Deane and Kavanagh's Survey of the Madawaska Settlements

July-August 1831

Observations about the Madawaska Settlements

These extensive comments by Deane and Kavanagh follow their survey of the North and South banks of the St. John River. It includes their observations on the natural and social conditions of the Madawaska Settlements, and concludes with policy advice for the State of Maine as well as for the U.S. Government, calling for a more forceful enforcement of U.S. rule over the region.

It should be remembered that Deane and Kavanagh’s mission was to establish the sovereignty of the State of Maine over this territory. Thus their comments on the sentiments of the population regarding the United States versus Britain must be seen in this context, rather than taken at face value. This also explains why the report is from the perspective of the economic assets of the country in terms of agriculture, timber, etc., as well as their tone about the behavior of the British authorities.

The observations are interesting because they give us a portrait of the upper St. John River valley in 1831, 40 to 50 years after the first people of European descent settled there.

Notes are my own commentary and explanations.

“The inhabitants in this settlement are all on the undivided land of Maine and Massachusetts.1 The settlement extends from near the line due North from the source of the St. Croix river, where it crosses the St. John, to within four or five miles of the mouth of the river St. Francis, a distance, as the river runs, of sixty-four miles, according to our estimate. In this whole distance, almost every lot is either settled or marked. The greater portion are actually settled. The progress of settlement has been rapid for the past ten years, and its rapidity is apparently increasing.

“The best land is first taken up. The land pretended to be conveyed by the British is some of the best land in the Country below the Madawaska River. Most if not all the lots have large tracts of intervale on them. As the settlements have extended up the first lots which have been taken up also contain much intervale. After the first and best lots have been taken up, the sons of the first settlers and others, who have not had resolution enough to go further have taken the unoccupied lots among the settled lots, hence vacant lots among the lots conveyed by the British have been taken up, also the lots below, and the lots above among those lots taken up 24 years ago. There still remains fine land up the river, on which they are beginning to settle, land of as good a quality as any which is settled. Unless the Government takes some measure to prevent it, the whole front on the river will be occupied without title, and they must either take early measures to introduce order and regularity or confusion will ensue, unless they will given them the land.

“The settlers are chiefly from Canada, New Brunswick, and the United States, some few are from Ireland. The settlement may be said to have commenced in 1783, when Pierre Duperré and Pierre Lisotte established themselves there. In subsequent years, it received great accession from New Brunswick of the descendants of the ancient Acadians, who were driven from their farms by the introduction of the Refugees2 and the laws of the Province. They abandoned their farms to the British and sought a refuge in a place that they believed the British had no right to exercise jurisdiction. They understood where the lines of the Province were, and the old inhabitants described the lines correctly according to the treaty of 1783. They remained sometime undisturbed, but were finally induced to take deeds of their lands,3 but no other acts of jurisdiction seemed to have been exercised over them for many years, and very few acts before the administration of Gov. Douglass, who was very active in extending the British usurpation.

“The inhabitants governed themselves according to their own customs and usages. Even now, a custom, which has existed from the first settlement, prevails, it may have been, and probably was a custom of their ancestors, of respecting the possessory rights of each other. When any of them have marked the front of a lot by spotting a few trees and cutting down some bushes, the claim, thus acquired, has been generally considered valid, and that it could only be acquired by purchase, although nothing more was done on the land for many years. From our inquiries the violations of this custom are very rare, and there are found very many instances of sales of such rights, sometimes for large sums. There are, even at this time, many lots thus taken into possession, and they are extending such rights. Some have availed themselves of such rights for the benefits of their children, while others have done it for the purpose of speculation. This custom is not confined to lands, which they intend for farms, but is extended into the forest. The right of such as have sugaries, and such as have hunting grounds, are respected, and they do not trespass upon each other.

“They are an inoffensive and obliging people, and, most of them, wish to live under the direct exercise of the law. They say, ‘they know they belong to the American Government, but the Government does not protect them, and the British force their jurisdiction upon them, and they are unable to resist.’ With but a few, very few exceptions, they answered our inquiries cheerfully, not only as they related to themselves, but to their neighbors. Their fear of the British, however, induced them in many instances to request us not to disclose their names, if we did, they should be oppressed

Religion, etc.--Almost all are Roman Catholics. The settlement is divided into three parishes, in each of which, there is a Church or Chapel. St. Basil is an old parish, which was formed many years ago, and the Church is below the mouth of Madawaska river, where the settlement commenced. Two new parishes were formed, the one below is called St. Bruneau [St. Bruno], has a church, and the one above St. Lucie, and has a church. There is but one Clergyman, who is sent there by the Bishop of Quebec, as we understood, as the Vicar General of the Bishop of Boston. [here a note from Raymond: This statement is very improbable.] The settlement being within his See, which embraces New England. We understood that it has always been considered in the Church to be in the See of Boston.

