Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick

Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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PERLEY, MOSES HENRY, non-resident Indian commissioner, honorary Micmac chief, and fisheries investigator; b. Maugerville, N.B., 31 Dec 1804, s/o Moses Perley and Mary Perley; m. 1829, Jane Ketchum, of Norton and Saint John; d. 17 Aug 1862, on board ship off the Labrador coast.

Moses H. Perley, a grandson of Israel Perley (who was his mother's father), was a Saint John lawyer and businessman, who "for several years was largely engaged in the milling and lumbering trade." Later he was a special commissioner for the province in the areas of Indian affairs, immigration, and the inshore and offshore fisheries. He was the most widely-travelled and extensively-published New Brunswicker of his day, and while his recommendations were not always acted upon in a direct manner, his influence was both large and long-lasting.

As special Indian commissioner Perley travelled to all parts of the province in 1841 broadcasting the message that the government wished to take steps to improve the lot of the Indians economically and socially. The government also wished to settle outstanding problems in respect to Indian lands which had been squatted upon by settlers, or which were otherwise in dispute. When he and his party reached Newcastle on 27 August 1841 they were extended an enthusiastic welcome by a large gathering of chiefs and Indians. The next day he went to Eel Ground, where he found a total of 108 Indians living in wigwams, "much scattered about." A few days later he met at Red Bank with Chief Barnaby Julian. He then went to Burnt Church, where he counted about 200 Indian residents. Burnt Church was the gathering place of the tribes of the Miramichi district, and while he was there various councils were in session. At one of these he was elected "Wunjeet Sagamow," or honorary head chief, a title which he valued highly and which he used on more than one occasion to justify intervening with government authorities on behalf of the Indians.

On his 1841 visit Perley also observed the darker side of the Indians' existence. The death rate among infants, children, and young mothers was staggeringly high. The Miramichi Indians were managing to survive collectively only by marrying young, marrying repeatedly, and having as many children as they could during their childbearing years. Perley spoke with parents who had eight to twelve children die of measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, croup, typhus, smallpox, and other diseases. At the time of his tour the children were suffering from dysentery, and while he was at Burnt Church, "a death occurred almost daily."

Perley was personally committed to the introduction of the improvements to Indian life which the government had promised, but the only significant action to follow his study and report was a statute enacted in 1844 which provided, first and foremost, for the sale of those portions of the Indian reserves which had already been alienated from the Indians, or which were considered to be inhibiting development.

In 1843 Perley was appointed emigration (i.e., immigration) agent for New Brunswick. His duties included overseeing the arrival of immigrants and the enforcement of quarantine regulations. It was to him that Capt. John M. Thain submitted his report in 1847 on the frightening illness which had befallen the passengers and crew of the barque Looshtauk, and of the lengthy quarantine of the survivors on Middle Island.

While still acting as immigration agent Perley began to study the condition of the Gulf of St Lawrence fisheries. Between 1849 and 1852 he travelled about the gulf gathering data. The fishery at the mouth of the Miramichi he found to be the most lucrative in the province. Here more than 400,000 pounds of fresh salmon were being put up each season "in tin cases hermetically sealed" for export to the United Kingdom. He decried, however, "the use of nets stretched all across the mouth of the river from the mainland to Fox and Portage Islands, and then across to the other shore, as well as from shore to shore at dozens of locations upriver." There were "hundreds of fishermen interspersed between the nets, intent on spearing all the fish they could, day and night, in season and out."

Perley's investigations were preparatory to the signing of the Reciprocity treaty in 1854, whereby the fisheries and other resources were shared between Canada and the United States. In 1855 he was appointed fisheries commissioner for the enforcement of the treaty, and he was engaged in the discharge of the duties of this position at the time of his death.


[b/m/d] DCB / Hamilton (JT); Leader 1 Jul 1992 ("Memories of Middle Island," by Joanne Cadogan); Mitcham; Morgan (BC)