A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 4, "Nova Scotia at the Turn of the 19th Century." TOC
Ch. 4 - Nova Scotian Society: Trade & Insurance.

We take a year just before the outbreak of war: 1791. We see on April 7th, where Perkins makes an agreement with two carpenters from Shelburne to work for two months, part cash and part goods -- "one quarter cash, three quarters W.I. Goods & Fish at low rates." As for "W.I. Goods," Perkins gives examples: W. India Rum (by barrel or punchion)1, sugar, flour, codfish, pickled salmon and salt. This is certainly an example of what a near contemporary referred to, in Nova Scotia, as a shortage of legal tender, with the result that there arose "the most extraordinary systems of barter and exchange."2 It was a matter of getting into your storehouse, as Perkins did at Liverpool, items that were wanted and could easily be traded and often not to the ultimate consumer, either. On May 8th, Perkins made reference to his brig, Minerva under the care and control of Capt. Bradford, who arrived in the harbour "23 days passage from St. Martins. All well on board. He has salt, rum, sugar, cotton & tobacco, for cargo. From Perkins' entries (Aug 3rd - 10th) we can see that 18 vessels come into Liverpool within a week. They were mostly returning from Newfoundland having fished for salmon, one from Madeira which had wine aboard, and the rest from local waters fishing for mackerel. We see on September 26th where -- and this would be a typical scene -- the Minerva's crew and a man by the name of Puttum were "at work getting boards from Capt. Gorham's schooner & putting them in the ship. In the afternoon they go to the falls for some spars which are also going into the ship. Perry & George carting hay to the barn, & then go to William Murray for shingles to lay on the store. Mindert Vanhorn is at work shingling. They get ten thousand shingles from Murray. The people of Liverpool, and other communities of Nova Scotia, were international traders. From the diaries kept, one is able to see that these hardened sailors made numerous trips to the south, to Bermuda and to the West Indies. They sailed, too, east across the broad Atlantic to places such as the Azores, Madeira.3 and beyond into the Mediterranean to deliver shiploads of salted fish to Catholic Europe. Always, however, there were coasters, which, in the absence of roads delivered produce from one area of Nova Scotia to another. Along the Atlantic coast, where there was no lack of lumber and fish, the people would always be happy to see a vessel4 that had originated in the Bay of Fundy and was loaded with food products grown in the Annapolis Valley, especially in the fall of the year. On December 20th, Perkins wrote that a new schooner from Annapolis came in, "with cyder and apples." The winter, of course was a time to cut trees and move them over the snow and ice on sleds drawn by a yoke of oxen. The lumber would sit in great stacks until the high water came again to drive saw mills. Perkins had a mill, as others did on the river just above Liverpool, the Mersey River. This lumber mill, for Perkins, was the very source of his living. He needed lumber to build his wooden sailing vessels and as stock for his lumbering trade.

News of trouble in Europe was registered by Perkins in October of 1792: On the 13th he makes reference to a captain that had just came in from Halifax. He had "brought newspapers which give an account of terrible riots & mobs in France, the King dethroned, his palace stormed by cannon & broke open, his furniture, wine, etc. destroyed. The Germans & Prussians have entered the Kingdom & are marching towards the capital."

As already has been reviewed, it was in 1793 that war broke out. On January 21st, Louis XVI was beheaded with the result that George III severed diplomatic relations. On February 1st, France declared war on England. Immediately it was known in Halifax, an expedition was fitted out under General Ogilvie. The object was to sail from Halifax and take the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. By June, at Halifax, there were hundreds of French prisoners. The reputation of the British Navy -- though at this point it did not have many of its ships in North American waters5 -- kept the French naval ships and privateers at bay. We see where at Liverpool, on August 15th, where Perkins wrote: "The Schooner Defiance ... sails for the Turks Island, for salt, that article being very scarce, and the danger over the enemy not being thought to be very great in that quarter ..." And on August the 17th:

"The Schooner Grey Hound, Capt. James Gorham, arrived from Halifax, and brings me despatches from Government, with two 12 pound cannon, powder, balls, & every implement necessary for them. 200 stands of arms, cartridge boxes, bayonets, etc, complete, with ten thousand cartridges. I have also orders from the Governor, immediately to review the militia in companys, and orders that they hold themselves in readiness to march on service at the shortest notice. ... The news from Halifax is that there is a number of French privateers at Boston, and that from accounts at Halifax from the Boston Frigate there is reason to fear she is taken by the Ambuscade. The Governor & General having been for sometime at variance, or at least a coolness between them, are now reconciled."6
Then on August 21st, Perkins wrote:
"We lay out the plan of the Battery, and make good progress. The Schooner Brisk, Capt. Christopher, arrives from St. Vincent with rum, but no salt. I take half the round shot to my old store, & the 48 case shot, 98 round, & carry 97 to Wilson's cellar. They fell short 6. Christopers came in a fleet, bound to Halifax."
So the point is that the province was putting itself on a war footing; but trade, at least going into the Islands, continued. The trading vessels were willing to take their chances going to the West Indies; going across the Atlantic, they traveled in convoy with British Men-of-War as escorts. Perkins' Minerva7, which had made a trip alone to the Islands that previous spring, went off to England and came back to Liverpool on October the 19th, "loaded." She came in "from London, eight weeks passage, with King's stores & drygoods. ... She sailed under convoy of Admiral King, for the Newfoundland Station."

