THE NOVA SCOTIAN BACKGROUND
Nearly two hundred years after De Monts and Champlain caught their
initial glimpse of the splendid harbour at the mouth of the Saint John river, first
comers among the Loyalists, scanning the same shores with interest and anxiety,
beheld a scene almost as wild and uncultivated as that which had greeted the eyes of
Champlain. Bushes and cedar trees still covered the rocks and swamps which surrounded
the harbour of the Saint John,1
and the river valley, for which many of the Loyalists were bound, seemed one dense and unending mass
of green .2
A recent writer, describing the area which is now New Brunswick as it was in
1760, has called it a tangled,
uninhabited forest massif .3
So it had been for centuries, and so closely indeed did it still approximate
that description at the time of the arrival of the Loyalists that one of the exiles
in the van of the migration could say that nothing but wilderness met the eye.4
Strictly speaking, one can apply the word uninhabited to the New Brunswick of 1783 only
in a figurative sense, for besides Acadians and Indians there were several
settlements of English speaking people. Official and complete statistics for these
pre-Loyalist settlements are not available for a later date than 1767,5
which may be evidence of the scant attention paid to the area by the
government at Halifax. Estimates of the number of Acadians and English speaking
settlers in New Brunswick in 1783 can be found in various studies on Acadian history
but from our standpoint there is little gain in attempting to track down the number
of pre-Loyalist settlers to the last man. The significant thing is that in an area of
nearly 28,000 square miles there were no more than 5,000 inhabitants exclusive of the
natives. Thus the Loyalists, being more than double the old inhabitants in number,
might well feel possessive about Nova Scotia-north-of-the-bay, and when it became a
separate province in 1784 might think of it, with reason, as par excellence the province of the Loyalists,
Only five thousand people! Yet New Brunswick, to use the present name,
had been discovered nearly as early as any part of America, nor did it lack fish and
furs, both great attractions in the early years of North American his tory.
Geographically, too, it was nearer to Europe than Quebec or any of the thirteen
colonies. Moreover, being separated from the St. Lawrence by the Appalachian
Highland, as was New England, it formed an extension of the latter area and invited
New England enterprise. But the energies of both French
and English were directed to more strategic or more productive
areas, and settlement in Acadia, both north and south of the Bay of Fundy, developed
in a haphazard fashion without much assistance or attention from Europe. Then too,
the fur trade, although inviting, was not of the grand proportions of the St.
Lawrence trade. Acadia, unlike Canada, was sprawling and irregular, lacking the great
centralizing system of the highway of Canada. Since the St. Lawrence, rather than the
Saint John, led to the great fur-bearing area of the interior, and since monopoly
could not be successfully enforced in this maritime world of obstreperous individualism and keen
organized trade in furs moved to the St. Lawrence, and the Acadian fur trade
was left to a few adventurers whose individual operations were comparatively modest.
Moreover, trade in furs did not necessarily imply colonization. In fact, the very
nature of the business tended to discourage a settled existence, as Colbert
discovered when pushing plans for the expansion of Louis XIV's empire on the St.
The same was true of the fisheries. In the promotion of permanent settlement
the fishing industry was little more effective than the fur trade, and New Brunswick,
being less strategically situated than the peninsular part of Acadia in relation to
the great bank fisheries, failed to acquire fishing stations comparable to Canso and
Louisburg. Thus, for nearly two hundred years after its discovery, Acadia,
particularly the mainland portion which is now New Brunswick, had few inhabitants
save the native Indians. People did not come, or, when they did, seldom remained to
establish permanent homes or to make a lasting impression on the country.
Generally speaking, to official France and England Acadia seemed
unimportant in itself, but in time of war it assumed importance because of its
relation to French and English interests elsewhere. For external reasons, therefore,
the country frequently changed hands but in times of peace both France and England
tended to neglect it. One significant feature of the transfer of Acadia to English
hands in 1654 lies in the fact that the conquest was effected by Bostonians, who,
having been balked in their designs on the Dutch at Manhattan by the termination of
the Dutch War, had decided that to spend 'a lytle tyme upon ye coast in lookeinge
after ye ffrench might torne to some accompt'.9
This decision was prophetic of a major interest which New England was to
develop, an interest fraught with disastrous consequences for the Acadians.10
The other significant feature of this English interlude may be seen in the
fact that it did not affect Nicholas Denys, French trader on the north shore of
Acadia. In other words, French power continued in Acadia, and this survival served as a reminder of the fact
that Acadia was a divided country which it was difficult to rule, and also
difficult to capture in its entirety.
