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Discontent in Early Halifax in 1756

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Discontent in Early Halifax in 1756

Halifax Soldier

Soldier Guarding Halifax, 1749

Painting by William Jefferys, Wikipedia

Following is a letter written in about 1756 by an unknown ‘W.M.’ to an anonymous English Lord. It is a rant, detailing the author’s complaints about life in the new province or colony of Nova Scotia under military administration. Nova Scotia included New Brunswick at that time. This letter is from An Account of the Present State of Nova Scotia: In Two Letters to a Noble Lord, printed in London in 1756.

Halifax was established in 1749, and Colonel Lawrence had been Governor of Nova Scotia for three years by the time of the writing of this letter. The letter is a glimpse back into the early days, well before Lawrence’s proclamations inviting immigration from New England and well before the establishment of Maugerville on the Saint John River. There was no democracy and the administration is described incompetent in several ways. The rant therefore comes across as justified. The author claims that the settlement was failing, as people were leaving for more hospitable surroundings. There are several disparaging references to the ‘neutral French’ who had been expelled. John Brebner’s Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia comes to mind, as the roots of dissatisfaction with government among the English in Nova Scotia are apparent. The start of the American Revolution was only twenty years away.

One small warning is to expect numerous anti-French and anti-Irish and anti-Catholic and anti-German sentiments. The author was biased against anyone who was not recently from England.

Following is an edited or condensed version of the letter.


My Lord,

I am honoured in receiving your Lordship’s commands by Mr. J.B. to give an account of the state of the province of Nova Scotia, and to point out some methods that would be conducive to revive the settlement.

My long residence in that country and the post I occupied there, gave me an opportunity of knowing every material circumstance, yet the ungenerous treatment I met with might influence me to be rather too bitter in speaking the truth which needs no exaggeration. I have therefore asked several gentlemen here in London who correspond with some of the inhabitants of Nova Scotia, to give me extracts of several letters lately received from thence, to give your Lordship a better idea of the present state of the country. I have procured many such extracts which I include here. [Many of his paragraphs are therefore in quotes, without attribution. The quote marks are eliminated in this edited version.]

His Majesty’s intent was to settle the colony with English inhabitants under English liberty, and this induced me and a thousand others to go there. Following is a resume of the reasons which have subsequently forced many to quit it.

Firstly, the Governor and Council are military men. They have no Assembly or Representatives of the people, but usurp that authority and publish laws by edict, raise money by excise, appoint themselves judges of their own laws, have punished by whipping, fine, and imprisonment, all without indictment and without juries in courts unknown to the English constitution. English men will never contentedly sit down under such an administration.

The people of England are deceived regarding the disposing the grants for the improvement of the colony. Fifty thousand pounds is granted annually to support the settlement, but not a tenth part is expended on that account. The rest is applied in military expenditures. Had one quarter of that money been distributed in bounties on clearing land and on the fishery, there would have been such an increase of trade and navigation and husbandry, that there would by this time have been ten times as many settlers, and this would have induced consumption of English manufactures as would have repaid the expense. Nova Scotia would by now have become secure against the encroachments of the French, and in a short time have been able to subsist without further grants. By contrast, the colony is now far less settled than it was when it was established, though hundreds of thousands have been expended.

Another grievance is employing military men in civil posts. This is filling the pockets of a few men who have no interest in the colony and little inclination to promote its progress. From their haughty supercilious behaviour every business under their care labours with difficulties and, yet, at considerable expense to the government.

Lastly, there are such a number of foreigners not attached to the English government; always complaining, and not like to make the least effort towards subsistence. The military administration is employing Irish Roman Catholics in public works while his Majesty’s protestant English subjects are starving and begging, and the Americans for the most part have quit the colony. These policies have removed the only proper people for cultivating the lands.

The solution, my Lord, is to remove all military officers from civil employments, and to substitute inhabitants whose every step to promote the settlement is at the same time promoting their own interest.

Establishing a civil government in all its branches, and giving the people rights and privileges equal to the other colonies would induce the population to cheerfully accept their hard labours and the dangers of invasion. This kingdom enjoys such liberties as no other nation on earth can boast of. Without these, no English man will contentedly live in Nova Scotia.

