"Let me review the scene,
And summon from the shadowy Past
The forms that once have been."
— Longfellow, A Gleam of Sunshine.
In 1790, the very first nation wide census was carried out in the U.S.1 The count was 3,929,827. Surprisingly only a small number was reported to be "foreign born": 350,000 white and 250,000 black had come to the colonies since 1700. Thus the impressive population growth of English America came about not so much to immigration as to the unusually high birth rate. They married early and the infant mortality rate was astonishingly low when compared to that, say, of England.2 By 1801, the population of the United States was 5,320,000.3 The census of 1791, shows that the population at Halifax, stood at 4,897. It had not gone up much in forty years, when, in 1752, it stood at 4,249. Akins breaks the figure down: 1,301 males over 16 years of age, 935 males under 16 years of age, 2,209 females, 422 black.4 The very first nation wide census was carried out in Great Britain in 1801, and, in that year a count in Nova Scotia also took place. At Halifax there were 1,200 families and a 1,000 houses. The total count at Halifax5 was 6,627: 6,334, Whites; 293, Blacks.6 The population of Cape Breton was 2,513. The major concentrations were at Sydney (801), Louisbourg (192) and Arichat (1,520).7 Haliburton wrote that the population for Nova Scotia in 1781 was but 12,000. It shot up by 20,000 due to the influx of Americans loyal to the British crown. By 1784 the total population was at 32,000. The population dropped by a couple of thousand in the following six years as a number of the loyalists moved again, away from Nova Scotia.
In all this counting business, it does not seem that the native Indian population figured in for much. There never were many in Nova Scotia.8 The only sure number we have of the Micmac of Nova Scotia is that of 1871, at that time the population was 1,666.9 In 1774 there was only 220 natives.10 In 1786, March 6th, Charles Morris tabled his report re his survey of lands in respect to those occupied by the Indians. This report led to 500 acres being granted to the natives, in that case to Chief Philip Bernard for land sat the Head of St. Margarets Bay. Up to this time, it would appear all that was given to the natives was a "ticket of location or license for occupation."11 In 1794, we see where Perkins sent a report off to Halifax about the Indians in his area (Liverpool): 24 June, 1794, "I write to the Secretary, & make return of the number of Indians in this Country. There appears to be 21 families, and three single men, besides some youths."
I do not mean to deal with our native friends to any great extent here, at this place.12 They lived, though I think never prospered, in certain areas of Nova Scotia. Like most every American Indian who first came up against white Europeans, these "Children of the Forest"13 fell for every line, and while in time they became good traders14, they could never acquire the money to buy the white man's goods to which they had become attached: pots, knives, traps, guns, powder and spirituous liquors. They were mostly on the dole. This becomes plain as one thumbs through the legislative papers.15 The British authorities did as much for the natives as anyone, and, indeed, passed laws to protect them. On October 7th, 1763, there was a Royal Proclamation On North America, which, among other matters, declared that "great frauds and abuses have been committed in the purchasing lands of the Indians ... we do ... strictly enjoin and require, that no private person do presume to make any purchase from the said Indians ... [and we declare] that the trade with the said Indians shall be free and open to all our subjects whatever, provided that every person who may incline to trade with the said Indians do take out a license for carrying on such trade."16 Thus, any land could only be brought from agents of the government duly appointed. Not only was "no private person" to purchase land, but they were not to make any purchase at all from the Indians, unless licensed to do so.