After Acadia was restored to France in 1670 French efforts were
concentrated on the building of a mighty empire at Quebec, and Acadia exper
ienced forty years of neglect. Only a few settlers
were sent to the area, and fewer still found their way north of the Bay of Fundy. The
true agricultural centre of Acadia was south and east of the Bay, where a small
number of new settlers, and the descendants of de Razilly's colonizing venture of
1632 spread remarkably along Minas Basin and Cobequid, and around Chignecto to
Shepody. This was the Acadia of a peaceful peasantry. The other Acadia, between the
Saint John and the frontier settlements of New England, was the scene of
international conflict in which the Indians, incited by Quebec, played a terrible
It was the country's misfortune to
be the eastern outpost and flank for both France and England in America. It
became a fixed pivot on which an international battlefront seesawed back and forth
between the French and the English.13
Thus strong forces from without converged upon this sparsely peopled area,
conflicted, and created a ferment which made life uneasy for those who were in the
country, and discouraged others from coming. Raids, alarms and massacres were
features of King William's War (1689-1697) and of Queen Anne's War (1701-1713). The
capture of Port Royal in 1710 was motivated less by the fact that France and England
were at war elsewhere than by the determination of Massachusetts to scotch the Indian
snake in his lair west of the Saint John, to insure for New England freedom from
raids, and to remove obstacles to the lucrative fisheries of Acadia and of
Newfoundland beyond. The Treaty of Utrecht gave Acadia to England with all its
ancient boundaries. There were,
however, elements of future trouble in the refusal of the Acadians to take the
oath of allegiance to the English monarch, and in the claim which was first put
forward by Vaudreuil, the Governor of Canada, in 1718 that Acadia only comprised
the peninsula and did not include the territory now embraced in New Brunswick.
The coming of peace lessened the strategic importance of Nova Scotia, as
Acadia was now called, and for another period of forty years the country was more or
less consigned to an official
The English held it, but it
was odd how embarrassed they were by it, how little they could make of it, how apt
they were to avoid it or neglect it altogether .16
As long as the contest between France and England for North America remained
an unfinished business, neither English nor New Englanders were tempted to choose as
a home an area which, despite its British name, was inhabited by Frenchmen who
managed to ignore suggestions, invitations, and orders to take an unqualified oath of
and become British subjects.
When the great duel between France and England in North America came to a
climax in the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years, War the
significance of Nova Scotia again emerged. Resisting the impulse to
linger over romantic names and dramatic episodes, we shall
merely note that the course of the war brought misery and hardship to hundreds of
inoffensive French peasants who were pawns in the international game, and that the
outcome of the conflict closed the French regime.
This period furnished but scanty materials for those interested in the
history of Education. Primitive pioneer society, of necessity, can be concerned but
little with things cultural. Habitant life, as A. R. M. Lower has pointed out, has
never been characterized by desire for change, improvement, and progress.18
These factors, plus the disturbance bred by the pull of two rival imperial
powers, explain why the efforts of Recollet and other missionaries to educate and
christianize the Indians and to instruct the Acadians in the days of French occupancy
bore meagre scholastic fruit, although they were instrumental in spreading the tenets
of the Roman Catholic faith and in maintaining the French language. The overburdened priests could probably do little
more than teach the habitant children their catechism and alphabet . . . In the
primitive pioneer settlements of Nova Scotia, Isle Royale and Isle St. Jean there
was no provision for advanced work at all.
During the period from 1760 to 1783 conditions were scarcely more
conducive to the growth of learning and culture. In that short period of two decades
the Seven Years' War was wound up, the first English settlements outside of
Annapolis, Canso, Halifax and its vicinity were established, a constitutional
struggle waxed and waned, and the American Revolution made Nova Scotia once again a divided and disintegrated
country, a borderland of uncertain loyalties, a battleground of rival imperial
There was little English settlement previous to 1760 although the
founding of Halifax by Cornwallis in 1749 inaugurated a new British policy. His
plans, and those of Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, called for the establishment
of English settlements here and there in order to combat French pretensions, to drive
wedges among the Acadians, and to make Nova Scotia really British.21
This, however, proved difficult to carry out, not only because of the
stubborn stand of the Acadians, but also because English-speaking Americans found
little attraction in a country which lacked representative institutions, a country
whose ultimate fate awaited the outcome of the issue between France and England.
