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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
The Philadelphia Land Company & Alexander McNutt
After the 1763 Treaty of Paris, George III was eager to reward the Highland Scots for their assistance in the defeat of France. One inexpensive way of doing this was to hand out land grants. American speculators saw a profit opportunity in Nova Scotia (remember the Thirteen Colonies were still British at this time). They formed land companies and bought up huge tracts of land.
A Virginian, Alexander McNutt, hoped to establish a city called Jerusalem on the south shore where Shelburne exists today. He made a proposal to bring in 8,000 Ulsterman but the government of Great Britain was concerned about depopulating the country at a time when it too needed labourers. (A large shift in opinion and policy occurred just a generation or two later as we have discussed). At any rate he only managed to attract about 400 people whom he settled in the Truro area.
However, McNutt was not finished. He was continually looking for ways to make a profit. Through the Philadelphia Land Company he established himself as a large landholder in the Pictou Harbour area. The Company got control of the land in 1766 and had an obligation to the government in Halifax to bring in 250 settlers within a year. The Company arranged to lease a ship called the Betsey but in the end managed to attract only six Philadelphian families (forty individuals) for the trip. After their arrival, the false promises of the company became evident, but by then the Betsey had departed and there was no turning back. There was no rich cleared farmland and although there were other settlers established there, the promised organized community and government did not exist. The Company shipped in nine more families in 1769 by which time one of the original six had left.
Not having much luck recruiting Philadelphians, the Company commissioned the Hector to bring out Scottish families from Loch Broom. They offered good land on easy terms to those who would agree to settle.
The Hector arrived in Pictou, Nova Scotia 15 Sept. 1773. The approximately 180 settlers on board were from three distinct Highland areas of Scotland:
- Coigach Penninsula in Western Ross
- East Invernesshire
Eighteen children died on the journey—a difficult voyage which included outbreaks of smallpox and dysentery and a bad gale of the coast of Newfoundland. Upon arrival, instead of the promised cleared lands, the Scots were faced with forests with trees up to 200 feet tall. Most of the land was inland from the coast and many of the settlers who arrived felt they had been misled by the Land Company and its agent. Few had the skills or capacity to clear the land and get established before winter. Some drifted off to labourer and servant jobs in Truro.
No passenger list was created at the time of the voyage. However lists were developed from memory by some of the passengers. One of these has survived and is available online at the Hector Heritage Quay website.
The Canada Company
The Canada Company was founded in 1824 by British investors who saw an opportunity to make a profit through buying and selling of Crown land. It was incorporated in 1826. It had the power to purchase, hold, improve, settle and dispose of lands in Upper Canada including one million acres in the Huron Tract. The Huron Tract included the townships of Easthope North, Easthope South, Ellice, Logan, McKillop, Hullett, Colborne, Downie, Fullarton, Hibbert, Tuckersmith, Goderich, Stanley, Hay, Usborne, Blanshard, Biddulph, Stephen, McGillivray, Williams and Bosquanet.
One of the chief promoters and the first commissioner of the Canada Company was John Galt after whom the town of Galt was named. Galt (1779-1839) was a poet, biographer, historian, critic, essayist and novelist—an author of over 80 books.
- “In these undertakings, and in organizing the business of the Company, in attracting desirable immigrants to the Province, and in making thoughtful provision for their necessities, he proved that a literary man could be immeasurably superior to the average immigration agent who is obliged to work by the rule of thumb.” (Lizars 1973, vi, Introduction by G.M. Grant)
Upon acquiring over two million acres in Upper Canada, most of it in the Huron Tract, the company began an aggressive marketing campaign to attract settlers. They established agents in British ports as well as in centres in Canada and advertised in small villages in Britain.
There were three categories of land available:
- Crown reserves scattered throughout the townships
- blocks of land in an area with the town of Guelph as the centre
- the Huron Tract with a town and harbour at Goderich which was not as developed as Guelph
Like most other land companies the objective of the shareholders and company executives was not the well-being and comfort of the settlers but a good financial return on their investment. At one point apparently Galt had to remind them that they could not expect rent for a house until it was built.
Settlers expressed disappointment early on mainly due to the fact that they did not find that their situation in Upper Canada bore any resemblance to the lavish descriptions provided by the Company in London and Edinburgh.
- “One tale told that in the London office, as an inducement to intending purchases, an illustrated map showed a drawbridge at the mouth of the river: beneath the town of Goderich a fleet of vessels rode in the harbour; the draw was open, and a fine vessel was passing through. What they found was a Highland fisherman plying between the Ridge and the Goderich side, who charged a York shilling as his fare; sometimes he was there, sometimes not...” (Lizars 1973, 118-119)
The Canada Company Fonds at the Archives of Ontario hold a wealth of information and are an instrumental resource for anyone with ancestors who purchased land from the company. Refer to the From Grant to Patent article.