The Indians were always, it seems, easy to stir up, as they were, by rumors that the French were intending to take Acadia back. They were, at this time -- c.1804 when rumours were spreading about Napoleon invading England -- busy building canoes and wearing war paint. They pretended that they must, once again, face their ancient foes, the Mohawks. The Mohawks no doubt did send war parties up from the Finger Lake District of the State of New York, as it came to be known. But the Micmacs fooled no one, for the Mohawks had long since spent their force against the westward moving Americans. And, at any rate, the Micmacs were no longer a force which much bothered the English: "He [Wentworth] says the Micmacs can only bring 200 men to any purpose they may have."17
"The greater part live a wondering life, similar to that of our gipsies, frequenting the neighbourhood of the towns in summer time, when the smoke of a dozens wigwams curling over the shrubbery of some sheltered cove, marks the abode of as many families, from the month of May till November. ... During the winter, these families remain in the woods of the interior, where game is to be found more readily, and where the lakes afford a supply of fish ..."18
Further on Moorsom, gives details about their wigwams,
"Their wigwams are simply a few poles placed upright, in the form of a sugar loaf, and bound together at the top, over which a few sheets of birch bark are laid.19
And their employment:
"The men employ themselves in fishing, chiefly with the spear, and in shooting. The squaws sit for hours and days, in their smoky wigwams, making baskets, or ornamental trifles, generally a sort of mosaic work, in moose hair or quills of the Nova Scotia porcupine, stained of various colours, and worked upon a shell of birch bark.20
And their babies:
"The situation of the unfortunate little papoose is far more to be commiserated. Swathed in bandages so as closely to resemble an Egyptian mummy, it is imprisoned in a sort of cradle made of flat boards, and fastened to the back of the mother, where it remains like a piece of mahogany furniture, appearing alike insensible to the attacks of the flies, and to the rays of a mid-day sun ...21
Johann Gottfried Seume, a Hessian conscrpit who arrived at Halifax to carry out military duties wrote out in his diary a couple of observations of the local Indians:
"They came frequently in considerable numbers into the town, to sell the produce of their hunting. This consisted mainly of moose meat and birds; sometimes fishes, especially ells. In exchange they got rum, European necessities, and Spanish dollars. ... [As for their dress] A coarse grey mantle, cleverly enough draped about the body, as the major garment. [Canoes] They arrived in town almost always by water, in their famed boats of birch-bark, which are master pieces of construction, and which they propel and steer with equal mastery with their tiny paddles."22
Nova Scotia these days has a significant black population the members of which, I believe, are descendants of the "Several hundred" black refugees that came into Nova Scotia in 1815 at the end of the war with the United States. The Royal navy transported them from the Chesapeake Bay area to Halifax. "Settlements were formed for them at Preston, Hammond's Plains, and other places in Halifax county.23 There was never any great numbers of blacks prior to that time, except for the black loyalists that came up from New York in 1783, part of the Port Roseway group.24
In these years there was a growing movement in Great Britain under Granville Sharp (1735-1813) for the abolition of slavery.25 An idea that developed was that there should be a separate colony in Africa for freed slaves. In 1787 such a colony was set up and its operation was to be under the control of the Sierra Leone Company. In pursuance of populating this new African colony, Captain John Clarkson (1764-1828)26 of the Royal Navy arrived at Halifax on October 7th, 1791. Two weeks after that he sailed for Shelburne. The evidence is that Clarkson gave time to each man and explained that while their situation was not good in Nova Scotia, it may be worse on the west coast of Africa. Marion Robertson in her county history27 sets up this exchange: After Clarke carefully and repetitiously explained the hazards, the Black man replied: "Mr. Massa, me, no hear, nor no mind, me work like slave, cannot do worse, Massa." Clarke repeats himself: "Me well know that Massa, me can work much and care not for climate. If me die, me die, had rather die in me own country than this cold place."
