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d. 24 April 1891 in Fredericton


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From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

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DORLAND, THOMAS, jp, politician, office holder, and militia officer; b. 1759 in Beekmans Precinct, Dutchess County, N.Y., son of Samuel Dorland; m. Alley Gow, and they had two sons and three daughters; d. 5 March 1832 in Adolphustown, Upper Canada.

Thomas Dorland was descended from Dutch Quakers who immigrated to North America in the mid 17th century and settled on Long Island, N.Y. His family was loyal during the American revolution, but only Thomas broke with the non-violent doctrines of the Quakers and fought. According to legend, he was captured by rebels and escaped; his slaves, although threatened, refused to reveal his hiding-place. Dorland was one of the many loyalist refugees who made his way to New York City. He served there with the Associated Loyalists until September 1783, when he left in a company led by Peter Van Alstine. After wintering in Quebec at Sorel [see Michael Grass*], Van Alstine’s company moved on and arrived at Township No.4 (Adolphustown) along the Bay of Quinte in June 1784. A return of 5 October describes Dorland and a woman, presumably his wife, as being “housed on their land.” The next few years were given over to the commonplace tasks of clearing land and raising a family.

Thomas’s brother Philip was one of the dominant figures in the township. He was elected to the first parliament of Upper Canada but, being a Quaker, refused to take the requisite oath. Thomas, however, had been disowned by the Society of Friends for taking up arms and his public career was not hobbled by the same constraints. From 1793 he was elected to a variety of municipal offices: overseer of highways, pathmaster, assessor, and collector. By 1797 he had evidently been appointed a justice of the peace for the Midland District. His petition that year for 1,200 acres of land due to him as a magistrate was accepted by the Executive Council. Dorland was a regular participant in the meetings of the Court of Quarter Sessions.

In 1804 Dorland was elected to the House of Assembly for the riding of Lennox and Addington. The timing was important. Dorland came to York (Toronto) when opposition to Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter*’s administrative reforms was acquiring a parliamentary focus. Led by David McGregor Rogers and, after 1805, by William Weekes*, a small, fluctuating group of assemblymen used the house to air public grievances. Although never a major figure in the assembly, Dorland was active through the session of 1805. He supported attempts to revise the Assessment Act of 1803, to extend full civil and religious rights to dissenters, and to limit the salaries of public officials. The opposition found its stride during Alexander Grant*’s brief administration and, under the leadership of Robert Thorpe* and then of Joseph Willcocks*, grew in strength until the War of 1812. Branded by its detractors as a “party” – a contemporary synonym for faction – the group was, in fact, a loose coalition of interests coming together at times, often for disparate reasons, on matters of perceived common concern.

The loyalists had a profound sense of grievance because of many of Hunter’s reforms, particularly the limitations placed on free land grants to loyalists and their descendants, and in 1807 Dorland and Allan MacLean* petitioned the Executive Council on behalf of local loyalist children. Thorpe hoped to make common cause with the loyalists and, according to Richard Cartwright*, actively courted loyalist assemblymen such as Dorland and Ebenezer Washburn. The appeal was successful; a Thorpe resolution to discuss the claims of loyalist and military claimants for land was defeated in March 1807 by only one vote. Cartwright considered men such as Dorland “simple folks” who were the “dupes of Mr. Thorpe in his attempts to create confusion.”

The truth, however, was not so simple. Dorland was a man of independent bent. He actively supported attempts to assert the rights of the assembly and to use the power of that institution to redress grievances. Yet he would not support the motion of 1 March 1805 by Weekes and Rogers to consider “the disquietude which prevails in the Province by reason of the administration of Public Offices.” He was a moderate and his criticisms of government were never as all-encompassing as those of Weekes or his successors. Dorland’s opposition bore strong hues of sectional interest and reflected the concerns of the small farmer and loyalist. He was, for instance, a persistent opponent of the District School Act of 1807. To his mind, it was “not useful to the District in general.” What he meant by that remark is indicated by petitions he introduced in the house. “A few wealthy inhabitants, and those of the town of Kingston,” the petitioners complained, “reap exclusively the benefit [of the district school]. . . . The institution, instead of aiding the middling and poorer class . . . casts money into the lap of the rich.” When in March 1808 the house attempted to reorder the day’s business to accommodate a third reading of an amendment to the School Act, Dorland, Rogers, and Peter Howard* walked out of the chamber to deny a quorum. Lieutenant Governor Francis Gore*, describing their conduct as “extraordinary” and their action as “unprecedented,” stripped them of office. Dorland was left off the commission of the peace and was not restored to the magistracy until 1814. He was unabashed. Re-elected in 1808, he continued in much the same fashion as before. Still, his level of activity diminished, probably because of ill health. Through 1811 and 1812 he often supported Willcocks’s initiatives against the administration but departed from the opposition group whenever he saw fit. Whether Dorland contested his riding in the election of 1812 is not known.

A long-standing officer in the 1st Lennox Militia, he was a captain during the War of 1812; in this capacity he was a member of the court that convicted Joseph Seely*. If nothing else, the war made clear to York officialdom the distinction between the discontented and the disaffected. Dorland was clearly one of the former. On 24 March 1814 he was appointed a high treason commissioner.

