A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 5, "The Intermission"TOC
Chapter. 4, "The Founding of Halifax" (1749)


It was a gross and mannerly age. Before great galleries of English spectators, men were hung as common criminals; men such as Dick Turpin (1705-39) and Jack Sheppard (1702-24). By the middle of the 18th century these two were made into popular heroes.1 All travelers of the day knew of the risks of bouncing along ill kept roads and so invariably carried pistols; to be used, if necessary, against highwaymen. "Beau" Nash2 reigned over the gaming-tables of Bath; the ostrich plumes of great ladies and the peacock feathers of the courtesans were matched by the young lords with their velvet suits and embroidered ruffles. In dress the two sexes were never more alike. Men dressed with great flair whether going to a dance or going into battle in their "three-cornered hats, powdered perukes, embroidered coats, and lace ruffles"; their valets would serve them ices in the battle field.3

The English and the French courts were coming to terms with one another with a view to putting an end to their most recent squabble which historians have labeled The War of the Austrian Succession; it had its start in 1744. In March of 1748 the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle was opened and discussions were begun between France on the one hand; and, England and Holland on the other. A general peace was accomplished with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle on October 18th, 1748. "England had gained nothing in the long struggle, though she had, thanks to successes at sea and in the colonies, suffered no great losses. Only the national debt had considerably increased."4

The population of the British colonies, spread along the coast of eastern North America, was 1,200,000.5 Thus, at 55,000, the French population at Quebec (Canada) was dwarfed; Massachusetts alone had a population of 188,000.6 It is a marvel, when one comes to think of it, that the French in America lasted out as long as they did during times of war, a state, incidently, that existed between England and France more times than not. Any calculations as to the strengths of the opposing sides, of course, would have to include the fact that the French had long since swung over most all of the native populations to their cause.7 So too, figuring large in the calculation, is the fact that those of New England and those of New France lived under entirely different political regimes.

While those to the south, beginning with Virginia, had a different set of beliefs and social organization based on the old aristocratic structure, those English colonies to the north were more populous or democratic. The social structure of New England was a reflection of the beliefs and character of their founding fathers, the Puritans: their piety, their intolerance, their simplicity of life, their pedantry, their love of equality. These Puritan qualities created a natural acceptance of the democratic institutions, institutions which had evolved in England, and which the common Englishman brought with him to his new home in America. Thus it was, that the English along the eastern coast of America, each of them, pursued their own interests with minimal intervention from government authority. This Lockian system accounted for a phenomenal growth in both population and commercial activity. However, such a system posed a distinct problem in times of war. To gather people together for a long and trying war, especially one which is to be conducted in foreign parts, is a difficult problem where people are used to the freedom of making their own choices. On the other hand, in a system where the people are subservient, as they were in New France8; where the people, as a matter of course, have been indoctrinated, and where they were in perpetual harness and ready to go; then the state, a totalitarian state, is ready to throw its military force at just about anything that comes along, within a season. The fact is that New France was ever ready to pursue the objective of keeping the western fur routes to itself and thus it was necessary to hold the English in check. As for the English: well, they would be content with their share of furs; but what they really needed, as the burgeoning population pushed west up against the Appalachian ridge, was more living room; and the valleys beyond, such as maybe found in Ohio, beckoned. The French were nervous. It was necessary to see the extent of the English incursions, to stop them, to divert them, to keep them busy in another direction.9

An officer by the name of Celoron de Bienville was dispatched by La Galissonniere to the valley of the Ohio in order to properly stake France's claim. He concludes after traveling thousands of miles by canoe and overland that the native tribes are becoming increasingly more disposed towards the English and their trading goods.10 More to our story, is that La Galissonniere at the same time and for the same reasons sent to Acadia, in the early part of 1749, a 22 year old by the name of Charles des Champs de Boishebert, a determined and brave young officer. Boishebert went "out with eighty soldiers and militia. From Quebec they went on snowshoes (all the way) to Hocpaak, a French settlement, dragging their supplies and baggage with incredible exertions."11 However, I run ahead of myself, we shall come to Boishebert when we examine, "The French At The Isthmus." I am now to deal with the English and the founding of Halifax.