Twelve hundred Negroes sailed from Halifax in 1792. Their destination was Sierra Leone in western Africa. Perkins made an entry into his diary about this movement, "5 Dec : "A Brig [which Perkins later identifies as the Beaver] comes into the river in the evening, bound from Shelburne to Halifax, with 160 Black people aboard, who are bound to the River Sire Loan, on the coast of Africa, to settle there." The Beaver left Liverpool for Halifax on the 9th. The Beaver was but one vessel that brought the black people up to Halifax from Shelburne. "I understand by the master of the Brig that there is several vessels more on their way to Halifax, with Black people, in all to the number of 479." It would appear that there was only the one fleet, that of 1792, which sailed from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone.28
We turn to Thomas Beamish Akins:
"During the autumn and winter, a number of black people from different parts of the province were brought to Halifax, to be removed to Sierra Leone. Michael Wallace was agent, who on the 5th December, advertised for 1000 tons of shipping, for the purpose. Ships Venus, Parr, Eleanor; brigs Betsy, Beaver, Mary, Morning Star, Catherine, P. W. Henry; schooners Liberty, and Two Brothers, the whole commanded by Lieutenant Clarkson, having on board the colored people, all sailed for Sierra Leone on the 15th January, 1792. The hire and damages amounted to £3965 8s. 0d. sterling. This expense was borne by the Sierra Leone Company. These colored people were chiefly those who came from the old provinces with the Loyalists. They formed a colony in Africa, called the 'Nova Scotia colony,' which still exists , and about fifteen years since several old Negroes were living who recollected the removal from Halifax, when children. The fleet arrived at their destination after a passage of 40 days. The number embarked was 1139. The day of arrival was 28th March, and the 28th March in every year is still kept up by the adherents of the Lady Huntington Congregation at Sierra Leone, as the anniversary of the arrival of their fathers in the colony."29
For a couple of years, there were few blacks in Nova Scotia, then, on the 22nd of July, 1796, 500 black people arrived at Halifax from Jamaica. They were on board the transports: Dover, Mary, and Ann.30 It looks like the Maroons were not destined for Halifax but rather were to travel up the St. Lawrence to be settled in Canada. The ships transporting them simply put into Halifax for provisions. "Prince Edward
Now, the Maroons were a free people, well, sort of. It's just that the British authority thought they had too many of them in Jamaica, besides they were complaining too much -- so, off they were sent, somewhere north. The British parliament, much before any other legislative chamber in the world, it now needs to be said, passed an Act in 1780, for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.34 In Nova Scotia, however, during these times, sad to say, slavery existed. "When the eighteenth century opened, the slave-trade was looked on as perfectly respectable, and only a few stray voices were against it."35 On May 5th, 1790, at Liverpool, Perkins wrote into his diary: "I send my black girl, Mary Fowler, back to Benjamin Arnold, from whom I had her by assignment of an indenture the 4th of May, 1789. She does not suit in our family, being saucy, & used to bad language and going out at nights." On March 25th, 1807: A bill, The Abolition of the Slave Trade, received Royal Assent in Great Britain and thereby became law. "This Act, be it remembered, did not abolish Slavery, but only prohibited the Traffic in Slaves; so that no ship should clear out from any port within the British dominions after May 1st, 1807, with slaves on board, and that no slave should be landed in the Colonies after March 1, 1808."36 The lawful import of slaves ended in the United States in 1808. But the holding of slaves continued in the southern states37 right up to the civil war in 1863.
For Great Britain and her colonies, in 1834, slavery was finally made unlawful. With its abolishment, parliament paid damages: "Twenty millions sterling were paid in compensation to the slave-owners ... On the First of August, 1834, all slaves in the British Empire were to become free."38
As for the Acadians -- the French inhabitants who were deported from the Nova Scotia during the years 1755 to 1760 -- they and their descendants seem to be cautiously returning to the province. A number were heaved up on the shores of Nova Scotia in 1793 as the result of the expedition under General Ogilvie which captured at the opening of the war the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Of the 1500 French inhabitants of St. Pierre and Miquelon who surrendered, six hundred of them were brought to Halifax. It seems that these people were spread around the province. Perkins makes reference to the "French settlers" in his diary under the date of July 23rd, 1794. On the 24th, "I [Perkins] was informed the Minerva was come. I went to the point and found it was Capt. Hopkins from Halifax with French inhabitants for Shelburne. They were expected to be brought here, but they & some others choose to settle all together, so they are ordered there. It seems they consider themselves prisoners of war."
