"Joint Report of the Commissioners to locate grants and determine the extent of possessory claims under the late treaty with Great Britain."

Upper St.John River Valley & Aroostook River Valley
Aroostook County, Maine

August 1844

Information on the Joint Report of the Commissioners

The document transcribed here contains information on land holdings and claims in August 1844 in the valleys of the upper St.John and Aroostook Rivers, Aroostook County, Maine.   In particular, the survey includes people who had been granted land by the British government and by the State of Maine; people who had settled without grants on the land prior to August 1836; and people who had settled between August 1836 and August 1842.

The document is entitled Joint Report of the Commissioners to locate grants and determine the extent of possessory claims under the late treaty with Great Britain. Decr. 25, 1844, and is located in the Archives of the State of Maine.  The information itself was collected in August 1844 as part of the 1842 Treaty that settled the disputed border in the Madawaska area (the Treaty is called the Webster-Ashburton Treaty by the US, and the Treaty of Washington by the British and Canadians).  Information contained in the report includes names of land holders, amount of land held, location, dates settled, and whether granted or not; for some people also the number of people in the family, and structures built on the land. 

Resolving the border dispute: The Treaty of 1842

The 1842 Treaty between the US and Great Britain settled the border dispute that had lingered since 1783.  Because of geographical uncertainties, the exact border between the US and the British colonies of Canada and New Brunswick was disputed.  The Treaty of 1842 set the disputed part of the border at the middle of the St.John River up to the St.Francis, and from there up the middle of the St.Francis River. (For more details on the dispute and its settlement, go to my page on the border dispute.)  The survey of the border established by the Treaty was undertaken by James Duncan Graham, an American who in 1840 was appointed commissioner for the survey and exploration of the disputed boundary, in which position he served until 1843.

The Treaty of 1842 (see also here) included provisions for the fact that by this time many people were settled in what had been disputed territory, some under grants from what was now a foreign government, others with no grants at all.  Article IV of the Treaty provided for recognizing legal ownership of land by these settlers:

All grants of land heretofore made by either Party, within the limits of the territory which by this Treaty falls within the dominions of the other Party, shall be held valid, ratified, and confirmed to the persons in possession under such grants, to the same extent as if such territory had by this Treaty fallen within the dominions of the Party by whom such grants were made: And all equitable possessory claims, arising from a possession and improvement of any lot or parcel of land by the person actually in possession, or by those under whom such person claims, for more than six years before the date of this Treaty, shall, in like manner, be deemed valid, and be confirmed and quieted by a release to the person entitled thereto, of the title to such lot or parcel of land, so described as best to include the improvements made thereon; and in all other respects the two contracting Parties agree to deal upon the most liberal principles of equity with the settlers actually dwelling upon the Territory falling to them, respectively, which has heretofore been in dispute between them.
(from The Avalon Project at Yale Law School: The Webster-Ashburton Treaty, August 9, 1842, online at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/diplomacy/britian/br-1842.htm#art4)

In other words, both sides agreed to honor the land grants made by the other government on what was now its own territory; the US would honor grants of land made by the British in what was now to be the US side (the government of New Brunswick had granted land in 1787, 1790, 1794, and 1826 -- see my page on Early Land Grants in Madawaska); while the British agreed to honor grants of land made by the states of Maine and Massachusetts on what was now to be the British (New Brunswick) side of the border.

This article of the Treaty also recognized that most of the people who had settled on the land in the valley had done so without formal or legal grants from either the British or Maine/Massachusetts governments.  Most of the inhabitants occupied their land not through grants but through possession.  To deal with these facts on the ground the Treaty granted ownership rights to people who had "a possession and improvement of any lot or parcel of land by the person actually in possession, or by those under whom such person claims, for more than six years before the date of this Treaty." In other words, settlers who had taken possession prior to August 9, 1836, and who had continued possession and improved their land, were to be given legal ownership of the land. In both cases, the settlers were not required to make any payment to obtain title to the land.

Implementing the Treaty: Determining land holdings

In order to implement this provision of the treaty on the US side of the border, the Legislatures of the States of Maine and Massachusetts approved "Resolves authorizing the appointment of Commissioners to locate grants and determine the extent of possessory claims under the late Treaty with Great Britain," on 21 February 1843 and 24 March 1843, respectively.  Maine appointed as Commissioners Philip Eastman, John Dana, and Henry Cunningham, while Massachusetts appointed Samuel Allen, John Webber (who had undertaken the 1830 US census of the Madawaska settlement), and Samuel Jones. 

Both Legislatures also passed "additional resolves," on 29 February 1844 and 16 March 1844, concerning "settlers on the undivided [ungranted] lands, most of whose improvements were commenced before the signing of the Treaty of Washington [August 1842] but whose possessions had not been continued six years before the date of said Treaty." In these Resolves, the states agreed to recognize ownership also for those people who were settled by the time the Treaty was signed, but after August 1836, thus going beyond the requirements of the Treaty itself.

The commissioners undertook their survey during August of 1844; the report transcribed here was submitted jointly to Maine and Massachusetts on 25 December 1844.  The Commissioners' report also included a description of their experiences, transcribed in "Commissioners' Report".

