Map of the region from March 16, 1816

As the War of 1812 was ending, steps were taken to bring in immigrants and disbanded soldiers to the Rideau area to form a loyal settlement as a guard against any future American invasion. On July 17, 1815, a Military Order was issued at Kingston regarding the allocation of land to discharged soldiers. Each soldier was to get 100 acres free of charge, but could not dispose of it for at least 3 years. Officers were to get 200 acres or more, with the same three year occupancy condition. Settlers were to receive provisions and implements for one year. Alexander McDonnell was appointed Superintendent of Settlement, and Angus McDonnell was appointed Receiving Officer to be stationed at Cornwall, where all applicants were to be sent for location. The emigrant settlers were housed temporarily at Montreal, Cornwall and Kingston while awaiting their allocation.

The size of the project required a great deal of organisation. Feeding and equipping so many families and individuals was going to take a great deal of material, especially given the delays in surveying and granting the lands. It was therefore decided to establish Depots from which provisions and equipment could be easily distributed to the new arrivals. One was to be set up between the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers to cater to those settlers on land from the mouth of the Rideau as far upstream as was navigable. This Depot later became the village of Richmond.

But to reach the townships further upstream, it was necessary to establish a Depot somewhere that could be reached from the Saint Lawrence. McDonnell reported that Oxford should be the location of the Depot:

A sufficiency of waggons can be procured to carry out a load in a day and Return the next, and a depot fixed at Oxford would supply 15 Townships watered by the Rideau. Oxford which is situated on the Rideau & well situated for a Depot.McDonnell wrote to the Military Secretary in August to inform him of the steps being taken to locate the discharged military:

…On the 10th Mr. Reuben Sherwood met me & informed me that it was His Excellency’s pleasure that the first Locations for Settlement should be in the Townships of Oxford, Wolford, Montague & Marlborough. I purpose going to the Rideau tomorrow with Mr. Sherwood to fix on a spot for the Depot, & when I return will submit the site to His Excellency’s determination…

Everything seemed to be on course for Oxford-on-Rideau to become the centre of the new settlement.

But when McDonnell actually arrived in Oxford, he found that things were not as positive as Sherwood had led him to believe. There were many obstacles in the river between Burritt’s Rapids and Merrickville [then called Merrick’s Mills]. At first, McDonnell considered moving the Depot to Merrick’s Mills, but even that seemed unwise:

Before I went to the Rideau, I conceived from the information which I had received, that spot to be the best for a Depot – occular demonstration has convinced me of the contrary – from the crossing of the South Branch of the Rideaux by the Lower Road, to the Middle Branch the Road is bad, & often crossing the Middle Branch for a great distance much worse – from Burritt’s in Marlboro, to Merrick’s Mill there are four shoals with hardly a sufficiency of water in many parts for an empty canoe & at Merricks the Mill Dam crosses the River from side to side – thus the communication by water with the Townships above Merricks is prevented until the obstruction is removed.

McDonnell then moved on to Easton’s Corners, where he rented a store as a temporary Depot, as even by then it was becoming apparent that there would not be room enough in the old Townships for the number of settlers expected to arrive looking for land. In August, 1815, McDonnell reported to Robinson that:

The Surveyed Lots in Montague, Marlboro, Oxford & Wolford  are all taken up & as the next Locations will be in the Upper Townships, Easton’s is the most eligible place for the Depot at present, but I think that in the vicinity of Smiths Falls in Elmsley the best situation for a final Depot will be found.

But ultimately the new Depot would follow the majority of settlers across the Rideau and grow up to become the Town of Perth. The very name of the Settlement would change from the Oxford Military Settlement to the Perth Military Settlement and the focus of attention and development would shift away from Leeds & Grenville.

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