THE TENANT LEAGUE OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

The following are excerpts of George Clow's Tenant Leagueactivity as reported in the book THE TENANT LEAGUE OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND1864 - 1857, by Professor Ian Ross Robertson:

The Examiner reported on 3 July that 'a few days ago' onLot 31 in western Queens County, Deputy Sheriff James Curtis had been 'preventedby a mob from executing the command of the Supreme Court. The year is notstated but assumed to be 1865 and in the midst of shifting of politicaland newspaper alliances, on 15 July, Curtis proceeded to Lot 31 with anassistant to serve processes on William Large and George Clow, tenants whooccupied adjacent farms in the district of North Wiltshire. The owners in1865 were the heirs of William Douse, the former land agent of the Selkirkestate, who had purchased all the unsold portions of the township from hisemployer in 1855, as historian H. T. Holman speculates, this acquisitionmay have been prompted by inquiries about possible purchase by the governmentof the whole estate. In other words, if Douse had not acted, the Lot 31tenants would have become freeholders following the sale of the Selkirkestate to the Island Government in 1860. The claims against Large and Clowwere for debts that were less than the processing costs. Both men were TenantLeague activists and it was reported in the press that on 7 June they hadmoved resolutions at a meeting held to establish a branch of the leagueon their township.

The potential appeal of the Tenant League message on Lot31 was great and it was noted that 56 percent of land occupiers were tenantsor squatters and an air of grievance and frustrated hopes hung over thenon-freehold parts of the township. Rents were unusually high and the leaseswere exceptionally short which were factors which produced a sense of urgencyabout resolving the land question. Among townships with twenty or more leaseholders,Lot 31, had the highest proportion of leases with terms under 30 years and,in fact, had 30.3 percent of all such leases in the colony. Fewer than one-thirdof lease-holders had the usual 999 years or 'perpetual' tenure.

Large and his friends apparently learned of the plannedvisit by Sheriff Curtis and removed his goods and chattels, making it impossiblefor the deputy sheriff to carry out an effective distraint. The communitysolidarity involved in warning Large and assisting him in his evasion ofthe effect of the distraint. At the 7 June meeting one resolution had directed"That every member provide himself with a bugle (tin trumpet) to soundthe note of alarm on the approach of the 'rent-leaches', and as the Examinerhad reported, the deputy had recently been encircled by 'a mob' on the sametownship.

Curtis also failed to make a seizure from George Clow.In fact, Clow and a group of Tenant Leaguers intercepted him before he couldreach the Clow farm, and escorted him back to Charlottetown, with Clow carryingthe Tenant League flag, which must have been a humbling experience accordingto the Islander.

On reaching the Town, the procession paraded through thestreets and proceeded to one of the Taverns, where, it was understood, speechmaking commenced. While the Tenant Leaguers were celebrating their triumphover the Deputy Sheriff, the Proprietor and legal service of the Sheriffwhich the Deputy Sheriff had in his possession for Mr. George Clow - andwhich he had kept secret to himself until he returned to town and handedto the Sheriff, Thomas W. Dodd, who forthwith arrested Mr. Clow and committedhim to the Jail of the County. No attempt at rescue was made by the Leaguerswho appear to have returned peaceably to their homes.

The ISLANDER account of the arrest was that Clow remainedfor some hours at a tavern enjoying himself, and in the meantime a writagainst him was placed in the hands of the High Sheriff, Dodd, who promptlyand effectually executed it on the person of Clow, although he attemptedto elude the officer by a race through some back yards.

Even though the pro-league ROSS'S WEEKLY criticized Clowfor his reckless 'piece of bravado' and declared that the purpose of theTenant League was to purchase land from proprietors, 'not to take advantageof every occasion to insult the Sheriff.' The serving of the writs had beentransformed into another demonstration of league power, although Curtishad ultimately turned the tables on Clow.

Clow may have been the first Tenant Leaguer arrested andtaken into custody for actions related to the league. He appears to havebeen one of those 'ordinary' Prince Edward Island farmers who, by the summerof 1865, was willing to defy the law openly over landlord-tenant issues.His march, with his friends, back to Charlottetown in the company of theDeputy Sheriff may be seen both as an act of defiance in the spirit of thedemonstrators who marched through the capital on St. Patrick's Day, andalso as taunting gesture somewhat after the example of those persons ineastern Queens County who erected mock forts, straw effigies, and the liketo greet the posse. on 7 April. But Clow was not so fortunate as SamuelFletcher, late in July, when Whelan visited the jail in Charlottetown, hewas still incarcerated. Although there is no evidence, it is quite possiblethat he was one of those leaguers who could pay their rent but had reachedthe point that they simply would not do so. In any event, he does not appearto have been evicted because the letterbook of land agent, Henry Jones Cundall,for 1868 and 1869 indicates that Clow was still a tenant on the Douse estate.On 14 April 1869, Cundall was warning him to pay up promptly, or face 'legalmeasures.'

It has been stated that John Balderston, a close neighborof George Clow and William Large in North Wiltshire, Lot 31, was entirelyunapologetic about being a Tenant Leaguer and stated that he had been presentat the founding convention on 19 May 1864. In a letter, he was argumentativeand defiant, reaffirming his committment to solidarity with his neighborsin the struggle to release themselves from serfdom, oppression and an unjustrent.

 


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