Matters, as described by Perkins, pretty much continued along into the 19th century and through much of it. The wealth of Nova Scotia was exported in these years using wooden sailing ships which were built by her people. In 1803, it was "estimated that fifty vessels, ranging from 100 to 1000 tons each, would sail from the district this year. Some carried timber to the mother country -- others, fish, oil, cattle and lumber, to the West Indies and to Newfoundland."8

It is here that we write of the timber trade. In Nova Scotia it is inextricably tied into shipbuilding. One needed timber to build the large sailing vessels of the age, which were, in turn, needed to transport the timber to the those eager for it, especially in the timberless islands of the Caribbean. At Halifax there were in these years, as Moorsom reported, outward and visible signs of the timber-trade. "One or two ships are building on the slips at Dartmouth, on the opposite side of the harbour, varying from one to four hundred tons; but the timber cargoes9 are generally shipped at the outports along the coast."10 Moorsom makes specific reference to Liverpool, and that certainly appears to have been a major centre of the timber industry at the first part of the 19th century in Nova Scotia. We need only to look at Perkins.

We see where Perkins makes reference to the timber trade as early as 1766, much before the times under review. "September 23rd: "Ship Mary and William, from London, Samuel Doggett, master, about 160 tons, arrives, and will load oak timber 12 in. square and upwards, 25 ft long and upwards." These men of Liverpool sawed these boards and it does not look like logs were ever shipped. I do not know the count, exactly, but I image that there were three, and maybe more, saw mills on the Mersey River upstream of the community. These were "up and down" sawmills.11 The external wheel depended on a significant volume coming from a head pond. (In Liverpool's case, there were a number of head ponds; like very long steps going up stream.) I am used to living on a lake and can tell you that here in Nova Scotia the water level of lakes rises in the fall and comes to a peak with the spring thaw, after which it subsides to a point where it is really quite low where the shore lines become exposed by several feet. "Up and down" sawmills could only work, beginning in the fall and ending with the beginning of summer. The cycle might very well vary a few weeks this way or that. On October 24th, 1785, we see our friend Simeon Perkins observing: "The water is risen at the falls, so that the mills go up and down. The new grist mill goes very well. Said to grind 5 bushel an hour." And so, we see from this, too, that Liverpool had a grist mill, a new one in 1785.12 The businessmen of Liverpool, and their selected gangs of men and oxen, logged the woods and used the Mersey River13 to transport the logs to the mills, ready to be fished from the head ponds, through the mill and out the other end sawed lumber, marketable sawed lumber. This would be a spring activity, though in the fall, until the freeze up, the mills would try to clean up last winter's logs. The sawed timber would be rafted down to the docks at Liverpool and from there, usually, directly into waiting ships to be sent to certain treeless parts of the world, i. e., Bermuda and the West Indies. Perkins:

13 May, 1779:
"... The Schooner Bermuda is arrived from Bermuda in 13 days. Brings 6 hhds. Molasses, 800 bushels salt, & 307 bushel lyme. His lumber sold very low on account of the starving condition the inhabitants are in, no business going on."
28 August, 1779:
"... I go to the falls to view the sawmill, in order to see what repairs are necessary. ..."
23 July, 1781:
"I go to the sawmills in order to view the dam with some of the overseers of the River Fishery. Had Maj. Freeman and several other gentlemen to view, but did not come to any certain conclusion about a sluiceway for the salmon to go on."
15 May, 1783:
"The sloop Nancy, Joseph Barss Master, for Antigua or other parts of the West Indies, loaded with lumber, sailed yesterday in the afternoon. I am 1/8 concerned on her cargo."
13 October, 1783:
"The water is raised so that some of the sawmills are like to go this day."
4 November, 1785:
"The upper saw mill begins to saw this day. I think the latest in the season ever I remember."
18 July, 1790:
"... Mr. Murray has 12 oxen at working getting out oak logs which I spoke to him about on Friday last. The water is very low, but I hope to get as many plank sawed as will answer our purpose."
28 May, 1791:
"... We get in all the lumber we expect to get into the Minerva's hold, about 31½ m. Leave room for about 60 barrels. [They began to load the Minerva on the 24th, after "getting the pumps reamed & taking in a little ballast ..."]
2 Oct, 1791:
"[It appears that Perkins gives five pounds to a Capt. that is going into Halifax so to register the Minerva which is going on a trading trip with] 45 m lumber; 45 m shingles; 25 hhds dry codfish; 100 barrels pickled fish, & 10bbs fish oyl. Mrs Perkins gives him 18 dollars to buy calico for family, & 6 dollars to buy black mode [fashionable], for cloak for herself."
31 July, 1796:
"... I think I scarcely ever knew more thunder & rain in one day in the Country and, I believe, there was never known more rain in a summer that has been this summer. The sawmills have not stopped for want of water, which in the circumstances I do not remember this 34 years."
23 Jan, 1803:
"[Four brigs sail together from Liverpool, all loaded with fish and lumber for the Barbados.]"
10 Oct, 1805:
"... The Brig Liverpool owned by Enos Collins & Messrs Prescott & Lawson sails this morning for Madeira, John Dean, Master. Loaded with fish and lumber."

