Land Proprietors


Afton Land Proprietors 

               After Captain Samuel Holland surveyed and divided the Island into 67 townships, the Board of Trade and Plantations in London decided the townships should be allotted by ballot. On July 23, 1767, ballots were drawn under the jurisdiction of the Nova Scotia Governor. St. John’s Island was annexed to Nova Scotia during the years of 1758-1773. In 1773, the Island was made its own province and legislature met for the first time that year.[1] Governor Walter Patterson arrived in 1770 to serve as the first Island Governor, and resided on Warren Farm in Rocky Point, also known as the former French settlement, Port-la-Joye.[2] Noblemen and wealthy British socialites having some claim to Government gathered in Charlottetown to draw their 20 000 acre prize.  It was decided, quit rents be paid as form of rent from tenants looking to settle on the lands. These quit rents were supposed to be used to pay the Government salaries. However, quit rents were not being paid, which ultimately led to the erection and establishment of the first courthouse and jail in Charlottetown.[3] Immigrants, who migrated to the Island to settle, unwillingly paid 1-3 shillings per acre annually in rent.[4] Not only were these residents forced to pay rent, they endured extreme hardship in order to attempt to make a living on their tree barren land. They were forced to clear the lands on their own accord, which proved to be a difficult task, cutting and hauling beech, pine, birch and spruce.  

                Richard Wright, Esq., and Hugh Owens, Esq., took possession of Lot 65 and the Afton community region in 1767.[5] The proprietors were given the responsibility of settling the area, however, many of the land proprietors at the time, did not actually live on the Island. It had proven difficult to promote new settlements from across the Atlantic Ocean.  Not only was it difficult to promote the land from afar, but the proprietors did absolutely nothing to better the living conditions within their settlements. The lots were heavily wooded, and not a bit inviting to new migrants.  It was apparent the proprietors had no real interest in developing their lands.  The American War of Independence greatly impacted the attempted development of the Afton Community, as migration and communications to and from the Island came to a virtual halt. It is also reported that many of the settlers at the time concluded the proprietors abandoned them and vacated for other colonies in 1775.[6] Development on the Island was at a standstill, the proprietors were not making any money, which inevitably meant no salaries were being paid, not to mention the failing attempts to encourage permanent settlers. In 1781, a number of lots were seized and auctioned off to a small cadre of Island officials, and Walter Patterson acquired 170,000 acres- including the fort lot, which later became known as “Warren Farm”.  Governor Patterson was conveniently absent for this auction; however, his private secretary sealed the deal in his absence. The majority of the land transactions were being conducted behind closed doors, between comrades. Fanning purchased 60,000 acres from Patterson for supposedly less than 100 pounds.  The original proprietors, as a result of the controversial land auction, distrusted the officials, as they believed they were trying to desecrate them from their land. On the opposite end, the officials viewed the absentee land proprietors as “parasitic” elements, preventing the colonization of the Island.  

                 General Fanning and Mr. Cambridge became proprietors to lot 65 and the Afton community after 1781. Fanning, who was a United Empire Loyalist, came to the Island after the American Revolution and convinced a number of loyalists to join him. Lot 65 and the Afton community was eventually possessed by Thomas Wright, Captain Harry Bentinck Cumberland, and Sir Samuel Cunard. Write and Cumberland both settled in the Afton community. Write settled in Westville, which is now called New Dominion. Captain Cumberland owned land in Fairview, Rocky Point, and the South Shore, which now bears the name “Cumberland”, in his honour. Samuel Cunard owned approximately one fifth of the entire Island, which was the largest amount owned by any proprietor in Island history. In 1850, Cunard owned the entire lot, which remained the case until he was forced to sell it to the government in 1866.[7]

[1] Willis Chipman, The Life and Times of Major Samuel Holland- Surveyor General 1764-1801. N.d.

[2] W.L. Cotton, Chapters in our Island History. Charlottetown: Irwin Printing Company Limited, 1929

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Proprietors of PEI Lots in 1767,

[6] Ian R. Robertson, The Tenant League of Prince Edward Island 1864-1867: Leasehold Tenure in the New World, 1996

[7] Arlene MacDougall, and Violet MacEachern. The Banks of the Elliott. Charlottetown: Irwin Printing, 1973


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