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Samuel Peters Jarvis and the Michi Saagig Annuity

May 10, 2023

Samuel Peters Jarvis (Toronto Public Library)

In 1818 Michi Saagiig from what has since become south-central Ontario met with the Crown, which produced a treaty purporting to cede the region—there were significant differences in how the parties recalled the events. According to the Crown’s official documents, the Michi Saagig ceded 1,951,000 acres for an annuity of ₤740. Once surveyed into farm lots, the crown was selling land for 5 shillings an acre, which would equate to just shy of ₤500,000 for the entire tract. The standing timber would also prove to be quite valuable.

Unfortunately for local Michi Saagig, the colonial officials managed this money for them, so the Crown’s own priorities influenced how the money was spent. Since the Indian Department vetted each expense, annuities would be devoted overwhelmingly to the project of turning the native communities into farmers and providing them with a British education. Common expenditures were houses, schools, churches, oxen, farm implements and seeds. The fund might also pay missionaries or school teachers. In effect, it funded spending on the department’s own priorities. As almost all Michi Saagiig at this time had little or no ability to read in English, and were not versed the British conventions of public accounting, they were largely at the mercy of the Indian Department.

To the local communities’ further misfortune, Samuel Peters Jarvis—Chief Superintendent from June 1837—was not above helping himself from the till. Jarvis had trained as a lawyer, enjoyed the patronage of Bishop John Strachan, and was part of the so-called “Family Compact” that politically dominated Upper Canada, leading to the advent of Responsible Government. Michi Saagig chiefs learned that they could not trust Jarvis. Chief Kahkewaquonaby (Peter Jones) was not allowed to see financial statements to ensure that his band’s annuity could be properly accounted for. Other chiefs asked and were routinely denied. The secrecy was concealing thefts.

In May 1841, without consulting the communities that the funds were supposed to belong to, Jarvis requested £500 (their annuity was only £740) citing ‘tribal expenses,’ and his warrant was approved pending the signature of Cheneebeesh (George Paudash, Chief at Rice Lake). In the meantime, the band had arranged with settlers to make several purchases, including cattle and a yoke of oxen. Cheneebeesh wrote to Jarvis in mid-May asking for money to pay these bills. In mid-June Cheneebeesh went to Toronto to get the money from Jarvis, who was away, so the chief returned home to repeat the written request. In early July, Jarvis explained that he would have to return personally, but suggested, “if it is not convenient for you to come up you must sign the enclosed powers of attorney and send them to me at Toronto & then I will forward the amount to you addressed to the Otanabee Post Office.” On July 5, Cheneebeesh signed documents allowing Jarvis to receive “all sums of money due to him for or on account of any warrant or warrants that may have been issued by the Governor General in his name on account of the annuity due to his tribe.”

Jarvis used this to take the £500, which he put in his bank account, and disregarded Cheneebeesh’s request for funds. In September, Cheneebeesh went to the Indian Department Office in Kingston to inquire of Jarvis. Through an interpreter, he noticed the £500 that had been drawn from the account, which the Superintendent claimed he had authorized. The chief knew that he had been deceived and hired Mr. Maddock as his attorney to complain to the Governor General about the theft and refusal to provide an account statement. Cheneebeesh resubmitted the request for funds. Jarvis drew another £300 on the account and finally sent it to the band in October.

The Bagot Commission investigated the matter and found that this incident was only the tip of the iceberg. Jarvis had drawn warrants for between £200 and £500 from various bands, with the explanation, “for the use of the tribe.” His department routinely showed discrepancies between the amount paid to the communities and the amount drawn on the accounts. He was replaced as Chief Superintendent on May 10, 1845, but not before he misplaced, according to the final accountant’s examination, £6375 6s. 11d. It seems that Jarvis was never forced to repay the money.

Jarvis Street, Toronto is named after Samuel Peters Jarvis’ family.

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