From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:
Even before Dartmouth was settled, the authorities at Halifax planned for a sawmill and a guardhouse to be constructed on the eastern side of the harbor.
It was Major Gilman who erected the sawmill at Dartmouth Cove. It was likely situated on the stream which flowed from the Dartmouth Lakes (later, the Shubenacadie Canal), but the exact site is difficult to ascertain.
The land laid out for the sawmill appears under the name of Ezekiel Gilman in records of the time. The boundary of the plot began on the stream, at a spot about thirty chains (605 Meters, 0.38 miles) from Collins’s Point (King’s Wharf), near the Railway.
From there it ran north 65° east, about sixty chains (1210 Meters, 0.75 miles); then north 35° west for about forty-two chains (845 meters, 0.52 Miles); then south 55° west, for seventy-two and a half chains (1460 Meters, 0.91 Miles); then south 35° east, for about fifty chains (1005 Meters, 0.62 Miles) until it reached the stream mentioned previously.
This encompassed the lower half of Lake Banook, and the land to the south and southwest of it to the harbor.
The 30th day of September 1749 was a harrowing day for Dartmouth when a major attack against Cornwallis and his men took place.
Early on that Saturday morning, six men were felling timber in an area about 180 meters from the old Dartmouth mill on Canal Street. They were suddenly attacked by a band of Mi’kmaq who had been lurking in the thick forest nearby.
It was the season of Michaelmas (the feast of St. Michael, September 29), when the nights grow longer and blacker. The Mi’kmaq had no doubt crept down from the lakes in the cover of darkness.
Four men were killed in the ‘Mill Cove Massacre’, and a fifth man carried up-country as a prisoner. The sixth one escaped, because he was probably out of musket range, he was able to get back to the Dartmouth mill where Major Ezekiel Gilman and his guards were stationed.
Governor Cornwallis had long feared an attack on his colonists, but not from the Dartmouth side. He had recently received information that the Mi’kmaq were designing to besiege the settlers at Halifax during that first winter.
The Mi’kmaq had been friendly when the transports came in June, but afterwards began to withdraw. On September 11, 1749, the Governor wrote to the home government that “Not one [Indigenous person] had appeared at Chebucto for some weeks past”. This was most unusual.
Then reports reached him that the Mi’kmaq were becoming hostile. At Canso in August, they took twenty English prisoners. Later at Chignecto another attack on some merchant vessels, and three dead crew. This event moved the Governor to take extraordinary precautions.
Accordingly, he ordered Captain John Gorham and his rangers to take up winter quarters in Bedford at a post which later became Fort Sackville. Halifax was well guarded at the front entrance.
But, as Historian Thomas H. Raddall points out, Cornwallis failed to realize that there was also a back entrance to his settlement.
This was by way of the river and lakes from Shubenacadie to Dartmouth, a traditional route used by Mi’kmaq for millennia – likely the route used for the Mi’kmaq assault, canoes beached at the foot of Lake Banook.
The assault occurred about seven o’clock in the morning. Two musket muzzles belched out first, and then a deadly volley spurted from the guns of the assailants.
When the soldiers from the Mill found their four dead comrades they saw that two of them had been decapitated, and their heads had been carried away. A third victim had been scalped. A pursuing detachment eventually killed two of the Mi’kmaq warriors. These men they promptly scalped, probably for the bounty.
In the collections of the N.S. Historical Society for 1892, there is a contribution by Miss Elizabeth Frame of Shubenacadie on the incident. It is an account written by one of the New Englanders living in Halifax and published in a Boston newspaper of 1749:
“Halifax, October 2, 1749 – About seven o’clock on Saturday morning before, as several of Major Gillman’s workmen with one soldier, unarmed, were hewing sticks of timber about 200 yards from his house and mills on the east side of the harbor, they were surprised by about 40 [Indigenous people], who first fired two shots and then a volley upon them which filled four, two of whom they scalped, and cut off the heads of the others, the fifth is missing and is supposed to have been carried off. Two or three men at work near the mill made their escape to a wooden planks—on one side of the Major’s house. As soon as he was alarmed he called in all his people and a party of 12 soldiers into his half finished blockhouse, fired his guns into the woods among them, and awaited their attack which they did not make, although they might easily have carried the place.”
The story was also explored more recently, in 1944 by Thomas H. Raddall. It focused on the prior and the subsequent adventures of the captured Mill Cove wood-cutter of Major Gilman’s party, “Roger Sudden.”
During the winter of 1749-50, the storeship Duke of Bedford and an armed sloop were anchored in Dartmouth Cove, and the ice was broken around them every night in order to prevent an approach by the Mi’kmaq.
They were within “Gun Shot of the Fort at the Sawmill.” (Minutes of Council, Sunday, 7th January, 1750).
The ships were under cover of a gun which was mounted on a point near the sawmill. This was likely Collins’s Point (Kings Wharf).
In June, 1752, the government mills at Dartmouth were sold at auction, for £310, to Major Ezekiel Gilman.