Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Index to Land Petitions: Original Series, 1783-1918 (RS108)

Introduction Introduction | Name Index Name Index | Blacks Blacks | Indigenous People Indigenous People | Military Units Military Units


DATES: 1783-1918

EXTENT: 31 linear meters

INDEX: Nominal index follows

RESTRICTIONS: Use on microfilm only




This series contains the earliest petitions for grants of land (see also RS272 for later petitions). The settler who wished to obtain a grant of Crown land submitted a petition to the Lieutenant Governor (later to the Crown Land Office) describing his or her circumstances, need, family, and any service (usually military) rendered the Crown, which would attest to the petitioner being deserving of the land and whose settlement would be beneficial to the community and province. The Lieutenant Governor in Council, acting as a Committee of Council on Land (see RS568) would approve or disallow the petition. If the petition was allowed, an Order/Warrant of Survey (see RS687A) would be issued to the deputy-surveyor who had to establish the boundaries of the grant to be issued. Field notes made by the deputy-surveyors (see RS1021) describe the boundaries. From those notes a Return of Survey (see RS687B) was prepared to show in detail the location, size, and other survey-related information concerning the land to be granted. Correspondence between the Surveyor General and his deputies may be located in RS637. The Returns of Survey were kept by the Surveyor General organized by county (see RS687), or by subjects such as railways, Indians, etc., (see RS656). The Returns were used to draw up the official Land Grant (see RS686), which form the official record and final authority of granted Crown land. A copy of the Grant was issued to the petitioner (cum grantee) and became his proof of ownership. All subsequent transactions such as selling, leasing, or mortgaging between individuals required registration at the county registry offices (see RS84 to RS98). However, in the case where the Crown reclaimed the property by escheatment (see RS686F) for non-compliance with granting regulations, the original grant was cancelled and the land re-granted.

The petitions held at the Provincial Archives fall under Record Group 10 - Records of the Department of Natural Resources and Energy - and are divided into two Record Series, i.e. RS108 Land Petitions: Original Series, and RS272 Land Petitions: Current Series. RS108 includes petitions between 1783 and 1918 with the bulk (about 98%) being between 1783 and 1867. RS272 includes petitions between 1830 and the present: it is called "Land Petitions: Current Series" because it is an on-going series. The land petitions since 1830 which were granted were numbered by the department and that system is still in use today. It also seems that all petitions within RS272 were granted whereas those within RS108 may not have been. RS272 petitions, especially from the late 19th century on, are cumulative in that former, unsuccessful petitions are filed with the most recent petition providing a history of the attempts to settle a property


In the first hundred years of the history of New Brunswick, the Government actively pursued a policy of land settlement by encouraging settlement, lumbering, and "progress" as it was defined in the nineteenth century. The territory which is now called New Brunswick was first peopled by the Maliseets (Wolastoqiyik) and Mi’kmaq. Samuel de Champlain established the first French Colony on Saint Croix Island in 1604 and a year later moved the colony to Port-Royal which became the capital of a permanent settlement called Acadia. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, control of the region was passed back and forth between the French and English depending on which European power was dominant. The last such transfer came in 1763 when, by the terms of the treaty ending the Seven Years' War, the area became a possession of Great Britain. Under the British administration at Halifax, the territory north of the Bay of Fundy was known as the Counties of Sunbury and Cumberland. Significant efforts were made to establish settlements at this time -- the New England traders centered in Boston planted settlements on the St. John River at Saint John, Gagetown, Maugerville, and various other prime locations; and the Pennsylvania Germans established settlements such as Hillsborough and Moncton on the Petitcodiac River. Yorkshire and Rhode Island immigrants settled in the Tantramar-Sackville region

The first major influx of settlers were, refugees from the War of American Independence known as "loyalists". Whereas previous, pre-loyalist emigration was measured in the hundreds, the loyalists arrived by the tens of thousands. Voluntarily or otherwise, they left the new American republic and returned to the protection of the King of England within the domains of British North America. To accommodate and administer the new settlers north of the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick was set off from Nova Scotia in 1784. This encouraged even more emigration from the American colonies. Many, however, only passed through New Brunswick on their way to the Canadas, England, or elsewhere. The British loyalists and disbanded British soldiers arrived between 1783 and 1790 and were rewarded for their political loyalty and for their military service in the War by grants of land in New Brunswick. When petitioning for their grants, these early settlers often described their families, their military exploits, their place of birth, or other personal information which make their petitions valuable historical documents.

