A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 1, "Pre-Revolutionary Settlement" TOC
Ch. 9 - The Early Settlement of Pictou: The Hector.

Certainly, we might mark the beginning of the Scottish Immigration to Nova Scotia with the arrival of the Hector in 1773. But the first Scotsman arrived before that time and, of course, many, many more since.1 The significance of the arrival of the Hector, with its 189 passengers is that it was the first ship to come to Nova Scotia directly from Scotland in the 18th century. The Hector was but one of a very limited number of immigration ships that arrived at Pictou in the 18th century. It is estimated that there may have been four, which is a number that pales to the number that arrived after the 19th century had begun.2 To keep matters in chronological context we shall in this part deal with the English settlement of Pictou as did occur before the 18th century was out. The Great Scottish Immigration to Nova Scotia, which took place during the first half of the 19th century, is a matter which will be taken up in a part further on in our history.3

A number of communities along the Nova Scotian shores of the Northumberland Strait trace their beginnings to the French.4 (See map.) Though an ideal spot for a settlement with its long harbor away and protected from the sea, and, at its head, the confluence of three rivers. There is no record of the French having established themselves at Pictou. This well could be out of respect for the original habitants, as there long had been an Indian village located there.5

Before coming to 1773 and the Hector, we shall touch upon the English settlers that came to Pictou during 1767. The arrival of this first group came about as the result of a group of land speculators6 located at Pennsylvania who had acquires rights to a wide piece of land in an area which we now know as Pictou County. What was necessary for these investors, in order to hang on to their rights, was to see to the improvement (settlement) of these granted lands. Agents were soon talking to displaced persons looking for a home and land that they could work.7 These recruitment efforts led to some success. Six families "sailed from Pennsylvania in May, 1767, in a small vessel called the Hope, of Rhode Island, Captain Hull."8 They first called in at Halifax and then sailed around to Pictou, arriving there on the 10th of June. "The prospect before them was dreary indeed. One unbroken forest extending to the water's edge -- an alder swamp occupied the lower portion of what is now the town of Pictou, and there were no inhabitants, but Indians, whom they feared as savages."9 Two of these families, it seems immediately, removed themselves to other parts; the other four dug in so to make their homes.10 Thereafter there was always to be a presence of English speaking families at Pictou, but not too many up to the time of the Hector's arrival in 1773. It is difficult to trace exactly what happened to the settlers that came to Pictou from Pennsylvania in 1767. It would appear that not all of them stuck it out. Some moved back to Pennsylvania11. Some moved to other recently settled communities in Nova Scotia such as Truro or Londonderry. On the other hand, others, not part of this 1767 group, made their way to Pictou. A few from Truro, a few from Cumberland, and a few more from Pennsylvania. The point is, that before the arrival of the Hector in 1773, a number of families, in the preceding six years, had already established themselves at Pictou.

The efforts of the Pennsylvania land speculators to get people up to their lands at Pictou resulted, as we have seen, in but six families being sent in 1767. The experience was a bad one for the land developers, as it most certainly was for the settlers themselves. For a number of years after 1767, it is not seen where any further immigration ships came into Pictou, never, can I see, from Pennsylvania. The word was out in Pennsylvania: those who might otherwise have come to Nova Scotia had heard about the forests that ran to the shore lines, the lack of supplies and assistance from the promoters, the hostilities of the old settlers, the cruel winters, and -- the Indians. The Pennsylvania company of investors after a few years must have considered that they should fold their cards, when there came to their attention a theologian by the name of John Witherspoon (1723-94) who in 1768 had immigrated to America and was to become president and paster of Princeton. Witherspoon was to meet certain influential Pennsylvanians who become quite impressed by Witherspoon. These Pennsylvanians, in their conversations, became aware of the depressed conditions which then existed in certain parts of Scotland. A connection was made between the availability of poor people who might immigrate to America and the available lands at Pictou. Discussions led to action. Witherspoon, together with others, purchased "land rights" with money provided by a man by the name of John Pagan. Witherspoon then turned to his contacts in Scotland. Getting people interested in going to Nova Scotia, however, was more of a problem than what Witherspoon and Pagan had originally thought. There was a Scotsman who might be able to swing it. His name was John Ross. Ross was a highlander from Loch Broom. Witherspoon and Pagan made a deal with Ross.

