New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Notes About Edward Cornwallis, Who Has Been in the News Lately

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Notes About Edward Cornwallis, Who Has Been in the News Lately

Protesting the memory of Edward Cornwallis

From the Chronicle Herald

The War of Austrian Succession, in the 1740’s included England and France, and brought to an end the fragile Peace of Utrecht of 1713. Utrecht had transferred Acadia to Britain, while France had maintained control of Cape Breton where they built Fort Louisbourg. This was not very satisfactory, however, since the two sides could not agree on the limits of ‘Acadia’, and Louisbourg remained an irritant to the British.

Britain finally captured Louisbourg and decided to strengthen their position in Acadia by building a colony in the wilderness at what would become Halifax. Nova Scotia was inhabited by the Acadians and the Mi’kmaq, while the English were mostly strangers.

The Acadians knew very well that another war, and another peace, and another transfer of sovereignty from one side to the other guaranteed nothing as to what might happen next. The British had given them one year during which they could either leave Nova Scotia or take a loyalty oath, but they refused both options. They became known as the ‘neutral’ French and wanted to remain so. They asked to be left out of future combat.

The Mi’kmaq were also in a difficult position. The Acadians were their friends and the English were not. The Mi’kmaq greeted the would-be colonists as potential friends, but the English were harassing the Acadians over the issue of loyalty oaths, and prospects for the Mi’kmaq were not encouraging. As far as the Mi’kmaq were concerned, Acadia had not belonged to the French and had not been transferred to the English. It belonged to them. Some of their comrades in Boston had faced a similar situation, and the Mi’kmaq would have agreed with their response: “Thou sayest that the French man hast given thee [lands] in my neighborhood, …. He shall give it to thee as much as he will [but,] for me, I have my land which the Great Spirit has given me to live on. As long as there shall be a child of my nation, he will fight to preserve it”

Following are excerpts from Duncan Campbell’s Nova Scotia, in its Historical, Mercantile and Industrial Relations, Montreal, 1873, about Edward Cornwallis and his time in Halifax. It is heavily edited and condensed and I have also added some material.


Britain was determined to retain a firm hold on Nova Scotia, and decided to establish a settlement there. An advertisement was accordingly published in the London Gazette, setting forth a proposal for peopling Nova Scotia and establishing a civil government. His Majesty had signified his approbation, and instructions had been issued to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations to present inducements to disbanded officers and private soldiers, as well as to such tradesmen and farmers willing to accept grants of land. Free passage, and subsistence during the voyage, and for twelve months after their arrival, were offered—also arms and ammunition for defence, with proper implements for husbandry, fishing, and the erection of houses. A civil government was to be established, with all the privileges granted to other colonies in British North America. These terms attracted a large number of applicants, many of whose descendants now live in Nova Scotia.

The emigrants embarked in thirteen transports to the number of 2,576 souls. The expedition was under the charge of the Honorable Edward Cornwallis, who was now in his thirty-seventh year, and was appointed Governor of the Province at an annual salary of a thousand pounds. This appointment was made through the influence of Lord Halifax.

Cornwallis sailed in the Sphinx on the 14th of May, 1749, and arrived on the coast of Nova Scotia about the 14th of June. He anchored in Merliguiche Bay (Lunenburg), where there was a small French settlement, communicated with the inhabitants who seemed in comfortable circumstances, and proceeded thence to Chebucto (Halifax). The Governor was followed by transports which arrived early in July. The ground, which is now the site of Halifax was then covered with a forest to the water’s edge. “The country,” said Cornwallis, “is one continued wood, no clear spot to be seen.” A few French families had settled some miles off, and visited the fleet on its arrival.

The Governor communicated with Mascarene, commander at Annapolis and acting Governor, and also with Louisbourg to which place he sent ships to gather two regiments of British troops.

Knowing the severity of the climate in winter, they proceeded immediately with clearing the forest and erecting habitations. It was at first intended that the town should be built near Point Pleasant, but, on further consideration, it was resolved to adopt a site further up the harbor. The ground was traced and subdivided into blocks of three hundred and twenty by one hundred and twenty feet. Streets sixty feet wide were projected, each block containing sixteen lots with a frontage of forty feet, and sixty feet deep. The present Buckingham Street was the north, and Salter Street the south limit. To prevent disputes the settlers drew for their lots. Timber for building purposes was sent from Boston, and construction proceeded rapidly.

