New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Nova Scotia and New England During the Revolution

leave a comment »

From the blog at

Following is an essay by Emily P. Weaver, entitled Nova Scotia and New England During the Revolution, from the American Historical Review, 1904. I have abridged the essay, gently I hope, to make it shorter but to retain the flavour of the writing and the facts that it presents.

This was an exciting time in the infant colony of Nova Scotia, and the best book that I have seen on the subject is The Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia by John Bartlet Brebner, New York, 1937. I recommend it for anyone who wants a fuller examination of the subject. It was reprinted in 1969 by McClelland and Stewart.

Halifax 1750

A View of Halifax, ca. 1750

Map by Thomas Jefferys, from Wikipedia


Nova Scotia and New England During the Revolution

At the beginning of the American Revolution it was not a foregone conclusion that Nova Scotia would continue loyal to the crown of England and that the other British colonies on the continent would all become independent. Yet writers dealing with the period frequently assume that Nova Scotia was from the first in a class altogether distinct from that of the revolting colonies, and therefore do not think her exceptional course of action worthy of remark. For instance, it has been said that all the colonies “adopted the cause of Massachusetts; and all their Legislatures, save that of Georgia, sent delegates to a Congress which assembled on the 4th of September at Philadelphia.” In this, Nova Scotia is altogether ignored. But, had this province made a fourteenth state in the Union, there is little doubt that the difficulty of England’s holding Canada, especially during the season when the St. Lawrence was frozen, would have been enormously increased; and it is probable that England, like her rival France, would have been driven out of America. The attitude of Nova Scotia during the contest has therefore more than a local interest.

At first sight it is difficult to understand why Nova Scotia did not follow the lead of New England. The character of the population did not promise any high degree of loyalty. It was composed largely of emigrants from New England, who had only recently, at the time of the Stamp Act agitation, left their old homes. The Acadians were another element of danger who, in 1761, were reported to be 1,540 in number and were fitting out armed vessels to prey on trading ships. The Indians also had about six hundred fighting men to add to the forces of the Acadians.

It had been part of Governor Lawrence’s plan to settle some of the New England troops upon the lands from which they had been employed to drive the Acadians, but these troops had not chosen to remain, and it was not till the reduction of Louisburg in 1758 that the resettlement of the vacated French lands really began. Within three months after the fall of the fortress, Lawrence issued a proclamation inviting applications for the “lands vacated by the French as every other part of this valuable Province.” He described extensive forests, rich farms already cleared, and navigable rivers—all ready and prepared for their occupation. In another proclamation, he promised liberty of conscience to all Protestant dissenters, assured them that they would not be required to give support to the Church of England, and explained that the government and system of justice in Nova Scotia resembled that of Massachusetts.

The people of New England showed themselves very ready to go in and possess the lands of the unfortunate Acadians. Before the close of 1759, one hundred seven Massachusetts men had received grants in the township of Annapolis; nearly three hundred others had signed for lands in the townships of East Passage, Shoreham (on Mahone Bay), and Liverpool; and the township of Yarmouth had been allotted to a number of applicants, of whom nine or ten came from Philadelphia and over a hundred from different parts of New England. This by no means exhausts the list of immigrants. In September of this year, Lawrence stated that the total number of families to be settled before the close of 1762 was 2,550, or about 12,250 souls. It appears that, in a number of cases, the grantees never actually took possession of their lands, but, if we accept Chief-Justice Belcher’s estimate of 3,000 as the number of English inhabitants in Nova Scotia in 1755, the increase was nonetheless considerable. Both Lawrence and Belcher reported that the settlements at Horton, Cornwallis, and Falmouth were prospering, but by the end of 1761 Belcher complained of the exorbitant price demanded by the New-Englanders for their labor. He said that, while the Irish were willing to work “in common labour” for two shillings per day, the New-Englanders would not work for less than four.