As we have already seen, Halifax in 1801 had a population of about 7,000 persons.39 The population, as between males and females, was about equal. Of the "Total Inhabitants" of 6,627, there was: 6334, Whites; 293, Blacks. Akins, however, gives an overall figure of 8,532 and breaks it down40 in a matrix, as follows:
Men Women Boys Girls Total Whites 1924 2489 1790 1669 7872 Blacks 96 166 81 108 451 In Naval Yard 25 36 27 27 115 Dutch Village 15 16 30 33 94 ==== TOTAL 8532
"The spring and autumn, or about May and October, are the periods at which the port shines to the greatest advantage: the warfs are then crowded with vessels of all sizes discharging their cargoes or taking in the returns. Signals are constantly flying at the citadel for vessels coming in; merchants are running about, in anticipation of their freights; officers of the garrison are seen striding down with a determined pace to welcome a detachment from the depôt, or a pipe of Sneyd's claret for the mess; and ladies, tripping along on the tiptoe of expectation, flock into two or three soi-disant bazaars for the latest à-la-mode bonnets."42Halifax was considered to be the centre of things. It contained the principal part of the population. It was the capital of the province. Here resided His Excellency the Governor and the Honourable, His Majesty's Council. Here was stationed the Admiral, with the squadron under his command. Money arose from the transactions at Halifax (mostly resulting from government and military expenditures) and while some of it found itself out in the wider province, it soon circulated back to Halifax.
The currency of those days was gold and silver. What gold and silver did come into hand, came as coin; where it was minted and what inscriptions it bore, made little difference, as long as it was gold or silver. At Halifax there could be found: Guineas (French and English), Johannes (Portuguese), Doubloons (Spanish), Eagles (American), Crowns (French and English) and Dollars (Spanish). But what was mostly passed around was Spanish pieces of silver.43
"At this time British silver was unknown at Halifax -- Spanish silver was the current coin. It came up from the West Indies and Spanish America in the course of trade, and the British Government found it more convenient for various reasons to pay their troops stationed here in Spanish silver than to import British coin for that purpose."44
Charles Stayner gave an address to the Nova Scotia Historical Society on January 5th, 1951, wherein he described Halifax society, circa, 1800:
"You who have read the popular tales of our city in its golden age must have wondered at the apparent absence of a middle class society. The story-tellers have made it appear there were only two kinds of Haligonians: the world of fashion on the one side, and the demi-monde of the water front on the other. Most historians have overlooked the fact that the New England Puritans formed the largest group in the Halifax of those days. These were content to lead their own lives and ignored both the wild life at Government House and the depraved orgies of the dives in Barrack street. These were the people who did the real work of Halifax, and after business hours, retired to their own firesides and left the two extremes of society the task of providing those sensational and romantic legends that have been handed down to us as typical of Halifax life. This middle stratum was the real Halifax. The world of fashion that thronged the drawing-rooms of Madame St. Laurent and Lady Wentworth, was composed largely of British officers and officials, with only a sprinkling of the natives who depended for a livelihood on government favors or aped the manners of a society already fast running out its course even in the old country. Similarly, at the other end of the social ladder were the soldiers of the garrison, sailors of the navy, and seamen from the ports of the world: almost all foreigners, some of whom may have had some standards of behavior at home, but all of whom were unrestrained in Halifax, once they escaped from the discipline of their barracks or ships."45
