The Crown Grant to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (see also Haudenosaunee), also known as Treaty 3½ or the Simcoe Deed, was issued in 1793. Ten years earlier, the Crawford Purchase had acquired a large piece of territory. The British granted a small portion of this purchase to the Mohawks in recognition of their support to the Crown during the American Revolution. Gradually, the Crown grant was reduced due to encroachment by non-Indigenous settlers. The ownership of the land is still being contested. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
The Mohawk River Valley in present-day upstate New York is the ancestral homeland of the Mohawk First Nation. The Mohawks were original members of the Five Nations Confederacy, which later became the Six Nations Confederacy. During the American Revolution (1775-83), the Mohawks were allies of the British. To gain their support, the British promised the Mohawks that their homeland would be returned to them at the end of the war. When the revolution ended, however, traditional Mohawk territory became part of the new United States according to the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
To pay for the loss of their territory and in recognition of their allegiance with Britain, the British offered the Mohawks their choice of any unsettled land in Upper Canada (today’s Ontario). They chose land along the north shore of Lake Ontario on the Bay of Quinte. Led by Chief John Deserontyon, about 20 Mohawk families consisting of 100 to 125 people travelled by canoe from Lachine, Quebec, up the St. Lawrence River and arrived at the Bay of Quinte on 22 May 1784.
The year before the Mohawks arrived at the Bay of Quinte, Captain William Crawford, on behalf of the Crown, purchased a large tract of land extending along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River and the northeastern shore Lake Ontario from the Mississaugas. He acquired the land for settlement by Loyalists; former residents of the American Thirteen Colonies who remained loyal to Britain during the revolution. The purchase also included territory intended for the Mohawks.
After the Mohawks arrived, they discovered that some of the land destined for them had already been given to Loyalist families. They protested to British authorities for nine years before they were finally given formal title to a smaller amount of land than was originally promised.
On 1 April 1793, Upper Canada Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe executed Treaty 3½ or the Simcoe Deed, which granted the Mohawk Tract. This area was about the size of a township, some 92,700 acres (375 square kilometers) on the Bay of Quinte. However, between 1820 and 1843 Loyalists continued to arrive and were given Mohawk lands by the government. The tract was reduced to 18, 000 acres (73 square kilometers) with about two-thirds of the Mohawk Tract being lost.
In 1837, the grandson of John Deserontyon, John Culbertson, received a Crown grant for approximately 827 acres (3.3 square kilometers) near the eastern boundary of the tract. Culbertson and his family later either sold the land or lost it through mortgage default. The Mohawks object to this grant as it is in violation of Treaty 3½. Under the treaty’s terms, before any land could be transferred, it first had to be surrendered to the Crown by the Mohawks, and they have maintained since 1837 that this process was not followed.
In the 1990s, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte investigated the Culbertson Tract. In 1995, they submitted a claim to the federal government requesting compensation for the unlawful transfer of the land and for the return of the land to the Mohawks. In November 2003 the government accepted the claim for further negotiation under its specific claims policy on the basis of a breach of the Crown’s legal obligations to the Mohawks.
The federal government wants to negotiate for financial compensation to the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte for the land in question. For their part, the Mohawks want to negotiate for the return of the land over a period of time. This approach would require the government to acquire the land by purchasing it from its current occupants. The policy of the federal government states that the First Nation in question can be compensated “either by the return of the lands or by payment of the current, unimproved value of the lands.” The Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations at the time, Chuck Strahl, publicly refused to consider expropriating land to return to the Mohawks and offered only financial compensation, which the Mohawks interpreted as the government refusing to negotiate in good faith. They took the government to court and in June 2013, Federal Court Justice Donald Rennie mostly agreed and ruled land expropriation and financial compensation were both valid forms of compensation and both avenues should be pursued. Negotiations have been continuing ever since.
This impasse led the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to submit their concerns to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2012 in an attempt to make the federal government to agree with their point of view. In June 2013, federal judge Donald Rennie ruled that expropriation is available to the government to settle this claim. To date, this has not occurred, likely because a large portion of the town of Deseronto and part of Tyendinaga Township are within the Culbertson Tract.
In addition to the Culbertson Tract, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte have spent decades on a second claim for lands improperly leased to Montreal merchant Turton Penn in 1830. The Mohawks maintain that the lease was invalid, and that Crown breached its duty to them. The first part of the settlement, agreed to in 1991, had the federal government purchase properties covered by the Turton Penn lease as they came up for sale. It took 15 years to acquire 200 acres (0.8 square kilometers) and return it to the administration of the Mohawks. The second part of the settlement, negotiations for financial compensation for historic loss of use of the leased lands began in December 2019.
Annually since 1920, on the weekend that falls closest to the anniversary of their arrival, the Mohawks have re-enacted the 1784 landing at the Bay of Quinte. An Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque was unveiled at Deseronto in 1929, commemorating the arrival of the Mohawks. A Hastings County Historical Plaque stands near the site of the landing, which describes the land grant, today known as Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.