A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 1, "Pre-Revolutionary Settlement" TOC
Ch. 10 - Cape Breton.

Cape Breton was the scene of some of the most stirring events in the early history of Nova Scotia. Two of these events were the capture of the French fortress of Louisbourg both in 1745 and 1758. At war's end, 1763, Cape Breton became becalmed. The British government, as we have seen, took positive steps to establish English speaking populations throughout peninsular Nova Scotia. No such steps were taken in Cape Breton, indeed the official line was to prevent people from taking up residence in this newly conquered territory.

A turning point in The Seven Years War was when the British sent a large amphibious force to lay siege to the French stronghold of Louisbourg in 1758.1 While Louisbourg capitulated, it only did so after having held out for seven weeks. The fate of the French fortress was sealed when 180 warships and transports came into Gabarous Bay. They had aboard 13,000 soldiers and as many again to crew the ships. It was thought that such a huge and well supplied force would roll over Louisbourg, and, before the season was out, to proceed to Quebec. Louisbourg however proved to be a tougher nut to crack than the English had thought. It held out, at least sufficiently long enough, to put the attack on Quebec off for another year. The English used the balance of the 1758 season to soften up the French in anticipation of the assault on Quebec. As the summer turned into autumn, under the supervision of James Wolfe, there was raised a perfect carnival of confusion from Cape Breton to the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Every coastal French village down to the smallest fishing shack was destroyed. It was at this time, too, that thousands of French inhabitants were shipped away, both at Isle St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) and Isle Royal (Cape Breton). Thus, those Acadians which had avoided the deportation by trekking to Isle St Jean and Isle Royal through the years 1749-1752, were fated to suffer the same miseries as borne by their cousins in 1755. This is old ground. The point I wish to make here, is, that by 1760 Cape Breton was by and large an unpopulated wasteland. For a number of years it was the official policy to keep it that way.2

Cape Breton was stripped from France as part of the spoils of war. The British government however hardly knew what to do with the place. What was known was that the French fortress had been an object of great military importance. The men in power knew too of the abundant fishing banks just off the shores of Cape Breton. Then there were rumors of extraordinary mineral wealth -- was it not so, that people, both sanctioned and unsanctioned, have been carrying away coal for years, as was so easily gathered from great exposed veins in the northeastern part of the island? It would be imprudent, would it not, for the crown to sign away any of its rights until it knew what it had at Cape Breton? In respect to its development, stop orders were put in place. And, as we know, government stops are notoriously difficult to lift even after the conditions set for their removal have been met.

Charles Morris, as the province's Surveyor General Of Lands, was requested to make a preliminary survey of the situation in Cape Breton. In 1765 he reported that there were 28 families residing at Ile Madame chiefly engaged in the fishery.3 They were undoubtedly of French Acadian descent and part of a larger group4that had taken refuge, during a lull in the French/English affairs, on what was then French territory, more particularly the southeastern corner of Cape Breton, Ile Madame (see map). Most all of the French inhabitants as were to be found at Cape Breton before 1758, it may be concluded, were forced off their lands as a direct result of British military operations. The historical records, at least those that I have examined, give little information as to exactly what happened in 1758 to the French inhabitants at Cape Breton. [The records are clear as to what happened to the French huddled together at Ile St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) -- they were deported.] The fact of the matter is that established French communities on Cape Breton Island were very close to the action at Louisbourg, and, I suspect, many took flight while the English busied themselves with the reduction of Louisbourg. What is to be determined by looking to the French census sheets, is that great numbers of those counted at Cape Breton before the war were to be counted at St Pierre and Miquelon after the war. The inescapable conclusion is that these French people (some of whom were your compiler's ancestors) fled from Cape Breton to the French possessions of St Pierre and Miquelon, these last little islands on the edge of the continent, these last little bits of French territory to which thousands of French Acadians fled in their small coastal boats during the concluding years of the war. The conditions there, at St Pierre and Miquelon, had to be as bad as any concentration camp we might imagine. These Acadians patiently waited out the war, and beyond, waiting for a chance to return to the lands that they had known. Slowly, after the war, the Acadians of Cape Breton seeped back.

