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Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter II. New Scotland’s Beginnings


It is a fact worth emphasis, but too little considered, that New Scotland sprang, as it were, direct from the loins of Old Scotland, and that both Old and New England looked on as non-agents passively.

To-day of the Provinces which make up the Dominion of Canada, New Scotland is the only one boasting a flag of its own, owing nothing in its composition to either the flag of England or that of France. Here one may see unfurled a white flag with a blue St. Andrew’s Cross (saltier) dividing the “field” in four, while in the centre is the double-tressured lion of Scotland, the ruddy lion rampant in gold. This is the flag of New Scotland, and these were the arms of Sir William Alexander, to this day figuring in part of the arms of the Baronets of Nova Scotia, to which famed order Sir Arthur Wardour, one remembers, was proud to owe allegiance.

When to Sir William Alexander the grant was made by James VI. of Scotland of lands lying between New England and Newfoundland, “to be holden of us from our Kingdom of Scotland as a part thereof.” On the 29th September, 1621, the Charter passed under the Great Seal. Sir William Alexander was appointed hereditary Lieutenant-General of the colony, which was in all future time to have the name of New Scotland, or, as appears in the courtly Latin of the charter, Nova Scotia, the first time such name appears in his tory, and at this day itself the only permanent memorial of the undertaking.

The charter goes on to say: “As it is very important that all our beloved subjects who inhabit the said Province of New Scotland or its borders may live in the fear of Almighty God, and at the same lime in His true worship, and may have an earnest purpose to establish the Christian religion therein, and also to cultivate peace and quiet with the native inhabitants and savage aborigines of these lands, so that they, and any others trading there, may safely, pleasantly, and quietly hold what they have got with great labour and peril. We . . . give and grant to the said Sir William Alexander and foresaids . . . free and absolute power of arranging and securing peace, alliance, friendship, mutual conferences, assistance, intercourse, &c.” The charter also granted the power of attacking suddenly, invading, expelling, and by arms driving away ... all and singly those who without their special license should attempt to occupy these lands, or trade in the said Province of New Scotland. Authorisation was also given them to construct “forts, fortresses, castles, &c., with posts and naval stations, and also ships of war:” to “establish garrisons of soldiers, and generally to do all things for the acquisition, increase, and introduction of people and persons to preserve and govern New Scotland ... as the King might do if present in person.” The right of regulating and coining money was also granted: and these and other privileges involved only the annual payment of “one penny of Scottish money, if so much be demanded.”

Sir William, soon after obtaining his patent, arranged for the transfer of his rights in the inland of Cape Breton, which originally was included in the Province of New Scotland, to his friend Sir Robert Gordon, of Lochinvar. The latter, with his son Robert, obtained a royal charter (dated 8th November, 1621) to this, which was styled the barony of New Galloway.

No time was lost by Sir William in taking the necessary steps for the settling of his territory. Fitting out a ship in London, in March, 1622, he sent it round the coast to Kirkcudbright, hoping to obtain there a body of emigrants, through the influence of Sir Robert Gordon, whose lands lay in that direction. The meagre inducements offered, however, could hardly attract persons possessed of the ordinary comforts of home life. Purchasers of land were the only ones to have any rights in the soil. Farmers might obtain leases ; but all, after a specified time, were constrained to pay a one-thirteenth part of the revenue from the land to the Lieutenant-General. Artisans might: receive holdings, but only for their lives. So it is recorded that there was only one artisan, a blacksmith, took part in the expedition, the other emigrants being generally agricultural labourers of the lowest class. It is unlikely, however, that more favourable terms were offered in any of the early attempts at settlement in America, or that the material engaged in them was any better. If Sir William had offered lands in fee his prospective emigrants would probably have been of an altogether different class—of the class of men who, being possessed of the means of subsistence, could have become attached to the soil, and who in time would have built up a free and prosperous society. But a system such as this was totally opposed to the social ideas of the times—times when the most prevalent idea was to establish overseas a state of society similar to that of mediaeval Europe, the soil in the possession of certain lords paramount, and the settlers holding their lands in a condition little above that of serfs.

The two colonising expeditions undertaken in consequence of the charter cost Alexander a large sum of money, and both ended in failure, owing to ill-management. This failure by no means dampened Sir William’s zeal. In 1624. he issued a small work entitled, on Encouragement to Colonies, which was furnished with a map of New Scotland. The names given on this show the determination to reproduce the peculiarities of Scotland, even in minor ways. In this manner the St. Croix River appears as the Tweed, while another, flowing from its head into the St. Lawrence, is named the Solway. The river doubtless intended for the St. John, is called the Clyde, and the inlet of the sea on the coast of New Brunswick is put down as the Forth.

