At The Beginning Of Pei

Geographical position of the Island--Early possession--Population

in 1758--Cession by Treaty of Fontainebleau--Survey of Captain

Holland--Holland's description of the Island--Position of Town

sites--Climate--The Earl of Egmont's scheme of settlement--Proposed

division of the Island--Memorials of Egmont--Decision of the

British Government respecting Egmont's Scheme.

Prince Edward Island
is situated in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. It

lies between 46 deg. and 47 deg. 7' north latitude, and 62 deg. and

64 deg. 27' longitude west, from Greenwich. As viewed from the

north-east, it presents the form of a crescent. Its length, in a

course through the centre of the Island, is about one hundred and

forty miles, and its breadth, in the widest part, which is from

Beacon Point to East Point, towards its eastern extremity,

thirty-four miles. It is separated from Nova Scotia by the Strait of

Northumberland, which is only nine miles broad between Cape Traverse

and Cape Tormentine. From the Island of Cape Breton it is distant

twenty-seven miles, and from the nearest point of Newfoundland one

hundred and twenty-five miles.

The Island was amongst the first discoveries of the celebrated

navigator, Cabot, who named it Saint John, as indicative of the day of

its discovery. Britain failing to lay claim to it, the French afterwards

assumed it as part of the discoveries made by Verazani in 1523. In 1663

it was granted, with other Islands, by the Company of New France, to the

Sieur Doublet, a captain in the French navy, with whom were associated

two adventurers who established a few fishing stations, but who did not

reside permanently on the island.

In the year 1713 Anne, the Queen of Great Britain, and Louis XIV, the

King of France, concluded the celebrated treaty of Utrecht, by which

Acadia and Newfoundland were ceded to Great Britain. The fourteenth

article of that treaty provided that the French inhabitants of the ceded

territory should be at liberty to remove within a year to any other

place. Many of the Acadians, availing themselves of this liberty,

removed to the Island of Saint John, which was then under French rule.

Subsequently a French officer, who received his instructions from the

Governor of Cape Breton, resided with a garrison of sixty men at Port la

Joie (Charlottetown).

A Frenchman who had visited the island in 1752 published an account of

it shortly afterwards. His report as to the fertility of the soil, the

quantity of game, and the productiveness of the fishery was extremely

favorable, and he expressed astonishment that with these advantages the

island should not have been more densely populated--its inhabitants

numbering only 1354.

The great fortress of Louisburg fell in 1745, but was restored to the

French in 1748. War was again declared by Britain against France in

1756, and in 1758 Louisburg again fell under the leadership of the

gallant Wolfe. After the reduction of the fortress several war ships

were detached to seize on the Island of Saint John; an object which was

effected without difficulty. Mr. McGregor, in his account of the island,

says that the population was stated to be at this time ten thousand, but

an old Acadian living when he wrote informed him that it could not have

exceeded six thousand. A little over four thousand seems to have been

the number of inhabitants at this period. [A] The expulsion of the

Acadians from Nova Scotia took place in 1755, and many of them having

escaped to the island in that year, its population must have been nearly

doubled by the influx of fugitives.

The fall of Quebec followed that of Louisburg, and by the treaty of

Fontainebleau, in 1763, Cape Breton, the Island of Saint John, and

Canada were formally ceded to Great Britain, Cape Breton and the Island

of Saint John being placed under the Government of Nova Scotia.

In the year 1764 the British Government resolved to have a survey of

North America executed, and with that view the continent was divided

into two districts,--a northern and southern,--and a Surveyor General

appointed for each, to act under instructions from the Lords'

Commissioners for Trade and Plantations. Captain Samuel Holland was

appointed to superintend the survey of the northern district, which

comprehended all the territory in North America "lying to the north of

the Potowmack River, and of a line drawn due west from the head of the

main branch of that river as far as His Majesty's dominions extend."

Captain Holland received his commission in March, and was instructed to

proceed immediately to Quebec, in order to make arrangements for the

survey. He was instructed to begin with the Island of Saint John. The

government vessel in which Captain Holland had left sighted the Island

of Cape Breton on the eleventh of July, 1764. A thick fog having come

on, the vessel had approached too near to the land, when the crew heard

a musket shot, and the alarming cry of breakers ahead, which had

proceeded from a fishing boat. The ship barely escaped the rocks.

