“Winter Mail Service on Prince Edward Island”, 1867 – Click Images to Enlarge
In Part 1 we saw how legal efforts to settle the Land Question on PEI were squashed resulting in a movement intent on resisting rent until the matter was settled. In Part 2 we saw the fomentation of the Tenant League boil over into activism and violence which brought it into the streets of Charlottetown. By August of 1865, British soldiers had to be called in to quell the uprising and force the payment of rents from rural farmers by any means necessary.
In Part 1 we saw how the Leasehold system on Prince Edward Island throughout the mid-1800s created an imbalance of power between tenants and their absentee landlords. A number of legal movements and acts, from the Eschaet Movement of the 1830s to the Fifteen Years Purchase Bill of the 1860s, were unable to sufficiently answer the Land Question. This resulted in the formation of the Tenant League on May 19th, 1864, and by March 10th of the following year the Island’s government was beginning to meet an emboldened resistance.
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1864 was a year like any other. At Heligoland, while the sun set on the age of sail, across the ocean the American Civil War recorded the first naval kill by a submarine. On the other side of the world the Taiping Rebellion ended with more than a million soldiers committed to a single battle and hundreds of thousands killed. James Clerk Maxwell was discovering the mysteries of light and Abraham Lincoln was re-elected. In our corner the Dominion of Canada was taking shape and on Prince Edward Island frustrations over the Land Question were coming to a head. 150 years later it’s the story of Confederation that seems to stick, providing the Island a resonance with the whole Canadian commons. However time, space, and tourism have skewed our lens, as the Charlottetown Conference was only a small stepping stone to a larger goal. Another great event of the time, the rise and fall of the Tenant League, was eventually what united the Island’s disenfranchised, freed the budding province from bondage, and set the tone for a future entry into Confederation. It was a movement and event unlike anything else seen in eastern Canada and takes company with the likes of the Upper Canada Rebellion and the Red River Rebellion as one of Canada’s few major revolts. But for all that it’s still a story you won’t find during 1864 Anniversary Week, or among any of the funded 2014 projects, nor on any event calendar or downtown heritage placard. So presented here, for your consideration, is the first post of three on the Tenant League of Prince Edward Island, charting its founding in 1864 to its faltering the following year and ultimate vindication in 1867