What a settler would have to do in their first year

By Adam A., Visitor Host

As the end of the year approaches, it is common to reflect on what one has accomplished. For a new settler in early Upper Canada, that would necessarily be quite a lot. Land Granting in Upper Canada prior to the War of 1812 was a regulated and centrally administered affair with standard plans for townships, screening of settlers, and preferred orders of development. These measures laid out a number of formal and informal hurdles for a prospective settler to overcome. These measures were imposed in part because only the colonial government, through treaties such as the Gunshot Treaty of 1787-8, was permitted to acquire land from the First Nations who inhabited Upper Canada. Settlers were not permitted to take unceded lands on their own initiative. Any who did so were deemed to be squatters endangering relations with the First Nations who, prior to 1812, were still considered to be critical allies for the defence of British North America.

After arriving in Canada, a prospective pioneer would need to be screened for loyalty by the local district magistrates. The British had recently lost what is now the United States of America and were keen to be sure that the new colony of Upper Canada would not suffer the same fate. If successful, the new settler would give an Oath of Loyalty to the Crown and receive a certificate of loyalty. Then they would need to attend a meeting of the Land Committee in York (now Toronto) to present their claim, agree to the government’s terms, and receive the Location Ticket that outlined the location and size of their land grant. Having obtained that it would be the duty of the settler to make for their lot with all due haste and set about improving it to satisfy the government that they were genuine settlers. At this time, land in Canada was free; the only cost associated with a 200 acre grant was 5 pounds and 11 shillings worth of fees to acquire the necessary paperwork and cover the costs of the survey (and these fees were waived for Loyalist refugees), and the government was keenly aware that such low costs might attract speculators.

Colour illustration showing a group of people working at cutting lumber by a water's edge. There is a small wood cabin, and two cows assisting with the work, and there are tall trees in the background.
From Thomas Conant’s Upper Canada Sketches, “Logging Scene, Roger Conant in Darlington, Co. Durham, Upper Canada, 1778;” illustration by ES Shrapnel

The government mandated that any pioneer could only keep their grant provided they cleared and fenced at least five acres and erected a house of at least 16 by 20 feet within a year of obtaining their grant. Given seven acres was the upper end of how much land could be cleared in a year, and no agricultural work could be undertaken until enough land was cleared, these were not unreasonable or excessively burdensome expectations. Still, the work involved was extremely labour intensive. Trees would need to be felled, and stumps would need to be pulled from the ground. This was a difficult and lengthy process, involving the clearing of about 2,500 trees per acre, but it came with immediate benefit. The fallen trees could be used to build the pioneer’s home and fence, another portion would typically be burned to clear the remaining undergrowth and fertilize the soils with ash, and the remainder could be used for income. Early on it was common for excess wood to be burned and refined into potash which could be sold downstream to Montreal. Common practice was to cut down trees during the day and then devote long hours in the night to tending to the fires. As an area developed, a pioneer could instead sell their unneeded tree trunks to a local lumber mill. The profits from artisanal forestry could sustain the pioneer family while they developed their farm to the point where agricultural activity could sustain them. Circumstances permitting, an early pioneer might further supplement their income by engaging in the local fur trade, as Roger Conant did in our area.

Having taken up their land and proven their industriousness, the new pioneer was meant to return to York to receive their land patent, fully conferring the legal ownership of the land to them. However, many pioneers would skip this step due to their distance from York or preoccupation in their local area and only sought their patent when they intended to sell their land or needed to settle a boundary dispute. Regardless of whether they took this step, the early pioneer’s first year would have been a whirlwind of travel and work.


Sources:

Conant, Thomas. Life in Canada. Toronto; William Briggs, 1903.

Moorman, David T. The ‘First Business of Government’: the Land Granting Administration of Upper Canada, 1998.

Lewis, Frank D., and M. C. Urquhart. “Growth and the Standard of Living in a Pioneer Economy: Upper Canada, 1826 to 1851.” The William and Mary Quarterly 56, no. 1 (1999): 151–81.

Who Was John Baker?

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

John Baker is an important part of Oshawa’s history, even thought it is entirely possible he never spent any time here. Baker was one of two enslaved gentlemen granted freedom from slavery, along with land and money, in the will of Robert Isaac Dey Gray, Solicitor-General of Upper Canada. His connection to Gray, along with being named in the will, resulted in Baker gaining a level of fame and notoriety. A quick search on the internet turns up a surprising amount of information on the man and his life.

In a publication on the early history of the town of Cornwall, Ontario, author Jacob Farrand Pringle wrote about Baker and provided information about the life of the man though to be the last surviving enslaved person of African descent in both Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario).[1]   The Baker family can be traced back to a gentleman by the name of Cato Prime. Prime was native of Guinea, West Africa before being sold into slavery to John Low of New Jersey.  Prime had a daughter, named Lavine, who in turn had a daughter named Dorine, all of whom were slaves to the Low family. Dorine was given as a gift to Elizabeth Low, the daughter of John, and came with Elizabeth when she married Captain John Gray.  According to Pringle, Dorine was 17 years old when the Gray family brought her to Canada with them.

