetitionsOf The Niagara Settlers
Transcribed by R. Robert Mutrie
Transcripts of the Upper Canada Land Petitions relating to the Niagara Settlers will be added here over time. These include some pioneers who later settled elsewhere in the province but lived in the Niagara district during its early formative period. Click on a link at the right to view the transcripts for the surnames starting with that letter.
The major advantage of this transcript of the Upper
Canada Land Petitions for the family genealogist is that it includes under the
name of each Niagara Settler, mentions in the petitions of other settlers.
There is an expression that “no man is an island unto himself.” This
cross-referencing of settlers came as a result of conscientious copying of
material from one settler to another. Additionally, women are listed under both
their maiden and married names when given. These two items provide more records
of each family than would otherwise be found and a greater insight to the
circumstances of each of the Niagara Settlers.
The land petitions of the earliest settlers of Upper Canada (present Ontario) are a vital resource for researching those who lived in this province during the 1780’s through the early 1800’s. They stand unique as first person accounts justifying the pioneers’ request for a Crown grant of a farm or of a town lot. At times the petitioners included information about the individual’s colonial background, services during the American Revolution and their current circumstances. These descriptive petitions came about as a result of a declaration by the first Chief Executive of the province, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe allowing grants of land to deserving settlers upon application to the governing Executive Council.
In the course of numerous treaties with the native peoples of Upper Canada, the Government of Great Britain purchased hundreds of thousands of acres in tracts of land across the province. These tracts then became Crown Lands. The lands were then surveyed and divided into farm lots generally measuring one hundred or two hundred acres for granting to worthy applicants. Front lots on lakes or rivers or between townships called “broken lots” contained anywhere from a few up to many acres.
All settlers approved by the Executive Council could claim two hundred acres of land. Military veterans who served in the Loyalist forces during the American Revolution had entitlements to larger “privileged” grants, free of survey and patent fees. Those who served as privates could claim one hundred acres in addition to the usual two hundred acres. Commissioned and non-commissioned officers could apply for additional land in proportion to their rank, a Colonel’s entitlement being five thousand acres. Claimants who had a wife and children in the Province by 1789 also had the privilege of applying for “family lands” of fifty acres for their spouse and each child born by that time. Later, the children of those determined to be United Empire Loyalists could petition for two hundred acres upon reaching adulthood and this, in itself, makes the collection a family genealogist’s dream resource.
Petition of Jacob Ball
The Upper Canada Land Petition of Lieutenant Jacob Ball late of a Corps of Rangers commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Butler dated at Lincoln on 17 Jun 1794
“Most Humbly Sheweth That your Memorialist served as a Captain of Militia in the Province of New York from the year 1760 till the commencement of the Rebellion, and that he faithfully kept his allegiance, and persevered in his Loyalty to the Crown, and by his exertions and the interest he had among his neighbours, he was enabled with the assistance of his son to join His Majesty’s forces by the earliest opportunity with a number of Men nearly sufficient to compleat two Companies according to the establishment of the Corps in which they served. That your Memorialist when he joined His Majesty’s Forces, conceived that he had some right to expect a Company, but the obtaining of which he found would be attended with more difficulty & trouble than he wished to undergo, particularly as his motives in coming off were purely the effect of Loyalty, and that neither [Rank] or pay would have induced him to leave a large Family of mostly small children. Your Memorialist therefore Humbly hopes that your Excellency will be pleased to take this matter into consideration, and should it in your Excellencies wisdom appear reasonable to grant him (with what he has already received) the same quantity of Lands which is allowed by His Majesty’s proclamation to Captains who served during the Rebellion, and that he might be allowed to locate the same, or as much thereof as your Excellency will be pleased to allow him, where it can be found vacant and your Memorealist as in Duty bound will ever pray. [Signed] Jacob Ball” Received at the Executive Council Office on 18 Jun 1794 and read in Council on 28 Jun 1794. No order recorded. [Upper Canada Land Petitions LAC “B” Bundle 1, Petition Number 65]
In order to obtain authorization for a grant of land, the applicant
either in person or by an agent, filed a petition to the Executive Council of
the province. This governing body comprised the Lieutenant Governor and a small
body of other officials appointed by the Government of Great Britain. The
Council initially met in the provincial capital in Newark (the present Niagara-on-the-Lake)
then later at York (afterwards Toronto) when the seat of government moved there
in 1795. Each land petition showed the applicant professed loyalty to the British
Government and was present in the province prepared to make actual settlement.
