A Blupete Biography Page

Edward How

We cannot be certain of Edward How's early life. While likely born in Ireland, Edward How came to Massachusetts; but lost little time, it seems, in making his way to Nova Scotia. With the English having taken Port Royal in 1710, New Englanders saw Nova Scotia as an opportunity to participate in "its valuable and profitable peltry trade, and in its almost inexhaustible fisheries..."1 Though few details have survived as to the circumstances and as to when Edward How first arrived in Nova Scotia, it is likely he was one of a number of Bostonians who came to Nova Scotia to pursue the fishery; he first shows up in the historical record as being at Canso, in 1722.

In 1725, Edward How was granted 12.6 acres on an island in Canso harbour; it had been called for a long time, How's Island.2 In 1730, at Canso, Edward How was appointed a justice of the peace.3 He had brought to Canso a wife and had by her one child, a daughter, Deborah.4 In 1743, Edward How shifted his headquarters to Annapolis Royal, which, at that time, was the English capital of Nova Scotia. He did continue to keep his family fishing business going at Canso, but, however, that was wiped out in 1744, when the French took the offensive in the opening weeks of the war (The War of the Austrian Succession).5 His first wife having died6 at Boston, Edward How again married in June of 1744, at Annapolis Royal, one of the Winniett girls, Marie-Madeleine (b.1718).7

Edward How became a leader in the community and was valued by both the governor and the council; so much so, that, in 1736, he was appointed to council, a position he was to maintain until his tragic death in 1750. In addition, Edward How was an invaluable member of the English fighting force in Nova Scotia. He was not with the colonial expedition sent to take Louisbourg in 1745, rather, he was left at Annapolis Royal for its defence (that summer it was attacked by a French force that had been sent from Quebec, but which had broken off to go to the unsuccessful rescue of Louisbourg). Edward How, a fighting man to be relied upon, was sent with an English expedition into the Acadian lands at Grande Pre, late in 1746. He was caught with the rest of the English in their winter quarters, and during the Massacre at Grand Pre (end of January, 1747) he was badly wounded and in the result was to lose the use of his left arm. Shortly, thereafter, his French captors allowed him to return back to Annapolis Royal.

At Annapolis Royal, Edward How continued to be much in favour; one of the posts to which he was appointed was as a judge of the vice-admiralty court. In 1749, How was sent up to the newly founded Halifax, there to sit on council with Cornwallis and others.

Cornwallis was to recognize Edward How's superior abilities to negotiate with the Indians8 and sent him, on July 9th, 1749, along with Captain John Rous to the St. John River in two vessels the Albany and the Boston with instructions to parley with the St John Indians. He preformed his job well and convinced the Indians that it would be best to make friends with the newly arrived Englishmen at Halifax. Leaving Rous and his vessels behind How traveled overland to Halifax with twelve Indian deputies, hatchetless, so that they might meet the new English leader.9 In August, 1750, Edward How accompanied Lawrence to the Isthmus of Chignecto with a view to stopping the French military incursions.

"How knew the region and many of the inhabitants and was chosen to meet with the French under a flag of truce on the banks of the Missaguash, mainly to secure the release of some English prisoners. On 4 October, after several meetings, How was returning from a parley at the river when a shot rang out and he fell, seriously wounded. He died either that day or within several days of the attack."10
Edward How's death, it would appear from the records, took place on 26th of August at Fort Lawrence. His will, made on October 17th, 1744, was probated on the 19th of January 1751 at Annapolis Royal1 and "mentions" his wife, Mary Magdalene. A "Mary M. Winniett" was buried at Annapolis on the 29th of June, 1779; her will makes reference to her children.12

Parkman described Edward How as "an intelligent and agreeable person."13 Governor Cornwallis noted in a memorial that How "always behaved ... with the greatest of Fidelity and Care in everything I required of him."

Edward How left behind his widow and "a large family of children, the youngest of which was but a few months old ..."14



[1] Rob Ferguson, a Project Archaeologist in the Halifax office of Parks Canada, and, because of his work, especially at Canso, is quite familiar with Edward How's life, was kind enough to take time out to write: "According to a letter written by How's grand-daughter, Martha Cottnam Tonge, Edward How was from Inniskillen, Ireland, not from Massachusetts. Martha was a new-born infant when her mother, Deborah How Cottnam, was taken prisoner by the French in 1744. Her account is written when she is in her 80s, and states: "Of our great-Grandfather Howe [sic], I know nothing but what my Sister mentions, that he was a respectable Gentleman residing in Inniskillen, Ireland, and died while Edward, who was I believe his only Son, was still a youth." (PANS, Family papers: HOW, Edward, no.31a). It goes on to state that Edward was the principal merchant at Canso, and that she was an 11-day-old infant when she and her mother were taken to Louisbourg, their house in flames behind them."