If the price was right, most captains had instructions from the owners to sell the vessel itself and for him and the crew to work their way home on other vessels headed that way.14 Here is a typical entry in Perkins: "I conclude the Lively shall go to Canso, Arichat, etc. & sell her boards & get cargo of grind stones at Pictou, if he finds a market & the stones are to be had; if not, to proceed to Spanish River or Newfoundland & sell vessel & cargo, if he can get back."15

A little beyond the period under view, Moorsom, a British military officer to whom we have made reference earlier in these pages, observed on his visit to Nova Scotia, about 1827, that "few square-rigged vessels are built, except at the principal ports, as Halifax, Pictou, or Liverpool; and even at Halifax there is seldom more than one on the stocks at a time. The favourite rig along the American coast is the schooner. Halifax Harbour frequently exhibits a curious epitome of the models and fashions of this class of vessel."16 The vessels built, were built to be used in two of the principal businesses of the age: fishing and carrying Nova Scotian products to markets both near and far.

"21 Dec. 1784: The schooner Betsey (that I have lately built and sold one quarter of her to Capt. Elisha Hopkins) sails for the West Indies with a cargo of fish & lumber, amounting to £302, with first months wages, provisions, etc. I sold the quarter to Capt. Hopkins for £172.10, that is £690.0.0 for the whole. He loads his quarter & I load my three quarters. He has liberty to return by the way of Baltimore or Philadelphia, if he judges most of our interest, and to sell his cargo there, or get a freight for either of them places, and then get a loading of bread & flour." (Perkins.)
I digress to write of the Betsey. I see that she was first referred to on June 28th, 1784: "I get the Keel pieces and some other pieces from Mr. Hopkins for my new vessel." Joseph Bangs, to whom Perkins regularly turned when he needed some intricate carpentry work done, was to be his boat builder. The schooner was named after Perkins' daughter; it was planned to be 60 tons. By July 1st we see that Bangs and his son, together with five other men are working away on the new vessel. On July 7th the vessel was "raised." On July 19th the men are "shooting trunnels."17 On July 27th, they are beginning to plank. By July 30th: "My vessel is this day being planked to the floor timber heads, six streaks." On July 31st: "My carpenters put in all the trullocks in the vessel." The planking continues through the first part of August, and, on the 6th, "begin to saw the top timbers." On the 7th: "I send 2 carpenters & 4 hole borers into the woods to cut beams & wale pieces. They get six beams & 2 wale pieces, & some other timber." August 10th: from Halifax: "Iron & nails, etc." On August 19th: "The carpenters begin to shut in; and, on the 20th, "We have shut in ye vessel building, and begin to dub for sealing." On August 30th: We get the beams into ye new vessel, and make some alteration in modeling the half deck, etc." It seems a special man, Mr. Pierce, was hired to do the caulking, which began on September the 3rd. On the 7th, "We begin to lay the deck." On the 11th a vessel was sent to Halifax to trade fish for rigging; by the 26th the vessel returns with the rigging. From another Capt. Perkins, our diarist gets "blocks & pumps." It was at this point that we see another specialist, Joseph Star Mills. Mills was to rig the new vessel, a process which got underway on October 3rd and was kept going until Mills was discharged on November 4th. On October the 14th, the Betsey was launched.18 On October 18th, Perkins discharges three of his carpenters. On October 30th, we see: "Capt. Hopkins sails for Lehave with design of selling his vessel, that he may be concerned with me in my new schooner." On November 14th the Betsey was being loaded for the West Indies. The cargo consisted of boards and fish, her master was Capt. Hopkins. A vessel came in from Boston and a boat and sundry other things are delivered to Perkins for the Betsey. On December 3rd: there arrived from Halifax, "papers, register, etc." On December 16th, "We build a chimney in the steerage of the Betsey. On December the 21st, the wind came around and the Schooner Betsey sails for the West Indies with "a cargo of fish and lumber." On March 17th, 1785, the Betsey hauled back into Liverpool. She had a 25 days passage to Barbados. From Barbados, her captain (Hopkins) reported, she went to Antigua and "traded there, and has 23 days passage home." She came back with "a freight for Halifax consigned to Mr. Brymer, about 96 puncheons of rum and some sugar," this, in addition to a cargo of rum (three thousand gallons) and sugar for Perkins and Hopkins. The Betsey but called into Liverpool, she was "to proceed directly to Halifax with the freight, & not to break bulk here." On April 24th, having unloaded part of her cargo at Halifax and returning to Liverpool, the Betsey was loaded with "boards & shingles" and sent off to the West Indies, once again. She was back home in time that summer to sail, on July 30th, 1785, to Cape Breton with "40 m boards, 30 m shingles, 1 m clapboards & 6 hhds. lime."19 Again, as we follow along with Perkins, we see where on June 13th, 1786, "Capt. Hopkins, in the schooner Betsey, arrives from Dominique & Turks Island, with 1900 bush. salt, some rum & sugar, coffee & cocoa." That October, she was off again, on October 1st, this time to Barbados. On this voyage there was "Elisha Hopkins, master; James Doliver, mate. Wm. Godfrey, Paul West, Elisha Hopkins (jr), Joseph Collins and Ned Thomas (negro) are the seamen." And we see, what I thought was the last entry on the schooner Betsey. The entry was made on April 1st, 1787. The Betsey came in after a six month voyage. She had been away for an unusually long time and during the last few months of this period, Perkins expressed concerned about her possible loss.
"Capt. Hopkins comes on shore. They are all well & have made a trip to N. Carolina (Newburn), on charter from Barbados, where he sold his cargo. He went to Martinico for molasses, but could not obtain a cargo under 6 weeks. He proceeded to MtSeratt, & from thence to Nevis, where he purchased rum and sugar; from thence to Turks Island & got 1800 bushel salt, at bits a bushel; had 20 days passage." (Perkins.)
There was a Betsey to which Perkins referred in a later period. One will see his entry of November 3rd, 1804: "I write my daughter Mary, who is at school with Mrs. Holms in Halifax" And then the following year, March 19th, he tells us how he sent his vessel, the Betsey with boards from his mill at Liverpool "to pay my daughter Mary's schooling & board at Mrs. Holms." It is not likely that that was the Betsey built 20 years back. In those days, from what I can see, an owner wouldn't get much more than a few years out of a wooden sailing vessel. Perkins did build for himself three vessels during the years 1784-1785; and, we should say, he was only one of a number of men that were doing much the same thing at Liverpool. A couple of other entries from Perkins, will demonstrate that building ocean going vessels at Liverpool was a regular thing, in season.