Those who came were chiefly merchants interested in the possibilities of money-making
at Halifax. For five years after the founding of that city Nova Scotia remained a political tadpole, a head
without much of a body .22
But when events between 1755 and 1760 indicated the termination of French
rule in North America, New Englanders began to find their way to Nova Scotia, seeking
the lands which privileged proprietorship denied them in New England. This
immigration was part of the northward expansion of New England, a movement encouraged
by the imperial authorities. It was
the necessity of providing for disbanded soldiers at the close of the Seven Years,
War, and by the Proclamation of 1763 prohibiting settlement beyond the Appalachian
Among the townships which were established about this time the most
remote from Halifax were three in the present New Brunswick, Sackville, Cumberland
and Sunbury. Sackville was first settled in 1761 by families from Rhode Island and
Massachusetts, and the Cumberland area east of Sackville received its first settlers
about the same time. Sunbury was the huge district west of Sackville and Cumberland
and east of the Saint John, extending from the Bay of Fundy to the southern boundary
of Canada. Its principal settlements were at Maugerville and at the mouth of the
Saint John river. In 1763 a group of settlers from Massachusetts, mostly ex-soldiers,
under the leadership of Israel Perley had established themselves at Maugerville well
up the river on its east bank.24
These several groups may have been only a handful of adventurers to whom the prospects of
a new field of endeavor appeared more attractive than the prosaic security of a
small New England town ,25
but they were composed of men of courage and initiative who were well adapted
to pioneer life. Like their contemporaries at Annapolis and Minas they had brought
with them the image of established
New England communities.
That they retained in large measure their New England interests and
attachments were revealed fifteen years later during the American Revolution. It is
possible that if that break had come later than it did the Maritime Provinces would
today be part of the American Republic's down east .
For some years after 1764 a wave of land-grabbing and speculation
flourished in Nova Scotia, often with government connivance. Favored individuals,
select groups, and high-pressure promoters petitioned for, and often received,
immense tracts of land.27
Turning our attention to land concentrations in New Brunswick, we note that
100,000 acres on the Miramichi were granted to two Scotchmen, Davidson and Cort, and
other areas, equally large, were granted on the Saint John river and at Hopewell,
Hillsboro, and Moncton on the Petitcodiac.28
In some cases a few tenants were settled, particularly in the townships on the
Here and there a number of spirited business enterprises were undertaken.
Such was the business in fish and furs carried on at the mouth of the Saint John
river by Simonds, Hazen and White, also Davidson and Cort's salmon-curing on the
Miramichi, and Beamsley Glasier's timber business on the Nashwaak. One point of
significance may be noted in connection with land schemes along the Saint John river,
namely, the careful and later exceedingly useful survey work which accompanied the
laying out of the townships of Conway, Gage, Burton, Sunbury, and Newtown.30
this land was eventually escheated
for non-fulfilment of conditions of settlement and thus became available for Loyalist
After 1768 there was a lull in American immigration resulting from the
opening up of the Ohio Valley, and also a slackening of British immigration due to
the opposition of British landlords. The Passamaquoddy area, however, received about
thirty families in 1770 and in 1772 a group of Yorkshiremen came to the Sackville
These and the other establishments in New Brunswick, remote from the
wrangling of Council, Assembly and Governor at Halifax, developed quietly in their
own way without much interference or even attention from the capital. Records of
these settlements are tantalizingly meagre. From the fact that the settled lands were
good, especially those in the Saint John valley, we may suppose that farming
operations were a success. The
stoneless alluvial lands, the rich natural pastures, and the parklike magnificent
forests, free of underbrush, made the valley a prize for the pioneer farmer even
when he had not the capital to trade largely in its furs or to build a
That the natural resources of the region could yield a good profit for those
who had capital is revealed by the flourishing business of Simonds and White, who
exported $ 100,000 worth of furs, staves, fish, and lime in the period from 1764 to
The Pre-Loyalist inhabitants of New Brunswick belonged for the most part
to the Congregational Church, a circumstance which did not enhance their social and
political importance in the eyes of leading Loyalists when the latter arrived.