The inhabitants of this province have no Representatives, and groan under the want of proper guardians to protect their liberties. This has been an obstacle against having people from New England and other parts of the continent to come and settle. We have from the commencement been labouring under the disadvantages of not having this glorious branch of the English constitution. This is not only the reason why many who came into this colony would not settle among us, but also has also been the cause why so many have left. We have four or five towns in this province, yet not one of them, even Halifax, the metropolis, have ever had power to choose town officers, or to make bylaws for their regulation, as is customary in the towns in all his Majesty’s colonies in America. We are also taxed by a duty on spirituous liquors without the consent of the people, and we have no voice in the disposal of the money arising therefrom.

It would be easy to give many instances, that would fully justify the people’s complaints, but the few which follow may suffice.

All lucrative employment in the government is given to military men, while many industrious people who have applied for the jobs, and who are better qualified and have families to maintain, are neglected.

At any time of danger, the inhabitants are thrust out of town, to mount guard, while the troops who are hired to defend and protect them remain within the gates.

The troops, have no fuel allowed to them by the government, and are let loose to plunder the inhabitants, who they rob not only of the fire wood which they procured for their families, but also the fences round their lots of ground outside the town. These are all carried away. Even the very houses which one would imagine might be safe from their merciless depredations, are sometimes pulled down and burnt. There have been frequent complaints to the Governor about these injuries, with no redress.

There is one most glaring instance of abuse of the trust reposed in these military men, and that is in the office of overseer of the King’s works. This is executed by one principal and several petty officers. The person who now has it was formerly a surgeon, and is now an ensign in the army, and is altogether unqualified for such employment. He has a handsome salary, and many perquisites and advantages, but not content with these, he has contrived a way to make still greater gains. He has caused one of his underlings to open a shop for the supply of the people employed to work for the government, where in lieu of money they are paid in rum, brandy and other things at a most immoderate price. The disadvantage of receiving their pay in this manner is in some measure made up by allowing them a fourth or a fifth part more for their work, than would be necessary if they received their pay in money, and this difference comes from the King. The trading people here also suffer by this means, many of them having laid out great sums in buildings, and merchandise to supply people with necessities, and now having no chance of selling anything, while this man withholds their money, and obliges them to take their pay in his shop at his own price. The Governor is a military man, and favours military men, and this leads me to the source of all the grievances, all the evils of this poor colony; a military government.

For the vast sums squandered away here, there is nothing to be seen but a parcel of half built empty houses, and two or three ill-contrived batteries. The useless stupidity and ignorance with which they were built, has been so severely ridiculed by the gentlemen of the navy that he has not permitted himself or his batteries to be seen even since. The inhabitants are not suffered to step foot upon them; and this wretched specimen of his art was managed according to Nova Scotian policy. Some of the inhabitants had offered to do the work but were refused, notwithstanding they could have done the work at half the cost and in half the time.

Another disgraceful event was the account of the taking Beausejour, sent by Col. Lawrence, to Sir Thomas Robinson. This was notoriously false, giving credit to two poor creatures who sat safely in their tents four miles off, and guarded by the troops, while the New-England men, with the assistance of the brave Captain Brome did all the work and took the place. The famous engineer, when he found the work was done without his help, came skulking home like a dog that had lost his tail; and yet it was thought better to give the praise to these two contemptible animals than to the New-England irregulars and Captain Brome. For this false representation to the King, no better reason can be given than that of a Governor could not bear that the praise of a military achievement should be given to any but the army; or else that these two lieutenant-colonels made a bargain to praise one another right or wrong. The Devi1 take Nova Scotia,—but what the reason was that Captain Brome had not the honour to be mentioned in the said letter, I cannot say.

This province is happily situated near New-England and receives from thence every kind of provision at an easy rate. To this people alone can we apply for reinforcements to repel or invade our enemy. But for their timely succours, this province would once and again have fallen to the French. The reducing of the French fort of Beausejour and the driving out of a numerous band of perfidious neutrals was the work of New Englanders, who cheerfully granted two thousand men at a time when they could hardly spare them. Surely, then, acknowledgements are due to them. But not only are the officers of these troops treated with contempt and neglect, but we are shocked to see in the magazine of July a letter from Col. Lawrence, to Sir Thomas Robinson, filled with notorious untruths, wherein the success of the enterprises are almost wholly attributed to those who were in no shape assisting. This base and unworthy treatment of our friends reflects dishonour upon us, and gives us reason to fear that we can never have any farther assistance from that injured province.

A most glaring instance of the mistreatment of the New-England troops is this, that the regular soldiers who never fired a gun were countenanced in killing the French cattle, hogs and sheep, while the New-England men were not only prevented, but even reduced to the necessity of purchasing the meat of the regular troops at four pence per pound. The damaged provisions taken in the French fort, were all the New-England troops had during three months, except that which they bought as I have related.