The Grays resided in Montreal from 1776 to 1784 when they moved to an area just east of Cornwall.  Dorine met and married Jacob Baker in Gray’s Creek, the area just east of Cornwall named for the Gray family. Baker’s history is unclear.  In an interview with a Toronto newspaper in 1869, John says that his father was a Dutchman; however, in his book on the history of Osgoode Hall, author James Hamilton states that Baker was a German Hessians who served with the British Army during the American Revolution.[2]  Either way, Baker was a free man while Dorine remained a slave to the Gray family.  According to Pringle, the Bakers had a large family.[3] The two eldest children, Simon and John, were born slaves as the law at the time stated that children inherited the status of their mother. Two daughters, Elizabeth and Bridget, were born free as laws had changed prior to their birth.[4] Upon the death of John Gray, Dorine and her sons became the property of Robert Isaac Dey Gray, the son of Elizabeth and John.

In that interview with the Toronto newspaper, Baker recounts his life with the Gray family. Referring to John Gray as Colonel, Baker spoke of how strict his master was.

“The Colonel had much property; he was strict and sharp, made us wear deerskin shirts and deerskin jackets, and gave us many a flogging. At these times he would pull off my jacket, and the rawhide would fly around my shoulders very fast.” [5]

Robert I.D. Gray was apparently less cruel to those he owned. After practicing law in Cornwall for a short time, he went to York and in 1797 was named the first Solicitor-General of Upper Canada. Gray took Simon Baker with him to act as his body servant.

In August 1798, Elizabeth Gray was granted 600 acres of property in Whitby Township.[6]  It is this property that connects the Baker brothers and Gray to Oshawa.  Robert Isaac Dey Gray and Simon Baker died when the ship they were travelling on, the Speedy, wrecked near Presqu’ile Point, Brighton Township. In his will, Gray finally granted the Baker family their freedom. Gray not only granted freedom to Dorine and her family, but he also made provisions for her future.  The will stipulates that £1200 from his real estate holdings be put into a fund for Dorine and that the interest be given to her annually.  He also left provisions in his will for Simon and John. To Simon, he left 200 acres of lot 11 in the second concession, as well as his clothes and a watch worth £50.  To John, he left 200 acres of lot 17 in the first concession along with £50. [7]  Land registry documents show that the property left to John was finally transferred to him on June 12, 1824.  John did not keep the property, as records indicate the lot was sold to Martin Sanford on June 14, 1824. The records are difficult to read, and it is unclear how much money John sold the lot for.[8]

john baker land registry

John Baker’s interview with the newspaper gives us glimpse into his life as a free man. After Gray’s death released Baker from slavery, he began to work for Justice William Dummer Powell.[9] While with Powell, he enlisted with the army and went to New Brunswick, fighting in the War of 1812.  According to Baker, he was with his regiment during battles at Lundy’s Lane, Fort Erie and Sackett’s Harbour. It appears that Baker was in the military until after the battle of Waterloo, where he apparently saw Napoleon and was not particularly impressed. From his interview with the Toronto newspaper, “I saw Napoleon.  He was a chunky little fellow; he rode hard and jumped ditches.”[10]

Once his time in the military ended, Baker returned to Canada and settled back in Cornwall. He worked in the area until age caught up with him.  Around 1861, he received a pension from the British government for his time in the military. John Baker died on January 18, 1871.

At the time of his death, Baker was believed to be the last person to been held in slavery in the Canadas.  Many Canadians do not know that slavery existed here.  Baker’s life helps us to better understand slavery in the Canadian context.


Endnotes

[1] Pringle, Jacob Farrand. Lunenburg or the Old District: its settlement and early progress : with personal recollections of the town of Cornwall, from 1824 : to which are added a history of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and other corps; the names of all those who drew lands in the counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, up to November, 1786; and several other lists of interest to the descendants of the old settlers.  Cornwall: Standard Print House, 1890. Page 319.

[2] Hamilton, James Cleland. Osgoode Hall Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar. Toronto: The Carswell Company Ltd. 1904. Page 132.

[3] Pringle, page 319.

[4] Cornwall Community Museum Blog, “The Emancipation of Cato Prime & John Baker,” Published September 10, 2016; accessed January 22, 2019 from: https://cornwallcommunitymuseum.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/the-emancipation-of-cato-prime-john-baker/

[5] Pringle, page 321.

[6] Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Domesday Whitby Township.  Page 174. Note, Whitby Township at that time referred to what is today the Town of Whitby and the City of Oshawa. The land that was owned by Gray was located in what is today Oshawa.

[7] In Pringle’s book, he notes that the will leaves 200 acres of lot 11 of the first concession to Simon and 200 acres of lot 17 in the second concession to John. The Domesday records indicate that the grants were for lot 17 in the first concession and lot 11 in the second concession.

[8] Ontario Land Registry – Abstract/Parcel Book, Durham (40), East Whitby, Book 189. Page 289.

[9] Of note, this is the same judge that employed Thomas Henry at the start of the War of 1812.

[10] Pringle, page 322.

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