A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 2, "Revolution And The 14th Colony" TOC
Ch. 11 - The Events of 1776

Thomas Paine had tried his hand at a number of things: stay-maker, schoolmaster, exciseman and tobacconist. He would start things, then stop things. It would not appear that he was long happy with much of anything, though, always, he liked to rail about the injustices of the times. Paine bumped into Benjamin Franklin, who was just then in London. Franklin offered Paine a job at his newspaper should he make his way to Philadelphia. Paine arrived in America in December of 1774. Beginning in the spring of 1775, as we have seen, came the battles of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. Paine wrote: "This country was set on fire about my ears almost the moment I got into it." He now found something that he was happy to do; to spread his views, as he was easily able to do in his journalistic position, -- that it was common sense to support the colonies in their high fight with England. To this effect Paine put out a small pamphlet, Common Sense. It was to effect a powerful change in the minds of many men, and won, at a critical time, a number of American colonists over to the cause of independence.1 Within a few months after the appearance of Common Sense, most of the states had instructed their delegates to vote for independence, only Maryland hesitating and New York opposed. On July 4, 1776, less than six months from the date when Paine's famous pamphlet came off the press, the Continental Congress, meeting in the State House at Philadelphia, proclaimed the independence of the United States.2

So, there it was! The colonies made it clear, they wanted their independence. However, what they wanted and what Great Britain was prepared to give: were two different things. The colonies did not have a trained army, nor did they have a navy. Yet, they determined to take on what was then one of the mightiest nations of the world. There was a man in Virginia that had some experienced in soldiering. He had come through the French and Indian Wars, and in 1755 was named commander in chief of the Virginia militia with the rank of colonel. He had resigned in 1759, married, and turned his attention to his plantation known as Mount Vernon. I write of George Washington. Washington was a popular man in local affairs, and so he was called on to represent Virginia as its delegate to the Continental Congress (1774-75). This led to Washington being named by Congress as the commander of the Continental army, which, at that point, did not exist. Assuming command on July 3, 1775, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Washington cobbled a bunch of rough men together and called them his army. Not much of an army. But within months it was such an army, that on March 17th, 1776, it had succeeded in forcing General Howe, to evacuate Boston. How Washington, this dignified, well-dressed gentlemen, took command of the New England farmers and mechanics assembled at Cambridge in the summer of 1775 and held cooped up in Boston a thoroughly disciplined and well equipped British army and forced their evacuation, is a story I have no room to tell of here. It hardly seemed credible that these half-disciplined, half-armed men should have been able to do so; but they did. Howe's forces retreated to Halifax and arrived there on April 1st, 1776. Murdoch wrote of it:

"On the 30th of March, a fleet, consisting of three men-of-war and 47 transports, arrived from that place [Boston] at Halifax, bringing the 17th regiment of horse, and a great number of inhabitants of Boston, (1,500 loyalists, with their families, are said to have embarked;) and on 1 April, transports arrived with troops on board, from Boston, (about 100 vessels were expected in the second flotilla.) ... General Howe complained, 17 April, that rents of buildings were doubled. Six troops of horse were sent to Windsor in the early part of April."3
A contemporary accounting can be had from Simeon Perkins:
"First of April 1776, Monday: "... Gamaliel Stuart arrives from Halifax. Brings news that about 50 sail of vessels are arrived there from Boston, with some troops and families from Boston, that were routed from thence by the Provincial army, etc. Several vessels are in the mouth of our [Liverpool] harbour. At evening we learn that they are part of the fleet from Boston. A schooner anchors near Moose Harbour, having his Excellency, Gov. Wentworth, on board, who reports that the King's troops have evacuated the town of Boston, and that the Council, Commissioners, etc., and a number of families are come to Halifax, in all about 200 sail. The Centurion man of war is off the harbour."4
Howe was not happy with the accommodations at Halifax5 for his troops. In any event, what he wanted to do was to get his army positioned somewhere in the colonies so that he might engage the rebel army. At the beginning of June, Howe embarked the troops he had brought with him from Boston, and went with them to New York.6 Left behind at Halifax were the military families, that is to say the 2030 women and children who had come up from Boston on the first of April.7 With the removal of Howe's army there was left at Halifax a garrison of but only 320 men8 under the command of General Eyre Massey (1719-1804) who was in charge at Halifax from 1776 through to 1778. It was Massey who saw to the defences at Halifax. The one he is most remembered for is that which has become known as Fort Massey. On a rise to the south end of Halifax peninsula, then known as Windmill Hill, at the intersection of the present day streets, Queen and South, the construction of a fort was commenced. "Its purpose was to command the dangerous deep hollow formed by Freshwater Brook, in which an attacking force might find shelter out of reach of the citadel's guns."9 Its construction was to continue on through to 1778. We might note that it is from this year, 1776, that we see where New Englanders were outfitting and arming vessels (mostly sailing sloops) and coming up to the shores of Nova Scotia to prey upon the citizens in the outlying ports.10