I don’t scruple, but that Col. Lawrence is disposed to advance the prosperity of the province. Nevertheless it is true that men in the highest rank are too frequently unacquainted with the sentiments and distresses of those they govern. This is owing to the choices made of favourites, in whom they place confidence. These people are esteemed by their patrons as men of knowledge, and it is seldom they reveal to their patrons any shortcomings. This much being premised, it is not strange that Col. Lawrence should be the least acquainted with the universal uneasiness that prevails among the inhabitants. His councils are gentlemen in the army, who are unacquainted with trade and those political maxims found by experience most efficacious in these American regions. It is a general observation that we are ruled by officers in the army who have no interest with the province, then what a temporary salary may occasion. It is strange that such persons should have any share in the civil administration, and what increases the disgust is that those are the people who make the most strenuous opposition to every measure offered to save this sinking colony.

The form of the government is not agreeable to the King’s proclamation, which that the same should be established here as in the other plantations, which consists of Governor, Council and house of Representatives. Instead, we have viz. Governor and Council, and those chiefly military men. The people are obliged to submit to unreasonable and oppressive laws. They are taxed without their consent, and the money disposed of without their knowledge.

Vast sums are granted by Parliament to promote the colony. At this day not one third of the inhabitants remain; and of those who do, not a man is able to subsist upon the produce of his land. No part of the parliamentary grants, have ever been applied for those ends. The whole has been appropriated for the support of the troops, unnecessary salary men, etc. That great injuries accrue to the people in trade from the partial and irregular management in the pay office is apparent. Delays of payment are very justly complained of.

The pay-master is a haughty and insolent military man, and it is with difficulty he is ever to be spoke with. His clerk suffered to keep a shop with an assortment of goods, and this may be the reason why the labourers employed by the government are not paid promptly. These people are not able to support their families without an immediate supply, and are obliged to take up necessities of the said clerk, which prevents a distribution of the money which these people might otherwise receive, and which might be circulated to support many persons.

The Governor’s ear is engrossed by two or three military men who stick at nothing but what they think will serve their own interest. By these means the true state of things is constantly hid from him, and the inhabitants have no chance of having their grievances redressed. It is well for him if it does not prove fatal to himself, for his friends are uneasy for him upon account of the letter he sent to Sir Thomas Robinson, about the taking Beausejour. This villainous misrepresentation, is by everybody here attributed to his secretary, whose wicked heart and foolish head, too much justifies the suspicion, and what very much corroborates it is his known inveteracy against New-England men. One instance of it I will give you: soon after the Governor received an account of the taking of Beausejour, and before the circumstances were known to any but him and his favourite, two captains in the navy asked him how the New-England men behaved. He answered, they behaved like rascals as they ran away. 1 could give you a great number of instances of this man’s folly and wickedness, but ex pede herculem, [at the foot of Hercules (in person)]

I will mention one extraordinary affair which happened lately. There were three men, after a fair trial at the Supreme Court, sentenced to be branded in the hand and to suffer nine months in prison. The first part of the sentence was executed, then they were put into prison where they were loaded with irons, in which circumstances they lay about eight months. At that time, to the astonishment of every true Englishman, one Cotterell who is a captain in the navy, from a prejudice against these prisoners (they being New-England men) went to the prison with soldiers, and without any authority obliged the jailer to deliver them up. He then carried them on board one of his majesty’s ships in the harbour, the ship having fever raging. In consequence, two of the prisoners became ill and one of them died in a few days. As to a prosecution of the Captain here it would not be admitted, and indeed no attorney dare file a writ against this court favourite, as he must be sure to ruin himself thereby.

It is a matter of great complaint that this military man with a very superficial head and bad heart for which he is despised and hated has the ear of the Governor, and is his principal closet councillor. This man treats the people with contempt and was allowed to commit this arbitrary and illegal act, that of taking out of jail a number of prisoners, and to add to this his great impudence in aspersing the New-England troops saying that they behaved like cowards and rascals, for having run away at Beausejour.

In the service of the government, preference has been given to vagabond Roman Catholics, while industrious Protestants were refused notwithstanding having family to maintain.

