Prince Edward Island History

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This information can help you determine significant cultural, ecclesiastical, and political events in the history of Prince Edward Island. You will need some understanding of the historical events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. Records of these events, such as land and military documents, may mention your family.

Your ancestors’ lives will be more interesting if you learn about the history they may have been part of. For example, in a history you might learn about the events that occurred the year your great-grandparents were married.

History[edit | edit source]

  • The first inhabitants of PEI were the Mi’kmaq. The Mi’kmaq have inhabited the area for the last 2,000 years.
  • The first European to record seeing the Island was Jacques Cartier in the summer of 1534.There were no permanent settlements for almost 200 years after his sighting.
  • Settlement of the Island (then known as as Île St-Jean) began in the 1720's. The colony was French and near what is now Charlottetown. Colonization was slow, with the population in 1748 reaching just over 700. When the British expelled the Acadian inhabitants of Nova Scotia in 1755, the population mushroomed to 4,500 in 1758. The British drove all but a few hundred of the Arcadians out.
  • Under the British rule the name of the Island was changed to the Island of Saint John. Surveyor General Samuel Holland was able to provide detailed maps of the Island by 1765. He divided it into 67 townships of 20,000 acres each. Almost all of these were granted as the result of a lottery held in 1767 to military officers and others to whom the British government owed favors. The proprietors were required to settle their lands to fulfill the terms of their grants, but few made an effort to do so. As a result the Island had vast areas of undeveloped land, yet those who wished to open up farms often had to pay steep rents or purchase fees. Most of the land holders never set foot in the colony.
  • The population grew from just over 4,000 in 1798 to 62,000 around 1850. Although there was an influx of Loyalists after the American Revolution, the majority of the newcomers were from the British Isles. Several large groups were brought from Scotland in the late 1700's and early 1800's by landowners such as Captain John MacDonald and Lord Selkirk, and by 1850 the Irish represented a sizable proportion of the recent immigrants.
  • After 1758 the Island was administered from Nova Scotia and later, in 1763, became part of that province. In 1769 a separate administration was set up complete with governor, lieutenant-governor, council and assembly. In 1799 the name of the colony was changed by the assembly to Prince Edward Island to honor a son of King George III stationed with the army in Halifax at the time.
  • In 1851 responsible government was granted to the colony and the first elected administration under George Coles took office.
  • The enticements offered by the Canadians included an absorption of the colony's debt, year-round communication with the mainland, and the provision of funds with which the colony could buy out the proprietors and end the land question. Although few Islanders displayed much enthusiasm, most accepted the union as a marriage of necessity.
  • The province reached a population level of 109,000 in 1891, but the lure of employment in western and central Canada and in the U.S. led to a drain on the population, which had slipped to 88,000 by the time of the Great Depression. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the economy of the province was stable, with only slight changes in both farming and fishing — with the notable exception of the fox-farming industry between 1890 and 1939.

[1] [2]

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Some of the significant events for Prince Edward Island include:

  • 1534: Jacques Cartier discovered the island, which the Micmac Indians called Abegweit.
  • 1603: Samuel de Champlain claimed the island for France and called it Ile-St-Jean.
  • 1719: Three hundred settlers from France, sponsored by the commercial company of the Count de St-Pierre, established the first colony on the island, Port la Joie, at the entrance to the harbor of Charlottetown.
  • 1745: The French colony was captured by the British.
  • 1748: France regained the lost colony.
  • 1758: The British occupied the island, dispersed many of the French settlers, and renamed it St. John Island.
  • 1763: France ceded the area to Great Britain. It was placed under the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia. Later, the British divided the island into three counties, each with a townsite and 67 lots (townships).
  • 1764: A survey of the island, the earliest in British North America, was done by Samuel Holland,
  • 1765: Charlottetown was named the capital of the colony.
  • 1767: The island was divided into lots.The lots were awarded to grantees or proprietors who were expected to promote settlement but who were mainly absentee landlords.
  • 1769: The island separated from Nova Scotia and the first governor was appointed.
  • 1799: The name was changed to Prince Edward Island.
  • 1851: The island had its first representative government.
  • 1864: A meeting was held in Charlottetown to discuss regional union.
  • 1867: The Land Purchase Act ended the tenure system of 1767.
  • 1873: The Province of Prince Edward Island was formed and became part of the Dominion of Canada.
  • 1878: Foxes were first raised on a farm near Tignish.

Historical Sources[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library has some published national, provincial, and local histories. See the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog Surnames Search under:

  • A Short History of Canada [3]
  • The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 1712–1857 [4]

Canadian Sources[edit | edit source]

Encyclopedias also include excellent articles on the history of Canada. Many books and articles on Canadian history are listed in these annotated bibliographies:

  • A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. I. Beginnings to Confederation. [5]
  • A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. II. Confederation to the Present. [6]

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Local histories are some of the most valuable sources for family history research. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of early settlers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search.

Published histories of towns, counties, districts or other municipalities, and provinces often contain accounts of families. Many district, county, and town histories include sections or volumes of biographical information. These may give information on as many as half of the families in the area. A county history is also the best source of information about a county’s origin.

The Family History Library has about 300 district histories from the Prairie Provinces and fewer township and county histories from the rest of Canada. Similar histories are often at major Canadian public and university libraries and archives.

Bibliographies that list histories for some provinces are in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. The Canadian Encyclopedia
  2. Prince Edward Island Canada]
  3. Morton, Desmond. A Short History of Canada. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1983. FHL book 971 H2md.)
  4. MacNutt, W. S. The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 1712–1857. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965. (FHL book 971.5 H2mws.)
  5. Muise, D. A., ed. A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. I. Beginnings to Confederation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. (FHL book 971 H23r v. 1)
  6. Granatstein, J. L., and Paul Stevens, eds. A Reader's Guide to Canadian History. II. Confederation to the Present. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. (FHL book 971 H23r v. 2)