William Davidson – The First Scots on the Miramichi

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“...no Petitions can be hereafter attended to unless they contain all the requisites...”

Given that so many petitioners failed to provide the preferred information in their applications, the Provincial Secretary’s Office issued a public statement in 1817 outlining the proper format required for land petitions. Applicants were required to supply their place of birth, current place of residence, residency for the previous 5 years, marital status, previous land grants, location of land currently under application, ability to develop the land, and the promise that the land was not intended for re-sale. Even with such strict guidelines, there was room for individuality. Land petitions were more than a simple paint-by-number canvass, and a number of Scottish immigrants coloured outside the lines.

On a return trip from the West Indies to Scotland, Robert Hendry was taken prisoner while aboard the ship Hope of Glencoe. Transported to Salem, Massachusetts, Hendry would there remain for the next 8 months, and when released was granted a regular pass from the Commissary of Prisoners at Halifax. This he was granted on July 8, 1813 by order of Commodore Broke. Permitted to proceed to Saint John, New Brunsick, Hendry moved further inland to Hampton, Kings County where he applied for a parcel of land in 1814. In his land petition, Hendry indicated that he had been raised in the “Farming business”, and “being well satisfied with the country, wishes to become a settler.” A testimonial submitted on his behalf promised that Hendry had proper leave to come to New Brunswick, and that Hendry had produced his capture discharge papers. Apparently during the six months that Hendry had been resident in Hampton, he conducted himself in a regular and proper fashion. Presumably Mr. Hendry sent for his wife and three children, who remained in Scotland, after the cessation of the Napoleonic Wars, the conflict which had so abruptly shifted Mr. Hendry’s course when taken prisoner in 1812. John Morrison, who petitioned for land in Richibucto, Kent County in 1819, had been aboard a British Man of War ship for 3 years during the same conflict, but provided no details of his experiences. He chased that brief detail with the promise that he had never received any previous allotment of land from the Crown.

When Archibald Stevenson petitioned for land in Charlotte County in 1826, he completed a land petition form (not standard practice until the 1840s). However, Stevenson added his own flavour and colour when he used the blank space set aside for the property boundaries to document his background and emigration motivations. He had been a highly successful farmer in Wigtonshire, paid a substantial yearly rent, and had more than enough capital to support himself and his business. Why leave Scotland when he had apparently been experiencing unprecedented prosperity? Stevenson explained that he was “compelled to emigrate in Consequence of the Change in agricultural Systems brought about by the last peace, and also by other misfortunes, and his attachment to the British Government & Constitution induced him to fix on North America as the Scene of his future Exertions”. Stevenson was also tremendously useful, perhaps indispensable even, to his neighbours. As Stevenson noted in his petition, he was “glad to have it in his power to say that his Example and his Importation of Implements of Husbandry from his native Country have a good Effect upon his Neighbours.”

The census is often regarded as the starting point for research, but many of the first generations of Scots in New Brunswick did not survive until the 1851 census was taken. Land petitions personify immigrants in a way that few documents, outside of diaries and letters, do. Not one of the gentlemen profiled here can be found in the 1851 census, and their stories of struggle and success would be lost if not recorded in a land petition. This database contains over 1,000 land petitions submitted by Scottish immigrants from 1783-1851, providing a significant account of early Scottish settlement experiences in New Brunswick.. Land petitions give early Scottish immigrants a voice, and it is about time that they were heard.

Search the land petition records
1817 Land Petition for Dugald MacDugald, p1
1817 Land Petition for Dugald MacDugald, p2
1817 Land Petition for Dugald MacDugald, p3