The affairs of this province have taken a favourable turn since the reduction of Beausejour and the actions of the Governor and Council to remove the neutral French. These things have prevented the colony from falling to destruction. The vacated lands in the Bay of Fundy will afford subsistence for more than two thousand families, and the prospect of possessing farms will induce people to remove from small tenements they hold upon lease, to enjoy their own lands which will remain in fee simple to their heirs. I hope next spring to see the province established on a firmer basis, with a House of Representatives, without military officers in the Council. Civil employment must turn more to the interest of the colony. It is now evident that granting provisions to the settlers has not been effective to encourage industry among them. On the contrary it is to be lamented that prodigious sums of money have been lavished to very little purpose, for at this day it would puzzle any man to point out five families in all the country who are able to subsist upon the productions of their farms. The Germans have been treated with partiality in receiving provisions for at least four years. It is too apparent that this method of supplying provisions has promoted an indolent behaviour, for certainly so long as people of lazy constitutions can be fed without labouring, they will not work. The remedy for this has already been pointed out in the remonstrance that was made to the Governor and Council to obtain the concurrence of the Lords of Trade in granting bounties on the natural productions of the colony. Whether the memorial was suppressed or not I do not know but of this I am certain, that five thousand pounds expended for the encouragement of industry, and paid where a certain proportion of labour has been performed must necessarily produce more good consequences than forty times that sum expended upon provisions to feed indolent wretches or salaries for the Governor’s favourite military officers.

We must now establish upon methods to encourage faithful subjects to improve the country which the perfidious neutrals are to be removed from. The present form of government is necessary to be abolished and the constitution changed. The odium of our having to submit a Governor and four or five officers is well known throughout America to be an obstruction to the improvement of what we have gained. It is with too much truth the inhabitants are reproached with being the slaves of military power, for where the people have no voice by their Representatives in the laws which govern the country they live in, they are to all intents and purposes as much slaves as the inhabitants of France or Rome. They must enjoy the same liberties which they had in the different parts of the King’s dominions from whence they came.

It is with pleasure I report that the neutral French are transported from the Bay of Fundy to other parts of North America. The colony will now begin to revive by being rid of that herd of perfidious wretches. The lands which they evacuated are rich and fertile, but who will possess those lands is uncertain. No grants have been made whatsoever, but I hear that several military officers have chosen farms which they like and have actually taken possession. One thing is certain, that particular favourites have allowed to bring from thence large droves of cattle without paying any consideration, and that these they have sold at a great price the money going into their pockets, while the applications of many honest and industrious person even to import a cow to supply their families with milk have been denied. Things seem to be inverted, for instead of the military being here to defend the inhabitants, you would imagine they were sent solely for their own advantage and the business of the inhabitants was only to do their dirty work. Upon my word I believe some of the principal of these pretty gentlemen think so too.

By certain management, about two hundred settlers have enlisted into the regiments, who might otherwise have been useful inhabitants, these men are chiefly Europeans, who have cost the Government at home about ten thousand pounds.

What I blame the Governor for is that he never associates with the people in civil life. I am sure there are some of these people are equal if not superior to any of the military men, but his leisure hours are all spent in the company of a few officers who do no serviceable business, except the most assiduously disgusting. It is owing this that the people failed in their petition to the Governor to represent some the great benefits which would arise from giving bounties on the fishery and other articles to be produced here. This proves how dangerous it is even for an upright man to have those always near him who have neither abilities to find out what is for the public good, nor honesty to adhere to it when discovered. After this I think it is not at all surprizing that the people are discouraged from making any further representations to the Governor.

I am really discouraged when I reflect on the melancholy circumstances of this colony, owing to want of a proper civil government, the arbitrary measures made use of by military men in civil employments. These have driven multitudes of useful and valuable settlers out of the province. The little trade we had is almost banished. Indeed it is a very just observation made by a great man long ago that trade could never thrive and flourish under a military government. Could I collect my debts and close my affairs so as to leave the place without a very great loss I would very soon do it, and indeed had I done it long ago, it would have been for my interest. At least I should have saved the loss of many bad debts which I have made through the people’s growing poverty. No person stands any chance of advancing his interest here at present, unless he be a military man, or at least one of their favourites. The Governor, the major part of the Council, the Secretary, the Pay Master, the Collectors of duties, the Register of the Court of Chancery, and every overseer of the works, are all men of the military order, no man being permitted to enjoy any of these lucrative posts who has not the King’s commission in the army.

I am your Lordship’s obedient and humble Servant.



Written by johnwood1946

January 7, 2015 at 9:10 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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