The Choice of Chebucto:

Chebucto12, the Halifax of today, had long been used by the French; and, longer still, by the Micmac. Brouillan had put into the place in 1701 and "took the opportunity to visit this fort"; and, from there traveled overland so to arrive at the French community of Les Mines (Grand Pre). One need only a little familiarity with the geography (see map) of Nova Scotia to realize that Chebucto had to be a starting or ending place for those who wanted to cut across the long peninsula of Nova Scotia at one of its narrowest spots. For the migratory Indians, Chebucto was indeed the terminus as they made their way along the watery way of the Shubenacadie route; inland to their wintering places and out again in the summer to their traditional fishing grounds along the Atlantic shores.

Chebucto was identified13 by the British, as early as 1715, as a good harbour for "all occasions ... and being most convenient for trade and fortification."14 Indeed, a nobleman, Sir Alexander Cairnes, in 1717, was ready to build a fort and do some trading; but, the board kept rethinking the plans and Sir Alexander became discouraged.15 And, so, the years passed; but, the idea to build a new English centre in Nova Scotia was to come to the forefront, again, about fifteen years later. In 1732, a captain of an English vessel brought to the Admiralty's attention the excellent possibilities of Chebucto Harbour, and, thereafter, it was standard practice for visiting naval captains to recommend to the board that a settlement be made, "either of LaHave or Chebucto Harbour."16

Up to 1745 there was but two places in all of Nova Scotia which might be labeled an English port: Annapolis Royal and Canso. To these two, with Lousibourg's capture in 1745, was to be added a third. A certain English naval officer17, however, was to sour everyone on Louisbourg; besides, by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) George the Second was to give Louisbourg back to the French king. Though I have not been able to put my hands on any official accounts as to why Annapolis Royal was passed over, I can only imagine it did not suit the English to build up that place, because, well, it was too far out of the way of the main Atlantic routes, and too far from Louisbourg, a place which the English wanted to keep an eye on. Further, there was the tides and currents of the Bay of Fundy and the resultant difficulties to shoot the passages in order to make it to Annapolis Royal. As for Canso: well, I'll let Peter Warren explain:

"The form and situation of the islands of Canso seems calculated by nature for the use of the fishery and nothing else, for which reason a small fortification there for the protection of the fishery would be necessary. And as the barrenness of that soil, and that adjacent, renders it incapable of any other improvement, I apprehended a settlement made in one of the best ports on the south side of Nova Scotia, where the soil is good and proper for agriculture as well as fishing, and as near Canso as such port may be found, would be of great advantage to the fishery. Port La Have and Chebucto the former about fifty, the latter about forty leagues to the eastward of Canso, would be the properest place for such settlement, but especially Port Le Have, the soil being [the better] though both [are] fine harbours. In the present situation, the French, by their missionaries and the presents the crown makes annually of powder and shot, and triannually [of] a new gun to each Indian fit to bear arms, has so riveted them to their interest that they will not suffer an Englishman to settle or cure fish in any of the ports on the south side [of] Nova Scotia. In all which ports there are a few Indians; one of them has a commission from the governor of Canada or Cape Breton to command a particular district, and generally bears the title of captain of the fort to which they belong."18
And so discussion amongst those in official circles continued, until, in 1747, the decision was made:
"A civil government [should] be forthwith established in Nova Scotia, and encouragement given to Protestant settlers by granting them small portions of land without quit rent or other charge for a number of years. ...
The security of Nova Scotia and the frontiers of the neighbouring colonies very much depends on the friendship of the Indians, to which nothing can conduce so much as making them presents. ...
A strong fort, fit to contain a garrison of 500 men, [should] be built in the harbour of Chebucto, to be mounted with 6 or 9 pounders. A blockhouse fit to contain 100 men [should] be built at Canso, mounted with some large cannon. ...
That the communication between Canada and that province be wholly cut off by blockhouses erected on the passes, or [by] other proper methods. That the new fort, which at the commencement of the war was ordered to be built at Annapolis, be not built there at all, but that a strong fort be built at Chebucto, sufficient to contain a garrison of 500 men at least. Upon this fortification being finished and garrisoned, it is presumed the garrison at Annapolis may be reduced to the number of 100 or 150 men. ...
That presents, not exceeding the value of 500 [pounds], be sent for the Indians in those parts, to be used in such manner as shall be thought proper by the commander in chief. That a fort be built at Canso sufficient to contain 100 men."

