A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 2, "Revolution And The 14th Colony" TOC
Ch. 12 - The Eddy Rebellion at Cumberland (November, 1776)

"I act almost always from my present impulse, and with little scheme or design."
(Burke, 1763.)
The nervous and busy authorities, during the winter of 1775/76, could smell the trouble. Wild rumors of invasion and treason drifted on the wind.1 On February 15th, Governor Legge was so convinced that the rumours were true that he wrote Lord Dartmouth and disclosed his suspicions that the Cumberland men had held several meetings and were "entering into associations of a treasonable and dangerous nature." These acts amounted to "inviting an army of Americans into this province."2 What could Legge do? If there was to be any military help to come from England it would be months before he would see it; if he was to see it at all, as, likely New York and Boston would get priority. He would just have to continue his efforts of signing up civilians for the militia, efforts he had started the previous fall. While his efforts in this regard did not meet with much success in the beginning, gradually the militia in the province was starting to form up. Between March 21st and 30th, 384 able-bodied men had enrolled in the townships of Windsor, Falmouth, Horton, Cornwallis and Newport. By that May their number had risen to 450, representing more than nine-tenths of the able-bodied men in those townships.3 Halifax, it was thought, was in greater danger, so, other centres in Nova Scotia sent men up. One hundred men came from St. Mary's Bay and seventy from Lunenburg. The first of these were of French descent (Acadians), the other of German. Thus with the opening of the travel season, by that May, the militia at Halifax amounted, in all, to about 400 men and another 400 regular soldiers. The effect of the arrival of men recruited in the outskirts was to put Halifax on a better military footing. Similar efforts were made in other strategic places within the province. Fort Edward at Windsor received into its garrison the "Royal of a smaller scale, were being Highland Emigrants" and Colonel Joseph Goreham was sent to Fort Cumberland4 with the "Fencibles."5

Certain of the New Englanders that had come into Cumberland in the early part of the 1760s, as was suspected at Halifax, were indeed having meetings apparently not long after the trouble broke out in Massachusetts. One of these Cumberland men with roots in New England6 was Jonathan Eddy. Eddy, with another, Isaiah Beaudreau, apparently got themselves to Philadelphia, as they "approached Congress."7 As a result of his representations, he received a grant of $250; Beaudreau, $100. Eddy then returned to Cumberland and moved his family away from the place.8 I am not clear on his movements thereafter, but it seems he spent time going back and forth between Machias and Boston. At Boston, Eddy was to ask the Massachusetts General Court for help and while he presented a petition, it would not appear that he waited for any kind of a formal reply.9 He also traveled back into Nova Scotia (as then defined) talking matters up at such places as Maugerville.10 At this time Jonathan Eddy was accompanied by two other revolutionaries: Zebulon Rowe and William Howe. Eddy thus managed to convince a number of enthusiasts that the majority of the settlers at Cumberland would join in -- it was but just a matter of showing the way, all that was necessary was to follow him up the coast and launch an attack on Fort Cumberland.11

By mid-August, 1776, Eddy left Machias with 28 men. At Passamaquoddy he picked up "a few men." Arriving at Maugerville, he had "two officers, 25 men and 16 Indians."12 On leaving Maugerville, D. C. Harvey writes, that there was a "combined army of Whites and Indians, Americans and Nova Scotians." The group then totaled 72 men. Transporting themselves "in whale boats and canoes only," the group arrived at Shepody, some miles yet from their objective, on October 25th.13

At Shepody there was a small British outpost which was caught off guard; so, by surprise, fourteen British soldiers were captured and made prisoners by Eddy. They then traveled on to Memramcook, where, Eddy himself reports, that he had a "Conference with the French, who ready joined us." From Memramcook the growing group "marched 12 miles through the woods to Sackville." Eddy then focused his attention on "a Sloop14 which lay on the Flats below the Fort, loaded with Provisions and other Necessaries for the Garrison." What then followed was largely farcical or burlesque in character. We turn to Jonathon Eddy's account of the matter:

