Professor tells new version of Hagersville history

SIX NATIONS – The official whitewashed history of the beginning of the village of Hagersville declares, “Upon the construction of Highway 6, known formerly as the Plank Road, a small village popped up around 1855 when Charles and David Hager bought most of the land in the centre of the area.”

According to Margaret Clause on the History of Hagersville website, using notes from the Don Brown’s book, Down Memory Lane,  David Almas owned the land on the east side of the road, while John Porter owned the land in the West End.”

The story then talks about the development of hotels and businesses and eventually registering the community as Hagersville, in honour of the Hager brothers.

Unfortunately, all of that is not entirely true.

Sidney L. Harring is Professor Emeritus, earning his B.A. from Macalester College and his M.S., J.D., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin. Besides teaching undergraduate sociology and law, he has done extensive research and scholarship on juries, police, American Indians, and the social history of law.

In his book White Man’s Law, published by the Osgoode Law Society, he offers a more accurate picture of interactions between Six Nations and settlers in the early 1800s.

According to Harring, an Onondaga woman named Mary Martin lived by herself on the land where the town of Hagersville now stands. She approached James Hager to work her land for her. A five-year term agreement was worked out between the parties on shares. The Hagers would take two thirds of the profit from the produce grown on her land, and she would retain one third. Unfortunately, the Hagers took advantage of the woman who could barely speak English and swung the deal on a hand shake, without the advice or approval of the Hereditary Chiefs.

Since land is traditionally community owned, this arrangement was not allowed. Besides, the Chiefs already knew about the Hagers with whom they had negative dealings regarding other land theft attempts.

Sometimes, just for fun, the Hagers and his buddies would get drunk and ride to what is now Middleport and disrupt ceremonies at the longhouse which once stood at that site.

When the Chiefs found out about the deal, they ordered Martin to break it off. The Hagers refused and played the Upper Canada legal system well.

The only avenue for any Onkwehon:weh with aught against a white settler was the Settler-Canadian court, which they knew nothing about. Without a contract, coupled with white man’s law slanted heavily in the settler’s favour, Martin’s complaint was over ruled and the Hagers got her land.

A group of Onondaga men took matters into their own hands and caught one of the Hagers, beating him with axe handles and leaving him for dead. Hager recovered and pressed charges. In the settlement, he was given Martin’s land.

Sidney L. Harring’s book, White Man’s Law: Native People in Nineteenth Century Canadian Jurisprudence, was a finalist for the Donner Prize as the best book on Canadian public policy published in 1998. During the course of his career, he has received three Fellowships in Legal History from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Fulbright Fellowship, and was a Rockefeller Fellow at the McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian. He has also been awarded numerous research grants to study issues of criminal justice, Native Americans in the U.S. and Canada.

Sidney L. Harring also served as Visiting Professor of Law at West Virginia University College of Law in 2001. The author of more than 80 articles, chapters, and book reviews on such subjects as American and British colonial history, Native American law, indigenous rights, and criminal law.

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