It is clear from the post-war records made by the British that there were no great numbers of people to be found on Cape Breton Island. Those that were to be found, were to be found along the eastern coast, beginning at Ile Madame and then up along the eastern coast with the major concentration, such as it was, in and around Louisbourg. In 1765 it was reported5 that there were 52 buildings at Louisbourg, 16 of stone and the rest of wood. About 25 were inhabited. Many of the buildings "had lost their floors, partitions and windows, which had been taken for fuel." Among the names of the heads of the household listed: George Cottman, who had been appointed as the chief administrator; Major Milwood of the 59th who had sought a grant of 500 acres in the "N.E. Harbour of Louisbourg" simply on the grounds that he had "built and improved" these lands6; Edward Kelly, a discharged soldier; Charles Martill, a discharged soldier; John Newman, a blacksmith; William Russell, late barrack master; Roger English, discharged sergeant major of the 45th; Edward Hare, a tailor; Silvanus Howell, mariner; and, William Phipps, a trader. There was also reported to be "some French families occupying two houses."7

The observations which Charles Morris had made in 1765 concerning Cape Breton Island were but preliminary in nature. What the British government required was to have a competent person go there and make a through examination and then to prepare maps and descriptions which would embody the result of such an examination. There was a man who the British authorities determined could carry out the requested survey. He was Captain Samuel Johannnes Holland. Holland had distinguished himself during The Seven Years War having been with Wolfe both at Louisbourg and at Quebec. Employed in surveying the settled portions of the Province of Quebec during 1761, Holland apparently impressed the authorities with his work. Thus Captain Holland, by a commission dated March 23rd, 1764, was directed to survey both Cape Breton Island and St. John (Prince Edward Island). In October of 1765, having finished with St. John, Holland arrived at Louisbourg where he wintered over. In the spring of 1766, Holland commenced his survey of Cape Breton. The result was Holland's Description Cape Breton Island. In his introduction to the 1935 publication of Holland's work, D. C. Harvey wrote that Holland "gave the total population of Cape Breton as 707, exclusive of Indians. Of these 287 were Protestants and 420 Catholics, 272 were men and only 128 were women; Acadians numbered 271, Americans 170, Irish 169, English 70, Scots 6, Germans and other foreigners 21."8 Harvey continued to point out that the population made their living by fishing, though on the island there was to be found 14 horses, 79 cattle, 79 sheep, 3 goats and 82 pigs." In contrast, Harvey observed that eight years later the total population of Cape Breton was 1012, again exclusive of Indians, but which, in 1774, were counted up to 230. Most of the overall increase (1766 to 1774), it seems, came about as a result of returning Acadians, as that part of the population was up from 271 to 502.

Though Captain Holland's survey of 1766 cast light on the subject, generally, the extent and make up of the human population of Cape Breton through the years 1763-1784, is clouded. Professor Brebner, in his work The Neutral Yankees of Nova Scotia, after stating that the estimates of population vary widely, wrote:

"In 1766 the total was given as 707 and as more than 1,000; in 1768, as 395 and as 700; in 1771 there were said to be 439 Acadians alone; in 1772 fifty-five English and seventy-one French families, apparently about 800 persons including servants, were reported; and this figure was accepted by Bulkeley a year later, although a return in the autumn of 1774 showed 1,012 Europeans and 230 Indians. The proportions of this last census, 304 English, 206 Irish, and 502 French are revealing in themselves."9
We have dealt more generally with "The Re-Coming of the Acadians" in a previous chapter. We but repeat ourselves in saying that the persecution of the Acadians did not end with the war, and that a number of years were to pass before the English were to give these dispersed people -- these Acadians whose ancestors had occupied Nova Scotia since at least 1640 -- English rights to re-settle in Nova Scotia. In 1768, grants were made to lands along St Mary's Bay in a community to become known as Clare, and which yet today is populated by their French speaking descendants. (See map.) But Clare was but a limited enclave. French Acadians continued to be objects of suspicion, to be hardly tolerated. For example, in 1773, Governor, Governor, Lord William Campbell wrote:
"This trade is carried on between the French who inhabit the isles of Miquelon and St. Pierre, and the people inhabiting the coast from Canso to the Bay of Chaleurs, who consist of Indians, French Acadians, Americans and Europeans, his Majesty's subjects. By the former the latter are supplied with wine, brandy, and other French European commodities, for which they receive chiefly furs and peltry."10
A further example of this official attitude can be seen to be exhibited when Governor Legge reported:
"The French Acadians who are in number five hundred & two persons, have had no permission from government, but have taken up their residence in such places as suited their convenience, the greatest number are settled on the Isle Madame and St. Peters ... [I] shall instruct the Magistrates at Canso & Louisbourg to have a particular watch over them & to inform me from time to time of their proceedings."11
A number of years passed before the French Acadians risked coming back to Cape Breton. But they were ready and able to return directly assurances were in place that such a move would be safe to make. Such assurances were apparently given by a group of British merchants from the Channel Islands. These fish merchants offered employment to Acadian fisherman. From Holland we learn that these merchants, who had influential friends at London, established operations at both Arichat and Cheticamp. Thus, certain of the Acadians who had fled from Cape Breton to St Pierre and Miquelon, were, in subsequent years, enticed to return. Francis Legge, within months of taking up his gubernatorial duties in 1773, wrote of the Acadians at St. Pierre and Miquelon.
"When the treaty was made in 1763, the French took great care to invite over to come and reside at those Islands as many of the Acadians as they could prevail upon, by furnishing them with provisions and craft for the fishery, upon which encouragement many of them forsook the Province, ... and, in order to have a mutual intercourse, the Acadians formed a settlement on Isle Madame. ... The Acadians on Isle Madame are becoming so numerous at this present time they maintain at least 40 shallops in the fishery and are inviting yearly their relatives to come over and reside with them. No less than 20 persons with their families are come over this year from France by way of Jersey."12
To recap: by 1774 the population of Nova Scotia, as estimated by Legge, amounted to "17,000 exclusive of the French Acadians, who may amount to about 1,300."13 This last figure was broken down to be 1011 whites and 230 Indians. Of the whites, 502 were of French descent. Of the 502 French, 76 were located at Petit de Grat and 167 at Arichat ("Narichat"). We should observe that the population of Cape Breton was not to grow by any great amount during the rest of the 18th century. It was to significantly increase in the rest of Nova Scotia as Americans loyal to the British crown flooded in after the Revolution (a subject of a future part). The population in Cape Breton in 1774 was approximately 1,300; by 1800 it was 2,513.14

Thus we have come to the end of this part, an accounting of the English speaking people who came to settle in Nova Scotia just after The Seven Years War. We have seen how the population was increased. This was to occur by the addition of New Englanders throughout peninsular Nova Scotia. So, too, there were additions from Yorkshire and from Scotland. We saw where certain of the brave Acadians, gradually, notwithstanding continuing official opposition, come out of hiding to take their rightful place in the unique population mix of Nova Scotia. The coming of these settlers during the years, 1760-1775, was an important part in the peopling of Nova Scotia but its 1775 population at about 20,000, though it more than doubled the previous 15 years, was yet sparse.15 This increase in population -- though of independent value and importance -- was not sufficient to create the required critical mass of informed civilians to successfully revolt against their governing masters. In Nova Scotia the population was not large enough to counterbalance the numbers of British soldiers and sailors who were to use Nova Scotia as a base in its attempt to deal with the American Revolution.

-- The End Of Part 1 Of Book 2.

[NEXT: PART 2 -- "Revolution & The 14th Colony."]

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