Contrary winds were subsequently encountered, and Captain Holland

resolved to proceed in a rowing boat to Quebec. He accordingly left the

ship on the nineteenth of July, and arrived in Quebec on the second of

August. In Quebec Captain Holland met Captain Dean, of the Mermaid,

who had visited the Island of Saint John during the summer, and who

advised him to take "all sorts of material and provisions with him, as

there was nothing left on the island but a detachment posted at Fort

Amherst, who were indifferently provided, and could not furnish himself

and his staff with lodgings." Captain Holland arrived on the island in

October, 1764. He describes Fort Amherst "as a poor stockaded redoubt,

with barracks scarcely sufficient to lodge the garrison,--the houses near

it having been pulled down to supply material to build it." "I am

obliged," he adds, "to build winter quarters for myself. I have chosen a

spot in the woods, near the sea shore, properly situated for making

astronomical observations, where I have put up an old frame of a barn,

which I have covered with what material I brought with me, and some

boards that we collected from the ruins of some old houses. I fear that

it will not be too comfortable." The vessel in which Captain Holland

was conveyed to North America was called the Canceaux, and had been

fitted out by the government with the view of aiding him in his

professional operations; but on applying to Lieutenant Mowatt, her

commander, for boats and men, he was coolly told that such aid could

not--according to instructions--be granted. Having complained to Lord

Colville, then in command of the naval force in North America,

instructions were at once issued to Lieutenant Mowatt to give the

required assistance; and Governor Wilmot instructed Captain Hill, the

commanding officer on the island, to render all the assistance in his

power in forwarding the important service in which Captain Holland was


In a letter addressed to the Earl of Hillsborough, Captain Holland

reports most favourably respecting the capabilities of the island. He

adds, "There are about thirty Acadian families on the island, who are

regarded as prisoners, and kept on the same footing as those at Halifax.

They are extremely poor, and maintain themselves by their industry in

gardening, fishing, fowling, &c. The few remaining houses in the

different parts of the island are very bad, and the quantity of cattle

is but very inconsiderable." At Saint Peter's, Captain Holland met an

old acquaintance, Lieutenant Burns, of the 45th Regiment, who had

removed with his family to the island, and had built a house and barn,

and of whom he writes to the Board of Trade very favorably.

The energy with which Captain Holland prosecuted the survey is

sufficiently proved by the fact that in October, 1765, he sent home by

Mr. Robinson, one of his deputies, plans of the island, as well as of

the Magdalen Islands; also, a description of the Island, from which we

shall quote copiously as conveying the impressions of an acute and

reliable observer.

"The soil," says Captain Holland, "on the south side of the island is a

reddish clay, though in many places it is sandy, particularly on the

north coast. From the East Point to Saint Peter's it is a greyish sand.

The woods upon this coast, from the East Point as far southward as

Hillsborough River, and to Bedford Bay on the west, were entirely

destroyed by fire about twenty-six years ago. It was so extremely

violent that all the fishing vessels at Saint Peter's and Morell River,

in Saint Peter's Bay, were burned. In many parts round the island is a

rough, steep coast, from forty to fifty feet high, in some places a

hundred, composed of strata of soft red stone, which, when exposed to

the air for some time, becomes harder, and is not unfit for building.

Wherever this sort of coast is, it diminishes considerably every year

upon the breaking up of the frost, which moulders away a great part of

it. It may probably be owing to this cause that the sea betwixt the

island and the Continent is frequently of a red hue, and for that reason

by many people called the red sea. The rivers are properly sea creeks,

the tide flowing up to the heads, where, generally, streams of fresh

water empty themselves. In most parts of the island the Sarsaparilla

Root is in great abundance, and very good. The Mountain Shrub and Maiden

Hair are also pretty common, of whose leaves and berries the Acadian

settlers frequently make a kind of tea. The ground is in general covered

with strawberries and cranberries, in their different seasons, which are

very good. In those places which have been settled, and are still

tolerably cleared, is very good grass, but a great part of the land

formerly cleared is so much overgrown with brush and small wood that it

would be extremely difficult to make it fit for the plough. It may be

proper to observe that very few houses mentioned in the explanation of

the Townships are good for anything, and by no means tenantable, except

one or two at Saint Peter's, kept in repair by the officers, and one

kept by myself at Observation Cove."