The Founding of Halifax:

And, so it was, Chebucto was chosen, the very same place at which D'Anville and his men came to so much grief (See, "The d'Anville Armada"). Having left England May 13th, the lead ship, a fast sloop of war, the Sphinx (20 guns) came into view off the coast of Nova Scotia on the 14th of June, 1749 (OS). Edward Cornwallis, the English officer in charge, was aboard, together with his various lieutenants and advisors. Not having any experienced pilots aboard, the vessel sailed back and forth until a friendly vessel come along. On the 20th, the Sphinx fell in with a sloop from Boston bound for Louisbourg; this Boston vessel had a pilot aboard and the way to Chebucto was soon pointed out, after, undoubtedly leading the way for a while. It was Governor Cornwallis' intention to proceed to Annapolis, but "the wind not serving the Bay of Fundy, and the officers assuring him that in case of foggy weather setting in they might be a long time in getting to Annapolis, he concluded on proceeding at once to Chebucto, rather than risk the possibility of being separated for any length of time from the fleet [which was still making its way across the broad Atlantic]. He also felt, that by so doing, he would save the Governor of Louisbourg [Hopson] the bad and long navigation to Annapolis ..."20

So, on June 21st, the Sphinx cast her anchor in Halifax Harbour; and for a time, she was the only vessel that would have been seen off the wild shore above which Halifax was to be built. A number of days would pass before the transports21 (13 of them had left England with Cornwallis) showed up. Within a day of his arrival, Cornwallis penned his first report to the authorities at London. In part, it read:

"The coasts are as rich as ever they have been represented; we caught fish every day since we came ... The harbour itself is full of fish of all kinds. All the officers agree the harbour [Halifax] is the finest they have seen. The country is one continued wood; no clear spot is to be seen or heard of."
The arriving English were well aware that a very large French military force had made an encampment, but within the past three years; and, had expected some clearing; they must have "encamped their men on the beach." Also, because of the "continued wood" it was "with difficulty one is able to make his way anywhere." Cornwallis continues,
"I have seen few brooks, nor as yet have found the navigable river that has been talked of. There are a few French families on the east side of the bay, about three leagues off. Some have been on board."22
By the first of July, the last of the 13 transports23 rounded up and cast her anchor out into the waters of Chebucto Harbour. Two thousand, five hundred and seventy six English settlers24 had by then arrived; and, Halifax was founded.25 They were headed up by a smart set of army and naval officers.

One of Cornwallis' first acts upon arrival was to dispatch a courier26 overland to Annapolis Royal (see map). He also sent, the next day, a sloop, Fair Lady. It was necessary to advise Mascarene so that arrangements might be made for the transfer of power. (If any man is to deserve the name "father of Nova Scotia," it would be Mascarene. By this time, 1749, he had given 39 years of service to Nova Scotia.) Cornwallis penned a letter to Mascarene: he had come and wished to call the most prominent Englishmen of the province and form a council. It was expected that Cornwallis would have put into Annapolis Royal upon arrival from England, but circumstances prevented him from running down to this old capital of Acadia. Mascarene received his message on the June the 26th; and, on the very next day, the 27th, he ordered Captain Jonathan Davis with his 70 ton schooner, the Warren, and another owned by John Gorham, to sail around to the newly arrived and sea weary settlers with fresh provisions. On July 12th Mascarene "his council, together with Gorham's Rangers (60 of them) and part of his garrison" arrived at Halifax.27

Within days, during the early part of July, a settlement was started at the south eastern point of the peninsula on which Halifax (city proper) now sits. Thus what is a park today, Point Pleasant, was where the settlers first envisioned their new community to be. But it was soon realized that a town at the point would be a bad setup since ships could not pull up close to the shore due to shoaling waters. Thus a better place was struck upon, midway along the eastern side of the peninsula,28 "with a bold anchorage close to the shore." Charles Morris, an experienced surveyor from New England, was employed to lay out the land lots.