"After a Difficult March, they [the 30 men Eddy had sent] arrived opposite the Sloop; on board was of which was a Guard of 1 Serg & 12 men [which, if any one of them had shot off his gun, the whole garrison at the fort would have been aroused] ... our men rushed resolutely towards the Sloop up to their knees in Mud, which made such a noise as to alarm the sentry, ... [the sergeant was hailed and might have ordered the soldiers to fire on Eddy's men, except he] was told by Mr. Row [Zebulon Rowe] that if they fired one gun, every man of them should be put to death; which so frightened the poor devils that they surrendered without firing a shot, although our people could not board her without the assistance of the conquered, who let down ropes to our men to get up by. ... [In the morning] came down several parties of soldiers from the fort not knowing the sloop was taken (who) as fast as they came, were made prisoners by our men and ordered aboard. [In time -- it is to be remembered the very large tides in the area -- that morning the sloop began] to float & the fog breaking away, we were discovered by the garrison, who observing our sails loose thought at first, it was done only with an intent to dry them, but soon perceiving that we were under way, fired several cannon shot at us & marched down a part of 60 men to attack us, but we were at such a distance, that all their shot was of no consequence.
We then sailed to Fort Lawrence, another part of the Township, and there landed part of the stores on board the sloop to enable us to attack the garrison."
Looking Out to Cumberland Basin from Fort Cumberland (present-day).

Not much more space need be taken up in respect to the telling of Eddy's attack on Fort Cumberland. After the flush of the first success, that is the taking of the guard at Shepody and the sloop below the fort, things went down hill for the attackers. Not unlike the route that the British had taken twenty-one years earlier (see map) Eddy marched his forces over to Fort Cumberland and made camp about a mile away and "there joined by a number of the inhabitants so that our [Eddy's] force was now about 180 men." Fort Cumberland, it should be mentioned, was "garrisoned by Lieut. Colonel Goreham and his Fencibles, 260 in number."16 Eddy then sent a message into Col. Goreham, a summons to surrender. Goreham replied that Eddy should surrender as he had no intension to do so.17 And so, though he had no sieging cannon Eddy determined to rush the fort. While, at this point in time he had 180 men with him, the greater majority were employed guarding prisoners and minding the rear; thus only eighty men bravely rushed up to the walls of Fort Cumberland. Eddy then wrote of how, though they had "scaling ladders & other accoutrements" found the fort "stronger than we imagined" and "thought fit to relinquish our design after a heavy firing from their great guns and small arms." There might have been an another abortive run at the fort, but that was about it; Eddy's "attack" on Fort Cumberland was, in effect, over.18

"Reports of Eddy's activity," to use Professor Kerr's words, "poured into Halifax all summer; but Major-General Eyre Massey, commanding officer of the Nova Scotian forces, refused to believe them." Massey likely was satisfied with steps that he had taken earlier in the year. He, as we have seen earlier, had seen to the strengthening of both Fort Edward at Windsor and Fort Cumberland by sending additional troops from Halifax under capable leadership with instructions to carry out repairs and get these forts in a better defensive position.19 By the 10th of November Lieut. Colonel Goreham knew that he had a problem, how much of a problem, I am sure he did not know. He did manage to get word through to Halifax.20

We turn to Beamish Murdoch to see what happened next:

"On 26 November, the Vulture, Captain Feetus, landed two companies of marines, under Major Batt, at Fort Cumberland, having brought them from Windsor. ... The people of Horton, Cornwallis and Windsor, during this period, exhibited unmistakable loyalty21, entered with aclarity the fort, Edward, (Windsor)22, to garrison it, while the relief was sent to Cumberland."23
Next, we turn to Jonathon Eddy, the leader of the intrepid band:
"... on the 27th November arrived in the Bay a Man of War, from Halifax, with a reinforcement for the garrison consisting near 400 men24 & landed on that and on the day following.
November 30th: The enemy to the number of 200, came out in the night, by a round about march; got partly within our guards, notwithstanding we had scouts out all night, and about sunrise furiously rushed upon the barracks where our men were quartered, who had but just time enough to escape out of the houses and run into the bushes ...
In the midst of such a tumult, they at length proceeded about 6 miles into the country to the place where they imagined our stores etc. to be & in the course of their march burnt 12 houses and 12 barns in some of which the greater part of our stores were deposited. In this dilemma my party being greatly weakened by sending many off for guards with the prisoners etc. our stores being consumed, it was thought proper by the committee that we should retreat to St. John River & there make a stand till we could have some certain intelligence from the westward, which we hope we shall have in a short time by the favor of the committee, who are gone forwards."25
The rush of passion and elation from their victory was certainly demonstrated as the British soldiers put the torch to buildings. The locals were frightened that they would all be ruined. The local men, many of whom had demonstrated their loyalty, were soon lined up to see Goreham fervently asking that the troops be restrained, even in respect to burning of rebels' houses, this, for fear of reprisals. Goreham, understanding the importance of good relations with the local farmers offered a pardon to all who should ask for it, if they did so within four days.26 He, of course specifically excluded Eddy, Howe, Rowe and Rogers.27 Next, we turn to D. C. Harvey:
"After routing the Eddy invaders, Goreham had compelled the penitent inhabitants to do fatigue duty at the Fort, had confiscated the stock and effects of the rebels, had put a price on the heads of Howe, Rowe, Rogers and Allan, and had sent four men taken in arms to Halifax to be tried for treason. These four were Dr. Parker Clare of Fort Lawrence, Capt. Thomas Falconer who had led 25 men from Cobequid to assist the rebels, James Avery of Cobequid and Richard John Uniacke, a comparatively recent arrival in Nova Scotia. Clarke and Falconer were tried and convicted but, as they pleaded the King's pardon on the proclamations of Goreham, execution was delayed and they were confined to jail from which they escaped. Avery escaped from prison before trial; and Uniacke was saved by his friends and got out of the country."28
Even though about 100 locals joined in with the attackers (including some Acadians with a long memory) Goreham's position was such that Eddy, without artillery, could not do much but make a show outside of musket range. After one or two weak attacks which were never driven home Eddy's followers retired beyond gun range. Their "attack" after that "consisted of cattle stealing, manifestoes, counter-manifestoes, and attempts to set the fort on fire ..." The aftermath of Eddy's Rebellion -- had it been successful -- might have proved to have been a larger problem than the destruction and possession of Fort Cumberland, as it might have ignited other parts of the province. As it was, most of the local population remained neutral.29 And while a number of locals were identified as having gone over to Eddy, Goreham exercised good common sense and did not press matters too much.

The troubles at Cumberland were easily dismissed by the British authorities operating out of Halifax. Sir George Collier, the senior navel commander at that station, said it was an "imbecile attempt of an inconsiderable number of New England banditti"30; for Lieutent-governor Mariot Arbuthnot, it was but a small interruption in administrative routine; as for Major-General Eyre Massey, he was not apparently ready to shake it off as a small matter, however, he saw it as being beneficial, in that, it "was a very important event and has changed the people's sentiments here."31

Though Collier and Arbuthnot are written up as dismissing the action at Fort Cumberland as not much to worry about, there was, within weeks of the event, that December, four British war ships sent to the head of the Bay of Fundy.32 It could be that Arbuthnot, Collier and Massey got their heads together and considered the overall effect of the "Eddy Rebellion" in light of other problems within the province. As that year, 1776, came to an end, a Reverend John Seccombe, of Chester, was charged with promoting sedition and rebellion by supporting the aims and goals of the colonial rebels during a Sunday sermon. Seccombe was not prosecuted, because he had high connections. He was however bound over on the posting of security for his future good behaviour and forbidden to preach until he signed an official recantation.33

As for Eddy and his harum-scarum followers, well -- they were to accomplish nothing much for all their efforts. It was an attack that was rash and strategically unimportant. If, it had succeeded -- and there never was any prospect of it doing so -- then they would have been dislodged within days by a British force sent up from Halifax, one consisting of regulars with knowhow and siege-guns. I think it unlikely that the rebels could have mustered a march on Halifax. If the attack on Fort Cumberland had failed, which indeed it had, then the effect would be only to dampen down any appetite throughout the province for revolution, which is precisely the effect that it did have. The appetite for revolution in the mixed population of Nova Scotia, however, was not large as evidenced by Eddy's failure to get any great numbers of men together. It is for sure that after the failed "Eddy Rebellion," such an appetite hardly existed at all. Nova Scotia for the balance of the American Revolution remained loyal to the Crown.34

[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 13 - "The Concluding Years (1778-83)."]

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