In this work Sir William depicts New Scotland as having “very delecate meadowes,” “with roses white and red,’’ and “very good, fat earth,” as the voyagers in the St. Luke had seen it along the coast. As a further inducement for early occupation, he added a mention of rich grains, and an abundance of fowls and fishes. Scotland he referred to as like a bee-hive, sending out swarms of her people yearly, who expended their energies in foreign wars. He then invited Scotsmen to settle in a new country, where successful commerce might he prosecuted by the merchant, where the sportsman might enter into a paradise of his own, and where the Christian might have ample scope for missionary enterprise.

“Where,” was his argument, “was ever Ambition baited with greater hopes than here, or where ever had Vertue so large a field to reape the fruits of Glory, since any mar who doth goe thither of good qualitie, able at first to transport a hundred persons with him, furnished with things necessary, shall have as much Bounds as may serve for a great Man, whereupon he may build a Towne of his owne, giving it what forme or name he will, and being the first Founder of a new estate, which a pleasing industry may quickly bring to a perfection, may leaue a faire inheritance to his posteritie, who shah claime unto him as the author of their Nobilitie there, rather than to any of his Ancestours that had preceded him, though never so nobly borne elsewhere?”

But despite the glowing prospects enumerated in this Encouragement to Colonies, little enthusiasm was excited on behalf of the undertaking. When the English treasury refused to compensate Alexander for losses m a matter in which it had no concern, a new method was suggested, whereby his embarrassments might be relieved and the undertaking carried on. James, since his accession to the English throne, had systematically replenished his revenues by the simple method of selling titles. A particular instance of this was the colonisation of Ulster; when he shortly before created an order of knights baronets, of which English landowners might become members on their paying into the exchequer the sum of £1100. By this means some 205 persons had obtained the new dignity between 1611 and 1622, the profit to the treasury being £225,000. This suggested to Sir William that the expenses of his colony might be provided for by the establishment of a new order—the baronets of New Scotland—while less costly terms might serve as inducements for the Scottish landowners and the sons of the Scottish nobility to become members. His recommendation of this plan in due course brought forth a royal letter, which informed the Privy Council of Scotland that the King had determined to take a personal interest in the colonisation of New Scotland, and to establish a new order of baronets in connection therewith. The Privy Council were invited to assist in the carrying out of the royal intention.

The council, influenced by Sir William, approved the royal order, and replied to the King on the 23rd November, 1624, indicating a scheme for following His Majesty’s withes. “We are given to understand that the country of New Scotland, being dividit into twa Provinces and eache Province into several Dioceises or B'shoprikis, and each Diocese in thrie Counteyis, and each Countey into ten Baroneyis, every baronie being three myle long vpon the coast and ten myle up nto the countrie, dividit into sax parodies, and each paroche contening sax thousand aikars of land; and that every Baronett is to be ane Barone of some one or other of the saidis Barroneis, and is to naif therein ten thousand aikars of propertie, besidis his sax thousand aikars belonging to his bur (burgh) of baronie, to be holden free blanshe, and in a free baronie of His Majesty as the baronies of the kingdome.” The conditions imposed were the setting furth of six men towardis Ilis Maiestie’s Royall Colonic, armed, apparelld and victualled for two yeares, and every baronet pajing Sir Wilham ane thousand markis Scottis money only toward his past charges and endevouris.”

As for these Nova Scotia baronetcies, great efforts were made to induce likely persons to accept them. In 1629 six were created and thirteen in the two years following. The Commissioners were impowered to fill up the dates of patents at their discretion, “so that those unwilling to occupy a lower place on the rolls might be reckoned amongst the earliest creations.” Nor was the outer attractiveness of the order neglected. Under date of the 17th November, 1629, the King authorises “everie one of them and thare heires male to weare and carry about their neckis, in all time coming, ane orange tauney ribbane, whairon shall hmg pendant on a skutchion argent, a saltoire azcur thereon, ane inscutcheune of the armes of Scotland, with ane imperiall croune above the scutchone, and 'ncircled with this motto: ‘Fax Mentis Honestae Gloria.’” This was to be proclaimed publicly at the market cross of Edinburgh. And any one who should, “out of neglect or contempt, presume to tak place or precedence of the said baroneltes, thare wifes or childring, or to weare thare cognoissance,” was in the same paper threatened with fine and imprisonment.