26 Feb, 1790:
"The teams all going ... want a rudder stock 7 windlass which expect with some beams to be got among the logs, will complete the timber for the ship building.
26 Dec, 1791:
"... We hall up the keel and keelson
20 pieces for the vessel Mr. Bangs is about to build for me at his landing. They are Norway pine21, which I am going to try for a keel, & have got hackmatack22 trunels, which is also new.
7 May, 1802:

At Liverpool, there are new vessels being built, four were just newly launched, four in the stocks and two just being started. This, as Perkins observed indicated a "flourishing state"; however, these men are worried that war will break out in Europe again which would play the devil for trade.

The Peace of Amiens (March 25, 1802) lasted but eighteen months. Halifax received the news of a renewed war by a circular letter, dated 16 May, 1803, from Downing Street. It was then that we see Letters of Marque and commissions being made out to privateers. "The King's share of all French ships and property will be given to privateers. Homeward bound ships should wait for convoys."23 Perkins wrote of this on June 27th: "[A captain arriving from Halifax] brings last Saturday's papers, wherein is the King's Proclamation Of War against France, and likewise an order to detain all vessels in English ports belonging to the Batavian Republic. Sir John Wentworth has also published a Proclamation for Annoying the Enemy by Letters of Marque, etc." This news prompted Perkins and his friends not to proceed to the West Indies with their loads of fish. The markets were bad, anyway, and if "we add to this we expect insurance will be very high and the risk very great. We therefore give up that voyage & conclude if a suitable crew can be got to send her to Newfoundland with lumber, or otherwise if we hear Alewives & Pollock will answer in the States to send her there."