After describing the kinds of Timber to be found on the island, Captain

Holland proceeds to say: "Port la Joie (Charlottetown), Cardigan and

Richmond Bays are without dispute the only places where ships of burthen

can safely enter, and consequently most proper to erect the principal

towns and settlements upon. In point of fishing, Richmond Bay has much

the advantage of situation, the fish being in great plenty most part of

the year, and close to the harbour.

"The capital, to be called Charlottetown, is proposed to be built on a

point of the harbour of Port la Joie, betwixt York and Hillsborough

Rivers, as being one of the best and central parts of the island, and

having the advantage of an immediate and easy communication with the

interior parts by means of the three fine rivers of Hillsborough, York,

and Elliot. The ground designed for the town and fortifications is well

situated upon a regular ascent from the waterside. A fine rivulet will

run through the town. A battery or two some distance advanced will

entirely command the harbour, so that an enemy attempting to attack the

town cannot do so without great difficulty. Having passed the battery at

the entrance to the harbour, he must attempt a passage up Hillsborough

and York Rivers, the channels of both which are intricate; and the

entrance of the respective channels will be so near the town that a

passage must be attended with the greatest hazard. Should an enemy land

troops on either side the bay of Hillsborough, they must still have the

river of the same name on the east, or Elliot or York rivers on the west

to pass before they can effect anything of consequence.

"As this side of the Island cannot have a fishery, it may probably be

thought expedient to indulge it with some particular privileges; and as

all the judicial and civil, as well as a good part of the commercial

business will be transacted here, it will make it at least equally

flourishing with the other county towns.

"Georgetown is recommended to be built on the point of land called

Cardigan Point, there being a good harbour for ships of any burthen on

each side of Cardigan river on the north, or on Montague river on the

south side; but the latter--though a much narrower channel in coming

in--is preferable, as the bay for anchoring will be close by the town

immediately on entering the river, and going round the Goose Neck--a long

point of dry sand running half over the river and forming one side of

Albion Bay--the place of anchorage. On the Goose Neck may be a pier,

where goods may be shipped with great facility and convenience. The

place proposed is so situated as to be easily made secure, as well as

the entrance into the two respective harbours. There is a communication

inland by means of Cardigan, Brudenell, and Montague rivers, from the

top of which last to the source of Orwell river, is not quite ten miles;

and Orwell river, emptying itself into the great bay of Hillsborough,

makes a safe and short communication, both in winter and summer, betwixt

two of the county towns.

"Princetown is proposed to be built on a most convenient spot of ground

as well for fishery as fortification. The site is on a peninsula, having

Darnley Basin on the northeast, which is a convenient harbour for small

vessels, and where they may lie all winter. The town will have

convenient ground for drying fish, and ships of burthen can anchor near

it in the bay. It can be fortified at little expense; some batteries and

small works erected along the shore would entirely secure it."

It is interesting to note what Captain Holland, writing upwards of a

century ago, says respecting the climate:--"The time of the setting in of

the frost in winter, and its breaking up in the spring, is very

uncertain. In general it is observed that about October there usually

begins to be frost morning and evening, which gradually increases in

severity till about the middle of December, when it becomes extremely

sharp. At this time north-west wind, with small sleet, seldom fails. In

a little time the rivers on the island are frozen up, and even the sea

some distance from land. The ice soon becomes safe to travel on, as it

is at least twenty-two to thirty inches thick. The snow upon the ground,

and in the woods, is often a surprising depth, and it is impossible to

travel except on snow-shoes. The Acadians now have recourse to little

cabins or huts in the woods, where they are screened from the violence

of the weather, and at the same time have the convenience of wood for

fuel. Here they live on the fish they have cured in the summer, and game

which they frequently kill, as hares and partridges, lynxes or wild

cats, otters, martins, or musk rats,--none of which they refuse to eat,

as necessity presses them. In the spring the rivers seldom break up till

April, and the snow is not entirely off the ground until the middle of

May. It ought to be observed that as Saint John is fortunately not

troubled with fogs, as are the neighboring Islands of Cape Breton and

Newfoundland, neither has it so settled and constant a climate as

Canada. Here are frequent changes of weather, as rain, snow, hail, and

hard frost."

