A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 2, "Revolution And The 14th Colony" TOC
Ch. 1 - Introduction

The question for discussion was put very nicely by Professor Kerr: "Since the people [of Nova Scotia] were in such large proportion New Englanders, and since they suffered from exactly the same restrictions on trade and navigation as the thirteen colonies to the south, the question has been raised why they did not join in the American Revolution."1 It is my purpose in this part to suggest answers to Professor Kerr's question. If nothing else, then maybe in the process we might put the question in better form.

By 1763, Great Britain, through the genius of the older William Pitt and the valour of British arms, had attained a height of power and domain not seen since classical times. England, this little island off the western coast of Europe, this marine fortress, had just finished a war of seven years with her old rival, France. Britain had been victorious and took the prize of America. Thus she then arrived at a pinnacle of power. But soon, her leaders were to realize that they were but in the foothills of a new summit in human history.

While The Seven Years War, in large part, was one that was prosecuted in America,2 it was a war, as some thought, not so much conducted in the interests of American colonists as much as it was in the interests of the manufacturers and merchants located back in England. When he was in London during 1766 being examined before the House of Commons, Benjamin Franklin responded:

"... I know the last war is commonly spoke of here as entered into for the defence, or for the sake of the people of America. I think it is quite misunderstood. It began about the limits between Canada and Nova Scotia3, about territories to which the crown indeed laid claim, but were not claimed by any British colony; none of the lands had been granted to any colonist; we had therefore no particular concern or interest in that dispute. As to the Ohio, the contest there began about your right of trading in the Indian country, a right you had by The Treaty of Utrecht, which the French infringed; they seized the traders and their goods, which were your manufactures; they took a fort which a company of your merchants, and their factors and correspondents, had erected there to secure that trade. Braddock was sent with an army to re-take that fort (which was looked on here as another encroachment on the King’s territory) and to protect your trade. It was not till after his defeat that the colonies were attacked. They were before in perfect peace with both French and Indians; the troops were not therefore sent for their defence. The trade with the Indians, though carried on in America, is not an American interest. The people of America are chiefly farmers and planters; scarce any thing that they raise or produce is an article of commerce with the Indians. The Indian trade is a British interest; it is carried on with British manufactures, for the profit of British merchants and manufactures; therefore the war, as it commenced for the defence of territories of the crown, the property of no American, and for the defence of a trade purely British, was really a British war -- and yet the people of America made no scruple of contributing their utmost towards carrying it on, and bringing it to a happy conclusion."4
The Treaty Of Paris of 1763 ended the The Seven Years War. It ended too, France's influence in North America, influence which she had exercised for over one hundred and fifty-four years. Thus it was that the British came to full power over most all of the people above the Florida/California line. Only a few short years, however, were to pass between the pealing of colonial church bells. Those that rang out in glory over the end of the war with France, then within a few years as a call to American men to fight. To fight as liberators with those who supposed themselves to be liberators, mother England.

Besides the thirteen colonies -- New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia -- there were, we should not forget, three other British territories in North America: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Quebec. As for Quebec: the population there, had no enthusiasm to take up arms as revolutionaries. They were Frenchmen, and, as such, were enjoying more "rights" under British occupation then ever they did under French rule. Besides it could not be expected that French Canadians were going to support a cause espoused by those who had but just recently were calling them "papists" and "slaves."5 As for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, to but express a preliminary and synoptic view, they did not have the necessary strength and self-confidence6 to revolt against, what for them, was an ever present authority; they were but northern outposts with small populations that consisted of either obedient military types, or of people who were dependent on the military for much of their living.

Once the revolution was underway, it could not be said that it was in Nova Scotia's best interest to join in with the rebellious colonies. Being loyal to the British crown would favour her to a considerable degree. Nova Scotia throughout all of history, even when it was French territory prior to 1710, enjoyed two way trade with New England. With the commencement of hostilities trade with the rebels was outlawed and those who sought to continue their trading activities ran the gauntlet of both American privateers and the British Royal navy. This dampening of inter-provincial trade is to be coupled with the fact that with Nova Scotia being on a war footing there was more trade to be done in the servicing of the troops and of the sailors and their ships at Halifax, which was to be the staging area for Great Britain in its conduct of the war with the colonies. Nova Scotia, too, was at the extremity of the English holdings in North America, yet an outpost on a frontier with no great numbers of people for mutual protection.7

So these are my preliminary thoughts. We now are to move on for some elaboration which of necessity will require we shift our focus, somewhat, in the next few chapters, to our southern neighbors.


[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 2 - "The Colonies."]

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