Local Reactions

Despite the unrest in other parts of the Island, no dramatic uprisings ever occurred in lot 64. There was a tradition of local land ownership that dated back to the earliest settlers, but the vast majority of lot 64 was still owned by Cunard, making many people his tenants. In 1855, a map made to illustrate the nature of land ownership on PEI showed that only 1-20% of the land in lot 64 was freehold,1. although 25-50% of the occupied land was freehold (freehold in this case means owned by the people who lived on it).

Peace in the area wasn’t maintained because the residents of lot 64 weren’t affected by Peters’ policies, nor was it that they weren’t resentful. In fact, evidence of their anger exists to this day! In a Gaelic poem written by a Murray Harbour man identified as ‘the bard MacLean of Raasay’, the bitterness he has toward Peters and Cunard is palpable in his last verses:


 

    We left there

    and came out here

    thinking we would receive consideration,

    and that the rent would not be so exacting.

    But Peters is oppressing us,

    And, if he doesn’t die,

    We must leave this place

    And Cunnard, himself a beast.

 

    A pity Peters wouldn’t change

    And give some thought to [his] death;

    If the good one doesn’t have mercy on him

    His deeds will cost him dearly,

    Oppressing the poor

    And sending the constables after them.

    He will ultimately receive retribution

    Where he will not be able to use it.6.

 


 

It seems that the bard MacLean did leave Murray Harbour, but he might not have left the area. He could be the Angus, Donald, Malcolm or John “McLean” who show up on a later map7. of the Cunard estate. Earlier in the poem, he laments the lack of Gaelic speakers in the area, so maybe he joined the community of Gaelic Scots that lived around White Sands. To give some perspective to his anger, it’s helpful to understand his past. His homeland of Raasay was a part of the highland clearances, and he is likely one of the hundreds displaced when that islands landowner decided the land would make him a larger profit housing sheep than it had housing people. Whole communities were shipped off around the 1840’s, and most of the people of Raasay ended up in Australia. Families who had lived on the island for generations were made to leave, sometimes by violent force, and sometimes when the landowner made living there unbearable by moving them to agricultural land that could not sustain them.8. It’s not clear what drew this man to PEI; perhaps he had some family in the area. It is clear from the poem though that he is still stinging from the loss of his community, and that he deeply resents the men who have the power to displace him again.        

So the bard’s anger is easily explained, but was the general anger toward Peters and Cunard justified? Well, neither man was without merit; Cunard was known to be quite generous when a charitable cause struck him as worthy,3. and Peters forgave some of the rent owed from time to time.5. But the feelings toward them are understandable in the context of the lives of the people they affected. Like the bard MacLean, many people in PEI were immigrants who were coming from a homeland where landlords ruled, and either made unfair rules or used violent force to make them leave land their families had tended for years or even generations. Others were simply scraping a living, and resented the idea of paying a wealthy landowner for the rest of their lives. And others came to North America believing that it was a place where everyone had a fair chance, if you just worked hard enough, to be independent, and not beholden to anyone. After all, as charitable as Cunard could be, the purchase price he wanted Islanders to pay for land was almost 9 times what he himself had paid for the land, and 1.5 to 2 times what John Cambridge had sold land for,9. leaving him a considerable profit for his investment. 

 

In Partnership with