On the completion of the survey of the Island of Saint John, Captain

Holland proceeded to prosecute that of Cape Breton. Here he had the

misfortune to lose his most efficient deputy, Lieutenant Haldiman, who

was drowned, by falling through the ice on the 16th of December, 1765.

He was a Lieutenant, on half pay, when Captain Holland engaged him,

having served since the age of fifteen in America. He was an excellent

mathematician, and quite an adept in making accurate astronomical

observations. This excellent young man perished in the twenty-fourth

year of his age. Whilst Captain Holland was busy on the Island of Saint

John, Haldiman was detached to superintend the survey of the Magdalen

Islands. In the report sent by Holland to the Board of Trade, from which

we have given extracts, was embodied Haldiman's account of the Magdalen

Islands, which is extremely interesting. We regret our space will not

permit its insertion.

In December, 1763, the Earl of Egmont, then first Lord of the Admiralty,

presented an elaborate memorial to the King, praying for a grant of the

whole Island of Saint John, to hold the same in fee of the Crown

forever, according to a tenure described in the said memorial. On the

supposition that the island contained two millions of acres,--for it had

not then been surveyed,--he proposed that the whole should be divided

into fifty parts of equal extent, to be designated Hundreds, as in

England, or Baronies, as in Ireland; forty of these to be granted to

as many men who should be styled Lords of Hundreds, and each of whom

should pay to the Earl, as Lord Paramount, twenty pounds sterling

yearly. On the property of the Earl--to whom, with his family of nine

children, ten hundreds were to be allotted--a strong castle was to be

erected, mounted with ten pieces of cannon, each carrying a ball of four

pounds, with a circuit round the castle of three miles every way. The

forty Hundreds or Baronies were to be divided into twenty manors of

two thousand acres each, which manors were to be entitled to a Court

Baron, according to the Common Law of England. The Lord of each

Hundred was to set apart five hundred acres for the site of a

township, which township was to be divided into one hundred lots, of

five acres each, and the happy proprietors of five acres were each to

pay a yearly free-farm rent of four shillings sterling to the Lord of

the Hundred. Each Hundred was to have a fair four times a year, and a

market twice in every week. There were also to be Courts Leet and Courts

Baron, under the direction of the Lord Paramount. A foot-note referring

to these Courts, attached by the framers of the memorial, indicates the

ideas which were entertained at this time in the old country respecting

protection to life and property in the North American Colonies. "These

courts--established by Alfred and others of our Saxon Princes, to

maintain order, and bring justice to every man's door--are obviously

essential for a small people, forming or formed into a small society in

the vast, impervious, and dangerous forests of America, intersected with

seas, bays, lakes, rivers, marshes, and mountains; without roads,

without inns or accommodations, locked up for half the year by snow and

intense frost, and where the settler can scarce straggle from his

habitation five hundred yards, even in times of peace, without risk of

being intercepted, scalped, and murdered."

To epitomise the proposal: there was to be a Lord Paramount of the whole

island, forty Capital Lords of forty Hundreds, four hundred Lords of

Manors, and eight hundred Freeholders. For assurance of the said

tenures, eight hundred thousand acres were to be set apart for

establishments for trade and commerce in the most suitable parts of the

island, including one county town, forty market towns, and four hundred

villages; each Hundred or Barony was to consist of somewhat less than

eight square miles, and the Lord of each was bound to erect and maintain

forever a castle or blockhouse as the capital seat of his property, and

as a place of retreat and rendezvous for the settlers; and thus, on any

alarm of sudden danger, every inhabitant might have a place of security

within four miles of his habitation. A cannon fired at one of the

castles would be heard at the next, and thus the firing would proceed in

regular order from castle to castle, and be the means, adds the noble

memorialist, "of putting every inhabitant of the whole island under arms

and in motion in the space of one quarter of an hour."