As part of their investigation, the commissioners requested documentation from the settlers, which involved such measures as the US government requesting copies of the British grants from the governmental archives in Fredericton.  (For details, see The History of Arookstook County, Maine Volume I, compiled and written by Hon. Edward Wiggin, pp.87-88, online at http://ftp.rootsweb.com/pub/usgenweb/me/aroostook/fortfairfield/history/wiggin.txt )

Upon receiving the Report from the Commissioners, both Maine and Massachusetts pointed out that the land thus handed over to settlers comprised "the most valuable portion of the lands in the vicinity of the river St.John, ... occupying nearly its entire front." Indeed, in the St.John valley, fully 52,300 acres of land fell under the provisions of the Treaty itself (that is, people who had been settled on the land prior to August 1836), while 14,491 acres were signed over to settlers based on the Resolves of the two Legislatures (that is, people who settled between 1836 and 1842).  In the Aroostook River valley, 627 acres of land belonging to Maine, and 4,905 acres belonging to Massachusetts, were signed over to settlers based on the provisions of the Treaty and the Resolves.

The two states demanded that the United States government, remunerate Maine and Massachusetts for this territory.  Indeed, from the states' perspective, the US, by signing the treaty, had ceded to settlers without payment to the states these lands that the states saw as belonging to themselves. The Treaty itself had already provided, in Article V, for the British government and the US government to make payments to Maine and Massachusetts for the territory ceded to Britain (the US was to pay each state $150,000 for agreeing to the new border; while Britain was to give to Maine and Massachusetts a portion of the "Disputed Territory Fund," as well as to reimburse them for the costs of defending the territory against lumber thiefs, and the costs of a survey of the territory undertaken in 1838). It said nothing about the land to be given over to settlers.  A Bill was introduced into the US House of Representatives providing for $89,000 to reimburse the two states to settle these claims, an amount only $697 less than what the states claimed. This bill apparently failed to pass, however.

As will be seen below, some settlers in the Aroostook River valley who had been granted land by Maine and Massachusetts in exchange for cash or for services requested that the same conditions be applied to them, that is, that the states give them for free land that had previously been granted to them under condition of payment or services (presumably by way of reimbursement).  Other settlers, who had settled without grants on land that had already been granted to townships, corporations, or individuals, requested that their possession and improvement of that land be recognized as overriding the formal grants.  In both cases the Commissioners collected the information, but declined to support the claims of those Aroostook Settlers.  The latter group, however, would eventually be able to gain title to the land they had settled on.  In 1854 the legislature of Maine agreed to allow them to purchase the land they were settled on from the original grantees (Plymouth Township and General Eaton) for two dollars per acre. (source: Linda Allen's First Settlers of the Aroostook Valley, Fort Fairfield page)

The categories of claims

The Commissioners in their visit to the settlements thus collected information on five categories of claims:

The information collected by the Commissioners of Maine and Massachusetts included the names of owners, amount of land (surveyed by the Commissioners during their time in Madawaska), and in some cases the year settled and number of persons in the family, and other information of interest to historians and family historians. The Lot numbers in the first column of the transcription, and in the remarks, refer to numbers on a series of nine maps that the Commissioners prepared to accompany the report.  I have not seen these maps, but an originals have recently been acquired by the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent (see article "UMFK receives a collection of maps dating back to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty").

The Commissioners were paid for conducting this survey. By the State of Massachusetts, John Allen was paid $3,449; John Webber was paid $1,324; and Samuel Jones was paid $1,251, for a total of $6,025.

Texts of related documents transcribed on this site:

Related documents on other websites:

Other disputes related to the Treaty

In 1847 a dispute arose in the border area near Houlton. Here is a link to "Report from Commissioners in reference to claims for loss of Land occasioned by the Line run under the Treaty of Washington," undertaken by a New Brunswick Commission of Enquiry related to losses claimed by citizens of New Brunswick because of the Treaty provisions. The original documents involved in this commission: Abstract: Report from Commission in Reference to Claims for Loss of Land Occasioned by the Line Run Under the Treaty of Washington, 1848.  The lands in question were lots granted by the New Brunswick government, but then cut by the border established by the Treaty (which was further east than the border that had earlier been established by surveyors), in what had been the New Salem Academy Grant, the Williams Academy Grant.

If you have any information about this survey, please


This transcription is based on a published copy located in the Archives of the State of Maine. The order below reflects the original document.  For an index by family name and by township, go to the name index page.
(For an explanation of the different categories, see Categories of Claims, above)

Upper St.John River Valley | Aroostook River Valley
(see also: Name Index; Township Index)

Upper St.John River Valley:

Granted by British:

Ungranted, settled before August 1836:

Ungranted, settled between August 1836 and August 1842:

Aroostook River Valley

Ungranted, settled on lands held by Maine before August 1836:

Ungranted, settled on lands held by Massachusetts:

Granted by the State of Maine:

Ungranted, settled before 1842 on land granted to others:

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Last revised 4 Jul 2015
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