Can anything Samuel Jarvis did be trusted?


Former Superintendent of Indian Affairs, Samuel Peters Jarvis, who orchestrated the questionable ‘surrender’ of the Haldimand Tract, was removed from office on May 10, 1845. Reports vary, but £9733.90 was unaccounted for when he left his post plus possible side deals never recorded.

The controversial 1841 ‘surrender’ gave Jarvis, a known gambler, the right to sell off at will any Native land without consultation with traditional chiefs — that is, if the document was legal.

Questions of missing money and lack of accountability dogged his career almost from the day he took office in 1837 until he was finally removed.

His misappropriation of Native trust funds and lands, missing Crown funds, incomplete records and fraud, among other charges piled up until it became too obvious to cover up.

Rather than go through the national embarrassment of convicting a high ranking official of Upper Canada of these crimes, the government of the day quietly discharged him instead.

In 1839, Governor General George Arthur appointed James Buchanan Macaulay as commissioner of an inquiry into the goings on of Indian Affairs under Jarvis’ leadership.

Macaulay later described Jarvis in his report as “insufficiently diligent, active and zealous to supervise programs of Indian Affairs.” But with friends in high places, he dodged the bullet on that occasion.

Then in 1842, a few months after trying to float the 1841 ‘surrender’ of Six Nations territory on six chiefs signatures, another commission was struck to investigate Jarvis under allegations of bribery, fraud, religious discrimination and a general lack of concern for the people he was supposed to looking after the best interest for.

On that occasion irregularities in the books showed entries for warrants issued 18 months previous were made only days before the 1842 inquiry began. Large withdrawals from Six Nations Trust Funds were only recorded as “for use of the tribe” and without the obligatory signature of Six Nations Chiefs or and description of specific usage.

A number of large bank transfers from the government account to his personal account were never fully explained by Jarvis during the inquiry.

It wasn’t just the people of the Six Nations he was ripping off either. Historian Doug Leighton writes, “the commissioners were already dissatisfied with Jarvis’ conduct on several grounds.”

He chronicles that representatives from several other First Nations were complaining about Jarvis as well, particularly the Lake Simcoe Bands.

Allegations of favoritism, immoral behavior and lack of fiscal accountability arose from the Walpole Island region, from the Sarnias, Sable Island Band, and others. In February of 1843, a colleague informed Jarvis of a visit he received from an angry indigenous man.

“I had a visit from a David Waywaynosh who wants to know where the money for land sold to Cameron and Company is,” he wrote. “He also wants to know why there has been no statements of transactions.”

There was no action taken and soon Waywaynosh was back with support from Walpole Island squatters as well as Walpole Indians, Sable Island Indians, and the Sarnia Nations intent on exposing Jarvis.

John Loft from Six Nations was called in to testify at the second inquiry commission looking into allegations against Jarvis, but for unknown reasons was never heard.

Letters of complaint from the Snake Island Band are also on record.

But what about these bogus land deals? Where’s the money? Did the Chiefs know what they were signing, if they in fact signed the document at all?

These are questions the Canadian government and the people of Six Nations have been wrestling over since Jarvis orchestrated the later so-called surrender of 1844. Jarvis, the man, is every bit as controversial as the deals he is supposed to have made on behalf of Six Nations and other First Nations located in the newly formed Upper Canada.

The Archives of Ontario as well as those of Canada and United Empire Loyalists records reveal a lot about the man’s character which heavily shadows his purported dealings.

Law student, Samuel Jarvis was called to the bar in 1815 and two years later, faced murder charges after killing his 17-year-old neighbour John Ridout in a duel. Political friends of his father, William Jarvis saw to it that Samuel never saw the inside of a court because of it.

Before that, as student in Cornwall, Jarvis got into a fight with a young indigenous man and very nearly killed him. Since the Native people of that region were described by contemporaries a peaceful and polite people, except when insulted, it was speculated that Jarvis may have been the instigator.

He married Mary Boyles Powell and had nine children by her as he climbed the ladder of Upper Canadian political power.

Immediately after Jarvis attempted to push through the 1841 ‘surrender’, a formal letter of complaint was lodged by Six Nations Confederacy Chiefs calling for Jarvis’ removal from office.

The letter of complaint was addressed to Lord Prudhoe, who was stationed in Brantford at the time. He was asked to pass it on to Buckingham Palace on their behalf. As a courtesy to Jarvis, Prudhoe sent a letter to him asked for his comments on the allegations.

“The Chiefs of Six Nations want this complaint to the Queen to be registered,” Prudhoe told Jarvis. “They express their dissatisfaction over the surrender and the manner in which it was handled.”

In the same letter, the Six Nations also complained about the unauthorized investment of their Trust Funds in the sinking Grand River Navigation Company without any sign of benefit coming back to Six Nations. The flooding of their crops and homes with the installation of dams in and around Dunnville and Cayuga, was another bone of contention, as well as the usual complaint about Jarvis’ inaction in removing squatters from their territory, which was part of his mandate.

In 1842, Jarvis received a letter from Charles Bain suggesting that Jarvis never properly explained to the Six Nations Chiefs what they were agreeing to in some transactions and told him that the Confederacy Chiefs wanted an accounting of their funds since 1839.

The missing funds, poor records and fraudulent bookkeeping were symptoms of Jarvis’ deeper problems.

Despite having a good paying political position and coming into inheritance of a huge strip of land in Toronto (York) when his father William Jarvis died, the 1840’s saw Samuel Jarvis selling off most of his own property in Toronto and giving up his luxurious mansion on what is now Jarvis Street.

Embezzlement seemed to run in the family. His father, William Jarvis was also caught with his hand in the cookie jar when he served in the fledgling parliament of Upper Canada.

In February of 1843, knowing he was under investigation, Samuel Jarvis wrote his wife saying he would ”like to be free of this office, if I weren’t so deep in debt.”

Records and letters in the archives strongly suggest that Samuel Peters Jarvis was a gambling addict, which, if true, would account for his insatiable need for money and a strong motive to illegally sell off land and steal from the Six Nations Trust Fund.

After losing his job as Indian Affairs Superintendent, his money problems worsened but he and wife Mary seemed to ride along, obliviously keeping up appearances by making trips to Europe and living high on the hog until her death in 1884 and his in 1857.

Interestingly, Jarvis was fired for his many breaches of moral conduct but the deals he set up were never put under scrutiny and remain on the record, even today, as legally binding documents which Canada is now standing on when it comes to unresolved land claims.

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