The peace between France and Great Britain lasted but a mere thirteen months. During those months, the British authorities, thinking they had something more permanent, reduced their armed forces. On the other hand, the French used the period to rearm. Perkins observed on May 5th, 1803:

"There is strong rumour of war with France being at hand, very great preparations for war. Impressing men and fitting out men of war in England in consequence of great preparations in France & Holland which alarm the British Ministers. Some men have also been impressed at Halifax. There is great reason to fear a war will be the result which will be very detrimental to our trade, as well as distressing to all Europe, and perhaps to the world in general."
This hope of peace expressed by our diarist was in vain. By 1803 France and England were at war again. The news that was contained in the Downing Street circular was communicated to the house on Friday, June the 24th. "'Unfavorable termination of the discussion lately depending between his majesty and the French government,' and that 'his majesty's ambassador left Paris on the 13th.' Letters of marque and commissions to privateers are to be issued, and French ships to be captured, &c. The kings share of all French ships and property will be given to privateers. Homeward bound ships should wait for convoys."24

War or no war, in these times, the British were in command of the world's sea lanes.

"Amid all the triumphs of the revolutionary war, the growth of the British empire had been steady and ceaseless. She was more than ever mistress of the sea. ... She was turning her command of the seas to a practical account. Not only was she monopolizing the carrying trade of the European nations, but the sudden uprush of her industries was making her the workshop as well as the market of the world."25
We return back to our review. To give a flavour of the activities, at least of the Atlantic ports in Nova Scotia during those years between 1803 and 1807, we refer to Perkins. Much of the shipping out of Liverpool, mostly, was a run down to and return from the West Indies. Some of the captains, however, turned their vessels into freighters for hire. For example there was Ephram Dean the captain of the schooner Antelope. The Antelope left Liverpool in the fall of 1802 for Jamaica, presumably with either fish or lumber, or a combination of both. Nine months later she sailed into Liverpool Harbour, with the crew thinking nothing unusual about their nine month absence. From Jamaica they sailed, presumably with a cargo, to New York; and from New York back to Jamaica; then, from Jamaica to New York, again. She was loading at New York for Jamaica once again when news of war was declared, so the Antelope and her crew headed home.26 Another example was given by Perkins, "we are consulting with Mr. Bishop about sending the Britannia to Halifax to get freight there for New York and then to take an other freight back to Bermuda or the West Indies."27 Nova Scotia continued to export timber and gypsum; it seems, not surprising given all the granite she possesses, she was also exporting grindstones to the states. Fish and oil were sent abroad. Agricultural "skill and attention," however, was lacking.28 At the first of 1803, January 23rd, four brigs sailed together from Liverpool, all loaded with fish and lumber for the Barbados. On the 21st of April, a vessel arrived "from Halifax bound to Windsor for plaster & then to Portland for stoves for Halifax." "The export of plaister of Paris (gypsum)" had achieved, by 1802, significant level affording "employment to men and shipping."29 On May 9th, again from Liverpool, Elisha Hopkins, in his Brig Good Intent, sailed for a fishing voyage on the Labrador coast. He intended to touch at Halifax for salt, an essential for such expeditions, and, sometimes, in such short supply that plans for an extended fishing trip must be abandoned.

In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens ended the war between France and England. At that point in history, France was supreme in Western Europe and Great Britain supreme on the oceans of the world. With this peace (1802-03) there came a swarm of American fishermen to the shores of Nova Scotia. Many of these fishermen had previously lived in Nova Scotia. It was reported that 750 vessels of the United States passed through the Strait of Canso, within a year.30 Perkins wrote in May of 1803, that one morning he woke up to discover, at Liverpool, "Eight American fishermen in the cove."31 The Treaty of Amiens, signed on March 25th, 1802, provided: "The fisheries on the coasts of Newfoundland, and of the adjacent islands, and in the gulf of St. Laurence, are placed on the same footing as they were before the war."32 The situation before the war was that as was established by The Treaty of Versailles, 1783, which brought the war between the American colonies and Great Britain to an end. It provided: "that the American fisherman shall have liberty to dry and cure fish in any of the unsettled bays, harbours and creeks of Nova Scotia, Magdalen islands and Labrador, so long as the same shall remain unsettled; but so soon as the same, or either of them, shall be settled, it shall not be lawful for the said fisherman to dry and cure fish at such settlement, without a previous agreement for that purpose with the inhabitants, proprietors or possessors of the ground."33

Port Officers (duty collectors) were never very popular, whether with the visiting Americans as just illustrated, or Nova Scotians. Deputies were appointed and sent out to Nova Scotian ports such as Liverpool. If Liverpool was an example, we can see that they were not too welcomed. When William Johnstone34 was appointed in 1787 to be the Deputy Collector at Liverpool, 26 "trading gentlemen" at Liverpool35 met and determined to write Colonel Tongue and advise him that they had no intention to obey the orders of Mr. Johnstone. Harvey wrote: "The response to this defiance of authority was a visit to Liverpool of H.M.S. Brisk (Captain Buller) and the Weasel (Captain Browell) who spent several days in the harbour, seized several vessels, exchanged hot words with Perkins, and sent the Polly and the Charming Sally to Halifax for trial." It should be noted that the appointment of deputy collectors was a mixed blessing, for, while the locals disliked the officious manners of the deputy, it did apparently save them the trouble of sending to Halifax for permission to unload a vessel newly arrived from a foreign port.