According to Hannay, the settlers on the Saint John river found in religion, and also
in rum, solace and excitement for lives of isolation and hard work.34
Doubtless the town meeting, on occasion, furnished interesting episodes also.
This New England institution had been promised by implication when Governor Lawrence,
to attract settlers, had proclaimed the establishment of a characteristically American rural township
Actually, however, Nova Scotia in local government as well as in central
followed the practice of the royal colony of Virginia rather than that of
Massachusetts, and county members never did get the New England form of local
self-government on the statute books.36
But town meetings continued to be held; indeed the authorities attempted to
place a check on them in 1770,37
thereby adding to the grievances of the outpost settlements, which not
infrequently held illegal gatherings in the years immediately preceding the
Revolution. It is hardly likely that the Maugerville meeting of May, 1776, which
approved of union with the American cause,38
was the first town meeting held in the community.
As one would expect, public provision for education during this period
was slight. The imperial authorities probably felt that they had done all that
was necessary when they blessed the efforts of the
S. P. G. and directed that four hundred acres of land in each township should be
granted for the use of schools.39
In reality this generous-sounding provision could be only a gesture until the
lands became productive of revenue. Legislation relating to schools before 1783 seems
to have been confined to An Act
concerning Schools and Schoolmasters in 1766. In harmony with the idea of the
importance of clerical supervision the licensing of teachers was to be subject to the
approval of the clergy. If there were no settled minister, the examination of the
candidate was to be held by two Justices of the Peace for the county, provided that
at least six inhabitants of the area could certify to the good character of the
If there were teachers legally licensed at Maugerville previous to 1774, they
must have been certified in this way, as the first settled minister in Maugerville,
the Rev. Seth Noble, did not arrive until that year.41
In 1766, feeling was still strong against the Acadians, which probably
explains why one section of the Act of 1766 stated that no popish person shall be so presumptive as to
set up any school in the province.
Already the battle was on in peninsular Nova Scotia to promote exclusive
Anglican schools under the S. P. G.,43
but the history of S. P. G. activities in New Brunswick does not properly
begin until after the Loyalist arrival. Such schools as there were in this part of
Nova Scotia before 1783 were conducted intermittently by teachers of the itinerant
type, were generally held in private houses, and offered a very rudimentary
education. Books were scarce, and the masters, paid by the subscription method and
often in produce, received a mere pittance.44
Obviously, one of the great problems to confront the Loyalists on their
arrival was the lack of opportunity for the education of their children, but the
absence of any definite school system did leave them free within the framework of
their economic circumstances to build on the old basis of class and church.
Except for a few observations we may dismiss the story of Nova Scotia
during the Revolution as having but slight bearing on our theme. For a number of
reasons the people of the province in general either adhered to the British cause or
failed effectively to support the rebels, even the majority of New Englanders finding
charms in the neutrality for which they had roundly abused the Acadians a few decades
before. The present New Brunswick was the scene of the only real invasion directed
against Nova Scotia during the conflict, minor enterprise though it was, and the
country did not entirely escape those features of the struggle which made life
miserable for the Fundy folk and the fishermen of the south coast. The people of
Maugerville, whether because of their New England affiliations, grievances against
the distant government at Halifax, or fear of attack by the Malicete Indians, sent to
Massachusetts protestations of attachment, listened to Eddy when he sought aid for
his Cumberland venture,
and even endorsed the
scheme by joining his expedition in small numbers. The settlements at Sackville and
Cumberland had the choice between loyalty and rebellion closely presented to them
when Jonathan Eddy arrived in their midst with his daring plan of attack on Fort
Cumberland. But Eddy's attack turned into a fiasco and John Allan, Seth Noble,
Phineas Nevers, and others who had been most hearty in the rebel cause fled to Maine. When a series of
circumstances and events had relieved Nova Scotia from the fear of an American
invasion, the Revolution, as far as the fourteenth colony was concerned, was over
except for the aftermath of Loyalist immigration. The Loyalists, not unnaturally,
considered the loyalty of the people of the province to be of a much paler shade than
their own, a belief which tended to make them regard the old inhabitants as a poor lot.
