A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #1: Acadia.TOC
Part 5, "The Intermission"TOC
Chapter. 7, The Indian Threat (1749-58)."

In the years leading up to the English settlement at Halifax, Admiral Peter Warren was to write, both in 1739 and then again in 1747, of the Indians of Nova Scotia, the Micmac:

"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. ...
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. ...
That presents, not exceeding the value of 500£, 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."1
Though it was the intention of the English upon establishing their new headquarters at Halifax to pacify the Indians -- it being the most practical solution to a long standing problem2 -- they knew it would take time and effort to do so.3 They were working against the French who were past experts4 when it came to winning Indians over. Halifax, until the situation improved, was to be a stockaded community. These stockades, as events were to prove, were needed.

Cornwallis, obedient to his orders to pacify the Indians, was to send, within a couple of weeks of his arrival at Chebucto, on July 9th, 1749, Edward How to the St. John River.5 How made two trips; the first with John Rous and the second with John Gorham. The efforts were aimed at winning over the Malecites. On his second trip he took presents to the Indians including 1,000 bushels of corn and 500 bushels of wheat. These efforts lead to a treaty being signed.6 On August 15th, the Indians, a delegation of them having come to Halifax, signed a confirmation and ratification of the previous treatises entered into both in the years 1725 (December) and 1727 (July). The ceremony was concluded upon the deck of the Beaufort while she rode at anchor in the harbour. The St John Indians and the population at Halifax entertained one another: the befeathered and red faced Indians signed, while in the back ground a 17 gun salute boomed out: it was a ceremony that impressed all and sundry.7

The First Attack At Dartmouth

All of this pomp and ceremony was for naught: On September 30th, a group of men were out cutting wood to supply a mill operated by a Major Gilman in Dartmouth, a place just over the harbour from Halifax.8 I quote Thomas Beamish Akins: "Six of his [Gilman's] men had been sent out to cut wood without arms. The Indians laid in ambush, killed four and carried off one, and the other escaped and gave the alarm, and a detachment of rangers was sent after the savages, who having overtaken them, cut off the heads of two Indians and scalped one."9 It is reported10 that an Acadian by the name of Joseph Broussard ("Beausoleil") led the natives in their attack at Dartmouth.11 Next day the council determined to let loose the brave-hearted men among them, of which there were only a few, in declaring a bounty ("as is the custom of America") of ten gold guineas for every Indian taken or destroyed.12 This decision came as a result of an emergency Sunday meeting held aboard the Beaufort the day after the butchery in Dartmouth. "Within three days Captain Clapman raised a company of seventy volunteers, though only fifty were needed. They scoured the forest, but apparently without result. It does not appear that any ranger ever claimed a scalp bounty at Halifax."13

Thereafter, and for a ten year period,

"Nova Scotia lay under the continual terror of Indian warfare. Fear brooded over the land. There was no calculating where or when the deadly blow would fall. The thick set spruces gave no sign of warning. Stealthy forms glided through the forest by secret trails, or passed along the net-work of waterways in noiseless canoes; savage eyes watched the ways of the careless white man. And then muskets spoke suddenly from green boughs, or war-whoops shattered the night; and there were piteous scalped corpses to bury, or friends to mourn, who had vanished with their captors. There are trackings of rangers and skirmishes with war parties, exchange of shots without result."14

The Indian Raids, A Recap

The Indian raids that I am able to account for from my readings, which occurred in Nova Scotia, during these years, are, as follows:


  • August: Lieutenant Joseph Gorham (John's brother) departs Halifax on the Wren to accompany a party to Canso to cut hay. At Canso the party was "surprised by Indians, who captured the vessel, took twenty prisoners and carried them off to Louisbourg (they were almost immediately released). Akins reports that during this incident "three English and seven Indians were killed."15
  • September: As set out above: In Dartmouth, at Gilman's saw-mill, a party of six workers without their arms were attacked with the result of four being killed and one taken prisoner.