The glimpses we obtain of the New England settlers give the impression of an energetic, self-reliant people, jealous, like their compatriots, of any encroachment on their liberty. Of all the new settlers, the people of Liverpool seem to have been most imbued with the spirit of their Boston brethren. In the minutes of the council of Nova Scotia, under date of July 24, 1762, is a remarkable document drawn up by the inhabitants of this little seacoast town, which could then count scarcely more than two years from the day of its first settlement, insisting in no measured terms on their right to local self-government:

“We, your memorialists, proprietors of the township of Liverpool, look upon ourselves to be freemen, and under the same constitution as the rest of His Majesty King George’s other subjects, not only by His Majesty’s Proclamation, but because we were born in a country of Liberty, in a land that belongs to the Crown of England, therefore we conceive we have right and authority invested in ourselves (or at least we pray we may) to nominate and appoint men among us to be our Committee and to do other offices that the Town may want. His present Excellency . . . and the Council of Halifax have thought proper to disrobe and deprive us of the above privilege, which we first enjoyed. This we imagine is encroaching on our Freedom and liberty and depriving us of a privilege that belongs to no body of people but ourselves, and whether the alteration and choice of the Men you have chosen to be our Committee is for the best or not we can’t think so, and it has made great uneasiness among the people insomuch that some families have left the place and hindered others from coming, and we know some of the Committee is not hearty for the settlement of this place.”

The memorial continued with a demand that they be allowed to choose their own Committee and other officers, a right which “we must insist on as it belongs to us alone to rule ourselves as we think ourselves capable.”

Liverpool was the only place in Nova Scotia to show “public marks of discontent” on the imposition of the stamp-duty. Again, a little later, this town was the scene of a riotous resistance to the law, as represented in the persons of the sheriff and deputy-sheriff of the County of Lunenburg who came to Liverpool in pursuit of a schooner that had been seized at New Dublin. The following night, a mob of fifty men, armed with sticks and cutlasses, threatened the sheriff’s life and forced him to sign a bond for £300 “not to pursue the schooner any further.”

Such manifestations of sympathy with persons engaged in illicit trade were a marked feature of the times in all the American colonies. With regard to restrictions on trade, Nova Scotia was of course in much the same position as New England. For instance, in the royal commission to Governor Wilmot there is a clause forbidding him to assent to any bill by which the inhabitants of Nova Scotia would be put, in her own trade, on a more advantageous footing than those of England. Neither might he assent to bills laying duties on British shipping, products, or manufactures. They went so far as to forbid the laying of import or export duties on Negroes, which might tend to discourage British trade with Africa; nor might the province lay any duty on the importation of felons from Great Britain. The governor was forbidden, on pain of the king’s highest displeasure, to “assent to any bill for setting up manufactures or carrying on trades,” which might prove “hurtful and prejudicial” to England.

In Nova Scotia there was, however, comparatively little reason for popular discontent with the navigation laws. There was practically no manufacturing in the province. Two distillers of rum, a sugar baker, and two hatters constituted the list of manufacturers. A little linen was sold by the Irish settlers, but there was good ground for hoping that such an objectionable practice would disappear when the people were more fully employed in the agricultural pursuits which became them. Beyond the simple articles with which in a certain stage of social development every family supplies itself, there was little demand for manufactured goods. As late as 1774 Governor Legge was able to report, “there is no other kind of business carried on in this colony than fishing and farming.”

When the stamp-duties were under discussion, there was not a town in the province deserving of the name. In 1762 even Halifax had a population of only 2,500, and country people are proverbially slower to rouse than the dwellers in towns. The disaffected of Nova Scotia also seem to have had no great leader. In Cumberland County and on the St. John river there were men who had considerable local influence on the side of the revolted colonies, but at Halifax, though from time to time persons were arrested on suspicion of holding correspondence with the rebels, no one was charged with any serious attempt to organize resistance to government.

The interests of Halifax itself were indeed all on the side of the established order of things. Then as now it was the chief seaport, the seat of government for the province, and a British naval and military station, and in those days its prosperity, its importance, its very existence, depended on these conditions.

On the other hand, Halifax depended upon New England for its supplies of all fresh provisions except fish, and so, in the earlier years of the Revolution, was in constant communication with Boston, the chief center of disaffection. In Governor Lawrence’s time even hay was brought from New England, and in 1762 there was not in the town or its neighborhood one family that gained a living by husbandry. From the first therefore the citizens were fully informed of all that went on in the colonies, to the south.

To Nova Scotia, as to the other colonies, came the notice of the intended imposition of stamp-duties “towards defraying the necessary expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the British colonies and plantations in America.” The familiar story of the way in which this proposal was received does not need retelling. Nova Scotia alone, of all the colonies on the seaboard, submitted without “opposition or objection” to the laying on of the stamp-duties. In her settlements there were no riots, no non-importation agreements, and apparently, except from Liverpool, no murmurs. However, on hearing of the disturbances in Boston and other places, Wilmot was instructed “if this evil should spread to the government of Nova Scotia,” to use leniency and persuasion at first, but in the case of “acts of outrage and violence,” to apply for assistance to the naval and military commanders. Wilmot reported that “the sentiments of a decent and dutiful acquiescence prevailed very powerfully” in Nova Scotia, and in due time there came by express command of the King a letter signifying “his highest approbation of the dutiful, loyal and discreet conduct, observed in Nova Scotia.”

