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|Records of the Bay of Quinte
Background to this petition
Robert Gourlay was first charged with sedition in May 1818 for arguing that American settlers should not be banned from getting land grants. He also accused officials of "scandalous behaviour" in creating a system of patronage and favourtism in the land granting process. Gourlay was twice acquited of the sedition charges in August 1818. Peregrine Maitland, having just arrived as Lt Governor, proposed an Act to Prevent Certain Meetings that was intended to suppress public meetings of a "seditious" nature.
The 238 inhabitants of these 4 townships took political risk in speaking out against the passing of this Act. The bill passed on Oct 31. Therefore these undated petitions were signed from about mid Sept to mid October, 1818. Gourlay is not named in the petitions but it is clear that his actions are what the context is all about.
It can be concluded that those who signed the petitions were supportive of reform or at the very least saw no reason to suppress public debate to articulate the concerns of the common settler.
Three similarly worded surviving copies of a petition were made and one copy was circulated in each of Ernestown, Hallowell and Cramahe and Percy townships. The text below is from the Ernestown copy. Signatures can be a challenge to transcribe. Let me know if you think I have misread some.
© Randy Saylor, transcribed Dec 2011.
Use these links to jump up and down to examine each list of names.
1. Robert Gourlay
2. The petition
3. The Inhabitants of Ernestown
4. The Inhabitants of Hallowell
5. The Inhabitants of Cramahe and Percy
Source: Civil Secretary's Correspondence, Upper Canada Sundries, 1766-1841, RG5 A1, LAC, film also at AO, Vol 41, C-4602, pp. 20053-65.
|1. Robert Gourlay
Robert Gourlay is a major figure in the early rise of the reform movement and he was banished from Upper Canada for his efforts at trying to get authorities to listen to the will of the people. He is most well known for arriving in Upper Canada and in a whirlwind creating 35 questions about settlement issues and he successfully motivated the Townships to hold meetings to answer these questions. The results were to be published in a Statistical Account (published in 1822). Many townships did hold meetings and much enthusiasm ensued and the focus shifted to sending a commission to England to ask for changes to be made in the administration of the Province. Of course Bishop Strachan and the "Compact" fought back and succeeded in having him banished. There are excellent accounts at Wikipedia and also the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. A good book is Robert Gourlay, Gadfly, Forerunner of the Rebellion in Upper Canada 1837, Lois Darroch Milani, Ampersand Press, 1971.
Lastly, Plunder, Profit, and Paroles, A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada, George Sheppard, McGill, Queen's Univ. Press, 1994, discusses the depression that followed the War 1812 and describes how Gourlay was part of the changing landscape at the time
|2. The Petition
To His Excellency Major General Sir Peregrine Maitland HCB Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada .
The petition of the undersigned inhabitants of the Township of [named as Ernestown, Hallowell, Cramahe and Percy in each separate copy.]
That the undersigned inhabitants of the township of [named] have perused with deep regret that part of your Excellency’s speech to the Parliament of Upper Canada wherein it is said “You will, I doubt, not feel a just indignation at the attempts which have been made to excite discontent and to organized sedition” and it is with shame as well as with regret, they have perceived that the Commons House of Assembly have not only confirmed these sentiments but descended to launch out wanton and invidious reflections against an innocent individual.
The undersigned believe that your Excellency has been grossly deceived as to the discontent which exists in Upper Canada, and very ill informed as to any attempt to organize sedition, but they are sorry to think that the reply of the Commons can Plead no such excuse.
The undersigned do not deny that discontent exists; but they speak with a determination which is unalterable in saying that there has been much cause for discontent. As to sedition, the very idea is groundless: yet if it did exist that Courts of Law are open for its prosecution. They have seen an individual prosecuted, nay persecuted, by the present ministry under the plea of promoting sedition and libelling the government: but twice has this individual been honorably acquitted, and far are they from thinking that any new Statute is necessary to circumscribe the liberty of the subject. The organization which has been formed in this Province is such, as, when properly considered, must excite admiration. It manifests a spirit of order and peace. It proves that the People of Upper Canada are advanced in the progress of civilization and above the mobbish habits of European nations. It shews they possess the most valuable knowledge how to redeem their political affairs when sunk in the slough of confusion and pressed down by the weight of installed power.
The undersigned wish to see no other organization save that of the regularly constituted authorities, if these would perform their duty: but they have witnessed their present parliamentary Representatives the third time in session without even the appearance of beneficial result. Twice did these representatives propose an enquiry into the State of the Province: - twice where they ignominiously dismissed in the midst of weighty considerations; and twice have they returned only to display grovelling sentiments and temporizing acts. The late organization of the people never had but one object - that of enquiry and the appointment of a commission to go home to England with a petition to the Throne that the same may be effectual. The accomplishment of this object constitutes the most earnest desire of the undersigned: and if this object is not speedily attained through the manly endeavors of the Present Parliament they most fervently pray that that Your Excellency will dissolve it, and issue writs for the assembly of men who may represent more faithfully the wishes, and more ably perform the business, of their constituents.
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|3. "Inhabitants of Ernestown Township"|
|4. "Inhabitants of Hallowell Township"|
|5. "Inhabitants of Cramahe and Percy Townships"|
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