Buildings.--The houses are nearly all built of timber, and are of simple construction. Some contain one room, some two, and a few more than two. Many are clapboarded, some are painted, and nearly all are well made and warm. The settlers from the United States have framed houses built in our fashion. The barns are chiefly made of logs; all were so until within ten years past, during which time, they, having become acquainted with our fashioned barns, have built in the same mode.

Employments of the People, etc.--There are a very few blacksmiths and joiners in the settlement.

They procure their edge-tools from the British Provinces. Almost all of them tan their own leather, make their own shoe-packs and Canada boots, and make also their implements of husbandry, which are of rude construction and poor. The females manufacture the wool and flax of the raw material, until it is made into garments to wear, or other articles for domestic use. They also manufacture large quantities of Sugar from the rock-maple. Many hunt in autumn. The men appear to live easy and work only a portion of the time, which must be attributed to the productiveness of the soil. The women appear in all the houses to be spinning, weaving, preparing the cloth, and making it up for use.

Soil, productions, Stock, etc.--The soil is excellent. There are large tracts of alluvial land, which have produced all sorts of crops raised in the country, abundantly, from its first settlement without manure. The high lands are a deep rich loam and free from stones, and are very fruitful. The soil produces excellent crops of wheat, barley, oats and potatoes, beans, peas, and hay. It is, no doubt, the finest wheat country in the State, as the crops have never been pinched by rust but once since the first settlement of the country. The stock consists of small- boned cattle, Canadian horses, large bodied, coarse wooled sheep, and swine. The climate, being so far North, is cold in winter, and it may be said there are there but two seasons; the transitions from one to the other seem to be immediate. The snow generally falls before the land is frozen, and when it disappears in the spring the grain is springing up. Cattle subsist from the middle of May to the middle of November without fodder. They can plant and sow in May, and the wheat harvest is commonly in the month of August, sometimes early in September. Many vegetables come to maturity there nearly as early as in any part of the State. Cucumbers were in perfection this year the 17th of July, and Indian corn, of which they raise very little, wheat constituting the bread of the Country, was fit to boil the first of August, and they were digging potatoes for daily use the 25th of July. The French are poor farmers. They feed their mowing land until June, and in many instances sow wheat several years in the same place, without ploughing, which reduces the crops and causes weeds and wild stuff to encumber them. They also leave the land to come into grass without sowing any seed, which, in some places gives a bad appearance. Timothy or herd’s grass is the common grass of the Country, and appears to come up naturally, but we can hardly suppose it is a native grass, though it may be.

Geography.--The rivers are the St. John and its branches, all of which run on inclined planes, and are boatable, with the exception of three or four places, their whole extent. Timber and logs may be driven nearly from their sources to the sea, at the City of St. John. Commencing at the Line the first river coming in from the North is Grand river. There is a portage from it into the river Restigouche, and is the route pursued in their intercourse with the Bay of Chaleur. The next is the Siagis and Quisabis, small rivers. The next is Green River. High up this river there are mill sites, there is also a portage from it to the Restigouche. The branches of this river interlock with the Rimousky river, which flows into the St. Lawrence. The next is the Walnagrass, a small river. The next river is the Madawaska, which commences at the Temiscouata Lake. There are several inlets into the lake from the North and East and one considerable one from the West. The largest inlet is from the East side and is called Toladi river. This and the branches from the North interlock with the branches of the Rimousky and Trois Pistoles rivers. The next is Harford’s brook, the next is the Mariumpticook or Chattequa, a small river. The next is the river St. Francis, which interlocks with the branches of the Trois Pistoles and Green rivers, which flow into the St. Lawrence. The next is the Black river, which heads near the river Ouelle, which flows into the St. Lawrence. The next is the South west branch of the river St. John, which heads near the branches of the Chaudiere. The next is the main St. John, which heads near the heads of the Metjarmette, a branch of the DeLoup, which flows into the Chaudiere and the head of the main Penobscot. The country about the sources of the rivers is very hilly, mountainous and broken. All these rivers are boatable nearly to their sources. The Frenchmen make a short portage at the mouth of the Madawaska. There is a ledge there on each bank and across the river, and a fall sufficient for a mill. There are a double saw-mill and grist- mill at the mouth of the Marumpticook. A little way from the mouth of the St. Francis, there is a ledge on both bank and across the river, where mills may be erected. These rivers have ponds or lakes in them, the largest one on the Madawaska, and the next largest on the St. Francis Rivers.