For military claimants, detail included their service during the Revolutionary
War, sometimes with discharge papers, commissions, or certificates signed by
former officers. For family lands, the petitioner gave a statement as to the
date of arrival in the province and mentioned their wife and number of children
here by 1789. Later, sons and daughters of United Empire Loyalists petitioning
for land stated the name of their father.
By the proclamation of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, to obtain designation as a United Empire Loyalist (U. E.), the applicant had to be resident in the former British Colonies (which became the United States) prior to 1776, served in or supported the British forces during the Revolution, and since resided in Upper Canada. A list was prepared in each district by the Magistrates and these combined into a master list for the province, known as the U. E. List, of which there existed an Executive Council office copy and a Crown Lands office copy. The father’s name had to appear on this list for the children to be eligible for their own Loyalist grants when they came of age.
The Evolution of the
Upper Canada Land Petitions
In 1792, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. John Graves Simcoe, ordered that lands in the province be granted to applicants who filed a petition to himself in the official Executive Council appointed for the province. During the Council sessions, a Committee of the Council was ordered to hear the petitions read to them by the Clerk, John Small.
The decision of the Executive Council reached and recorded on the petitions became commonly known as the “Order of Council” and served as the official recommendation for a grant of lands to the applicants. It was their official authority to be on their farm.
From the start of the Upper Canada Land Petitions in 1792 down through 1795, many prospective settlers wrote their own petitions to the Executive Council or, if illiterate, found someone who could write the document for them. These documents delineated in all detail their circumstances before the American Revolution, their service during the war, and their settlement in Upper Canada afterwards. Quite often, these long-winded, and at times illegible ramblings, proved difficult for the Executive Council to find a central point for the determination of the petitioner’s true entitlement. It was too much information for the Council, but serves in its length, a gold mine for the modern day genealogist.
During the period from 1792 to 1796, John Small, the Clerk of the Executive Council, served as a central figure in the petitioning process. This government appointed official maintained his office in the provincial capital at Niagara-on-the-Lake (at that time called Newark) and served as the everyday face of the Executive Council to the public. From the beginning Small undertook the task of receiving in the petitions to be presented at the Council meetings. For those who were illiterate, he freely wrote the document. On the petitions he wrote, Small adhered to the phrases the Council liked to hear, and kept the petitions to the points that the Council needed.
The bottom line of what the Executive Council wanted to know was whether this petitioner met any of the following criteria:
A standard heading appeared at the top of Small’s petitions: “To His Excellency John Graves Simcoe Esquire – Lieutenant Governor & Commander in Chief of the Province of Upper Canada.” This was then followed by the name of the petitioner with the words “Respectfully Shews” or “Humbly Shews.” All factual sentences started with the word “That.” The applicant was referred to as “your Petitioner” and Simcoe was referred to as “your Excellency.” The Executive Council had reference as “your Honourable Council.” The lands requested sometimes were referred to as “the unlocated lands of the Crown” or as “the waste lands of the Crown.” All petitions ended in “and your Petitioner as in duty bound will ever pray.” Some were dated and signed by the petitioner, and others were not.
