New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Nova Scotia, a Receptacle for Superfluous People?

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From the blog at


View from Fort Needham near Halifax, 1801

From the McCord Museum

The following sketch of Nova Scotia in 1751 was written by ‘a gentleman latterly arrived from that colony’, which he entitled The importance of settling and fortifying Nova Scotia …

The sketch is interesting, in that it was written so early on in the English occupation. To fully enjoy it, however, we must set aside the fact that the gentleman was always a British imperialist, and was often obnoxious about it.


Nova Scotia, a Receptacle for Superfluous People?

As the settling of. Nova Scotia has been the subject of a great deal of discourse since the conclusion of the general peace, and considerable sums of money have been granted by parliament for carrying out that settlement, I doubt not but some account of that colony would be acceptable to the publick.

And I shall, for method-sake, proceed in my account of it in the following order:

First, Give some account of its inhabitants;

Secondly, Of its extent and soil;

Thirdly, Of its growth and progress;

Fourthly, Shew of what great importance it is to preserve it from falling into the hands of the French;

And, Fifthly, Shew some of the advantages that will accrue to the English from the settling of that colony.

First, then, its inhabitants

It will be needless for me to trace back the several nations that have been masters of that country, but it shall suffice to say, that the Scots were once masters of it, from whence it deriv’d its present name of Nova Scotia or New Scotland; that in the reign of King Charles the second it was ceded to the French who called it Acadie and remained in the hands of the French till the year 1710, in the reign of Queen Anne, when it was reduced to the English by an army from New England under the command of General Nicolson,

Upon the capitulation of the garrison of Port Royal, since called Annapolis Royal in honour to Queen Anne the inhabitants obtained leave to continue in the possession of their estates, and enjoyment of their religion, (which is that of the Roman catholick) only upon taking an oath of fidelity to the Queen, and paying a small quit-rent, as an acknowledgement to the crown; to be allowed in time of war to stand neuter, neither to be obliged to take up arms for the English nor allow’d to do it for the French; and remain there upon those conditions to this day.

So that, notwithstanding we had conquered the whole country, it was still inhabited by the French, except the garrison of Annapolis Royal and a small settlement on the island of Canseau for carrying on a fishery.

As the government was wholly military, the French inhabitants never brought any of their differences amongst each other to be decided by the English but always submitted them to the decision of the priests, who were their sole temporal as well as spiritual judges.

However, they were obliged annually to choose a deputy in each district to send to Annapolis to receive the Governor’s commands, as an acknowledgment of their subjection to the English.

Thus we were masters of this extensive country for forty years, without ten English families, (except those of the garrison) in the whole country, so little was this valuable colony attended to, till in the late war the French by their frequent attempts to reduce it, have shewn us how highly they priz’d it, and of what importance they knew the acquisition of it would be to them. How much then is it our interest to preserve? But of that in its place [sic., ‘We will get to that later’].

Next of its extent and soil

The extent of Nova Scotia is very great, it stretches along the sea-coast, east and west, for full an hundred leagues, and about forty leagues north and south, so that it contains many millions of acres of ground: it is the northernmost of all his majesty’s colonies on the continent of America; it is bounded on the east by Cape Breton, on the west by New England, and on the north by the great river of St. Lawrence.

There is no part of North America where they can boast of a more fertile soil, or any land that will produce grain with so little labour, even without the common labour of manuring of land.

The method by which the French inhabitants improve their lands is as follows: in the bay of Fundy (where all our French inhabitants are settled) there is a very great flow of the tide, perhaps as great as in any part of the world; it rises full six fathoms perpendicular, which overflows a vast deal of their low lands, to prevent which they raise dikes or dams, composed of timber and clay, which effectually keeps out the sea; and upon these low lands it is that they sow their wheat, rice, oats, peas, and flax, graze their cattle, and mow their hay; and these marches extend along the shore, in some places, for seven or eight miles in length, and a mile wide so that you have at one view fields of many hundred acres of grain.

When they find the land wants manure they open some of the dikes and let in the sea; the natural salt that is in the water, and the sea-weeds that overflows the land, enriches it greatly; so that it is sufficiently manur’d by opening the dikes once in three or four years, and that only for a few tides.

As these lands are very fertile, the inhabitants raised much more grain than they could consume; so that they have exported  very considerable quantities to the other colonies, sometimes ten thousand bushels in a year, and many thousand yards of linnen-cloth, made from their flax, and some hundred head of cattle annually; which shews what the country is capable of producing, had it been in any other hands but those of the indolent French who don’t work scarce above half the year, on account of their superstitious holidays.

As they find it so much to their advantage to improve these low lands, they have not cleared a great deal of the up-land, only just enough for their orchards and gardens for raising their roots, which exceed any in America both for largeness and taste; and they have some flourishing orchards, and begin to make fyder and sugar they make from the maple-juice.

In many parts of the country there are very good masts for shipping, and oak for the building of ships. In the bay of Fundy there are variety of coals sufficient to supply all America with fuel; and there is very good reason to believe there are some valuable mines in the country, as there has been some copper ore found already; but whether there are mines in the land or not, we are sure of finding mines in the sea, which as the banks are situated so very near for the cod-fishery, it is an inexhaustible source of treasure.

Next, Of its growth and progress

[This also includes his 4th and 5th topics.]

In the year 1710, when Nova Scotia was reduced to the English, the number of its inhabitants was but very inconsiderable, the whole not exceeding three thousand souls, and its improvements but small; since which they have encreased to fourteen thousand, in about forty years, without the addition of any people from other parts of the world; which is a proof that the climate is very healthy.

As I observed before, these were the only inhabitants we had in the colony till the arrival of Governor Cornwallis in June, 1749, with a fleet from England with about fifteen hundred inhabitants, to settle Chebucto, (since call’d Halifax) which is one of the finest harbours in America. The whole navy of England may ride in it with safety: it is remarkable, that in their passage from England they never buried one person out of fifteen hundred, but carried in more than they brought out with them, as there was several births on the passage. The year following there came over from England, Germany and our colonies, about three thousand more, which make about eighteen thousand inhabitants in the colonies, including the French and are daily encreasing, besides the troops, which consist of about two thousand men.

The improvements that have been made in the colonies within these last two years are surprizing to every one that has seen it, which is entirely owing to the wisdom and prudence of the governor, who is endowed with every qualification requisite for a person in his important post: but his zeal and indefatigable pains, in promoting every thing that might conduce to the good of that colony, is too conspicuous to the world to need my imperfect encomiums.

The town of Halifax is enclosed in with palisadoes of ten feet high, and has five bastions where there are cannon mounted, which not only flanks the palisadoes, but commands a large tract of ground round the town. Within the town there are about six hundred houses, and an handsome church; and without the gates they have about five hundred houses, and an hospital and orphan-house.

Halifax is one of the most regular built towns on that continent; it is situated upon a fine easy ascent from the harbour; the rise is so very gradual, that from every house in the town they may have a fine prospect of the harbour. The houses are laid but in squares, and the streets are sixty feet wide.

On the east side of the harbour, opposite to Halifax is the town of Dartmouth which contains about one hundred and fifty houses and a small fort, for their defence against the natives. The greatest part of the fish is made upon the island, near the mouth of the harbour, and upon Point Pleasant about three miles to the southward of Halifax where the air proves very good for the drying the fish.

The last year there was about forty sail of vessels, from twenty to seventy tons, employed in the cod-fishery, which caught about twenty-five thousand quintals of fish, and they have a prospect of making much more this season, as they have many more vessels employed in the fishery. At the head of Chebucto Bay about ten miles above Halifax is Fort Seville where there is a saw-mill erected upon a fresh-water river, at Piziquid; about thirty miles farther in the country is Fort Edward and at Minis fifteen miles farther, is another fort. The two last are placed just in the center of our French settlements which effectually keeps the inhabitants in awe. At the head of the bay of Fundy between that and the bay of Vert upon a narrow isthmus of but a few miles across, is the garrison of Checonecto where they have about eight hundred men in garrison. As this isthmus is very narrow, which the Indians must pass to come at any of our settlements (which are all upon the peninsula) this fort deters them greatly from coming down upon our settlements for fear of being intercepted in their retreat; so that there has been scarce an instance of any Indians being seen on the peninsula since that fort has been erected upon the isthmus.

All these forts have been built within these last two years, besides a considerable one upon an island near the mouth of the harbour of Halifax and, if they are sufficiently supported from England they will be able, in a short time, not only to defend themselves against a land-force but even an enemy by sea, the importance of which I shall next proceed to shew

The French have upon all occasions, during the late war, demonstrated the great desire they had of being again masters of Nova Scotia by their frequent attempts to reduce it.

Upon the first declaration of the war they took Canseau and burnt it, and then came immediately and laid siege to Annapolis Royal and had it not been timely reinforced from New England would certainly have taken it as the garrison at that time was very weak, and the work very much out of repair.

In the year 1745 they made another attempt, with an army from Canada but upon their hearing that Cape Breton was besieged, they immediately march’d off towards their assistance.

The year following, the strongest fleet the French have had in America for many years, under the Duke D’Anville arriv’d at Chebucto and it seems their orders were first to reduce Nova Scotia before they attempted either Louisbourg or Boston as well knowing it to be the most valuable acquisition and that it would greatly facilitate the reduction of the others. But their meeting with such contrary winds upon their passage from France being upwards of an hundred days before they arrived, rendered their men so very sickly, that they were not in a condition to undertake any thing; and after burying about fifteen hundred of their men, amongst which number was the two commanding officers, they returned home without effecting any thing at all.

Was the French to make themselves Masters of Nova Scotia, it would be not only the ruin of New England but of almost all our colonies on the continent; our present neutral inhabitants who have always shewn their desire of being united to the French by always succouring the enemy in their several attempts against us. These, I say, we must expect, would immediately declare for the French which would strengthen them greatly by adding near four thousand hardy robust men to their number.

The situation of Canada is such, that it runs along upon the back of our settlements, for several hundred miles upon the continent, where the French are known to be numerous, and have always the Indians at their command; and had they Nova Scotia which without doubt they, according to their known maxim, would fortify, and make so strong, that it would not be easy to dispossess them and our colonies, in time of war, would be continually as it were between two fires, viz. Nova Scotia on the east, and Canada on the west, that it would be impossible to carry on our new settlements on the continent, and all the inhabitants must remove into the center of the country, or retire into garrisons, to the utter ruin of many thousand families; and as Nova Scotia is situated so near the fishing banks, they would be able to ruin all our fishery in that part of the world which is a very great and advantageous branch of trade to the English. It lies very near the course of all our shipping going from and coming to Europe they would be able in a great measure to ruin that trade by their privateers: here they would have a commodious place of rendezvous to make up their fleet, and refresh their men, within sixty leagues of New England that we should be in continual fear of invasions. In short, it may very justly be said of Nova Scotia what the French said of it when they had taken part of it in the late war, (viz. Canseau) that it is the key to North America.

These are some of the consequences we might reasonably expect, was Nova Scotia to fall into the hands of the French, which I believe every one that knows its situation will agree with me in. How much then is it our interest to preserve it, since the preservation of all our colonies depends so much upon the security of that one, which is a barrier to all the others; & that if there was no other view in the settlement than the safety of our other colonies, it would be a very sufficient motive for the settling and fortifying of Nova Scotia. But that is not the only advantage we may expect from that settlement; for there is no colony on that continent promising greater advantages to its mother-country; which I shall next proceed to shew.

It must be allow’d that our colonies in general are a very great advantage to Great Britain by promoting its trade and navigation, as they are not only a receptacle for our superfluous people from Great Britain and Ireland but for many thousands of foreigners, who annually go over from Germany and other parts of Europe, which makes a great addition to the strength and trade of the nation.

Besides the advantage of bringing a great number of foreigners to settle there, Nava Scotia will be a great nursery for seamen, a thing so necessary in this nation. The act that has lately passed in that colony for the encouragement of the cod fishery, whereby a bounty of six-pence upon every quintal of fish cur’d there and ten shillings a ton for every vessel built in the colony, is to be paid out of a fund raised by a tax laid upon the spirituous liquors drank there has been a means of augmenting their fishery to near double of what it was the last year. Two great advantages will accrue from this act, the one of encouraging great numbers of people to engage in the fishery, which will enable us to undersell our rivals the French at the foreign markets, in that commodity; the other is of employing a great number of our seamen, who have been obliged to go into the service of other nations, for want of employment in their own.

There is no branch of business that is carried to greater advantage to Great Britain than the cod-fishery in Nova Scotia; as it will employ a great number of vessels, it will add very much to the consumption of the manufacture of this kingdom, such as cordage, sail-cloth, lines, leads, hoops, nets, &c., and as it is a cold climate, they will consume great quantities of our woolen manufacture.

In time of peace with the Indians there may be a very advantageous trade carried on with them for furs; and as the country abounds with timber, they may build great numbers of good ships; a specimen of which has been already tried, of one of an hundred and thirty tons.

But besides the advantage of trade, we shall, by settling Nova Scotia, have all the advantages over the French colonies that they would have over ours was it in their hands, as we shall be within sixty leagues of Cape Breton; by keeping a few ships of war stationed at Halifax we shall be able to distress their trade greatly, and ruin their fishery. Here we shall have a safe harbour to make up our fleets, and refresh our men, within two days sail of the French, should we form any designs of attacking any of their settlements in that part of the world.

In short, by settling and fortifying Nova Scotia and keeping a squadron there, we may easily make ourselves masters of all North America and engross all the cod-fishery and fur-trade to ourselves, as we have found by experience, in the late war, that Cape Breton is not impregnable.

A great deal more might be said of the importance of Nova Scotia, but I believe the foregoing account (though imperfect) will be sufficient to give those that were not acquainted with that country some idea of it; and as I have been several years in the country, I am well knowing in every thing I have said concerning it.


Written by johnwood1946

December 1, 2015 at 3:40 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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