The second great wave of settlers came to New Brunswick as a result of the upheavals caused by the Napoleonic Wars and the emergence of the factory system in Europe, especially in the British Isles. The wave which began to arrive around 1815 continued until the late-1820s. During this time and until the 1850s, the Province attempted to attract immigrants by publishing and distributing in Europe, brochures, booklets, and advertisements; by establishing a commissioner to oversee immigrant placement; and by providing transportation across the Atlantic Ocean.

The third and final wave of immigrants affecting New Brunswick specifically included those who came to North America as a result of European political and military turmoil, the continuing detrimental effects of the expanding Industrial Revolution, and the crop failures suffered in the mid-1800s. Among these groups the Irish was the predominant component. Combined with these negative incentives was the belief in the Old World that North America, including New Brunswick, was the land of opportunity. There was "land for the having" and the qualifications for obtaining it were minimal.

Those qualifications included being a British subject and being an adult male. At various times there were also fees involved, such as paying for the survey. Land improvements were also a stipulation and these included clearing a portion of the lot and building a domicile. These terms varied over time depending on the colony’s stance on the importance of immigration and population retention. Especially in the early years, these petitions took the form of a letter pleading their case for receiving the land. Thus, the petitions submitted by these immigrants between 1783 and 1840, for the large part, amount to biographical sketches of the petitioner and his family. Unfortunately, in the 1840s the Province began to issue standardized forms for petitions and because the information required was minimal, they are less helpful to the researcher.


The index to RS108 covers the period from 1783 to 1918. It totals about 67,300 entries. The following rules were used in compiling the index:

1) Petitioners: To accommodate biographical and genealogical research, every petitioner on a petition is indexed. Petitions which contain lists of names are filed under the name of the first petitioner, and the other petitioners in the list are cross-referenced accordingly.

2) Claimants: To accommodate demographic and land-related research, every person named within the petitions as having, or having had, claim to the land, is indexed. Researchers should note that sometimes the whereabouts of a former claimant is mentioned; e.g.. 'went to Upper Canada two years ago'.

3) Witnesses: To further accommodate general research on the early inhabitants, names of those who signed someone else's petition by way of recommendation that the petition be granted have also been added to the index. In these cases, there is no biographical detail on the witnesses but it was deemed useful to include them in the index.

4) Places: To accommodate research on local areas, settlements, parishes, counties, towns and cities are indexed when a group of petitioners from a geographical location identify themselves with that area; eg. 'We, the Inhabitants of Woodstock' would be indexed under "Woodstock, Inhabitants of" and the name of each petitioner cross-referenced accordingly. However, places were not indexed if simply mentioned within the petition.

5) Churches: To accommodate research on religion and denominations, churches are indexed when the trustees, or others, sign on behalf of the church.

6) Blacks: To facilitate research on Blacks (Afro-Canadians), slavery, etc., a single asterisk "(*)" was added after the name of any person who could be identified as being black. In the cases where a group of blacks petitioned together and identified themselves as such, entries were added under "Blacks of Place X" and "Place X, Blacks of" as appropriate. Note: the asterisks were used as an easy method to create sub-sets or search groups based on the technology at the time the indexing was done.

7) Indigenous people: To facilitate research on the indigenous population and their land claims, indigenous people were not only indexed by surname but also identified as such in the index by a double asterisk "(**)": Please note that the term Indian is used because that is the wording in the document. Again for this to be indexed there had to be an indication in the petition. Also, whenever a petition identified land as being Indian lands, an entry for 'Indian Lands' was cross-referenced to that petition. In cases where a group of indigenous people petitioned, entries were added under "Indians of Place X" and "Place X, Indians of" as stated in the petition.