From the start of the Upper Canada Land Petitions, the applicants’ own assertions, and requests for additional lands had to be backed up. The Executive Council required him or her to visit a Justice of the Peace or another authority to obtain a certificate substantiating their request, swearing under oath to their allegiance to the Crown, and to their claims. Certificates from those who knew them added to their veracity. Marriages to daughters of Loyalists had to be certified for the additional two hundred acres of land entitlement. Family lands required a certificate as to a wife and children in the province by 1789. The Surveyor General’s Office kept track of all grants and frequent Council references were made to that office saying “if not granted before.” The Surveyor General then made a determination in his records as to grants already given.
Failure to comply with any of the required certificates usually resulted in a petition being rejected or deferred. Some applicants submitted certificates later in time, these sometimes a year or even a decade later, and the documents were then appended to the original petitions. A later decision in Council then sometimes resulted and was appended to the original order on the petition.
The Justices who issued the earliest certificates of authenticity included William Dickson, David Secord, Robert Hamilton, Peter Ball, Isaac Swayze, William Jarvis, James Muirhead, George Forsyth and Robert Kerr of Niagara Township; John Burch and John Reilly of Stamford Township; Samuel Street of Willoughby Township; John Warren and Parshall Terry of Bertie Township; Dan Millard of Crowland Township, Thomas Welch of Thorold Township, John McNabb and John Backhouse of Grantham Township, Nathaniel Pettit of Grimsby Township; and Richard Beasley and George Chisholm of Barton Township. Further west in the Long Point Settlement, the issuing Justices were Samuel Ryerse, John Backhouse (formerly of Grantham) and John Bemer.
John Small tended to be very business-like in his petitions submitted to the Executive Council on behalf of the applicants. He included only a one-phrase summary of the petitioner’s Revolutionary War service (if any) and the request for land. His petitions were hurried and abbreviated, almost as if they were memoranda of things he needed to mention in the Executive Council meeting. The disadvantage to the Council (and to the modern day genealogist) over the applicants’ own writings is that Small’s submissions did not include the in-depth description of the petitioner’s background before, during and after the American Revolution.
In 1796, Small relocated to York (the present Toronto) and received appointment as Justice of the Peace for York. This made him less accessible to the Niagara Settlers on the opposite side of Lake Ontario. The petitioners then turned to Thomas Ridout for their documents.
In the spring of 1796, the pressure of writing the flood of petitions was relieved from John Small to Thomas Ridout of the Surveyor General’s Department in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). He received the appointment of “Notary Public” and adopted all of Small’s established language in the petitions. He often (but not always) added at the bottom his certificate and witnessed the mark of a petitioner who could not sign his or her name. Ridout’s handwriting is recognizable on all the petitions, whether certified or not.
Before the time of the next meeting on the Council, Ridout delivered his accumulated petitions to the Executive Council Office. John Small then wrote in the date of receipt, the date read in the Council, and the decision of the Council on the reverse of each petition.
In the spring of 1796, Ridout had a stack of pre-printed petition forms run off the printer’s press addressed at the top to “His Excellency.” After July 1796 when Lieutenant Governor Simcoe returned to England, Ridout crossed this out and wrote in “His Honor Peter Russell Esqr. Administrating the Government in Upper Canada.” When the pre-printed forms ran out, he hand wrote the petitions in their entirety. Appended certificates of the Justices were still required.
The upshot of this process to the family genealogist is that the Upper Canada Land Petitions, although rarely in the petitioner’s own hand, are an important Government certified statement of their ancestor’s settlement in Upper Canada, their service in the American Revolution, and a statement of qualification for a grant of land in the province. The appended certificates are very revealing of their ancestors’ background and settlement.
The Upper Canada Land Petitions have been placed on microfilm by the
National Archives of Canada (LAC) in the Executive Council Office records (RG
1). It is a massive collection filling over 300 microfilms. Typed index cards
serve as a guide to locating the petitions and this too has been filmed.
