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Violette House
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Land Tenure


Excerpt of a  map made by New Brunswick’s Surveyor General George Sproule of the 1790 land grant made to Joseph Mazerolle and 49 others. The “Fourth Tract” shows lots along the south shore of the St. John River in what is today the Grand Isle region.
The arrival of Maine Acadians imposed a new order on the land of the Upper St. John Valley. Initial land ownership in the Valley was granted by the British Crown. In 1790, Joseph Mazerolle and 49 others received 74 lots, 53 of which were occupied. A second grant was issued to Joseph Soucy and 23 others in 1794 (Craig 1988: 127). The early grants followed a long-lot pattern: each farm was approximately 1,000 feet wide (60 rods), a mile and a half long, and perpendicular to the river. The early land grants by the British produced a linear pattern that is similar to land division elsewhere in Maine and in French Canada; it provided access to rivers, lakes, and coastal bays and their associated floodplains and tidal marshes. The patterns of the Valley may be distinctive in the U.S., however, due to tiers of lots ranging successively back from the river. Further investigation is required to discern the distinguishing characteristics of Valley land division.

After settlement of lots in the premier rang, the first row of lots fronting the river, the deuxiÉme rang (second row) lots were developed. On the north side of the river, settlement continued to at least six tiers in some places. Because of the curves in the river, these rangs became oddly juxtaposed, producing an irregular pattern of land ownership.

On the south side of the river, in what is now Maine, settlement expanded in this manner in some places until a quatriÉme rang (fourth row) was established. After the United States acquired jurisdiction over the south side in 1842, land there ceased to be granted according to the long-lot pattern. Subsequent land holdings, granted usually to the descendants of the original settlers or occasionally to new settlers arriving in the Valley, consisted of a grid system formed by generally square lots of 180 acres each. The square lots represent the American practice of subdividing square townships. The squares are evident in the Valley today, juxtaposed with the earlier long, rectangular lots (See map below.)

19th-Century Land Division: Upper Saint John ValleyUnder the terms of the Homestead Act of the State of Maine, homesites could be secured fairly cheaply, but the new owners were required to settle duties and perform road labor before land certificates were issued. Each certificate or grant was called une concession by local French-speakers. These grants became known as les concessions, and the neighborhoods associated with them became known as "back settlements." Though the land parcels in the back settlements are shaped differently from the initial tiers, neighborhoods continued to develop in the dispersed linear form. Their orientation may have been toward the shore of one of several large lakes or toward a road. Like the initial rang communities, the small back settlements consisted almost entirely of multi-generational, extended-family groupings.

The 19th-century development of les concessions for agriculture was limited by the fact that the State of Maine had sold most of the remaining uncleared land during the 1860s and 1870s to large landowners for the timber (Craig 1988: 132). While the supply of agricultural land shrank, a flourishing lumber industry developed, providing an economic alternative to sons who did not inherit land from their parents and who otherwise would have had to leave the Valley to earn their livelihood.

Barrels of hand-picked potatoes are picked up by truck at the J.A. & R. Farm in St. Francis, 1995.  Photographer, Paula Lerner,   2003.

Nineteenth century farmers in the Upper St. John Valley generally did not subdivide their land holdings among their children. When parents grew old, they usually adopted one of two strategies. Many exchanged their farm, its livestock and equipment, for maintenance in their old age. It was usually a son who entered into the "deed of maintenance," but some couples chose unrelated individuals. Other elderly couples sold most of their land to obtain retirement income. In most cases they sold some land to their children, but it sometimes happened that all the land was sold to non-family members (Craig 1991: 221-222).

A section of the Frenchville area from a series of maps drawn shortly after the Webster-Ashburton Treaty showing the newly-established AmericanLots initially granted by the Crown were evaluated by the Americans following the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842). The American grants to these lots, issued by virtue of a provision of treaty, assigned new numbers to the prior British system and they became known as "treaty lots."

Similarities do exist between the treaty grants of 1845 and the British grants of 1790. However, the British numeration of lots began with the lower numbers downriver and worked up to higher numbers as one headed upstream. The American numbering system was arranged in an opposite fashion, with numbers increasing as one headed downstream. It is not always possible to match lots number-for-number from one system to the other since some lots in the British system were later divided after the initial grants were issued and map lines drawn. For example, examination of the succession of owners of Lot 146, site of the Ernest Chasse House in Madawaska, shows that the enumeration of treaty lots presents a challenge to researchers. In this case, determining successive ownership is further complicated due to errors made in the numbering of this lot and nearby lots.

Aerial view of the Upper St. John Valley. The pattern of fields is suggestive of the original "long lot" land grants.Nonetheless, a record of succession of ownership was compiled, from 1846 to the present, by Dubay (Brassieur 1992) for the Chasse House and seven others. The following descriptions of three properties include a "river lot" developed in the initial rang, a "treaty lot" developed after the establishment of the international boundary, and a lot in les concessions. In addition to illustrating land tenure, the descriptions serve as an introduction to land use in the Valley.

Barrels of hand-picked potatoes are picked up by truck at the J.A. & R. Farm in St. Francis, 1995.  Photographer, Paula Lerner,   2003.
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