[2] Rob Ferguson advises: "How's Island is now called Oliver Island. How owned several properties over the years, but acquired his land on Grassy Island from Alexander Cosby (later to be his brother-in-law through the Winniett girls) in 1732." It is Grassy Island that has been turned into a national park.

[3] At this time, 1730, there was at Canso between "1500 and 2000 men employed in catching and curing fish ..." (Brebner, New England's Outpost, p. 93.); the population by 1744 had much diminished.

[4] See "Your Most Obedient Humble Servant: Edward How" by George T. Bates as contained in vol. 33 (1961) NSHS. Rob Ferguson, in his note to me, and to which I made reference at fn#1, above, writes: "How married Deborah Cawley on Dec. 6, 1724. Their daughter was born in 1728." Ferguson further observes that Deborah Cawley or Calley, was of Marblehead. "The Cawleys owned a number of fishing rooms in Canso in the 1725 list, so How was obviously marrying into an important fishing interest at Canso. Their daughter, also Deborah, married Ensign Samuel Cottnam of the garrison."

[5] Again, thanks to Rob Ferguson, we learn that "His daughter, Deborah, and son-in-law, stayed on in Canso in his property and were there when the French attacked."

[6] Rob Ferguson advises he has seen Debbie Cawley-How's stone at the King's Chapel Burial Ground in Boston; it bears the date of death, January 16, 1744.

[7] There were at least three girls that achieved marriageable age: Marie-Madeleine (b.1718) who married How; Elizabeth (b.1714) who married John Handfield (?-1763); and Anne (b. 1712) who married Alexander Cosby (1685-1742).

[8] It is suggested that How spoke both French and Micmac. (See Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), pp. 123; and see Calnek.) There is, however, some question as to whether How spoke Micmac with any fluency. Rob Ferguson: "Several people claim that How spoke Mi'kmaw and he may have had some facility. We know that he traded with them. When he negotiated with the St. John Indians in 1749 he had Mme. de Bellisle as interpreter. This may have been because these were Maliseet, rather than Mi'kmaq, but I've seen no direct evidence that he spoke the language. He visited the Mi'mkaq at Port Toulouse (St. Peters, Cape Breton) in 1740, in the company of Barthelomy Petitpas. At that time he relied on Petitpas to translate and was apparently unaware that the Mi'kmaq were accusing him of disrespect. Petitpas managed to get him away before trouble broke out (David 1936:443-4)."

[9] The arrival of these twelve St John Indians must have impressed the new settlers to a considerable degree. They "presented a very different appearance from both the local Indians and those of Gorham's Rangers. Clad in French cast-offs of ragged grey homespun material, their faces were completely covered in vermillion with black lines drawn horizontally across the nose and forehead. Their ears were pierced and adorned with colored ribbons, and some even had pipes stuck through the holes." (NSHS, vol. 30, p. 51.)

[10] DCB, vol. III, p. 298. See a fuller version of this sad event in our history under the write up for Le Loutre.

[11] Bk 1, p.28, Reel #19,357.

[12] See Marble's, work, Deaths, Burials, and Probate of Nova Scotia.

[13] Montcalm and Wolfe (vol. 1), pp. 123.

[14] Calnek. In Wright's work, Planters and Pioneers, Nova Scotia, 1749 to 1775 we see, at p. 165, where the names of How's children, at least some of them, are set out: Deborah, William, Edward, Joseph and Alexander. Alexander -- we see from Harris' short biographical sketch on him, in Charles Inglis, Missionary, Loyalist, Bishop at p. 168 -- was born at Annapolis Royal, at the year of his father's unfortunate and untimely death, in 1750. Alexander was to be an ensign in the 36th Reg't and a captain in the 104th Reg't. by 1780 serving then, it would appear, in the West Indies. Alexander returned to Annapolis Royal in 1783. He was to become a member of the legislative assembly through the years 1786-99, after which he was connected with the new province of Prince Edward Island serving on its Council. Alexander was to die at Dartmouth in 1813.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)