More recently the LAC posted the petitions online with a searchable index. For this online resource visit the National Archives of Canada website: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/land/land-petitions-upper-canada-1763-1865/Pages/search-petitions-upper-canada.aspx
In transcribing the Upper Canada Land Petitions, the writer has provided an exact quote of the contents of the documents, with all the quirks of the language of the day, including misspellings and antiquated usages. One of the interesting customs of those times came in the way of capitalizing the first letter of a word holding particular importance to the applicant, even if it appeared in the middle of a sentence, such as “Suffered” and “War”. Some petitioners spelled words literally as pronounced, such as “crick” for “creek”. Others, with only a rudimentary education, misspelled many words. The petitions included archaic spellings of words, such as “Serjeant” rather than the modern “Sergeant.” Some used British spellings such as “neighbour” and others used the American “neighbor”. The transcriber quoted verbatim all misspellings and usages of the petition writer. In some instances the handwriting could not be read, the copy extremely light, or the original damaged. Doubtful or hard to read words are shown by square brackets [….].
Because many of the Upper Canada Land Petitions contain dated material,
such as the number of years in the province, in most cases, the petition date
shown in the transcriber’s italicized remarks at the top is that written by the
petitioner or their scribe on the document. Some petitioners did not date their
documents. The date of receipt by the Executive Council came next in
preference. Occasionally that date too was missing and the third order of
preference became the date the petition was read by the Executive Council.
During the meetings of the Executive Council of Upper Canada, each
petitioner for a grant of land received consideration on his or her own merits.
The Council recorded their decision on the reverse of the petition and in the
Council minutes (the Land Books, LAC RG 1, L 1). These were known as the
“Orders in Council.” A copy of the order went to the Surveyor General’s Office
as authority to act on “locating” the grant on a particular location of land.
In this transcript the order on the reverse of the petition is recorded.
The Upper Canada Land Books A through D covering Orders in Council for the period 1787 through 1798 have been previously transcribed and published in four volumes of the Report of the Department of Public Records and Archives of Ontario (the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Reports).
The organization of the Upper Canada Land Petitions collection preserves
the original alphanumeric reference assigned by the Clerk of the Executive
Council based on the initial letter of the petitioner’s surname (the bundle
letter) and then the petition number. Petitions assigned the same surname
letter were then bound together as a bundle, and this given a number
corresponding to the Land Book in which the Council’s rulings
on those petitions had been recorded. Thus “A” Bundle 1 Petition Number 17 is
the designation for a petition of a surname beginning with the letter “A”
recorded in the first Land Book and petition number 17 within the bundle.
Specialized bundles included applications for leases on Clergy or Crown
Reserves. The Executive Council set aside two-sevenths of all land in the
province to be leased for rents to support the clergy and government,
one-seventh for each. These also were bundled alphabetically by surname and
date and designated by the alphabetical letter followed by the years contained
in the bundle and the petition number, for example “A” Leases 1799-1836
Petition Number 54, under which the petition was indexed.
Some “miscellaneous” bundles for each letter of the alphabet came under the designation of “Misc” followed by the years contained in the bundle and the petition number, for example “H” Misc 1799-1821 Petition Number 11.
Pioneer Petitions "A"
Pioneer Petitions "B"
Pioneer Petitions "C"
Pioneer Petitions "D"
Pioneer Petitions "E"
Pioneer Petitions "F"
Pioneer Petitions "G"
Pioneer Petitions "H"
Pioneer Petitions "I"
Pioneer Petitions "J"
Pioneer Petitions "K"
Pioneer Petitions "L"
Pioneer Petitions "M"
Pioneer Petitions "N"
Pioneer Petitions "O"
Pioneer Petitions "P"
Pioneer Petitions "Q"
Pioneer Petitions "R"
Pioneer Petitions "S"
Pioneer Petitions "T"
Pioneer Petitions "U"
Pioneer Petitions "V"
Pioneer Petitions "W"
Pioneer Petitions "Y"
Pioneer Petitions "Z"