“The rivers coming in from the South, after passing several inconsiderable streams, some of which have mills on them, are first the Fish river. This river has many large lakes or ponds on it, and two falls, one 2 miles fro the St. John, which is occupied by a mill-dam and double saw-mill, and one fall six miles from the St. John, which will make a fine mill privilege, these two places make portages for boats of eight rods each, but constitute no obstruction to driving logs or timber. Next are some brooks, which may afford water for mills a part of the year, before the country is cleared, but afterwards there will be a scarcity of it, except in the rainy seasons. The next is the Alligash. On this river there is a water-fall of about 20 feet, which will make a mill- privilege. At this place boats make a portage of 30 or 40 rods, but logs and timber may be driven over without difficulty. There are many lakes and ponds on this river and its branches, some of them are large.

“The water rises rapidly in all these rivers, and in the spring of the year, the ice jambs and obstructs the water and raises it to a great height, so that bridges cannot be constructed over them, with the exception of the Madawaska, Fish and Alligash rivers, where the water is taken up by the lakes and gradually discharged.

Surface of the Country.--It may be inferred by the character of the streams. It is generally even and undulating, in some places hilly, and there are some mountains. Little of it is so hilly or broken as to be unfit for cultivation, excepting the regions limiting the Northern and Southern branches of the St. John.

Growth.--Rock-maple, birch, ash, and elm, and balm of gilead, constitute the hard woods, pine, cedar, fir, spruce, hackmidack, and now and then a scattered hemlock the soft woods. From the St. John, very little pine can be discovered below the St. Francis. There is pine on the Madawaska, but not in great quantities, also on the Marumpticook, also on the St. Francis, particularly on the Easterly and Southerly side, there are said to be large quantities. Also on the Black river, the South-west branch, and main St. John there are large quantities. Also on the Alligash, there are large quantities. There are in places large bodies of pine, but it is more generally intermixed with hardwood. The best pine is several miles above the falls: also on the Fish river and lakes, there is considerable pine most of which is scattered and intermixed with hardwood. In the following parts of our report, we shall give a further account of this river.

“Soil, etc.,--There is much alluvial land, and the highlands are a deep rich sandy loam, almost free from stones. Very few ledges appear anywhere, even on the banks of the rivers. The stones are uncommonly small, and very little granite anywhere. It is only found scattered and in round rocks. The ledges are of a brown color and fine grained. There is very little waste land, or land which will be found unfit for cultivation. In some places there is limestone, which is mixed with other stone. Near the Line [the eastern border of Maine] it appears in a ledge which crosses the river. There is limestone higher up the river, and also about Temiscouata lake, but we saw none which was pure. In some places there is slate, but it is rare.

“Value of the Land.--All the production commonly raised in the country can be raised here in greater abundance, with half the labor, than they can be raised in the Southern part of the State, but still in the present state of it, with no roads to it, it cannot be said to have any value. If the States will only adopt the proper system and apply it steadily, the land will be valuable. They may be able to obtain a dollar or perhaps more an acre for it, as well as to have it irregularly settled, and in the end give it away, or have it remain a wilderness, or throw it into the hands of speculators. Let roads once be opened into this country, and the land will sell and settle rapidly.

“Trespasses.--Prior to the year 1827, great quantities of pine timber near the line due North from St. Croix where it crosses the St. John, on the Madawaska and Fish rivers, and near the St. Francis river, and in other places, were cut under licenses from the British. Mills were erected in which boards were cut by the British and carried down the river to the market. Since that time we did not ascertain that the British had given any licenses to cut on our territory. The settlers have continued to cut. In one mill they saw from four to five hundred thousand boards, and in the other from one to two hundred thousand annually, nearly all of which have been cut on the States land. This year a trespass has been committed on the Alligash, which has been before noticed. This timber was pretended to be stopped above the Grand falls by the British agent, but it all passed over the falls before we arrived. We were told that the British allow the settlers to bring the timber to their market, which was cut on the lots which they had granted.

"It may not be improper for us, from our view of the country, to make some suggestions, which have occured to us, as to the course and policy, which it may be for the interest of the States to pursue. While the British have been active by extending their usurpations and oppressions over the country, we have been comparatively inactive. They by their boldness and recklessness of treaties, and by their high handed course, have been making impressions against us, while our rights, clear, and clearly defined as they can be, are suffering from the peaceable and somewhat passive course, which we have pursued. Induced by the request of the Government of the United States, we have delayed our proceedings, while the British, regardless of every honest and honorable principle, have been continually extending their jurisdiction, and even this jurisdiction, thus dishonestly acquired, seems by the Government of the United States to have been considered as giving them a right, which excludes or tends to exclude, our right of actual occupation, and even our rights of making laws to operate in that part of our State. The inattention of the Government of the United States, and the carelessness of its agents, and its refusal to listen to our requests and remonstrances, have occasioned all the difficulty, which exists in the case. If this State could have been heard, and its requests listened to, the case, long ere this would have been disincumbered of all the difficulties superinduced by British artifice and chicanery, and the State would have been in the full and unmolested enjoyment of its rights under the treaty of 1783.