The deal struck with Ross included the use of a 200 ton brig which had been acquired years before from the Dutch, the Hector. Thus it was John Ross who brought a group of Scottish immigrants together, mostly from his native province in and around Loch Broom. The Hector left Greenock around the end of June in 1773 with but ten passengers for Pictou. The major part of her live cargo was to be picked up at Ullapool, 300 miles north of Greenock in the Highlands. There, at Ullapool, while the Hector rode at her anchors in Loch Broom, there on the docks ready to make their way aboard -- were to be found a collection of "farmers, artisans, gentlemen's sons, and herders and their families." They had gathered there having come from as far away as Gairloch and Inverness; many had walked carrying their few possessions on their backs and their babies in their arms over what in those days were but drove roads. This collection of souls amounting to 189, were then ferried to their waiting vessel. Over a third of those who climbed aboard the Hector were below the age of nine years.12 The Hector sailed out of Loch Broom with her expectant passengers in early July, 1773. From the first of the voyage these landsmen were seasick and even after they got use to the motion of the vessel, they continued to be sick. So sick, that they wished for death as they lay huddled in the dark, in the wet and stinking hold of the Hector.13 For 10% of them, their wish came true.14 On September 15th, 1773, the Hector came into Pictou Harbor, two and half months after having left Ullapool (they had set out with supplies for a voyage that they figured would last but six weeks). This had to be a shocked group of people. For, what they beheld over the rails of the Hector did not match the vision which they had in Scotland, a vision carried before them all through their dreadful voyage. There was nothing there! Nothing -- but an untouched wilderness.15 The scene as these sick people waded up the shore along Pictou Harbor was set in September, a beautiful time of the year in Nova Scotia. The trouble was that the growing season was over. They had no supplies, and winter was but three months away.

Directly these Scottish people were landed, the Hector was despatched to Philadelphia for provisions. Arguments immediately broke out between the new arrivals that had come on the Hector and those who had established themselves during the preceding six years. The new people were directed to go inland, a place that they did not want to go to. They wanted to settle on the river banks near the sea so that they might sustain themselves by fishing.16 Let me turn, now, to an accounting of the hardships of the those who arrived on the Hector, as given in 1883 by Alexander MacKenzie:

"Most of them sat down in the forest and wept bitterly; hardly any provisions were possessed by the few who were before them, and what there was among them was soon devoured, making all -- old and new comers -- almost destitute. It was now too late to raise any crops that year. ...
Many of them left. Others, fathers, mothers, and children, bound themselves away as virtual slaves in other settlements for a mere subsistence. Those who remained lived in small huts, covered only with the bark or branches of trees to shelter them from the bitter winter cold, the severity of which they had no previous conception. They had to walk some eighty miles, through a trackless forest in deep snow to Truro, to obtain a few bushels of potatoes, or a little flower in exchange for their labour, dragging them back all the way on their backs. ...
In the following spring they set to work, and soon improved their position. They cleared some of the forest, and planted a crop. They learned to hunt the moose ... They began to cut timber ..."
Of the 180 persons who come out on the Hector, only 78 were to be counted at Pictou the following year.18 To this number we need to add the survivors of those who had arrived before the Hector. Professor Bailyn estimated in total that there were sixteen families at Pictou in 1774. Additional Scottish families were added to this base in 1776 or 1777. They had come out on the Lovely Nellie19 from Dumfriesshire to Prince Edward Island. One disaster after another fell on them.20 Hearing that a sizable collection of their fellow countrymen had already established themselves across the strait at Pictou, the PEI survivors sent scouts over to inquire. In the result, about "fifteen families" moved over."21

The Scottish immigration to Nova Scotia as is represented by those that were aboard the Hope (1767) and the Hector (1773) was but a small start and cannot be compared with that which came about during the first half of the 19th century. The fact is that the Scottish immigration to Nova Scotia no sooner got started, circa 1770, when it came to an end. When the authorities at London become aware that agents were going about in Scotland and in Ireland talking people into leaving for America, a stop was put to it. The fear was that the farms in Ireland and Scotland would be without the necessary labor to keep them in production. A new crises, beginning in 1776, the American Revolution, was, in any event, to bring all immigration to a halt.22 By then, however, though not in great numbers, Scottish people had made a solid beachhead at Pictou. This territorial enclave would prove to be, in the coming century, a great attraction to Scottish Highlanders.23

[NEXT: Bk. 2, Pt. 1, Ch. 10 - "Cape Breton."]

(Now Available As A Book)

Found this material Helpful?

Custom Search
[INTRODUCTION -- Book 1 (1500-1763)]
[INTRODUCTION -- Book 2 (1760-1815)]

2011 {2016)