Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


The Iroquois and the Land Question



[This text was written by J. Castell HOPKINS in 1898. For the full citation, see the end of the document.]


The Land Question was always an important one to Canadian Indians, though not, as in the United States, a constant source of serious trouble and bloodshed. About 1796, the Iroquois, who had become in great measure civilized, wished to dispose of portions of the large tract of territory given them after the Revolutionary War (retaining enough to cultivate), and to raise a fund by the sales as an annuity for their future comfort.


Captain Joseph Brant - Thayendanegea - their principal Chief, who resided near them, and who, from his influence and intelligence, took a prominent part while he lived in all their transactions, was by a solemn act in council appointed the agent or attorney of the Six Nations to negotiate with the Government for the making of some arrangement in this direction.


The principal chiefs and warriors, acting for the tribes, executed on November 2, 1796, a formal power of attorney which authorized Captain Brant to surrender into the hands of the Government certain portions of the lands possessed by them, and for which they had found, or intended to find, purchasers, so that His Majesty, thus holding these portions of their lands relieved from the pledge which had been given for their exclusive possession, might make a clear and free grant, in fee simple and by letters patent, to such persons as the Indians might agree to sell to. This method of proceeding was clearly in accordance with the nature of the tenure under which the Six Nations held their land and seemed as wise a method as could be devised for protecting their interests, and guarding them against hasty or indiscreet sales.


The tract which Captain Brant was authorized to surrender was described in the power of attorney referred to, and was stated to contain three hundred and ten thousand three hundred and ninety-one acres.


Authority was also given to Captain Brant, after the passing of such grants,

"to ask and receive such security or securities, either, in his own name or the names of others to be by him then and there nominated, as he or they might deem necessary, for the securing the payment of the several sums of money that should become due and owing from the purchasers, and likewise to receive all such sums of money as should be due and owing therefor, and to give acquittances in as full a manner as all his constituents (the Indians of the Six Nations) could do if personally present."

Under this authority, it is supposed with the perfect knowledge and approbation of the Indians, sales of very large tracts were effected by Captain Brant ; and on February 5th, 1798, pursuant to the power delegated to him, he executed in the name of the chief warriors of the Iroquois a formal deed surrendering their possession of such parts of the said lands as are mentioned below, beseeching that His Majesty would be pleased to grant the same in fee simple to the persons named, who were to pay the sums stated as a consideration for the same.


By this document it was specified that Block No. 1 (now forming the Township of Dumfries), containing about 94,305 acres, was sold to P. Steadman for £8,841 ; that Block No. 2, containing 94,012 acres, was sold to Richard Beasley, James Wilson and John B. Rosseau for £8,887 ; that Block No. 3, containing 86,078 acres, was sold to William Wallace for £16,364; that Block No. 4, no purchaser or price named, contained 28,512 acres; that Block No. 5, containing 30,800 acres, was sold to the Hon. W. Jarvis for £5,775 ; that Block No. 6, given originally to John Dockstader, and containing 19,000 acres, was by him sold for the benefit of his Indian children to Benjamin Canby for £5,000. The total was 352,707 acres, valued at £44,867 sterling.


The making of these contracts with the individual purchasers, and the fixing of the consideration, were therefore the acts of the Indians themselves, either arranged in their councils or negotiated by their fully authorized agent. The Government of Canada seems merely to have assented to the general measure, and to have given its sanction and assistance in the conviction that it would be beneficial to the Indians generally. It appears, however, in communications received by Mr. President Russell of Upper Canada, from the Duke of Portland, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, that the Imperial Government were not without extreme reluctance brought to give their sanction to these transfers of land, and in one of these despatches it is plainly declared that the previous sanction of His Majesty must be received before any similar negotiation would be entertained in future. It would have been better for the Indians had the Duke of Portland's advice been followed, and the British Government been the purchaser at the same price as the Indians were willing to sell to individuals for. They had, however, an able representative in Thayendanegea, and in the end much of the money was obtained and now stands at the credit of the Six Nations.


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Source: J. Castell HOPKINS, Canada. An Encyclopaedia of the Country, Vol. 1, Toronto, The Linscott Publishing Company, 1898, 540p., pp. 240-241.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College