A Scottish settlement was planted on the shores of Annapolis Basin; but the settlers seem to have been little prepared for the rigours of a Nova Scotian winter and the enmity of the Indians, for no fewer than thirty of the pioneers died. Meanwhile, Sir William Alexander’s son, bearing the same name, had succeeded; and, arriving in New Scotland, proceeded to put affairs into better order. He dealt so dexterously with the aborigines, that their chief consented to make a journey to England with his wife and son, where they enjoyed the absurd titles of King, Queen, and Prince of New Scotland. In the December of 1629, Sir James Bagg, Governor of Plymouth, was directed by royal letter to conduct to Court “one of the commanders (or chiefs) of Canada, attended by some others of that countrie.” In a letter from Christ College, dated the 12th of February, 1630, the Rev. Joseph Mead wrote :—

“There came last week to London the king, queen, and young prince of New Scotland. This king comes to be of our king’s religion, and to submit his kingdom to him, and to become his hostage for the same, that he may be protected against the French in Canada. Those savages arrived at Plymouth, were a while entertained at my Lord Poulet’s in Somersetshire, much made of, especially my lady of the savage queen. She came with her to the coach, when they were come to London, put a chain about her neck with a diamond valued by some at near £20. The savages took all in good part, but for thanks or acknowledgment made no sign or expression at all.”

Meanwhile Biencourt, the representative of De Monts and the original French settlers, together with two enterprising spirits named De la Tour, father and son, were holding on for King Louis in Acadia. When Biencourt died, Charles De la Tour meditated striking a blow for French supremacy. In this he was perpetually foiled, his father was captured by Admiral Kirke and taken to England, where he was caressed and cajoled, married a Court lady, and was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia. As Sir Claude he went out to New Scotland to endeavour to seduce his son Charles from his allegiance, but in vain. New Scotland, as a British settlement, was doomed. In 1632 the blow fell. By the treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, Nova Scotia and Canada were ceded back to France, by Charles I., who by this act of treachery achieved what French force had hitherto failed to accomplish. Nevertheless, the King wrote a letter to the Privy Council, in which he says: “lest any mistaking should ensure thereupon, we have thought it good to declare unto you that it (the Treaty) is in no ways for quitting the title right or possession of New Scotland or of any part thereof.” But this, in view of the actual terms of the Treaty, and of its consequences, was empty language. The settlers of New Scotland dispersed or mingled with the French, and the first attempt to establish a New Scotland ended in failure.

I have dwelt somewhat fully upon this project—the beginnings of New Scotland—because it is one almost invariably slurred over by historians, and about which much ignorance exists. I shall have occasion in later pages to speak of the essentially Scottish character of New Scotland, and it is as well to recall its early planting by the Alexanders, the Frasers, the Gordons, and the MacNeills.

Of the subsequent history of Nova Scotia I can here touch upon only briefly. England’s next ruler, Oliver Cromwell, recovered what Charles had basely surrendered, and Acadia became again Nova Scotia: but this position was again changed in 1667, when Charles II. gave away what Cromwell had won, that is to say, “all the country called Acadia situated in America which the Most Christian King had formerly enjoyed.” Another war, however, soon came between England and France, after the expulsion of James II. Port Royal was compelled to surrender to a British force from Boston, and Nova Scotia had again changed hands. The country reverted to the French through a Treaty of King William III.’s in 1697; but at the end of a further war, in 1713, the mainland of Nova Scotia had again passed into the possession of the British, a position which has never since changed. France retained her hold on Cape Breton Island and the neighbouring Isle St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island), until Canada was conquered in 1759.

To reach these results many battles were fought, and many interesting historical events happened in New Scotland—as, for instance, the two sieges of Louisbourg, and the famous expulsion of the Acadians, celebrated in Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline.”

When the French power was finally shattered, the total white population of Nova Scotia was only some 13,000, of which 2000 were French. The capital, Halifax, was a little garrison town only fourteen years old, and comprising some 500 families. Settlers from the neighbouring New England colonies caused a considerable increase in this number, and additions came from King George’s German kingdom of Hanover. Afterward, when the American colonies had thrown off their allegiance, some 20,000, who either would not or could not remain in their old homes under a new flag, migrated to Nova Scotia, calling themselves the United Empire Loyalists. Many of these, however, settled on the north-west side of the Bay of Fundy—a region which, then under the Governor of Nova Scotia, was afterwards formed into a separate Province, now known to us as New Brunswick. From that time to the present day Nova Scotia’s history has been one of uninterrupted peace.

Thus briefly have I presented to the reader the salient features in Provincial history, a subject upon which more than one interesting volume has been penned. Of its romance—and it is a land teeming with romance—there is hardly a hill or a valley, a lake, an island, or a headland, that has not some tradition, some legend, some story of massacre, of sacrifice, of heroism, or of devotion—I have so far hinted but little. Its shrines are visited by thousands of Americans annually. This is the land past which the British visitor to Canada finds himself whirled, and is soon at the heart of the great Dominion of the West, without having seen its smiling crest, or touched its outstretched hand.


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