"The District of Maine at the time of the treaty of 1783, was merely a wilderness, and it is not very improbable, that Massachusetts did not know of the Madawaska settlement until it was discovered by her surveyors, who surveyed the country in pursuant of the contract for the sale of it, which was made with Jackson and Flint in 1792. The inhabitants then consisting of fifty or sixty families, were an honest, hospitable, and industrious people, subsisting on the fruits of their labor, governing themselves by their own customs and usages, and living peaceably and happily, under such circumstances, without any means of communication except through an immeasurable wilderness, the Government did not think it necessary to extend their laws to them, and compel in some measure, the people to bear the expenses of Government, when they could not enjoy its benefits. Massachusetts did not anticipate the artifices the British have adopted to gain the Country and to answer their own ambitious views.

"Knowing that the British oppression had planted the few descendants of the Acadians there, it would not have been supposed the increase of the settlement would be much beyond the natural increase of population. The natural fertility of the soil has induced numerous emigrants from Canada to come and settle, and its increase for the past period of ten years has been astonishingly rapid, nearly two hundred per cent. The time has long since arrived, when the States ought to have conveyed the land to settlers on some terms, so that each one might know the limits of his rights. Considering the policy, which has hitherto been pursued by Massachusetts in relation to the settlers on her land without right, it cannot be supposed that the States will adopt a less equitable course in relation to these settlers, or will adopt such a principle as the British did, which drove the poor Frenchmen from their farms and dwellings and caused them to seek refuge.

"It is difficult for Government to adopt other than general rules; and a discretion, in order to do justice, must be vested in those, who shall be charged with the duties of quieting them. Perhaps it will be in accordance with the views of the State to give some classes of settlers certain quantities of land, while other classes will be considered as only entitled to the right of pre- emption. Under the peculiar circumstances of the settlement, it may be proper to give one class two hundred acres, another class one hundred acres, they paying the expense of the Survey - another class one hundred acres, they paying more - and those, having possessions merely, one hundred acres, giving them only the right of pre-emption at such minimum price as shall be fixed. The mode of acquiring possessions by their custom and usage, has been so easy and there have been so many sales and transfers, the greater part of which have been by parole,4 that much care must be taken, to do equal justice to all. Some attention must be paid to the claims of the protegés or favorites of the British, who have engrossed some of the most valuable situations in the country, perhaps even to the disinheritance of honest and industrious men.

"A communication or communications ought to be opened to the St. John. Maine and Massachusetts ought to continue the road, which they have commenced this season, with all practicable dispatch. A few years will probably elapse before it can be completed, but it will pay the States a large percentage on its cost, by the increased value it will give the country through which it passes. The communication, at present is, and perhaps for some years will be, most easy and least expensive, through the Moosehead lake, Penobscot river, Chesuncook, Kekuagamook, and Umbazooskus lakes, and the Alligash lakes and river to the St. John. On this route, there are, in a good pitch of water, less than four miles of portages. Maine has done something, this year, in the way of experiment in clearing the portages on this route. What is already done will be of essential service, but more ought to be done to give free ingress to and egress from the country. The whole route with the exception of a short distance at the head of Moosehead lake, is through the undivided lands - and as Massachusetts will participate in the benefit she will doubtless cheerfully share in the expense.

"Measures ought to be taken for the gradual introduction of our laws and usages into the country. There are now no regular administration of justice there, they have no roads or schools, or anything, which can be properly called schools, and they have no place of recording their transfers of land. Courts of some sort ought to be organized there, and also a Registry of Deeds established. At no very distant period a County ought to be organized, and even now, or whenever provision is made for the administration of the laws, the appeal ought to be to the Supreme Judicial Court. The peculiar situation of the Country and its great value to the State ought to command the immediate attention of the Government, and no time ought to be lost in adopting the proper measures."

Source: "Report of Messrs. Deane and Kavanagh," edited by W.O. Raymond, in Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society, no.9 (1914), pp.452-462.


1. What is now the state of Maine was, until 1820, under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and was called the Province of Maine.  When Maine gained statehood in 1820, the public lands (state-owned lands) were divided equally between Maine and Massachusetts, with each state owning alternating townships.  Thus the reference to the lands of both states.  The description of it as "undivided" simply means that the land in question had not been incorporated into townships, nor had it been divided up and sold by either state.

2. The "Refugees" being referred to were Loyalists, people who, at the time of the American Revolution, sided with or actively fought for the British Crown.  At the end of the war, in 1783, these Loyalists were evacuated from the newly independent colonies and many of them were settled by the British on lands in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, along the lower St. John River.  The Acadians who had settled on the lower St. John after their expulsion in 1755 were once again displaced, and many of these settled further up the St. John in what was called the Madawaska territory. More information on the Acadians

3. For a list of persons who received grants of land from New Brunswick in 1790 and 1794, go to my list of Early Land Grants in Madawaska

4. "By parole" = verbally, with no written record.

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