A Blupete Biography Page

Alexander McNutt

The speculation is, that Alexander McNutt was born at Londonderry in northern Ireland; and that he immigrated to America some time before 1753 settling in Staunton, Virginia. By 1758 he was to be located in Londonderry, New Hampshire. With the outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-63: a war between France in England that was principally fought in America) like most able bodied men near the theatre, McNutt became an officer in the militia.1 As such -- I am not sure in what year, but certainly by 1760 -- Captain McNutt was to be stationed at Fort Cumberland at the Isthmus of Chignecto. It was thus that McNutt was to become familiar with the Province of Nova Scotia; and, more particularly with the fact that land could be had by simply applying to Governor Lawrence at Halifax. McNutt (he became a colonel at some point) made applications which were looked on favourably by the authorities. The result of these applications was that there was to be very large tracts of land set aside, to the north and to the south sides of Minas Basin, and which were reserved for McNutt.2 Because there had been a call for settlement proposals, a number of men had come to Nova Scotia at this time to negotiate with Lawrence, mostly from New England; none seem to impress the governor as much as McNutt did. Professor Brebner was to write of how McNutt worked his prospects:

"Like his kind before and since, he dealt, or pretended to deal, only with the highest authorities, he moved about rapidly from colony to colony and to and from London so that he could use the leverage of promises alleged to have been made in one place to secure concessions in another ..."3
McNutt, or his agents in Ireland, signed up a number of families happy with the prospect of being able to own lands of their own in America. During the month of October in 1761, two ships came into Halifax Harbour with approximately 300 Irish emigrants; they had sailed from Londonderry.4 While it was intended that these Irish people should be set down on the northern shores of Minas Basin, it being late in the season, they were kept at Halifax to spend the winter there with the support of both the government and private charity. It seems, unlike the settlers that were to come up from New England, these Irish emigrants were ill-prepared to cut out a home in the wilderness; they were described as "indigent people." In the spring of 1762, the Council having supplied provisions, seed corn, tools, and building materials, and a vessel to take them to Cobequid, these Irish people were to found Londonderry on the Great Village River in present day Colchester County.5

McNutt had planned to bring over as many as 7,000 Irish people, very large plans, indeed. He was, however, stopped; it being thought that such a large emigration from Ireland would be harmful to the mother country. The Privy Council was to declare, that, though it maybe useful to settle the province of Nova Scotia: "the Migration from Ireland of such great numbers of His Majesty's Subjects must be attended with dangerous Consequences."6 McNutt did manage to land at Halifax, in 1762, another 170 Irish people which came in two ships: the Hopewell and the Nancy. A number of these people were sent down Lunenburg way to establish the community of New Dublin. Other than these two groups, the one in 1761 and the other in 1762, but for a few, no more settlers were to come to Nova Scotia on account of McNutt's efforts. So it was, that though there had been large tracts of land reserved in Nova Scotia for "Mr. McNutt and his associates," only two small communities were to be settled by him: the Dublin Shore just south of the mouth of the LeHeve River and Londonderry not far from present day Truro; the settlement at Londonderry was to be the more successful of the two.7

In the spring of 1763, McNutt returned to London to see if he could revive his fortunes; nothing much came of it. In 1764 he was operating in Pennsylvania; again, he was trying to obtain grants of lands with others from the crown with a view to selling them off for a profit. The Pennsylvanian ventures not working out, McNutt returned to Nova Scotia. He managed to get some promises from Governor Wilmot but the grants were to be made with the stipulation that steps must be taken towards settlement of the lands within four years of the grant (this was meant to curb speculation). It was in 1765 that McNutt, together with his brother, Benjamin, received a grant at Shelburne which included McNutt Island (his brother was to settle on the island). Through the winter of 1765/1766, McNutt was back at London complaining that their instructions to Wilmot, viz., not to hand out grants in wholesale lots and only to grant lands where there was a real prospect of settlement, was having a great impact, not just on him personally, but generally on the settlement of Nova Scotia. At this point, it seems, most everybody was on to McNutt and his schemes; so he was not to get a serious hearing either at London or at Halifax. He spent the next number of years in Nova Scotia both with his brother at McNutt Island and at times at Truro. He seem to be continually in financial difficulties and was brought to court on a number of occasions at the instants of his creditors, one of which was Joshua Maugher. In June of 1778 McNutt was to receive a significant set back when a party of "armed ruffians" from an American privateer ransacked his home on McNutt Island and carried away everything of value. Though he did travel to the states, in the year 1780, maybe 1781, McNutt continued on, living on his island off the coast of Nova Scotia at least up to 1794. There after, it would appear, he lived in Virginia where he carried on until he died, circa 1811, unmarried, at Lexington.8


[1] See DCB.

[2] Morris, the Surveyor-general, had drawn up plans which bear the date of 1761. These maps are tipped in at p. 300 in The Report Concerning Canadian Archives Branch for the Year 1904 (Ottawa: 1905). In particular see Truro where the lands on the basin from Onslow to Cape d'Or are "reserved for Mr. McNutt and his associates"; equally "reserved for Mr. McNutt and his associates" were those lands from Truro to Newport.

[3] The Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia (1937) (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970) at p. 30. Essentially the deal that McNutt made were the authorities in Nova Scotia was that he should receive 100 acres for every 500 that was granted to any emigrant he brought over to Nova Scotia.

[4] At about the same time, in 1761, McNutt's agents in New England apparently had sent 120 families up from New Hampshire. [Esther Clark Wright in Planters and Pioneers, Nova Scotia, 1749 to 1775 (Hantsport: Lancelot Press, 1982) at p. 19.]

[5] DCB, vol.v, p.554; and see The Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia, op. cit., pp. 31-2.

[6] As quoted by Phyllis R. Blakeley's entry into the DCB, vol. v, pp. 556-7; see too, Planters and Pioneers, Nova Scotia, 1749 to 1775, op. cit., p. 19.

[7] "Cobequid Townships and the American Revolution"; NSHS, #42 (1986), p. 28; Planters and Pioneers, Nova Scotia, 1749 to 1775, op. cit., p. 19.

[8] See the DCB, generally.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)