Many of the structures that were throw up must have been very insubstantial, and insufficient for the coming winter. To this must, to a great extent, be attributed the great mortality of the succeeding winter. The intemperate habits of some of the colonists may also have contributed.

At their first meeting of Council, the necessity of a stringent oath of allegiance being administered to the Acadians was discussed. Mascarene informed the Governor that the French always asserted that the various oaths which they had taken were on the understanding that they should not be called upon to bear arms against their countrymen. Three French deputies were called in, and assured that all the privileges which they had hitherto enjoyed under English rule would be continued upon their taking the oath of allegiance usually administered to British subjects.

The Acadians were alarmed at this, and send deputies from all the principal settlements to Halifax to obtain a modification. On finding His Excellency resolved to have the usual oath, without any exceptional clause, they asked whether, in the event of their resolving to leave the country in preference to compliance, they would be allowed to dispose of their property. The Governor replied that such of them as were resolved to leave would not be permitted either to sell or take property of any kind, reminding them that the one year grace period had expired. They were required to take the oath before the 26th October on pain of forfeiture of all their property. The deputies returned to their constituents, and came back to Halifax on the 17th of September with an address, signed by one thousand inhabitants, in which they stated their willingness to take the oath, but with the usual provision of not bearing arms. They insisted that compliance with the Governor’s demand would expose them to the fury of the Indians, who were allied with the French. The Governor was not swayed by these arguments and replied that the Acadians were deceived if they thought they could choose whether to be the King’s subjects or not.

On the arrival of the Governor, the Indians seemed friendly. They visited his Excellency and received presents. Afterwards, a formal treaty was prepared, which was signed with due formality. By late October, the troops had surrounded the town with a barricade for protection against Indian attack. Also in October, the Mi’kmaq attacked six men while cutting wood near Dartmouth, killing four and making one a prisoner. The sixth man escaped. At Canso they took twenty English prisoners, and committed other hostilities.

The hostility of the Indians was blamed upon the priest Joseph de la Loutre who was the principal missionary to the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia as early as 1740. Mascarene described him as a very bad character, who had incited the killing of English, the destroying of cattle and the burning of houses. De la Loutre had acted in opposition to the instructions of the Bishop of Quebec, it seems, who accused him of bringing misfortune upon the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. The Governor at Quebec may have had a different opinion.

Cornwallis had been encouraged to initiate trade with the Mi’kmaq, but was convinced that there was no prospect for diplomacy and resolved to drive the Indians off of the entire peninsula of Nova Scotia. Whitehall disapproved of this and wrote to the Governor, saying “as to your opinion, however, of never hereafter making peace with them, and of totally extirpating them, we cannot but think that, as the prosecution of such design must be attended with acts of great severity, it may prove of dangerous consequence to the safety of His Majesty’s other colonies on the continent, by filling the minds of the bordering Indians with ideas of our cruelty, and instigating them to a dangerous spirit of resentment.”

Cornwallis went ahead and issued a Scalping Proclamation by which an award would be given for the killing of any Mi’kmaq man, woman or child. Estimates differ as to how many were killed, but there are reports of several attacks with dozens of scalps being brought in.

In the meantime, de la Loutre, crossed to the St. John River, and went to Quebec, embarking for France shortly thereafter. His vessel was captured by the British, and he spent the next eight years in prison.

The Scalping Proclamation failed. Attacks by the Mi’kmaq continued, including one in the early 1750’s when some people were scalped and others taken prisoner at the new village of Dartmouth. Relations with the Acadians also deteriorated. If they could not leave with their property, they said, then they would protest by not planting any seed. This would have left the English with no domestic foot source, and Cornwallis delayed his deadline for them to take the oath. The subsequent history was not kind for either the Acadians or the Mi’kmaq.

Cornwallis returned to England in the summer of 1752, and was succeeded by Peregine Thomas Hopson, in August of that year.


Written by johnwood1946

July 26, 2017 at 8:27 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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