  • October: In the words of a contemporary observer, John Wilson, a group of about eight men went out "to take their diversion; and as they were fowling, they were attacked by the Indians, who took the whole prisoners; scalped ... [one] with a large knife, which they wear for that purpose, and threw him into the sea ..."16


  • At Dartmouth, March 26th: "A little baby was found lying by its father and mother," wrote a settler, "all three scalped. The whole town was a scene of butchery, some having their hands cut off, some their bellies ripped open, and others their brains dashed out."17
  • On May 13th, the largest Indian attack to ever be staged in the area was carried out. A group of about 130 Indians and Acadians (likely led by "Beausoleil"), after a frustrating attack on Fort Lawrence, formed up at the Isthmus of Chignecto. They likely made their way down to Tatamagouche, then over the Cobequids to the Acadian community of Cobequid, and then down the Shubenacadie water system18 to arrive at the back door of the lightly protected community of Dartmouth. John Wilson: "A little before four in the morning; they all at once appeared, fired through the windows and doors, and killed fifteen persons, including women and children; wounded seven, three of whom died in the hospital; six men were carried away, and never heard of since."19 It was a calm night and "the cries of the settlers, and whoop of the Indians were distinctly heard" across the harbour at Halifax by their fellow settlers.20 As a result of this particular attack Sylvannus Cobb is employed to round up some men (he sailed to Boston to do so) in order to go after the perpetrators; with the incentive of £10 for every Indian scalp and £50 for Le Loutre's. In fact Cobb was not successful in raising any men and the "hunt" was called off.21
  • During 1751: "The North Blockhouse was once surprised by Indians when the guard was drinking and playing cards, and the men were killed. Near the South Blockhouse, Indians attacked workmen at a saw-mill on the stream flowing out of Chocolate Lake, and killed one or two of them. The casualties were buried by the guard, but the savages returned in an effort to obtain the scalps."22


  • There was apparently a hiatus during 1752. It has been put down to Hopson's enlightened governorship. Hopson took over in Nova Scotia from Cornwallis in the summer of 1752.23 Hopson was obliged to give up his position due to health problems in the fall of 1753 at which time Lawrence took over. However, the fact that the Indians were quiet during this period could equally be -- and I wish to take nothing away from Hopson as an administrator -- and more likely due, to the fact that Le Loutre was out of the country for most of this period.24


  • May/June: Of seven English sailors, six were killed by Indians at Musquodoboit. The seventh, Anthony Casteel is taken as a prisoner. Casteel, after being taken on a long circuitous route via the Isthmus of Chignecto, was traded off by the Indians at Louisbourg two months later; and, shortly thereafter, he found his way back to the English establishment at Halifax.25


  • April/May, A wood gathering party out of Fort Monckton (Fort Gasperaux) at Baie Verte is surprised by Indians, "nine of them are scalped."26
  • May: Four people (a two year old included) were killed and scalped in the Lunenburg area.27
  • August: the Indians descended on the Lay family farm and caught the Lays and visiting neighbours (the Hatts); killed them all.28


  • On an island in Mahone Bay, now Covey Island, where the Payzant family lived, Louis Payzant was murdered and scalped, so, too, a small boy, a servant and her infant.29


  • Lunenburg: "Mr. Brissang, his wife, their two children, and a man and his son were killed and scalped by the Indians."30


  • March: Lunenburg: A similar event, as just related, took place not too far away from the scene of the 1756 tragedy: a young farmer, his wife and their two children (aged four and two years), were killed and scalped.


  • Lunenburg: 22nd March (Holy Week): "Indians scalped Oxner and his wife and heir."31

    I conclude, by making a note that I know of no similar attacks on the French communities within Nova Scotia; though, when the French officialdom as was represented by the priests in their midst wanted to impress the Acadians they warned they were in a position to play their Indian card and would do so if the Acadians did not fall into line. For example, during January, 1750, at Beaubassin, on the church steps, in the presence of their own priests,
    Le Loutre, with Indians at his back, threatened death to any Acadian who should travel to trade with the English.32 Francis Parkman gives an accounting:

    "This priest [Le Loutre] urged the people of Les Mines, Port Royal, and other places, to come and join the French, and promised to all, in the name of the governor, to settle and support them for three years, and even indemnify them for any losses they might incur; threatening if they did not do as he advised, to abandon them, deprive them of their priests, have their wives and children carried off, and their property laid waste by the Indians."33

    [NEXT: Pt. 5, Ch. 8 - "The Settlement of Lunenburg (1753-4)."]

  • (Now Available As A Book)

    Found this material Helpful?

    [The Lion & The Lily -- Book 1 (1500-1763)]
    [Settlement, Revolution & War -- Book 2 (1760-1815)]
    [The Road To Being Canada -- Book 3 (1815-1867)]

    2011 (2020)