Thomas Jefferson and James Madison Implement the Act of Congress Granting Land to Canadians Who Fled Their Homes – And Lost Everything – to Aid the American Revolution

The Final Act of the American Revolution’s Abortive Attempt to Bring Canada into the Revolutionary Fold

In a document countersigned by James Madison, he grants 320 acres in the Canadian Refugee Tract to a man who had to abandon his property in Canada

Among the first plans of the leaders of the American Revolution was the desire to make Canada the 14th colony in the rebellion against Great...

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Thomas Jefferson and James Madison Implement the Act of Congress Granting Land to Canadians Who Fled Their Homes – And Lost Everything – to Aid the American Revolution

The Final Act of the American Revolution’s Abortive Attempt to Bring Canada into the Revolutionary Fold

In a document countersigned by James Madison, he grants 320 acres in the Canadian Refugee Tract to a man who had to abandon his property in Canada

Among the first plans of the leaders of the American Revolution was the desire to make Canada the 14th colony in the rebellion against Great Britain’s authority in North America. There were elements in the Canadian situation in 1775 which, at first glance, promised success to the effort to win Canada. Many Americans were of the conviction that the French Canadians were discontented under British authority, which they had been forced to accept hardly a dozen years before. There was an influential English minority in Canada known to be hostile to the way British authority was exercised in Canada. The situation in Nova Scotia was seen as particularly volatile, as many of the settlers there were transplanted New Englanders who had arrived after 1700 to exploit the fishing and trading opportunities of the province.

It is not surprising, therefore, that for years after the first attempt of 1774 to have the inhabitants of Quebec send representatives to the First Continental Congress, the efforts to win Canada for the revolutionary cause were diligently continued. Congress sent emissaries to the British minority in Canada, and agents to carry on an attempt to woo the French in Quebec. And in 1775 U.S. forces invaded Quebec for the purpose of persuading or forcing Canada to change her allegiance. The offensive campaign against Canada was, however, a failure, one which revealed that the practice of short enlistments made Continental forces unstable and frequently compelled the officers to act precipitately with what was left of their disintegrating commands. Nevertheless, colonial leaders stubbornly adhered to the idea of annexing the northern provinces to the revolutionary cause. On January 22, 1778, the American Congress resolved ‘“That an irruption be made into Canada”; the conclusion of the French alliance in the same year revived interest in the project to gain the support of the French population of Quebec; and as late as 1781, General Washington was still considering the advisability of a joint attack on Canada by French and Americans.

In spite of the repeated efforts of the Continental Congress and the revolutionary leaders to entice or cudgel Canadians into a course that would result in difficulties for Great Britain, large numbers of Canadians did not permit themselves to be persuaded to support the revolution, or give open aid to the cause of the 13 colonies. But there were several hundred Canadians who openly allied themselves with the colonies. Some joined with Montgomery’s forces in 1775; some were residents of Quebec or Nova Scotia, who due to their trade and family connections with the American revolutionists, or to an honest sympathy for the cause, allied themselves with it; and some joined the Continental Army during the course of the war. Many of these people found it necessary to flee their homes and seek refuge on the American side of the border, often losing all of their possessions in the process.

On November 10, 1780, Congress approved Washington’s orders to supply the Canadian families living in New York with rations, and the governor of New York was requested to investigate the circumstances of the refugees, to give them protection, and “such further assistance, at the expense of the United States, as he shall judge necessary”. Immediately after the close of the Revolution, petitions began to reach Congress from refugees, asking for relief and for some substantial recognition of their services and sufferings during the war. Congress was sympathetic but lacked funds to make compensation to the refugees at that time. The only resources the central government had during this early period were western lands, and so Congress decided to satisfy the claimants as soon as possible by land grants in the undeveloped west. In April 1783, Congress, in reply to a letter from General Hazen, in whose brigade many Canadian refugees had rendered valiant services, resolved “That the memorialists be informed, that Congress retain a lively sense of the service the Canadian officers and men rendered the United States, and that they are seriously disposed to reward them for their virtuous sufferings in the cause of liberty”. The resolution promised compensation in the form of land grants.

In the Land Ordinance of 1785 a definite provision for the relief of Canadian refugees was included for the first time, although the plan to settle them on Lake Erie proved impractical because of active Indian activity. In the early 1790s the question of compensating the Canadians was again brought to the attention of Congress, and committees began looking into determining how many people there were in the status of needing relief. They found several hundred, though the results were considered incomplete. In April 1794, a House committee recommended that a tract of land northwest of the Ohio River be appropriated as compensation for refugees from Canada, each refugee to receive 500 acres, provided his claim had been properly filed and proven. But Congress again took no action.

On April 7, 1798, Congress finally passed an act that made provision for compensation to Canadian refugees. At this point the war had been over for 15 years. The Secretary of War was directed to insert a notice in public newspapers requesting all refugees to file their claims within two years. The claimants were divided into three classes, and included not only those who had actually left Canadian provinces due to their desire to aid the colonies, but also their widows, members of their families, and other heirs. Proof of claims had to be presented. In 1800 the Secretary of the Treasury sent the House of Representatives reports appending some 50 names eligible for the grants, and stated that 73 claims had been examined. Then Albert Gallatin, a representative from Pennsylvania, led a movement in the House to increase the amount of land to be distributed, and in general pleaded for a greater generosity toward the claimants, in part because they had been forced to wait twenty years for their compensation.

The result was the Act of February 18, 1801, which established the boundaries of what was called the “Canadian Refugee Tract” in Ohio. The tract as surveyed was a strip of land about four and a half miles wide and forty-eight miles long, running east from the Scioto River and covering what is now an important part of the city of Columbus, Ohio. The priority of location for persons entitled to land in this district was to be determined by lot, thirty days after the survey had been completed, and the locations were then to be made on the second Tuesday of January 1802. The act enumerated the amount to be granted to each individual, the grants ranging from 160 acres to 2,240 acres. After the parcels were located the land grants finally progressed.

Additional claimants were named in the Act of April 23, 1812. By both of these Acts, 67 claimants received 58,080 acres. Therefore, only 67 land grant documents were signed to reward Canadians who lost everything to support the American cause in the Revolution. That compares to thousands of land grants signed by President Monroe alone. This is one of the 67.

Document signed as President, Washington, March 13, 1802, reciting: “That in pursuance of the act of Congress passed on the eighteenth of February, 1801, entitled ‘An act regulating the grants of land appropriated for the Refugees from the British Provinces of Canada and Nova Scotia’, there is granted unto Jacob Van Der Heyden a certain tract of land estimated to contain 320 acres…for the purpose of satisfying the claims of the Refugees aforesaid.” The document is countersigned by Secretary of State James Madison. On the verso there is a map depicting the location of the plot. In 1800 Van Der Heyden had submitted two certificates asking for compensation for abandoning his property in Canada. He received two grants of 320 acres; this one and one other.

This land grant, and the 66 others also granted, constituted in a real sense the final act of the American Revolution relating to the abortive venture to bring Canada into the revolutionary fold.

Needless to say, with only 67 in existence, this is the first such document we have had. A search of public sale records going back over 40 years shows that only one of the Refugee Tract grants had reached that marketplace, and that one was in poor condition.

The final Refugee Tract claim was not adjusted and disposed of until President Jackson’s administration, in 1834. This was 51 years after the Revolutionary War ended.

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