Rural Protest on Prince Edward Island

Rural Protest on Prince Edward Island: From British Colonization to the Escheat Movement

RUSTY BITTERMANN
Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 382
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt15jvwgs
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  • Book Info
    Rural Protest on Prince Edward Island
    Book Description:

    Rural Protest on Prince Edward Islandis a comprehensive and fascinating examination of an important, but often overlooked, period in the history of Canada's smallest province.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-3206-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Maps and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    On the morning of 8 November 1837, rural Islanders began to assemble opposite George Sentiner’s tavern on the outskirts of Georgetown in eastern Prince Edward Island. They were coming to show their dissatisfaction with government policies that gave landlords control of most of the colony’s resources and that relegated two-thirds of the population to the status of tenants or squatters. Those travelling from distant parts of the colony arrived in long processions with flags and pipers; the assembled crowd greeted them with great shouts of welcome and celebratory musket fire. By noon more than two thousand had gathered for the...

  6. 1 The Eighteenth-Century Roots of Rural Protest
    (pp. 8-26)

    The grievances that led thousands of colonists to participate in the Escheat movement were rooted in land policies established by the British in the 1760s. The manner in which colonists chose to express their dissatisfaction was shaped by a long history of settler resistance. It drew from a repertoire of protest that began to emerge on the Island in the early decades of its history as a British colony and from beliefs concerning settler rights that had developed over many years.

    Prince Edward Island, called Île St-Jean, and then Saint John’s Island, before being given its current name in 1799,...

  7. 2 Land Issues in a Changing Context, 1800–1824
    (pp. 27-42)

    The Escheat movement of the 1830s drew not just from the protest traditions of the years after the American Revolution, but from the experiences of settlers and political leaders in the intervening years as well. The early years of the nineteenth century brought increased immigration to Prince Edward Island and with it yet more tensions arising from conflicting visions of an appropriate rural order. Shifts in estate ownership, coupled with economic growth, helped generate greater interest among proprietors in actively managing the Island’s lands. In this, however, landlords continued to encounter difficulties and resistance. As the early nineteenth century unfolded,...

  8. 3 The Limitations of Developmental Politics, 1824–1831
    (pp. 43-59)

    The change of administration in 1824 brought with it a substantial change in the political climate on the Island, as Smith’s autocracy gave way to participatory politics and the House of Assembly assumed a greater profile in Island affairs. The dominant political agenda that emerged in the late 1820s concerned how the state might foster economic growth in the colony. This project had drawn the interest of a broad array of the Island’s elite in the previous decade and had the potential to generate wide support. The challenges of funding state-led growth, however, proved divisive; among other things, landed and...

  9. 4 Escheat Enters the Political Arena, 1831–1833
    (pp. 60-84)

    Economic growth and development were central issues in the proceedings of the 12th General Assembly in the second half of the 1820s and the first session of the 13th in 1831. This began to change in subsequent sessions as the house took up the land question. Land reform, and the possibility of escheat actions to achieve it, became a central issue in the assembly after William Cooper joined the house when it met in January 1832 and forcefully articulated the issue. Cooper’s advocacy of land reform then and in later years would have been of little consequence, though, had discussion...

  10. 5 Resistance in the Countryside, 1832–1834
    (pp. 85-109)

    ‘Reform appears to be the order of the day in almost all parts of the civilized world,’ noted the secretary of an Escheat meeting at Rustico Ferry in northern Queens County.¹ He went on to describe the grievances besetting the rural underclasses of the Island and to record a series of resolutions concerned with redressing them. Discussion of the escheat issue in the assembly in the early months of 1832 generated enormous enthusiasm in the countryside. There was a sense that Prince Edward Island was participating in the great changes occurring elsewhere in the Atlantic world. Judging by the petitions...

  11. 6 Organizing Proprietors, 1831–1834
    (pp. 110-135)

    Writing to a business acquaintance in May 1833, David Stewart shared his relief that the threat of escheat on Prince Edward Island had substantially diminished over the last few months. Much hard work had gone into turning aside the threat confronting his family’s investments in the colony, and he wrote with a consciousness of the peril they had narrowly avoided: ‘It is extremely doubtful whether the Escheat Act passed by the Legislature of the Colony would not have received Royal Allowance, had it not been for the exertions of my brother, Mr. Bainbridge, the colonial agent, Mr. MacGregor, and our...

  12. 7 Organizing Escheat, 1834–1836
    (pp. 136-171)

    In the aftermath of the assembly proceedings of 1832, the Escheat movement had appeared stronger than it was. Conversely, the subsequent decline of agrarian advocacy in the assembly and the collapse of organized rent resistance suggested a moribundity that was not the case. Certainly, the hope of a quick and easy victory was gone, but the movement was not dead. In the second half of the 1830s, Escheat advocates retraced many of the steps that agrarian activists had taken earlier in the decade. They did so, though, with less optimism for immediate success and with more attention to establishing a...

  13. 8 Harvey and the Escheators, 1836–1837
    (pp. 172-194)

    Many in the ranks of the Escheators hoped that Lieutenant-Governor John Harvey’s arrival in the colony would be a watershed. They firmly believed that he would see the merits of their request for new elections and, once a majority that reflected rural sentiments assumed leadership in the assembly, that he would help them make their case known at the highest echelons of the British government. To this end, prior to his arrival they began to prepare massive petitions setting forth agrarian grievances and asking that the governor dissolve the House of Assembly. These hopes proved to be misplaced. Indeed, Harvey...

  14. 9 Agrarian Institutions and the March to Power, 1837–1838
    (pp. 195-232)

    The Island’s legislative assembly, which typically met from late January until April, was in recess when Governor Harvey’s replacement, Charles FitzRoy, arrived, but its unofficial agrarian shadow was at work. FitzRoy had not been on the Island long before he found his agenda being set by the Escheat movement. Agrarian activism had moved into a particularly dynamic phase, and it rapidly swept the governor along with its momentum. Because of this, FitzRoy was drawn into making important statements on the land question soon after his arrival. Initially the lieutenant-governor’s actions helped sustain the movement; later he would become a vociferous...

  15. 10 The Limits of Democratic Power, 1838–1842
    (pp. 233-270)

    The tactical choices Escheators made in the 1830s were predicated on the notion that the British constitution provided opportunities for them to realize their goals within existing government structures. They were not unaware of the powers of non-elected officials, but Escheators believed that state claims to legitimacy rested on wielding power in accordance with the needs of the people at large: ultimately the power of the non-elected rested on the consent of the governed. Adherence to such notions of ‘contractualism,’ as John Belchem has noted, was ‘a cornerstone of popular constitutionalism.’¹ The years at the turn of the decade provided...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 271-276)

    Escheat’s electoral defeat in the summer of 1842 was one of a number of setbacks marking the decline of the most dynamic rural protest movement in Prince Edward Island history. In the short run, its opponents on the Island and in Britain had succeeded in blocking the popular challenge it posed. But they had done so only after a prolonged and difficult struggle, requiring the exertions of leading members of the Island’s commercial and professional community to shape the opinions and policies of Island governors and the Colonial Office, as well as the efforts of resident and absentee landlords. One...

  17. Appendix
    (pp. 277-278)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 279-338)
  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 339-360)
  20. Index
    (pp. 361-372)