In addition, there is a large Canada Company collection at the University of Guelph. A search using “Canada Company” identified 188 entries (May 2010): Use the following link to the search engine page and remember to use the quotes around the term you are searching: .
The New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Land Company
Although so named, there is no evidence that the Company operated in Nova Scotia. Thomas Baillie, Commissioner of Crown Lands was instrumental in its organization and the first meeting was held Mar. 2, 1831. The Company then began negotiations with the Colonial Office to purchase lands in York County, New Brunswick, specifically lands between the St. John and Mirimichi Rivers north of the Parish of Queensbury. Eventually the Company purchased half a million acres.
- “The Company at once launched a formidable propaganda campaign in Britain, the purpose being, according to the prospectors, the saving of valuable immigrants to the British Empire, the increase of British trade, and the relief of starving paupers of the British Isles.” (MacNutt 1984, 231)
The Company spent £80,000 preparing two town-sites (Stanley and Campbellton); they surveyed the sites and built mills and roads, but as with the Canada Company and others, arriving settlers found less than had been advertised. Of the two sites only Stanley was moderately successful.
During the 1830s there were four attempts by the Company to recruit settlers from overseas. The first three settled in and around Stanley and included poor institutionalized children from London, farm labourers and tradesmen from the eastern border areas of England and Scotland and Scottish Highlanders.
The fourth attempt saw another group from the Borders arrive in 1837 aboard the Brig Cornelius. Finding that the conditions had been exaggerated, they managed to get released of their obligations to the company and established the settlement of Harvey to the south of Fredericton.
A reunion of Harvey descendants was held in the summer of 2007 in the area from which the settlers came, to celebrate the 170th anniversary of their arrival. A report on the reunion is available at the following website .
For more information on the settlement activities of this Company, Dr. Bruce Elliott’s articles in the New Brunswick Genealogy Society’s publication Generations are recommended:
“Emigrant Recruitment by the New Brunswick Land Company: The Pioneer Settlers of Stanley and Harvey”. Generations, vol. 26, no. 4: 50-54 and continuing in three succeeding editions.
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB) has an index of land petitions online. This resource covers the years 1783-1918 and is searchable by surname. The following address will take you to the search engine page.
The British American Land Company
The British American Land Company (BALC) was created in London in 1832 to manage the sale of land in Lower Canada. John Galt of the Canada Company helped convince the colonial office of the advantages of such a company and in December 1833 they received control of 850,000 acres of Crown Land “including all crown reserves and surveyed crown lots in Sherbrooke, Shefford and Stanstead counties and a 596,000-acre unsurveyed lot in the St Francis district” (Little p. 38). Over the next few years they bought even more land feeling a monopoly was necessary so the company rather than speculators could reap any profits. The company’s offices were established in Sherbrooke.
The Company ran into a number of problems during its existence, not the least of which was the fact that Lower Canada was not the first choice of many settlers coming to Canada. For example, in 1835, of the approximately 12,000 arrivals reported at Quebec that summer, about 9,800 went on to Upper Canada and only 200 went to the Eastern Townships (Little p. 42). Another problem which hindered success was the fact that the Company over extended itself by trying to simultaneously settle the Eastern Townships and the undeveloped St Francis District. This put such a strain on the Company’s finances that they could not pay their bills. Various attempts to develop co-ventures in assisted emigration saw only moderate success at best. Many immigrants who initially settled there moved on to Upper Canada or the United States. Groups who did settle included some Americans, Scots (from Lewis), Maritimers and Bavarian and Swiss farmers. A number of Norwegians settled in Bury Township in the late 1850s but later moved on to the western U.S.
Alexander Galt, son of John (of Canada Company fame), served as Commissioner of the Company in the 1840s. He recommended that the focus shift to the Eastern Townships and to the settlers there who were looking for new opportunities. With payments still outstanding the government agreed to take back the St. Francis Tract to retire the debt.
The Quebec and Megantic Land Company
Another land company in Lower Canada was the Quebec and Megantic Land Company. This was a Quebec based company established to encourage colonization of the Megantic Territory.
- “The Quebec-based company would ultimately accomplish little, but its formation represented a temporary shift towards colonial capital’s involvement in colonization, and its early demise signalled the origin of direct state control over land settlement projects. Finally, the failure of the government to attract a significant number of British settlers to the Megantic Tract marked the end of serious official attempts to anglicize the frontier of Lower Canada.” (Little, J. I. 1999, 65)
The three London based land companies had a number of things in common. They were concerned first and foremost with making a profit; secondly their objective was to populate Canada and the Maritimes with emigrants from Britain; and thirdly they made some poor business judgements from the number of settlers they expected to attract to the preparations required and the price they could get for the land they were selling.
Information on Upper and Lower Canada Land Petitions is available on the Library and Archives Canada website..
Petitions from Upper Canada tended to be by individual, but those from Lower Canada more often were for groups of settlers. The website also contains information on microfilm numbers.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Immigration Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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