It was an age when gentlemen found fault with anything and everything that came to their attention. Sit down to dinner with one of these overbearing men and throughout the entire meal all would hear him exclaim one or more of the following: the fish is not warm; the poultry is old and tough as your grandmother; the pastry is made with butter, rank Irish; the cheese, which they call Stilton, is nothing but pale Suffolk; the port musty; or, the sherry sour.46 On waking a gentlemen might take his cue from the description given by John Ashton: "When rousing from your last somniferous reverie in the morning, ring the bell with no small degree of energy, which will serve to convince the whole family you are awake; upon the entrance of either the chamberlain or chambermaid, vociferate half a dozen questions in succession, without waiting for a single reply. As, What morning is it? Does it hail, rain, or shine? Is it a frost? Is my breakfast ready? Has anybody enquired for me? Is my groom here? etc. etc."47 Ashton, in his work, continues to describe the gentleman of the age, as he struts about town with his spurs (an excursion never to be made without them, stick or cane and a glass suspended from his button-hole by a string the want of which would "inevitably brand you with vulgarity." He may pop into a shop and amuse himself "with a jelly or two, and, after viewing with a happy indifference whatever may present itself, throw down a Guinea48 (without condescending to ask a question) and walk off ..." He may "accidently" stroll into to one of the more well known coffee houses, "walk up with the greatest ease, and consummate confidence to every box, in rotation; look at everybody with an inexplicable hauteur, bordering upon contempt; for, although it is most likely you [the strolling gentleman] will know little or nothing of them, the great object is, that they should have a perfect knowledge of you. ... when, finding you have made yourself sufficiently conspicuous, and an object of general attention (or rather attraction), suddenly leave the room, but not without an emphatical mode of shutting the door, as may afford to the various companies, and individuals, a most striking proof of your departure."49
A contemporary clerical survey of Halifax written in July, 1786, states: "There is one large English church; one small Dutch church; one Presbyterian Meeting House; one large Methodist church; one Roman Catholic chapel; beside a small Society of Quakers; one of Sandemanians; one of the followers of Swedenborg; together with a few of Lady Huntington Society and a great swarm of infidels." The letter is a tribute to Canadian tolerance that existed at a relatively early date.50 At the corner of Water and Duke Streets there was a public gathering place called the Great Pontac. Whenever it was built, I am not sure, but we do know that it was built by a Jerseyman by the name of Decartaret. In 1769 it was run by John Willis. In the Chronicle, the September 19th, 1769, edition, there was an advertisement placed by Willis that at the Great Pontac he would "run a chophouse, bake for the ladies, furnish hot mutton pies daily, provide stabling and slaughter houses, and maintain the assembly room."51 The Great Pontac had its beginnings in the very early days of Halifax society and was the centre of any major celebratory event in Halifax from at least 1754 through to 1837 when it was destroyed by fire.
"What kind of building was this that could -- and did -- successfully accommodate activities and festivities ranging from auctions, through dramatic productions, to balls, and a wide spectrum of gatherings and civic ceremonies? It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this instance there is not much choice, for there are no known drawings, or pictures of any kind, which would show the reader the large proportions, unique three-story architecture and provision for an amazing combination of facilities under its generous roof."52
Halifax, from its very earliest days, never lacked for taverns. In the times which we are now reviewing there is one that stands out, the British Tavern, or Gallagher's. Andrew Gallagher opened up the place in 1798 on Upper Water St. just across from the British Coffee House. After Andrew died the place was run by his wife, Jane. Groups of prominent and influential people had organized diners there; concerts were given there "by the Duke of Kent's regimental band-master at the assembly room at the British Tavern."53
Sundays were preserved as days of rest and prayer. The Lord's Day Act dates back to 1761.54 No shops could be open; no labour; and, no sports. Tavern keepers were "not to suffer inhabitants to drink, or idle their time in their houses, on the Lord's Day, and to keep their doors shut during Divine Service ... Churchwardens and Constables to walk through the town, during Divine Service, to suppress all disorders ... All persons, in health, and above the age of 12 years, to be fined ... if absent three months together from Divine Service." Any money so raised, was to be for the poor of the town.