To speak of duties or taxes on arriving goods, is to speak of smuggling because it invariably comes about when the government imposes taxes on goods. Wentworth wrote the authorities in London in April of 1807 for funds to build a bigger boat to be run by Mr. Jeffrey. "Adjacent to Halifax, and almost within sight are many harbours accessible to and frequented by Coasters and Fishermen, many from the United States -- These are all engaged more or less in smuggling -- And in rough weather, which they naturally choose, Mr. Jeffrey's boat and strength are inadequate to approach them, or take possession: for assistance may not be expected, from the class of people resident in such places --"36 In another letter to Castlereagh, dated August 18th, 1807, Wentworth reported that the "Revenue schooner Hunter has gone from the Gulph of St. Lawrence where it was protecting the fisheries against American encroachments to the Bay of Fundy where it will be employed in preventing American smugglers from entering the harbours disguised as fishermen ..." It wasn't just Americans, of course, who were smugglers. Nova Scotians were. Indeed, there were appointed government officials who were responsible to stop the smuggling activities in Nova Scotia. We see the official note of August 25th, 1811: "The hired government schooner Hunter has been seized and condemned by the Customs Collector for importing tea and other prohibited articles."37

I observe, that it was in 1793 that the legislature passed an act, Duties on Wine, Rum and all distilled Spirituous Liquors, and Brown Sugar. The stated purpose of the act was to pay the interest on the public debt, and for its reduction. The duty on wine and rum was six pence per gallon. Importers were required to secure a permit before unloading the vessel. Oaths as prescribed by the statute had to be made out before a permit to unload would be issued, and, at any rate, there was an obligation to report the arrival of goods subject to the duty within 24 hours. If anyone should be found ashore carting these goods he would be liable to a fine and forfeiture not only of the goods being transported, but also any boat or cart that was being used in the transport of the goods subject to the duty imposed by this act; it was on the possessor of such goods to prove the duties were paid, otherwise the penalties would be imposed. Export of these products was also restricted. An exemption was made for these goods where bound for her Majesty's service. This was extended by a further act that year, so that in addition to liquors: molasses, coffee, refined sugar, gun powder, tea (bohea38, one penny per pound; the rest, four pennies). In 1801, we see, the bulk of government revenue was raised by taxing products such as mentioned; and on the keeping of horses (for pleasure, 10 shillings; and for work, as in agriculture, 4 shillings); and on financial and legal matters such as Marine Insurance Policies and deeds of conveyance.39

With war having returned, the brig Rover was once again outfitted as a privateer.40 Liverpool, as famous as she was for her privateers, and this due to Perkins detailed diary, was not the only community in Nova Scotia so involved. Halifax, in fact a much busier port, had a number of privateers. So too, the Royal Navy was bringing numerous prizes into Halifax. (The Navy, its captains and officers rather looked down at privateers as usurpers, even though these private warriors were sanctioned by the crown.) Perkins was continually looking out for news from Halifax, and, as an example, received news on August 29th, 1803, "that the Admiral was arrived & had captured 4 enemies prizes & retaken two, that the Halifax privateer General Bowyer had captured two & retaken one." It was on December 12th, 1804, that war between Britain and Bonaparte-dominated Spain broke out. But even before that, British vessels had no problem taking Spanish vessels on the high seas. On September 13th, 1803, "a Spanish brig from Havana loaded with molasses, 200 punchions was sent into Liverpool by the Privateer Rover, Capt. Benjamin Collins. "The Rover has also captured a vessel from Cape Francis bound to Salem and sent her for Liverpool. Stephen Rice, Prize Master."41 On November 8th, the Rover returned to Liverpool.

In 1804, Perkins observed, that

"Our West India Trade is so embarrassed by the great risk and high premium on our vessels and the dull & low markets for fish and lumber occasioned by the United States having in a manner free trade to the West Indies that we cannot carry on the business without great loss and there does not appear to be any other opening for trade. What will be the event time will discover but at present the prospect is gloomy as we have no other dependence but the fishery & trade having no farms to resort to when trade fails. For these reasons the war operates more particularly against this town but is felt more or less by every trading town in the province." (June 23rd.)
More generally we read from the legislative papers that "the navigation trade of Nova Scotia has been unprosperous, during the last six months [1804], from numerous captures, and other loss of valuable vessels, and from the low prices from fish cargoes" fetched in the West Indies where the Nova Scotian captains "found Americans underselling them, even in the fish purchased from Nova Scotia. ... Timber and lumber trade more hopeful, also the export of gypsum and grindstones."42