The Stamp Act was soon repealed, but the mischief it had done did not quickly pass away. It had provoked both the friends and the foes of America to investigate the status of the colonies in relation to the mother-country. Trade restrictions soon began to be regarded as worse than arbitrary taxation, “the more slavish thing of the two.”

But the ministers were by no means prepared to give up the contest. At the moment of repealing the Stamp Act they took care to assert their rights over the colonies by “an Act for Securing the just Dependency of the Colonies on the Mother Country;” and the very announcement of the repeal of the measure was couched in irritating condescension. One blunder followed another. Relief to the trade interests of America was promised, but little was given. The year 1767 saw another attempt of the British ministers to raise in America a revenue for military purposes by the imposition of taxes on tea and certain other articles. In February, 1768, the legislature of Massachusetts passed resolutions protesting against the new taxes, and adopted a circular letter to send to the other assemblies of North America.

This letter was an attempt to bring about concerted action on the part of the colonies, a matter which former experience had shown to be difficult. The representatives of Massachusetts evidently dreaded giving offense to the assemblies of the sister colonies, and eagerly disclaimed any ambition of dictating to them or taking the lead. But they assumed throughout that these other assemblies were at one with them on the main points in dispute and they did not doubt apparently that even Nova Scotia would join in their protest. On the other hand, the rulers of that province, from Hillsborough, secretary of state, to Francklin, the lieutenant-governor, expressed much confidence in the loyalty of Nova Scotia.

Their faith in the “most noble and submissive obedience” of Nova Scotia did not altogether allay their anxieties concerning the possible effect of the Massachusetts circular letter, even on that exemplary province; and Francklin was directed to prorogue or dissolve the assembly if it betrayed any inclination to giving countenance to “this seditious paper.” When the assembly of Nova Scotia met in the following June, however, Francklin was able to report that “The people of this province, have the highest reverence and respect for all acts of the British legislature.”

After the appearance of the circular letter, two regiments and four ships of war were ordered from Halifax to Boston. Campbell wrote to Hillsborough, urging that the troops might be sent back to Nova Scotia as quickly as possible, on account of the poverty of the people, whose chief dependence was the circulating cash spent by the troops.” The removal of the fifty-ninth regiment from Louisburg, he declares, will cause “a total desertion” of the inhabitants; and the coal-mines, “peculiarly recommended from home not to be touched, may uninterruptedly be worked by any people who think proper to go there.” So long as the troops were there the civil power could be enforced, but now there was reason to fear “total anarchy.” The defense of Halifax, where a royal dockyard had lately been established, added to his anxieties. In case of war it would certainly be one of “the first objects of destruction.”

Considering that he regarded the situation in Nova Scotia as so perilous, it is somewhat remarkable that Campbell permitted the publication of the inflammatory matter that appeared in the earlier numbers of The Nova Scotia Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser. Its first number appeared in January, 1769, and it kept its readers supplied with the “freshest advices” concerning the progress of events in the colonies to the south. The question of war and of the separation of the colonies from Great Britain were freely discussed six years before the first shot was fired at Lexington, and the people were informed that great numbers of Englishmen looked “on America as in rebellion.”

Nova Scotia still restrained from joining in the loud protests of the New England colonies against taxation by the British Parliament but even in that province were faint stirrings of the desire for larger liberty, and some of the townships ventured to call meetings for debating questions relating to the laws and government. This alarmed the governor, and the attorney-general was instructed to threaten the offenders with prosecution. Campbell reported, however, that he “did not discover in them any of that licentious principle with which the neighboring colonies are so highly infected.”

In October, 1773, Lieutenant-colonel Legge became governor of Nova Scotia. He was at Halifax for about two years and a half, and he made himself so unpopular that his councilors complained of him to the authorities at home; the principal inhabitants of Nova Scotia petitioned for his recall; and Francklin described him as utterly unsuitable for the position of governor. Legge represented the inhabitants of Nova Scotia, including even the government officials, as disloyal, but Francklin asserted that the accusations were untrue. Legge’s opinion that there was a considerable amount of disaffection in the province receives some corroboration from other sources. The provost marshal, Fenton, complained that many of the members of the assembly were “emigrants from New England, who have brought the same principles as exist there.