From this brief review of the early history of Nova Scotia, one is
impressed by the insularity of the colony and by its separateness from the rest of
North America, a separateness which was intensified by the break with the Thirteen
Colonies in the Revolution. This isolation should have given it a national unity, but
geographical diversities, the scattered nature of the settlements, and differences in
outlook between the government and the New Englanders who peopled the country worked
against unity. Although the majority of the population were Americans, business and
government tied the country to England, and the province, like Quebec, kept its
independence of the United States and refused to become part of a great continental
We have observed that that part of Nova Scotia which became New Brunswick
was so negligibly settled previous to the coming of the Loyalists as to be almost
empty. The Loyalists, therefore, could be sure of land enough for homes, and of a
clear field for whatever institutions they might wish to establish. It is doubtful if
they all realized before their arrival how difficult life in this wilderness was to
be. From those who were cultured and town-bred pioneer life was to demand a heavy
price, taking toll of their energies, cramping their ambitions, blighting their
literature, and modifying their incipient institutions. Those early years were to
constitute a testing time—and testing times are distinguished by the surmounting of obstacles rather than the
accomplishment of bold designs marked by outstanding initiative.
This brief excursion into Nova Scotian history has shown us that
economically and geographically Nova Scotia was part of New England, in spite of ties
forged with London by Halifax bureaucrats and financiers. The Revolution meant that
the best natural market of the Maritime Provinces would henceforth be, for political
These provinces had now moved out of New England's orbit into Great Britain's . Henceforth Nova
Scotia must look eastward to London for direction and help rather than southwestward
to Boston as in the past.47
But in a new province—and the Loyalists who came to the Saint John soon
found many reasons why there should be a
province north and west of the Bay of Fundy- there was bound to be such a lack of
necessities that the inhabitants would have to turn to the nearest source of supply,
the United States. In other words, the new province was likely to find itself pulled
two ways, as had happened to Nova Scotia twice before, with adverse effects on its
In 1783, however, the Loyalists turned away physically and emotionally
from the old colonies. To their leading men the new land presented a challenge,
despite personal deprivations, and with wonderful courage and optimism they accepted
that challenge. By Heaven we will
be the envy of the American States , wrote Edward Winslow to Ward Chipman in
as he contemplated the formation of a truly Loyalist province.
In our next chapter we shall study those foundation years in which the
New Brunswick school system had its slow beginnings.
^1. Hannay (1), Vol. 1, p. 134.
^2. Creighton, p. 171.
^3. Brebner (1), p. 9.
^4. Brown, p. 137.
^5. Hannay (1), Vol, 1, p. 77.
^6. Gilroy, p. 1 of Introduction.
^7. Creighton, p. 19.
^8. Ibid., p. 63.
^9. Brebner (2), p. 31.
^10. Ibid., p. 31.
^11. Creighton, p. 50.
^12. Brebner (2), p. 45.
^13. Ibid., pp. 15-17.
^14. Hannay (1), Vol. 1, p. 34.
^15. Brebner (2), p. 83.
^16. Creighton, p. 108.
^17. This whole question of the Acadian
oath of allegiance is a controversial matter. It is dealt with at length in
Brebner J. B., New England's Outpost, and it is
also treated by A. G. Doughty in his book The Acadian
^18. Lower (1), pp. 5-18.
^19. Creighton, pp. 127, 128.
^20. Ibid., p. 161.
^21. Brebner (2), pp. 166-180.
^22. Kerr, p. 6.
^23. Brebner (1), p. 93.
^24. Hanney (1), Vol. 1, pp. 65,
^25. Gilroy, p. 1.
^26. Brebner (1), p. 57.
^27. Ibid., p. 35-37, 94-98.
^28. Hannay (1), pp. 67-70.
^29. Ibid., p. 69.
^30. Brebner (1), p. 116.
^31. Hannay (1), Vol. 1, pp. 76,
^32. Brebner (1), p. 115.
^33. Ibid., p. 116.
^34. Hannay (1), Vol. 1, pp. 80,
^35. Brebner (1), p. 27.
^36. Creighton, p. 151.
^37. Brebner (1), p. 297.
^38. Kerr, p. 75.
^39. Fitch, p. 2.
^40. MacKay, A. H., pp. 512,
^41. Hannay (1), p. 81.
^42. MacKay, p. 513.
^43. Brebner (1), p. 197.
^44. Fitch, p. 2. Hay, pp. 545, 546.
Raymond (2), Vol. VI, No. 7, pp. 131, 132.
^45. Gilroy, p. 82.
^46. Innis & Lower, p. 386.
^47. Brebner (1), p. 353.
^48. Winslow Papers, p. 353.