Though their West Indies trade was impacted by the Americans, still, Nova Scotian vessels continued to trade, sometimes going great distances. Perkins:

"17 Oct: ... Capt. Thomas Parker in the Brig Lilly arrives from Quebec and Sydney. He carried wine from Fayal [Azores]. Did not meet a ready market but left it to be sold. Wheat & flower has risen so much that he could not get a freight. He went to Sydney for coals but there was none to be had except he would wait a month. So he came home empty."
Governor Wentworth reported: "Province is healthy, fisheries successful, export to trade to the West Indies hurt by privateers, export of gypsum and grindstones to the United States increasing. Ship building has diminished the last two years."43 Perkins wrote of the problems experienced in 1804.
"25 June, 1804: ... Our West India Trade is so embarrassed by the great risk and high premium on our vessels and the dull & low markets for fish and lumber occasioned by the United States having in a manner free trade to the West Indies that we cannot carry on the business without great loss and there does not appear to be any other opening for trade. What will be the event time will discover but at present the prospect is gloomy as we have no other dependence but the fishery & trade having no farms to resort to when trade fails. For these reasons the war operates more particularly against this town but is felt more or less by every trading town in the province."
By 1805, commerce in Nova Scotia was beginning to show promise: "More dried fish was preparing this summer than at any preceding season, and pickled fish business was on a large scale. ... The arrival of three ships of the line, whose companies had to be subsisted, made no difference in prices." At this time there existed at Halifax enough supplies to keep an "army, fleet, dockyard [and] from 500 to 700 prisoners of war." Still, however, "large quantities of flour were brought here from the United States."44

So 1805 started out as a low point for Nova Scotian commerce.45 The Americans were scooping the Caribbean markets because of their shorter and therefore quicker runs. In the West Indies, too, there were French warships, the captains of which -- while generally leaving American neutral vessels alone -- did not scruple to take Nova Scotian vessels as prizes of war. We see at Liverpool, where, on July 22nd, 1805, an arriving captain reported "that several vessels belonging to Nova Scotia bound home from the West Indies had fallen in with the French squadron bound to France. That one, Capt. Harris, had escaped by heaving his papers overboard and having some place in the United States wrote on his stern." This downturn in the trading business was to bring on economic problems, such that a number of debtors threw up their hands and shipped out to the States leaving their creditors high and dry. Perkins made mention of this problem in his entry of September 26th, 1805: "James McLeod has absconded in the night. ... Such things are very alarming to the traders and very discouraging as it seems to indicate poverty and distress among the people when we so many of the inhabitants disposed to go off and leave their creditors without making any provision to pay them debts due to the traders seem to be of little consequence and real property of very little value." That fall, however, new British rules were in place. American vessels were not to have a free run. They were liable to be stopped by British warships and be searched by British naval officers. Most anything was forbidden to be supplied by neutrals to France. When a cargo was discovered in the hold of American ship (especially arms, stores, or other things available for hostile purposes) it was generally sent to Halifax, ship and all. To the inspecting British officer, who incidently stood to gain by the seizure, most anything in times of war might be categorized as contraband, no matter the explanations and papers that would be produced by the American captain in his efforts to show he was to be exempt from such a seizure. The typical response by the British officer, as he waved the American captain off and his prize crew on, was that the American should make his representations to an Admiralty Court located at Halifax.46 The determination of the British to enforce "the law of nations" in regards to contraband of war put a damper on American commerce and a considerable strain on Anglo-American relations. It ended up with the two nations going to war seven years later, one that might have broken out much earlier if the Americans had any military strength to enforce what they considered to be their rights on the open seas. No matter the niceties of all of this, the fact is that in October of 1805, we see where "about 15 sail of American vessels are carried into Halifax on the new order prohibiting them from carrying enemy's produce."47

The new policy to enforce the law governing war contraband, and the news late in the year of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar (October 21st), acted as a tonic to the people of Nova Scotia. Halifax heard of Nelson's victory before the year was out. The town was illuminated. At Liverpool a brig arrived [23 December] from "Newfoundland ... reports that there was news at St. Johns of Admiral Nelson meeting with the French fleet & taking and destroying upwards of 20 sail."

The government in Nova Scotia determined it might help things by introducing bounties, sums of money which would be paid to merchants or manufacturers for the encouragement of some particular branch of industry. During the years of 1806 and 1807, bounties were given to the builders of fishing boats, to the exporters of fish, and to the importers of salt. So too, bounties were offered by the Nova Scotian government for the "clearing, sewing and fencing of land."48

By a proclamation, dated Berlin, November 21st, 1806, Napoleon, realizing that Great Britain could only be defeated by economic war, declared that the British Isles were in a state of blockade; further, that all letters49 going to, or coming from England, were not to be forwarded, and all those written in English were to be suppressed; and further, that trade in English goods was to be rigorously prohibited.50 This led to the British being even more insistent in stopping neutral (read American) vessels from getting American goods to Napoleonic Europe. American ships were stopped -- as we will develop in a future part -- not only because they might be carrying war contraband but also to strip them of any crew which were British. This led to a famous incident known in history, as the "Chesapeake Incident."