"The town was laid out in squares or blocks of 320 by 120 feet deep, the streets being 55 feet in width. Each block contained 16 town lots, forty feet front by sixty deep, and the whole was afterwards into five divisions or wards, called Callendar's, Galland's, Ewer's, Collier's and Foreman's divisions, after the names of the persons who were appointed captains of Militia, each ward being large enough to supply one company."29
The structures went up in quick order, especially since "frames and other materials" were brought up from Boston. By the 27th of July, Cornwallis was to report on his new settlement:
"It has all the conveniences I could wish except a fresh water river. Nothing is easier than to build wharves; one is already finished for ships of 200 tons [which would exclude any of the ships that came in from England]. I have constantly employed all the carpenters I could get from Annapolis and the ships here to build log houses for stores. I have likewise offered the French at Minas considerable wages to work, and they have promised to send fifty men to remain until October. As there was not one clear yard of clear ground you will imagine our difficulty and what we have here to do; however, they have already cleared about twelve acres, and I hope to begin my house in two days; I have a small frame and pickets ready."30
A settler writes home in July:
"Our work goes on briskly, and the method of employing the people in ships' companies has a good effect, and as the Governor is preparing to lay out the lots of land, we shall soon have a very convenient and pleasant town built, which is to be called Halifax. There are already several wharves built, and one gentleman is erecting a saw mill; public store houses are also building, and grains of various sorts have been sown. We have received constant supplies of plank and timber for building, and fresh stock and rum in great quantities, 20 schooners frequently coming in one day.31 We also have a hundred cows and some sheep, brought down to us by land, by the French at Minas, which is about 30 miles distant from the bottom of the bay, and to which we propose to cut a road. The French Deputies who came to make submission have promised to send us 50 men for the purpose, and to assist us as far as they are able; we have received the like promise, and friendship and assistance from the Indians, the chief having been with the Governor for that purpose. In short, everything is in a very prosperous way."32
It was during July, too, that the newly minted colony at Halifax was joined by the English garrison which had sailed down with their possessions from Louisbourg, that place having been handed over to the French. On August 8th lots were drawn so that each family33 was to have their own plot of land being 40' on the street with a 60' depth. From that point onwards a particular family's attention was directed to their own plot of land, to such an extent that it was difficult to get them going on any larger communal work, such as that of building a picket fence around the entire complex. As Cornwallis wrote, "There was no persuading them to do it." So, council voted to pay money to the men who worked on the defences, "1s. 6d. per day."

And, so, on this wild shore, land was cleared and structures of a new community went up: houses, a church34, warehouses, wharves -- a new town, the first English town in Nova Scotia, came into being. In addition to the physical structures, with two or three thousand people living in close proximity, a civil government35 was to be immediately put in place. On July 14th (Friday), Cornwallis gathered his advisors around him and formed his first council and it proceeded to its first meeting.36 This first council deliberated on board the spacious Beaufort, one of the transports anchored just off the shore in Halifax Harbour.37

The broader plans called for a number of English settlements with the central one to be at Halifax. The places considered, were: Minas, Whitehead, Baie Verte and La Have.38 Because of the activities of Le Loutre and his followers, these plans were frustrated. In the first few years, all that was to be done was that Lunenburg was to be settled (1753) and a road from a small post at the head of Bedford Basin was to be cut through the woods the thirty miles or so to Minas Basin where another small military post was built.39 The details of this expansion, I shall come to, in due course.

Everything turned on the settlers. It was the settlers who were to do the primary work of building the new town. Unfortunately, those
40 that had been recruited in England to come over with Cornwallis were less than satisfactory. Only those who were trying to escape their circumstances, usually debt ridden circumstances, would make for the new world; few came with any particular commercial plan in mind (though some figured it out quick enough on arrival); the promise was made of free land and the tools to work it, and supplies to keep them going for the first year: never mind that most were from the low end of the city street or discarded military men41 who never worked an axe or a pick in their entire life. Cornwallis was to become very unhappy. On July, 24th, 1749, he wrote the authorities:

"The number of settlers men, women, and children is 1400 but I beg leave to observe to your Lordship that amongst these the number of industrious active men proper to undertake and carry on a new settlement is very small -- of soldiers there is only 100 -- of Tradesmen sailors and other able and willing to work not above 200 more -- the rest are poor idle worthless vagabonds that embraced the opportunity to get provisions for one year without labour, or Sailors that only wanted a passage to New England. ... Many of the settlers are without shoes, stockings or shirts ..."42
The authorities back at London, of course, understood, that to broadcast Cornwallis' sentiments would do no good; better that some encouragement should be given. And, so, Lord Halifax was to write of the community named after him:
"No garden stuff or corn had been yet put in the ground, but that they had carrots and turnips very cheap from Annapolis Royal. That there were hares, partridges, wild pigeons and geese in the different seasons, that they had some hogs and cows enough. That a brewhouse was erecting to brew spruce for the settlement and that in the meantime molasses was delivered to the people to brew for themselves that their beer was exceeding good and wholesome and fit to drink in two days. ... It consisted of about 400 houses, built of wood and covered with shingles and chimneys of brick or stone dug up there. .... That the road to Minas lately made was a very fine one, twenty feet wide, and had five bridges on it. ... the people were in good health and very industrious and their numbers increased by 7 or 800 familys from New England ... That 300 houses were already tenantable, 400 covered in, and the frames for 700 up, that there was plenty of provisions two days in a week."43
If all had depended on those settlers that had come out with Cornwallis, then, it is likely that Halifax might have fizzled out; and might have, except for two groups of people that came in and buttressed the population. I turn to Thomas Beamish Akins:
"After the evacuation of Louisbourg the population received a considerable accession; a number of the English inhabitants came with Governor Hobson and became settlers, and many from New England44 were daily arriving, and upwards of 1000 more from the old provinces had expressed themselves desirous of joining the settlement before winter. The Governor therefore gave orders to all vessels in the government service to give them free passage. The New England people soon formed the basis of the resident population, and are the ancestors of many of the present inhabitants. They were better settlers than the old discharged soldiers and sailors who came on the fleet; most of them died or left the country during the first three or four years, leaving, however, the most industrious and respectable among them as permanent settlers. Many settlers and traders came out for the purpose of making money; these people invested the settlement in great numbers, and gave Mr. Cornwallis and his successors much trouble and annoyance, in demoralizing the people by the illicit sale of bad liquors, and in other ways retarding the progress of the country."45
The expectations of the new settler and the actuality of what he or she was to face upon coming ashore in these first years; were to be quite different things. Most of them were determined within a season or two to make their way to the more hospitable English colonies to be found south along the American seaboard, where there was promised "cultivated lands, Rivers with Fish and Woods with Fowl ... No ... Wild Indians to fight or disaffected French to keep in awe ..." These promises are to be contrasted with the reality of Nova Scotia in 1749 and 1750:
"Desolate Lands, and unfrequented Shores. ... not an English Inhabitant nor a Rood of Land on our Possession throughout the whole County ... Here there was no trade, nor scarcely any ships seen, except their annual ones, that came like Spanish galleons in the season, with salt beef and clothing for the troops, and ordinance stores - they had no communication, nor useful intercourse with the Indians, and their valuable trade in furs and sables was entirely engrossed by the French through the province who carried it all to Canada ..." 46
That those who were to arrive with Cornwallis, looking out upon "Desolate Lands, and unfrequented Shores," should want to take the first boat out and make a get away -- should come as no surprise. Indeed, I surmise, a great number did surreptitiously slip away, as visiting vessels from New England returned to their home ports with paying passengers aboard. Cornwallis on his arrival had but a 100 soldiers with him and was thus limited as to what he might do to enforce his ordinances. The best people, the able and the willing, of which there were precious few to begin with, were deserting Cornwallis for greener pastures. Those in charge of the new colony of Halifax were therefore to be doubly pleased when Colonel Hopson, the retiring governor of Louisbourg, sailed into Halifax Harbour on July 25th. He had with him, on a number of transports, two British regiments with provisions and military stores.47 The military presence was thus to be given a considerable boost and much better control was to be had. Also, there came in from Louisbourg civilians that were well use to colony life and ready to fill many of the needs of the new colony at Halifax.

[NEXT: Pt. 5, Ch. 5 - The Return of Louisbourg (1749).]

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