Prelude to the Eddy Rebellion (1776):-

The shooting, it is well recognized, started in Massachusetts in 1775; it started at Lexington in April; then, in June, at Bunker Hill. That August, with the British forces now penned up on the peninsular town of Boston, certain of the revolutionaries thought to bring the battle to Nova Scotia11. I quote historian and lawyer, Beamish Murdoch:

"A number of men belonging to Machias, commanded by Stephen Smith, entered the St. John river in a sloop, in August -- burnt fort Frederick and the barracks -- took four men, who were in the fort, prisoners, and besides captured a brig of 120 tons, laden with oxen, sheep and swine, intended for relief of the troops at Boston, the property of the merchant there, and threatened an attack on Annapolis."12
After causing this mischief on the St. John, Smith and his Machias men presumably retreated back to their home turf. Within the month there was a great gathering of men further on down the coast, at the mouth of the Kennebec River. The Americans were in their first stages in their attack on Quebec. Colonel Benedict Arnold was to make his way with his forces (1,100 men in canoes) to Quebec by way of the Kennebec and Chaudière rivers. At the same time, we should say, Generals Schuyler and Montgomery with their forces went by way of Lake Champlain. Local Nova Scotians were soon aware of these activities. Simeon Perkins at Liverpool noted in his diary that he had learned of the events on the Kennebec River from a master of a vessel that had hauled into Liverpool, "says there are 1,500 men on the Kennebec River for Quebec."13 Thus it was known that the hostilities were not restricted to Massachusetts; revolutionaries were reaching out to other parts of America. What next? Was Nova Scotia to be a target? There were enough indications that this might be so. The impressions at Halifax, in the final months of 1775, was, that Nova Scotia was soon to be under assault just as was Boston and just as was Quebec.14

There is not much to report on the revolutionary progress through the winter of 1775/1776. Howe's forces were cut off at Boston without supplies except for that which came in by sea from Nova Scotia. They were kept in place by 20,000 armed and entrenched colonials positioned at the neck of land leading into Boston. Arnold was camped before Quebec, its occupants however perfectly safe within. Down the coast from Nova Scotia there were Americans at Casco and Penobscot sympathetic to the revolutionary cause with four schooners and 1600 men who made it their business to intercept vessels going to the relief of Howe at Boston.

General Howe determined through the winter that he would give up trying to hold on in Boston. Certain of his troops were needed at both Halifax and at Quebec. New troops were coming over from England and it was thought that he should repair to Halifax and there to regroup. On March 17th Howe departed Boston in a large fleet of ships arriving at Halifax on April 1st. I do not believe it was intended by Howe that he should keep his army at Halifax for long; the place just did not have the facilities to keep such a force fed and housed. In any event, after two months of living in what must have been pretty sorry conditions, at the beginning of June, Howe embarked the troops and went with them to New York leaving Halifax only lightly defended.

Nova Scotia had a few forts left over from the previous war. One of the principal ones was that of Fort Cumberland located at the Isthmus of Chignecto, just where, these days, Nova Scotia joins on to the rest of the American continent. In the first book on The History of Nova Scotia, The Lion & The Lily, we saw where the marshes and flat lands at the isthmus constituted one of the principal battle grounds on which the French and the English fought for possession of the continent. It fact, Fort Cumberland before being taken by the British forces in 1755, was a French fort, Fort Beauséjour. Prior to 1755, there were French families working their farms in the area. In that year the British removed most of them. They were put on sea transports and sent out of the province. Fort Cumberland, with the conclusion of the war in 1763, was let to run down, such that, by 1776, it was in pretty bad shape. The farming lands about the fort, from the removal of the Acadians up until about 1760 were left vacant. By 1760, the British authorities were encouraging settlement by making attractive offers to those who might be interested in coming to Nova Scotia. At first it was New Englanders that came to take up lands at Chignecto. They did not do so in any great numbers, not at least to the extent as they did in the other Acadian home lands as are located in the Annapolis Valley and around the Minas Basin. During the years, 1772-1775, immigrants were brought directly over from England, known as the "Yorkshire Emigration." Fortuitously, as we shall see, these people from Yorkshire were to outnumber the New Englanders that had earlier established themselves in the area.

We are now in position to deal with the trouble that broke out at Cumberland in 1776: "The Eddy Rebellion."


[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 12 - "The Eddy Rebellion at Cumberland (November, 1776)."]

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