8) Military: To accommodate research on British and colonial military units, all names of petitioning soldiers and each regiment identified within the petitions were indexed. Researchers must note, however, that all regiments and other military units are indexed under "Military--".

9) Grants: To accommodate land studies relative to the break-up of the holdings of the very large grants (usually pre-loyalist), names of the major grants were added to the index when identified as such by the petitioner. "Hammond Grant", for example, would be cross-referenced to the individual petitioner asking for land within what is (was) known as the Hammond Grant.


Because of the many variations of the spelling of surnames, the researcher may find it useful to know what rules were used to determine how names were entered in the index. The first thing we need to bring to the researcher's attention is that consistency of spelling (even of one's own name!) was not a cultural necessity in the nineteenth century in the way it has become in the twenty-first. It is not uncommon to find a petitioner spelling the family name two or three ways within a single petition. The quandry for the indexer, (and for the researcher), consequently is to know which is the 'proper' spelling. The rule followed: index according to the spelling used in the signature. Thus, if "Bailey" were used in the petition, but the signer spelled it "Baillie", index by the latter. Subsequently, we ended up with entries for variants such as "Baillie", "Baley", "Bailley", and "Bailey". It is recommended, therefore, that the researcher search every surname spelling variations. Part of this confusion was based in the fact that some petitions were written by clerks or others for petitioners. Often, depending on the literacy or lack of familiarity between the people involved, names were often spelled phonetically. This was especially true when an Anglophone wrote a petition for a francophone.

Within the index, titles such as "Dr." and "Rev." were used only when no given name was included. For example, an entry which reads "Smith, ----- (Dr.)" indicates that although the petition did not include the given name (five dashes), it did indicate that the petitioner is a doctor. No "Senior" or "Junior" designations were maintained within the index because of the temporary nature of the descriptor. Also, although the computer strictly alphabetizes all names, on the microfilm the "Mac's" and "Mc's" are interfiled and filmed after the "M's". Thus, on the films, MacDonalds are interfiled with McDonalds, and filmed after the simple "M"-names. This is not a factor in the online search but is when consulting the microfilm.


Researchers should note that when a "Name" has been drawn from a petition submitted by someone else or by a group, the "See Petition of:" column directs them to the name under which the document is filed and microfilmed. Also, about 600 cross-reference entries from surname to surname have been added to the index to direct the researcher to a spelling variant which they might not realize existed. We are not confident, however, of having identified all variants and, therefore, again urge diligence on the part of the researcher when searching for individuals.


Included in the index is the county where the land is located. The two-letter code for the counties is used to assist with identification of individuals and property. It is important for the researcher to remember that the county indicated is the modern county name rather than the county name contemporary to the petition. Thus a petitioner may ask for land at Madawaska, York County, in 1830, but since we know that that land now lies in Madawaska County, we have used "MA" in the county code. Where the county could not be identified, "--" was included in the county column of the index. The abbreviations for the names of the counties are as follows, the dates in brackets indicate the years of establishment:

  • AL Albert County (est. 1845)
  • CA Carleton County (est. 1832)
  • CH Charlotte County (est. 1786)
  • GL Gloucester County (est. 1837)
  • KE Kent County (est. 1826)
  • KI Kings County (est. 1786)
  • MA Madawaska County (est. 1873)
  • NO Northumberland County (est. 1786)
  • QU Queens County (est. 1786)
  • RE Restigouche County (est. 1837)
  • SJ St. John County (est. 1786)
  • SU Sunbury County (est. 1786)
  • VI Victoria County (est. 1844)
  • WE Westmorland County (est. 1786)
  • YO York County (est. 1786)


The petitions are available only on microfilm: they cannot be used in their original, paper format. The microfilm number ("F-number") is included in the index. Also, the entire index is available on microfilm F13763. The films can be viewed at the Provincial Archives in Fredericton, or at a library participating in the inter-library or inter-archives microfilm loan program.