Settlement Duties

Editor's Note: The following amusing tale was told by Samuel Strickland in his Twenty-seven years in Canada West, or the experience of an early settler (Published by M.G. Hurtig Ltd. in 1853). The story, while funny, illustrates an important feature of early settler's lives, the performance of settlement duties. In the early days, land could be acquired either for free, or for a very minimal price, however, there were obligations attached to it. One of the most important of these was the requirement of clearing a portion of the land on the nearest concession line so as to create a sixty-six foot wide path for the building of roads. Other obligations included erecting a house of certain dimensions, fencing the land and generally showing that you had "improved" the land.

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Before the Crown patent could issue, the party contracting to perform the settlement duties was obliged to appear before a magistrate, and make an affidavit that he or they had chopped and cleared certain concession lines opposite the lots of land mentioned in the certificate. This was a bad law, because many of these lines crossing high hills, swamps or lakes, were impracticable for road-purposes: many thousand pounds consequently were entirely and uselessly thrown away: besides, it opened a door for perjury.

Land-speculators would employ a third party to perform their settlement duties; all they required to obtain the deed, or "lift" as it is called in Canadian parlance, was the sworn certificate for cutting the road, allowances, and the payment of certain fees to Government. The consequence of this was, that many false certificates were sworn to, as few persons or magistrates would be at the trouble and expense of travelling thirty or forty miles back into an uninhabited part of the country, to ascertain if the parties had sworn truly or not.

A magistrate in my neighbourhood told me that a Yankee chopper came to him one day and demanded to be sworn on a settlement duty certificate, which he did to the following effect, "that he had cut a chain between two posts opposite lots so and so, in the concession of ----- township. The road allowances are a chain in width, and posts are planted and marked on each side of the concession, at the corners of each lot.

"I had some suspicion," he said, "in my own mind that the fellow had sworn falsely, so I determined to ascertain the truth. I knew a person residing within a mile or two of the place, to whom I wrote for information, when I found as I expected, that not a tree had been cut on the line. I therefore summoned the Yankee, on the information of the farmer, to appear before a brother magistrate and myself to answer for his delinquency.

"So sir," I said, "you came before me and swore to a false certificate. Do not you know you have committed perjury, which is a very serious offence. What have you to say for yourself?"

"Wal, I guess, Mister, I han't committed no perjury. I swore I cut a chain between two posts opposite them lots, and I can prove it by Ina Buck, for he was with me the hul time I was doing on't"

"Now, Mr. Buck, what can you prove?"

"Wal, gentlemen, I was along with Jonathan Stubbs when he went to chop the settlement duties, and when we got to the posts opposite the lots, he said, 'Wal, this looks plaguy ugly any how! I calculate I must fix these duties the short way,' so he pulled out of his pocket a short piece of trace-chain which he laid on a stone in a line between the two posts, and with a stroke or two of his axe severed it in two. 'Now,' said he, 'Ina Buck, I guess you are witness that I cut a chain between two posts, so they can't fix me nohow?'"

"He was, however, a little out of his calculation, for we did fix him, and sent him to jail, where I dare say he had ample time to plan some new device for performing settlement duties."


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