"On June 22nd, 1807, the British frigate Leopard had demanded the right to examine the crew of the U.S.S. Chesapeake for the purpose of impressing British deserters alleged to be on board. When this was refused, the Leopard poured three broadsides into the American ship, rendering her helpless. Four sailors were forcibly removed from the Chesapeake. Overnight, talk of war spread across America."51
We will return to "Chesapeake Incident" as an opener to a future part of this work.


On January 23rd, 1789, at Halifax, there was a fire that destroyed the "Cochran's buildings, a range of three-storey buildings in the market square."52 Perkins writes of this fire on February 16th: "Stephen Snow, from Lunenburg by land, informs that there was an account there that the stores of Messrs Hall, Lewis, others & Co., and the store of Messrs William & Robert Williams, with all buildings in Messrs Cochrans square, are burned to the ground, & much goods destroyed." On February 9th, 1789, there appeared a notice in The Halifax Gazette: "I am directed by His Excellency the Governor, to acquaint the several gentlemen called upon on Friday last to form a Fire Company, that he desires their attendance at the 'Golden Ball' on Thursday next, at twelve o'clock, to agree to rules and regulations."53 Fires continued to break out. During 1800 there was a number of destructive fires at Halifax. Akins wrote that "Sir John Wentworth's stables at the lodge were burned down" and, more disastrously, on February 5th, 1801, a block of property on Hollis Street "fronting the old government house" was partially destroyed. On the 4th of February, 1801, "the stables, coach houses and offices at Sir John Wentworth's villa, the 'Lodge,' were burned, and on the 8th a fire occurred in front of Government House, by which many houses and stores on Hollis Street were destroyed."54 The damages that came about as a result of fire were borne totally by those who suffered the damages; unless, of course one bought fire insurance. It was during these times that fire insurance became available to those who were ready to pay the premium along with others at risk, so to spread a particular loss over all of the premium payers. Agents for British fire insurance companies had been writing policies in Halifax since 1788; in 1809 they got some competition. It was in 1809 that the first and oldest Canadian fire insurance company was started, the Halifax Fire Insurance Company.55 In that year, on April 24th, there was an official announcement to the effect that directors had been selected and an office opened in the house of J.H. Fleigher, secretary, who from 10 to 12 A.M. on business days would receive applications for fire insurance on buildings, goods and furniture in Nova Scotia.56

The practice of marine insurance is older than insurance against fire and upon lives. While fire and life insurance policies are made at the risk of companies, marine insurance was usually at the risk of individuals who sign on for a particular amount should the risk materialize into a certainty, and, if not, they get to keep the premium. Underwriters of such a risk, loss of a vessel and her cargo could often be found in the community from which the vessel operates; who better to assess such risks and set premiums? In Liverpool committees of underwriters were formed who made assessments and issued policies.57 Insuring ships and cargos during times of war was a particularly risky business. If insurance could be had, the cost of it often determined whether the trading voyage would be undertaken. We have already seen where, on June 27th, 1803, Perkins wrote of the expense of insuring in such times, leading Perkins to "expect insurance will be very high and the risk very great. We therefore give up that voyage [an intended one to the West Indies] & conclude if a suitable crew can be got to send her to Newfoundland ..." News that the British Navy was successful in taking the French islands in the West Indies is greeted by Perkins "great news for their friends & owners as well as our insurance office."58

The earliest entry that Perkins makes about this subject, marine insurance, is that of 1787: "December 4th: We get all the Good Fortune's papers ready & all aboard. ... The vessel and cargo valued at £700." On the 14th, insurance is placed -- with whom I am not sure -- "£150 for self, £150 for Capt. Bradford, on the Good Fortune & cargo, to Baltimore." In 1804, we see where Perkins wrote: "18 June: ... Could not get my insurance effected on the Eliza which I had ordered the 14th of May, (limiting him [his agent] to 7 or 8 pr cent) under 15 pr cent owning to accounts the underwriters had recd [news] of several French privateers being off their southern coast & particularly infesting the Port of Charlestown [Boston]. I am at a loss to know how to act in the business." Thinking the insurance was to be in force, the Eliza had already left on its voyage south. On June 19th, he wrote that he had a "New York paper of June 8th, that my schooner Eliza had arrived at Charlestown. I write Mr. Walter [his agent at Halifax, I think] to effect insurance on her homeward voyage & do not limit the premium."


[NEXT: Pt. 4, Ch. 5 - "Nova Scotian Society: Education, Medicine & The Poor."]

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