The following petition is found amongst the Upper Canada Land Petitions, though it concerns a property in Lower Canada (on Calumet Island/L’Île-du-Grand-Calumet, in Pontiac County, Quebec).
Letter of Anne Cahill, 13 September 1848
I humbly beg leave to state that in the year 1835 I settled as Squatter on the Calumet Island, on a lot of land which I considered would contain about 200 acres, considering that, as I had a large family, no less than about 200 acres would be of any Service to me. I got lines ran which afterwards chanced to correspond exactly with the lines ran by the Government Surveyor — But at the time that I Squatted thereon I expected that when the lots would be surveyed they would each contain 200 acres as was customary. However, when the district was surveyed, it was in lots of but 100 acres each; consequently the tract of land I occupied became two lots as it contained 200 acres, which lots are Nos. 13 and 14. on the 6th Range — And compliance with the rules of Lord Durham’s proclamation, I got my name inserted as Squatter in his registry for said 200 acres — …
— Widow Anne Cahill to the Crown Lands Department, 13 Sept 1848
(Click on the thumbnail of the above letter of Anne Cahill to the Crown Lands Department to view it full-size.)
Who was the Widow Anne Cahill?
in the year 1835 I settled as Squatter on the Calumet Island
The Widow Anne Cahill was Anne Shirley (ca. 1786-1869), widow of Michael Cahill (died before 1840), and mother of nine known children, including George Cahill who married Mary Moran.
She was born about 1786 in Ireland, presumably in the Castlecomer area of Co. Kilkenny. She had at least two brothers, Paul Shirley (married Catherine McNamara) and William Shirley (married Mary Oughnahan), who were amongst the early settlers of the Bytown area. Her brother William Shirley signed the McCabe List, where he gave his place of origin as Castlecomer, parish of Mowhill, County Kilkenny, and made reference to “his brother Paul Shirley (who) with a family reside at Castlecomer in the County of Kilkenny and are known to the Revd Mr Roberts of Said place.” I believe the Shirley family were Anglican; however, Anne, Paul and William Shirley all married Irish Catholics, and many (if not most or all) of their children were baptized Roman Catholic. Anne Shirley Cahill (the Widow Cahill of the above petition) certainly had a Catholic burial (20 Aug 1869); she was buried at Ste. Anne, Calumet Island, Pontiac Co., Quebec.
Anne Shirley Cahill was almost certainly also related to the Thomas Shirley for whom she pleaded in one of her two letters to the Crown Lands Department, but whether as sibling, cousin, or aunt, I do not know. This Thomas Shirley was born about 1813 in Co. Kilkenny, the son of James Shirley and Catherine Butler (as per his marriage record), and he also settled at Calumet Island. In addition to the Widow Cahill’s plea on behalf of Thomas Shirley in one of her two letters to the Crown, various records in the Catholic parish registers suggest a familial relationship. For example, Thomas Shirley served as sponsor (or godfather) to Catherine Brennan, daughter of Patrick Brennan and Matilda Shirley and granddaughter of Anne Shirley’s brother William Shirley. And when Thomas Shirley married Honora McGuire (22 Jan 1855, Ste. Anne, Calumet Island), the witnesses to the marriage were two of Anne Shirley’s sons: John Cahill and George Cahill. Moreover, and what’s even more strongly suggestive of a blood relation, when George William Cahill, son of George Cahill and Mary Moran (and grandson of Michael Cahill and Anne Shirley), married Anne Shirley, daughter of Thomas Shirley and Honora McGuire, the couple had to obtain a dispensation from the impediment of a third degree of consanguinity.
I don’t know anything more about the Widow Anne (Shirley) Cahill, but her land petition is among the most interesting that I’ve yet to come across. Her opening line, “Honourable Sir, I humbly beg leave to state that in the year 1835 I settled as Squatter…” basically wins the petition-the-Crown sweepstakes, in my opinion, and then I’d have to give her bonus points for citing Lord Durham’s proclamation.
“I did not wish to trouble your honour about these matters if I could avoid it,” wrote the Widow Cahill, “but as I now find that I have no alternative, I humbly beg leave to Submit the matter to your most Serious consideration, hoping that your Honour will condescend to exercise your authority and See me (a poor widow with a large family) Justified.” Does it seem a little odd that someone would petition the Crown to assert her rightful claim as a Squatter?
Well, there’s a reason why the Widow Cahill had a recognizable claim to the land that she and her sons had been squatting upon, and that reason has to do with Lord Durham’s proclamation, which she references in her letter.
And before moving on to Lord Durham’s Proclamation (this blog entry to be continued….), here’s a fun little item (I google the Right Honourable John George Lambton, Earl of Durham, so that you don’t have to):
If you want to see Barry Morse (the actor who played Lt. Philip Gerard on “The Fugitive”) in one of his earlier roles, he played Durham’s advisor Gibbon Wakefield in the 1961 NFB film “Lord Durham.”
Lord Durham by John Howe, National Film Board of Canada
Squatter’s rights: the Widow Cahill petitions the Crown to be continued…