Wells and pumps were provided at convenient spots55 throughout the city and anyone could fill their pails as they pleased. "This was a sad annoyance to the immediate neighborhood, for there was no cessation of the noise of the pump-handle, and to an almost incessant wrangling between the lads and half grown girls who were sent for the morning and evening supply."56 The news of impending events was usually heard at the pumps, such as an English packet was about to arrive. Moorsom explained, it was "always a little event in Halifax. The moment that the signal is made for the packet in the offing, half the town is on alert ... [Upon tying up] all aboard, objects of interest, and to make her commander a personage of great demand, during the few hours she remains in port."57
At times, for a selected few, life was brought out of the ordinary. Let us look in on a scene. It is a Thursday evening, December 20th, 1792, at the governor's mansion:
"... the lieut. governor and Mrs Wentworth gave a ball and supper to the ladies and gentlemen of the town and the officers of the army and navy, which was altogether the most brilliant and sumptuous entertainment ever given in this country. The company being assembled in the levée room at 8 o'clock, the band, which was very numerous and excellent, played "God save the king" three times over, after which the country dances commenced, two sets dancing at the same time. The whole house was open - every room illuminated and elegantly decorated. There was a room set apart for cotillions, above stairs, for those who chose to dance them, and a band provided on purpose for it. During the dancing there were refreshments of ice, orgeat, capillaire, and a variety of other things. At twelve the supper-room was opened, and too much cannot be said of the splendor and magnificence of it; the ladies sat down at table, and the gentlemen waited upon them. Among other ornaments, which were altogether superb, there were exact representations of Messrs. Hartshorne and Tremain's new Flour mill, and of the Windmill on the Common. The model of the new Light house at Shelburne was incomparable, and the tract of the new road from Pictou was delineated in the most ingenious and surprizing manner, as was the representation of our fisheries, that great source of the wealth of this country. To all these inimitable ornaments corresponding mottos were attached, so that not only taste and elegance were conspicuous, but encouragement and genius were displayed. The viands and wines was delectable, and mirth, grace and good humor seemed to have joined hands to celebrate some glorious festival; but this was only for the friends of the government and Mrs. Wentworth. When the ladies left the supper-room the gentlemen sat down at table, when the governor gave several loyal toasts, with three times three, and an applicable tune was played after each bumper, which had an admirable effect. At two o'clock the dancing recommenced, and at four the company retired. That ease, elegance and superiority of manners, which must ever gain Mrs. Wentworth the admiration of the whole community; and that hospitality, perfect good breeding and infinite liberality which so distinguished the character and conduct of our beloved and adored governor, never shone with more lustre than on his occasion, when every care of his and Mrs. Wentworth's mind seemed to be to give one universal satisfaction. Everything tended to promote one sympathizing joy, and never was there a night passed with more perfect harmony and luxurious festivity."58
Horses in these days were the mode of transportation. Roads, a short discussion on which will follow along in our next chapter, were not such that carriages could travel very far without getting into trouble. What roads that did exist in the late 18th century in Nova Scotia, were, but bridle paths. In 1794, we note where the Duke of Kent "with a small retinue, on horseback" set out for Annapolis Royal.59 The Duke, as all gentlemen of those times, liked his horses; indeed, the Duke, in August of 1798, had a fall from his horse in downtown Halifax which caused him injuries such that he was driven to seek medical attention back in London. The number of horses in the province in 1808 numbered 6,700. This might be compared to the number of cattle, 57,000; sheep, 75,000; swine, 28,000.60 Horse racing was carried on by the officers of the garrison.61 As the English artist Benjamin Haydon (1786–1846) wrote in his autobiography: "Wherever the British settle, wherever they colonise, they carry and will ever carry trial by jury, horse-racing and portrait-painting."62 In 1800, the Duke of Kent "imported four horses of value, to improve the breed in the province."63 The "best race horses came from Durham, the best coach or dray horses from Northampton, the best plough horses from Suffolk."64 Richard Bulkeley imported from Ireland, no doubt from his family's farms, "three blood horses for stock raising."
As early as 1766, professional horse racing came to Nova Scotia65 and became widely known in the Colonies to the South. Horses were sent from New York and Baltimore, gambling grew so great authorities became alarmed and Governor Campbell, in 1771, signed a proclamation suppressing racing altogether. The move to ban horse racing probably had as much to do with the price of hay as anything else.66 There was indeed a wide propensity to gamble, and the state back then (and yet today), fed the flames. Lotteries were very popular, and government sought to preserve this manner of rasing money by outlawing private lotteries in 1721.67 It was by means of a lottery that Westminster Bridge in London was built in 1738. In 1753, another lottery was run in order to raise money to buy the collection that Sir Hans Sloane had put together and which formed the basis of a museum, the British Museum. Lotteries became a popular way, here in Nova Scotia, to raise money for public projects. In 1799, September 30th, Perkins wrote that he had delivered to him "12 tickets, in 5th Class, Letter A., of the Bridge & Road Lottery." And as early as 1752, a Lottery was organized to build a light house at the entrance of Halifax Harbour, the Sambro Lighthouse.
With the mention of the Sambro Lighthouse, we receive our cue to generally take up the subject of lighthouses, which we will do in the next chapter.
[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 3 - Nova Scotian Society: "Lighthouses & Rum."]