As we have already stated, Lord Egmont's memorial was presented in

December, 1763, and in January, 1764, it was backed by three different

communications, addressed to the Lords of Trade and Plantations, and

signed by thirty influential gentlemen, who were supposed--on account of

military or other services--to have claims on the government.

On the 13th February, 1764, a report was made on the memorial by the

Board of Trade, to which it had been referred by the King. The Board

reported that the scheme was calculated to answer the purposes of

defence and military discipline rather than to encourage those of

commerce and agriculture, and seemed totally and fundamentally adverse

in its principles to that system of settlement and tenure of property

which had of late years been adopted in the colonies, with so much

advantage to the interests of the kingdom; and they therefore could not

see sufficient reason to justify them in advising His Majesty to comply

with Lord Egmont's proposal.

In forming plans for the settlement of the American Colonies, the object

the Commissioners had principally in view was to advance and extend the

commerce and navigation of the kingdom, to preserve a due dependence in

the colonies on the mother country, and to secure to them the full

enjoyment of every civil and religious right, so that the colonists

might have just reason to value themselves on being British subjects. In

order to attain these objects, the Board had recommended such a mode of

granting lands as might encourage industry, which is the life and spirit

of commerce; and in the form of government, they recommended a

constitution for the colonies as nearly similar to that of Britain as

the nature of the case would permit. In adopting this policy they had

followed what appeared to have been almost the invariable practice of

Government ever since the surrender and revocation of those charters

which were formerly granted for the settlement of America; and the

effects could be best judged of by the present flourishing state of the

colonies, and the progress they had made in cultivation and commerce,

compared with their condition under those charters, which, though

granted to persons of rank and consequence, and accompanied by plans of

government,--the result of the study and reading of wise and learned

men,--yet, being founded in speculation more than in experience did, in

the event, not only disappoint the sanguine expectations of the

proprietors, but check and obstruct the settlement of the country.

The report pointed to the grant made to the Lords Proprietors of

Carolina, as a striking example of the inexpediency of such a plan of

settlement, little progress having been made in the execution of it till

the property, being reinvested in the crown, a new foundation was laid,

which resulted in prosperity and advancement. The report, of which we

have attempted to give a sketch, ended with the following words:--"We

have not thought proper to take the opinion of Your Majesty's servants

in the law upon the question whether Your Majesty can legally make the

grant desired by the Earl of Egmont, because we cannot think it

expedient, either in a political or commercial light, for Your Majesty

to comply with his Lordship's proposals; and as Your Majesty has been

pleased to annex the Island of Saint John to your Province of Nova

Scotia, we humbly recommend the settling it upon the plan and under the

regulations, approved of by Your Majesty for the settlement of that

province in general."

On receiving this reply to his memorial, the Earl addressed a second one

to the King, substantially the same as the former, to which no reply

seems to have been made. He accordingly had a third one drawn out and

presented, attaching the names of his co-adventurers, who had agreed to

assist his Lordship in the settlement of the island. The list included

four admirals, a large number of officers, and eight members of

parliament. This memorial, like the first, was referred to the Board of

Trade, who prepared a lengthened report in answer to it. The opening

passage was of such a nature as to make the memorialists imagine that

all desired was to be granted. "We are of opinion," said the Board, "it

may be highly conducive to the speedy cultivation of your Majesty's

American Dominions that the nobility and other persons of rank and

distinction in this country should take the lead, and show the example

in the undertaking and carrying into execution the settlement thereof,

and that all due encouragement should be given to officers of Your

Majesty's fleet and army, to whose distinguished bravery and conduct

this kingdom is so much indebted for the acquisitions made in the last

war." But this soothing paragraph was followed by others which blasted

the hopes of the ardent adventurers, by insisting on the distribution of

land on the island being made in conformity to those principles of

settlement, cultivation, and government which had been previously

adopted, and were founded on experience.

