A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2:
Settlement, Revolution & War


My first book on the History of Nova Scotia is now complete. It covered that time during which the French competed with the English. I called it The Lion And The Lily and it covered that period from the earliest times recorded to the year, 1763, when France, with the ending of The Seven Years War, signed The Treaty Of Paris; and, by which, France gave over most all of her territorial claims in North America to England as spoils of war. The research and writing of this first book extended over many years.

We continue now with the History of Nova Scotia covering that period from 1760 through to 1815. This second book, in an intended series, is called Settlement, Revolution & War.

A few prefatory words before we begin.

It is essential to any history that events be hung on a chronological framework of time; however, the danger in such an approach is that one's work may become a mere recitation of events, a boring list. To avoid this, one has to step outside the larger chronological framework of the book and group certain matters by topic.1 This I have attempted to do. The book is generally, chronologically laid out, giving a narration of events in the order in which they unfolded, chapter by chapter. However, within each chapter I may well give a broader treatment to a particular topic or two, which will, of necessity, bring us out into a larger chronological period than that set down for the chapter in which the topic appears.

It has been said that History is the politics of the past, but history ought to be more than the examination of, simply, the monuments and documents left behind by the holders of political power. History should consist of the findings that come about by examining the lives of those who made those monuments possible -- the ordinary people,2 those who, though they left less tangible and ostentatious testimonies, are, nonetheless, the true builders of the social order we see about us today. Any history worth its salt should be one, not only of those "men of courtly nature," but also a history of the "sons of toil."3

Carlyle reasoned that the more important part of our history has been lost, lost without recovery.4 Many individuals in history stand out like great oak trees which, when felled, have shook the whole forest with echoes, "but a hundred acorns are planted silently by some unnoticed breeze." Battles and wars which at the time intoxicated every heart with either joy or terror, "pass away like tavern-brawls" -- not remembered. Laws and political constitutions, "are not our Life, but only the house wherein our Life is led," merely bare walls. The essential furniture is all too often missing: "the inventions and traditions, and daily habits that regulate and support our existence."

At the earliest stages of my research, I had Carlyle's point in mind; I became adept of spotting even the tiniest piece of evidence that would humanize my history. To come across material, such as diaries or letters, that would give a true reflection on how my fellow Nova Scotians lived out their lives 200 years back, was, for me, a great find; and, I determined to work it in wherever I could. I intended in the writing of this history to convey more than just the bare walls of the house, -- as a fixture, so to legally speak -- but also to transfer over to the reader the "household goods," viz., the living habits of the people. Here then is presented to you a history of Nova Scotia of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which, to the extent that is possible, -- considering the material available and the rules that govern historians -- goes beyond merely documenting the lives of those who held public office.

In spite of my best efforts to keep them reined in, one may find, to use the expression of Macaulay, the presence, at times, of one or the other of the "two hostile powers" -- fiction and theory; these two creatures at times can be overpowering when one attempts to give a picture of the lives of ordinary people, where they left behind little material of a biographical nature.5

And now, I direct the reader to Part 1, "Pre-Revolutionary Settlement."


[1] Gibbon in the writing of his great history preferred to the grouping of his historical picture by topics, which, he thought was superior to a chronological order approach, in that it added "merits of interest and perspicuity." [Gibbon's Autobiography (Oxford University Press, nd) at p. 204.] Murdoch, a 19th century writer of one of the more important histories of Nova Scotia took a rather strict chronological approach.

[2] I am reminded of John Masefield's poem, "A Consecration." "Not of the princes and prelates ... Not the be-medalled Commander, beloved of the throne, Riding cock-horse to parade when the bugles are blown ... [rather] the sailor ... Of these shall my songs be fashioned, my tales be told."

[3] See Parkman and his views in his Introductory Note, Pioneers of France in the New World, Vol. I.

[4] "On History."

[5] "The perfect historian ... relates no fact, he attributes no expression to his character, which is not authenticated by sufficient testimony. But by judicious selection, rejection, and arrangement, he gives to truth those attractions which have been usurped by fiction." (Macaulay, "The Task Of The Modern Historian.") As for biographies, Carlyle said, "social Life is the aggregate of all the individual men's Lives who constitute society; History is the essence of innumerable Biographies." ["On History."]


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2011 (2020)

Peter Landry