To the resolutions of the Congress at Philadelphia, declaring for non-intercourse with colonies that did not accept its measures, Nova Scotia paid no attention. But as a matter of fact the trade of Halifax was by this time seriously affected, and communication even with England was rendered difficult. In the winter of 1774-1775, when the harbor of Boston was closed by the Port Bill, only one small vessel which was accustomed to make two voyages in the year came from Great Britain to trade at Halifax.

At the beginning of the war there appears to have been some danger of Nova Scotia’s being lost to England. The Americans made more than one attempt at invasion, though these were feeble. Open invasion, however, was not their most dangerous mode of attack. They labored to stir up the Indians and persuade the settlers from New England to revolt, and they let loose a swarm of privateers to harry the coasts and destroy the fishing boats and trading vessels of the province. To supplement his meager force, Legge set himself to raise a thousand men in Nova Scotia. With this number under his command, he said, he could answer for the preservation of the province. Nova Scotians were not as eager as he expected to enlist however, and Legge soon decided that the militia were not to be depended upon in the event of an attack. There were, moreover, other evidences of disaffection. A quantity of hay purchased in Boston for the horses was burned, and a fire was discovered in the navy yard. The two men who were thought to be guilty of the act were declared by a resolution of the assembly to be “dutiful and loyal subjects of King George.”

Suspected disloyalty and the lack of troops were not the only circumstances of which Legge had to take account in defending Halifax. The fortifications were in a dilapidated state and the town was “open to the country on every side.” Provisions were scarce and it was also difficult to obtain fuel and fish, owing in a measure at least to many providers having been pressed for the navy. In addition to his other duties he was now called on to care for the New England refugees, provide them with land, and food. Gage believed that some of these refugees were tainted with disloyalty.

To meet this danger, all persons, “not settled inhabitants” who came into town were required to give notice to the magistrate and all innkeepers were to give notice of the arrival of strangers. It was also decided that persons coming from the rebellious colonies, besides taking the ordinary oath of allegiance, must declare their detestation of the rebels. The magistrates were required “to apprehend all disloyal persons stirring up or making disturbances,” and there was some harshness in the performance of this duty. For instance, in June, the magistrates of Annapolis County “apprehended Mr. Howard, the dissenting teacher, [though] he had not been guilty of any misdemeanour.” He was nevertheless informed that “information had been given against him, from New England that he had held forth seditious discourses.” The governor thought it necessary that he should be warned against such behavior, and he was allowed to depart.

During the latter part of this year, the governor and his councilors were in a condition of constant excitement and alarm. But in spite of their anxiety they found time for quarrels among themselves and with the assembly. The governor wished to make certain changes in the constitution of that body. The assembly resented his proposals, telling him with their usual freedom of language that “dictatorial powers may be necessary to quell insurrections, or to rule a disaffected people, but where no such principles exist, the exertions of such powers will create them.” The councilors in their turn declared that the assertions of the assembly were “illiberal, groundless.” In due time came a message from the king that he was displeased with “the dissensions of the Provincial Governments over trivial matters.”

During these early years of the war, Halifax feared attack. There were rumors of expeditions against it that were disquieting, for the place was quite without proper defenses. Men did not readily volunteer, and measures adopted to fill the ranks were not successful. There was moreover opposition to the taxes imposed for the support of the troops. The people were poor, and here, as in the other colonies, taxes were an unwelcome reminder of authority. A petition from Cumberland County called for the Governor “to suspend putting the said Militia and tax Bill into execution, till a further deliberation . . . and to dissolve the present house of Assembly and issue precepts for a new choice.”

Meanwhile there were other indications that the New England settlers in the province were far from being satisfied and that an effort to gather the militia might precipitate a conflict. It is difficult to say how much reliance is to be placed on the testimony to this effect, but it seems to have determined the governor not to summon the militia, and he was evidently unwilling to attempt disarming the disaffected. The attempt could not have precipitated a very bloody struggle, since the disaffected were without ammunition and the loyalists almost as destitute. Besides this, there were some who were half-hearted in their support of the governor’s authority, and desired to “remain neuter” in case of an attack on the province.