In the years following the war and until his death, Dorland was the epitome of the public-spirited subject. He was, with John Macaulay*, John Kirby*, and Thomas Markland*, one of the foremost jps in the Midland District. He served regularly on the grand jury, often as its foreman, a role that gave him a further degree of public prominence. In the last few years of his life he was a perennial choice as one of the associate justices at the district assizes. He was a member of the Midland District Agricultural Society, a subscriber to the Brock monument, and the agent in Adolphustown for the Kingston Chronicle. In 1823 he was promoted major in the militia. From 1802 to 1824 he operated the ferry from Adolphustown to Prince Edward County.

Dorland was said to own as many as 20 slaves. Supposedly called “Devil Tom,” he was well known for his “eccentric and risky tricks.” He does not seem to have been a man of strong religious conviction. Although his children were married by the Presbyterian clergyman Robert McDowall*, Dorland’s only formal association with religion after his Quaker youth came late in life when he joined the Church of England. Gore and Cartwright were scandalized by Dorland’s political behaviour, but John Beverley Robinson* and Macaulay remembered him differently. Robinson, commenting on Macaulay’s address to the grand jury at Adolphustown after Dorland’s death, noted: “You speak of our respected old friend Thomas Dorland having left a ‘gap’ which will not be easily filled up – It is literally true however, for the present times do not seem to breed such men.”

Robert Lochiel Fraser

AO, ms 78, J. B. Robinson to John Macaulay, 25 March 1833; ms 522, memoranda respecting the District School Bill, 5 March 1808; RG 22, ser.54, 1–2; ser.159, Thomas Dorland, 1833. BL, Add. mss 21828: 68 (copy at PAC). Lennox and Addington County Museum (Napanee, Ont.), Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc. Coll., William Bell papers, p.357; T. W. Casey papers, pp.11728–29; Thomas Dorland, deed, 1807, p.31263; mortgage, 1831, p.31265. PAC, RG 1, E3, 27: 78, 83–85; L3, 104: C13/56; 150: D3/28, 68; 152: D8/46; 153: D9/21; 155: D12/175; 555: leases and licences of occupation, 1798–1838/18; RG 5, A1: 14037–39; RG 8, I (C ser.), 1203: 16, 31, 40; 1717: 24; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841: 124, 126, 128–29, 406, 411, 424, 432, 436, 441, 452, 467. QUA, Richard Cartwright papers, letter-books (transcripts at AO, 63, 252–61, 264–68). “Early municipal records of the Midland District,” Ont., Bureau of Industries, App. to the report (Toronto), 1897: 4, 7–8, 13, 35–49, 60, 70–71. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1911; 1912: 1–97; 1914: 447–49. “McDowall marriage register,” comp. [Robert] McDowall, OH, 1 (1899): 75, 84. “Political state of U.C.,” PAC Report, 1892: 43. “U.C. land book C,” AO Report, 1931: 22, 53. Kingston Chronicle, 4 May, 9 Sept. 1814; 19 Feb., 16 April 1819; 5 May 1820; 29 Aug. 1823; 22 Sept. 1826; 18 May 1827; 19 July 1828; 19 Sept., 31 Oct. 1829; 10 Sept. 1831; 10 March 1832. Upper Canada Gazette, 26 Feb., 2, 9 March 1808. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology (1967), 42. Commemorative biographical record of Dutchess County, New York, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, and of many of the early settled families (Chicago, 1897), 99–100. Death notices of Ont. (Reid), 160. W. D. Reid, The loyalists in Ontario: the sons and daughters of the American loyalists of Upper Canada (Lambertville, N.J., 1973), 93. Canniff, Hist. of the settlement of U.C., 210, 449, 453. Cowdell Gates, Land policies of U.C., 77. A. G. Dorland, Former days & Quaker ways ([Picton, Ont.], 1965), 6–8; A history of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada (Toronto,1927), 51, 277. W. S. Herrington, History of the county of Lennox and Addington (Toronto, 1913; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972), 139, 141, 145. Richard and Janet Lunn, The county: the first hundred years in loyalist Prince Edward (Picton, 1967), 117, 167, 171. Patterson, “Studies in elections in U.C.,” 296, 307, 314, 335. G. E. Reaman, The trail of the black walnut (Toronto, 1957), 71. E. R. Stuart, “Jessup’s Rangers as a factor in loyalist settlement,” Three hist. theses, 102, 112, 137. Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc., Papers and Records (Napanee), 5 (1914): 60. A. C. Osborne, “Pioneer sketches and family reminiscences,” OH, 21 (1924): 224. Larry Turner, “An early history of the Glenora Ferry,” County Magazine (Bloomfield, Ont.), 2 (1980), no.17: 32–37, 50–64.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robert Lochiel Fraser, “DORLAND, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dorland_thomas_6E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dorland_thomas_6E.html
Author of Article:   Robert Lochiel Fraser
Title of Article:   DORLAND, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   April 24, 2024