The King referred this report, and all the other papers, to a committee

of council, to whom Lord Egmont sent observations on the report, drawn

up with great ability, in which his former arguments were repeated, and

others adduced to strengthen them. These observations are pervaded by a

bitterness of expression which, in the circumstances, is pardonable. The

committee of council coincided in the views of the Board of Trade, and

on the 9th of May, 1764, came the climax to Lord Egmont's proposal, in

the form of a minute of council, embodying a report adverse to the

proposition of the Earl, and ordering that no grants be made of land in

the Island of Saint John upon any other principles than those comprised

in the reports of the Lords Commissioners of trade and plantations.

About the time of the arrival in London of Captain Holland's plans of

the island, the friends of Lord Egmont again mustered in great strength,

including officers of high rank in the naval and military service,

bankers, and merchants, and drew up a final memorial in behalf of his

Lordship's scheme, which closed with these words:--"That if at the end of

ten years any ill consequence should be found to have arisen therefrom,

upon an address to the two houses of parliament, His Majesty in council

might change the jurisdiction in such manner as experience of the use or

abuse might then dictate or demand." That Lord Egmont was sanguine as to

the success of this last appeal in his behalf, appears evident from a

manuscript letter now before us, addressed by him on the 8th October,

1765, to Captain Holland, in which he says:--"I think it proper to let

you know that a petition will be again presented to His Majesty in a few

days for a grant of the Island of Saint John, upon the very same plan as

that proposed before, which I have now reason to expect will meet with

better success than the former. The same persons very nearly will be

concerned, those only excluded who were drawn away by proposals and

grants elsewhere by the Board of Trade, in order if possible to defeat

my scheme. For yourself, you may be assured of your Hundred, as formerly

intended, if I have anything to do in the direction of the affair,--which

probably I shall have in the same mode and manner. Whether the grant may

be made before the arrival of the survey or not I cannot certainly say,

but we wait patiently for it, and hope it will be done accurately as to

Hundreds, Manors, Freehold Villages, Towns, and Capitals, that a

moment's time may not be lost afterwards in proceeding to draw the lots,

and then in proceeding to erect the Blockhouses of the Hundreds on a

determined spot, which is the very first work to be put in execution,

and agreed to be completed by all the chief adventurers within one

twelvemonth after the grant shall be obtained." This communication leads

to the conviction, that if the island had been then granted no time

would have been lost in erecting the strongholds referred to. It is

evident that the erections were intended to consist mainly of wood. The

adventurers were, for the most part, wealthy and influential, and under

their auspices thousands would have emigrated to the island. It were

vain to speculate as to the effect which would be produced if Egmont's

scheme had been put in execution. In looking over the list of those to

whom Hundreds were to be allotted, we find that of the forty persons

specified, thirty-two were military or naval officers,--men whose

profession did not, as a rule, fit them for the direction of the

settlement of a new colony. It is probable, however, that the expense to

which, at the outset, the forty Lords of Hundreds were to be put would

prompt them to take a more lively interest in their property than was

exhibited by the subsequent grantees. It is, however, possible that not

a few of the proposed lords intended to dispose of their property to the

highest bidder soon after the lots were drawn, and thus to avoid the

expense of the blockhouse erections, such a transference of interest

being allowable under the proposed original grant. That Egmont intended

to carry out his scheme in its integrity, there is no room to doubt. He

must have employed the highest legal ability to frame his memorials,

which are distinguished by a mastery of the ancient feudal tenures of

the kingdom, which elicited expressions of admiration from the

government. The pertinacity with which he urged his scheme showed that

he was not a man easily diverted from any settled purpose, and few

governments could have resisted the powerful influence he brought to

bear for the attainment of his object. There can be little doubt that

whatever might be the consequences of possession to the Lord Paramount

himself and his family of nine children, the destiny of the island would

have been far better in his keeping than in that of the men to whom it

was afterwards unfortunately committed. In order to conciliate Lord

Egmont, and make reparation to him for the trouble and expense to which

he had been put in urging his scheme, the Board of Trade, by a minute

dated the 5th of June, 1767, offered him any entire

parish,--comprehending about one hundred thousand acres,--which he might

select, but his lordship addressed a letter to the Board on the eleventh

of the same month declining to take the grant. [B]