In the meantime the royal army had been forced to evacuate Boston, and had arrived at Halifax. This was of course a heavy blow to the king’s cause, but the coming of the troops, and of the large number of loyalists who accompanied them, increased the strength of Nova Scotia relatively to that of the disaffected colonies. This, however, was not the beginning of the influx of refugees. During the previous year many loyalists had removed to Nova Scotia, and their coming had been encouraged by grants of land and, in some cases, of provisions. The authorities appear to have been actuated by something like a settled policy of making Nova Scotia a stronghold of loyalty. Upon receiving Dartmouth’s dispatch respecting the treatment of refugees, Legge found it difficult to supply the promised rations. He entreated that flour and pork and butter should be sent from the British Isles. In the meantime he proposed to make the loyalists an allowance in cash, so that they might supply themselves as best they could at the markets, where, however, the price of all food was doubled. In the spring of 1776, Legge reported that the rebels were trying to prevent the loyalists from leaving New England for Nova Scotia, although two hundred families, many of them poor, would soon arrive at Halifax. In less than a month there came fifty transports crowded with people from Boston who had remained faithful to their old allegiance. Their coming strained to the utmost the resources of the little town, though the governor and council did their utmost to prevent distress, issuing numerous regulations and proclamations. They fixed prices for food and rent, but, in spite of all regulations, the price of beef and butter speedily rose, while people had to cook in the streets in cabooses from the ships. Frightened at the cold and the high price of provisions, many people left Halifax, while many others remained. Legge wrote constantly of disaffection and danger, which his own lack of judgment tended to increase. For his fears there appear to have been some reasons; for, though his successor, Lieutenant-governor Arbuthnot, announced that all were “in perfect good humour” in the colony, he also described the New-Englanders and Acadians as “bitter bad subjects.” On the other hand, early in 1776 as many as five hundred men, including some from the free-spoken people of Cumberland County, were enrolled in the militia, and the assembly that met in June voted a loyal address consecrating their lives and fortunes to the service of the king.

Massachusetts was interested in an invasion of Nova Scotia, but they were altogether unsuccessful. Throughout the war the authorities at Halifax were suspicious of the intentions of the New Englanders on their borders, and, in the summer of 1779, a counter attack was made. An expedition swooped down from Halifax on Penobscot and took possession of the peninsula where Castine now is.

Perhaps the Indians were the chief source of danger to the province, for effort was made by the agents both of New England and of Nova Scotia to gain or retain the friendship of the Micmacs and the St. John River Indians.

John Allan of Cumberland County, appointed in 1777 Indian agent for Massachusetts, sought to win the friendship of the Indians for the cause of the revolting colonies, but he met with little success. Governor Francklin succeeded in persuading the St. John Indians to give up to him a treaty that they had made with Massachusetts, and to hold no communication with Machias. It was always Francklin’s great object to keep the Indians quiet, for he feared that, once thoroughly roused, they would cause the utmost confusion and distress.

But if upon the whole the interests of the province were safe on land, the little commerce it possessed was far from safe at sea. As early as November 30, 1775, it was reported that two New England schooners had captured twenty-two ships, and six months later the judges of the Supreme Court actually represented that it would be unsafe to hold the regular courts in Cumberland, Annapolis, and King’s Counties because of the danger from “pirates” in the Bay of Fundy. This was later rescinded, but nothing afloat seemed to be secure. “Rebel pirates,” wrote the governor, “have entered our defenseless harbours indiscriminately from Cape Sable to very near this port, landed to the great terror of the well-affected people; cut out several vessels, and done much mischief. At a later time it was reported by Hughes, the successor of Arbuthnot, that the “pirates” had stations to the east and west of Halifax. Privateers were also fitted out in Nova Scotia to prey upon such of the commerce of the enemy as might be found.

This kind of warfare provoked much bitter feeling; and other causes were at work to diminish the sympathy that at first existed between Nova Scotia and New England. Chief among these was a kind of natural selection, which at once impelled the warmest advocates of colonial rights to leave a province where they were in the minority, and inclined the loyalists to seek a refuge where their political principles were still held in respect. When at last Great Britain gave up the contest, it was to Nova Scotia that thousands of the vanquished party turned in the hope of building up a new country under the flag and traditions of their forefathers. General Sir Guy Carleton was besieged with memorials and petitions from the loyalists, to which he seems to have attended with patience and kindness.


Written by johnwood1946

December 28, 2016 at 7:55 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: