Nova Scotia Constitutional Timeline

An expanded version of what’s put forth by the Nova Scotia legislature.

1493 – May 4, Alexander VI, Pope of Rome, issued a bull, granting the New World. Spain laid claim to the entire North American Coast from Cape Florida to Cape Breton, as part of its territory of Bacalaos.

1496 – March 5, Henry VII, King of England issued a commission to John Cabot and his sons to search for an unknown land

1498 – March 5,  Letters Patents of King Henry the Seventh Granted unto John Cabot and his Three Sonnes, Lewis, Sebastian and Sancius for the “Discouerie of New and Unknowen Lands”

1502 – Henry VII commissioned Hugh Eliot and Thomas Ashurst to discover and take possession of the islands and continents in America; “and in his name and for his use, as his vassals, to enter upon, doss, conquer, govern, and hold any Mainland or Islands by them discovered.”

1524 – Francis I, King of France, said that he should like to see the clause in Adam’s will, which made the American continent the exclusive possession of his brothers of Spain and Portugal, is said to have sent out Verrazzano, a Florentine corsair, who, as has generally been believed, explored the entire coast from 30° to 50° North Latitude, and named the whole region New France.

1534 – King Francis commissioned Jacques Cartier to discover and take possession of Canada; “his successive voyages, within the six years following, opened the whole region of St. Lawrence and laid the foundation of French dominion on this continent.”

1578 – June 11, Letters patent granted by Elizabeth, Queen of England to Sir Humphrey Gilbert, knight, for “the inhabiting and planting of our people in America”.

1584 – March 25, Queen Elizabeth renewed Gilbert’s grant to Sir Walter Raleigh, his half-brother. Under this commission, Raleigh made an unsuccessful attempt to plant an English colony in Virginia, a name afterwards extended to the whole North Coast of America in honor of the “Virgin” Queen.

1603 – November 8, Henry IV, King of France, granted Sieur de Monts a royal patent conferring the possession of and sovereignty of the country between latitudes 40° and 46° (from Philadelphia as far north as Katahdin and Montreal). Samuel Champlain, geographer to the King, accompanied De Monts on his voyage, landing at the site of Liverpool, N.S., a region already known as “Acadia.”

1606 – April 10, King James claimed the whole of North America between 34° and 45° North latitude, granting it to the Plymouth and London Companies. This entire territory was placed under the management of one council, the Royal Council for Virginia. The Northern Colony encompassed the area from 38° to 45° North latitude.

1620 – November 3, Reorganization of the Plymouth Company in 1620 as the Council of Plymouth for New England, encompassing from 40° to 48° North latitude.

1621 – September 29, Charter granted to Sir William Alexander for Nova Scotia

1625 – July 12, A grant of the soil, barony, and domains of Nova Scotia to Sir Wm. Alexander of Minstrie

1630 – April 30, Conveyance of Nova-Scotia (Port-royal excepted) by Sir William Alexander to Sir Claude St. Etienne Lord of la Tour and of Uarre and to his son Sir Charles de St. Etienne Lord of St. Denniscourt, on condition that they continue subjects to the king of Scotland under the great seal of Scotland.

1632 – March 29, Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, between King Louis XIII. and Charles King of England for the restitution of the New France, Cadia and Canada and ships and goods taken from both sides.

1632 – May 14/24 – Concession of the River and Bay of St. Croix to Commander Razilly, by the Company of New France

1635/6 – January 15/25 – Concession of Acadia to Sir Charles La Tour, By The Company of New France.

1638 Grant to Charnesay and La Tour

1647 – February – Commission To Lord D’Aulney Charnizay, By Louis XIV of France.

1651/2 – February 25th,March 7th – Letters Patent Confirming Sir Charles La Tour In Acadia, By Louis XIV. Of France.

1654 – August 16, Capitulation of Port-Royal

1656 – August 9/19, The Grant of Acadia, By Oliver Cromwell

1656 – September 17/27 – Commission to Colonel Temple, By Oliver Cromwell

1667 – July 31, The treaty of peace and alliance between England and the United Provinces made at Breda

1668 – February 17, Act of cession of Acadia to the King of France

1689 – English Bill of Rights enacted

1691, October 7, A charter granted by King William and Queen Mary to the inhabitants of the province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England

1713 – March 31, Treaty of peace and friendship between Louis XIV. King of France, and Anne, Queen of Great Britain, made in Utrecht

1713 – April 11, Treaty of navigation and commerce between Louis XIV, king of France, and Anne, Queen of Great Britain

1719 – June 19, Commission to Richard Philips to be Governor (including a copy of the 1715 Instructions given to the Governor of Virginia, by which he was to conduct himself)

1725 – August 26, Explanatory Charter of Massachusetts Bay

1725 – December 15, A treaty with the Indians (Peace and Friendship Treaty, ratification at Annapolis)

1727 – July 25, Ratification at Casco Bay of the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1725

1728 – May 13, Ratification at Annapolis Royal of the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1725

1748, October 7–18, The general and definitive treaty of peace concluded at Aix-la-Chapelle

1749 – September 4, Renewal of the Peace and Friendship treaty of 1725

1752 – November 22, Treaty between Thomas Hopson, Governor in Chief in and over His Majesty’s Province of Nova Scotia and Major Jean Baptiste Cope, Chief Sachem of the Tribe of the MickMack Indians inhabiting the Eastern Coast…

1758 – Nova Scotia Legislature established (consisting of the Lieutenant Governor, his Council and the newly established, elected legislative assembly called the House of Assembly)

1760 – March, Treaty of Peace and Friendship concluded by the Governor of Nova Scotia with Paul Laurent, Chief of the La Heve tribe of Indians

1761 – November 9, Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Jonathon Belcher and Francis Muis

1763 – February 10, France ceded, for the last time, the rest of Acadia, including Cape Breton Island (‘île Royale), the future New Brunswick and St John’s Island (later re-named Prince Edward Island), to the British (Treaty of Paris) and it was joined to Nova Scotia

1763 – October 7, Royal Proclamation

1769 – Prince Edward Island established as a colony separate from Nova Scotia

1779 – September 22, Treaty signed at Windsor between John Julien, Chief and Michael Francklin, representing the Government of Nova Scotia

1784 – Cape Breton Island and New Brunswick established as colonies separate from Nova Scotia

1820 – Cape Breton Island re-joined to Nova Scotia

1838 – Separate Executive Council and Legislative Council established

1848 – Responsible government was established in Nova Scotia (Members of the Legislature appointed a majority of those in the Legislative Council)

1867 – “Union” of provinces of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as the “self-governing” federal colony of the Dominion of Canada (British North America Act, 1867 — now known in Canada as Constitution Act, 1867) & the Parliament of Canada established (consisting of the Queen, the Senate and the House of Commons)

1928 – Abolition of the Legislative Council (leaving the Legislature consisting of the Lieutenant Governor and the House of Assembly)

1931 – Canadian “independence” legally recognized (Statute of Westminster, 1931)

1960 – Canadian Bill of Rights enacted

1982 – “Patriation” of the amendment of the Constitution of Canada & adoption of the Constitution Act, 1982, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada Act 1982)

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. J. Stockdale, 1787. https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/gdc/lhbcb/04902/04902.pdf

Legislature of the State of Maine. “The Revised Statutes of the State of Maine, Passed August 29, 1883, and Taking Effect January 1,1884.”, Portland, Loring, Short & Harmon and William M. Marks. 1884. https://lldc.mainelegislature.org/Open/RS/RS1883/RS1883_f0005-0017_Land_Titles.pdf

Farnham, Miss Mary Frances. “Documentary History of the State of Maine: Volume VII Containing The Farnham Papers 1603-1688”. Maine Historical Society. Portland. 1901. https://archive.org/details/documentaryhisto07main, https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/public/gdcmassbookdig/farnhampapers01farn/farnhampapers01farn.pdf

Kennedy, William P. Statutes, Treaties and Documents of the Canadian Constitution: 1713-1929. Oxford Univ. Pr., 1930. https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_03428

Harvard Law School Library. “Description Legislative history regarding treaties of commerce with France, Spain relating to New Foundland, Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton,” ca. 1715? Small Manuscript Collection, Harvard Law School Library. https://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HLS.LIBR:19686447, Accessed 07 June 2021

Thorpe, Francis Newton. “The Federal and State constitutions: colonial charters, and other organic laws of the States, territories, and Colonies, now or heretofore forming the United States of America” Washington : Govt. Print. Off. 1909. https://archive.org/details/federalstatecons07thor/page/n5/mode/2up

Murdoch, Beamish. “Epitome of the laws of Nova-Scotia” [Halifax, N.S.? : s.n.], 1832 (Halifax, N.S. : J. Howe) Volume One: https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.59437, Volume Two: https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.59438, Volume Three: https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.59439, Volume Four: https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.59440

Marshall, John G. “The justice of the peace, and county and township officer in the province of Nova Scotia : being a guide to such justice and officers in the discharge of their official duties” [Halifax, N.S.? : s.n.], 1837 (Halifax [N.S.] : Gossip & Coade) https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.36869, Second Edition: https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.38224

Livingston, Walter Ross. Responsible Government In Nova Scotia: a Study of the Constitutional Beginnings of the British Commonwealth. Iowa City: The University, 1930. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89080043730https://archive.org/details/responsiblegover0000livi

Bourinot, John George. “The constitution of the Legislative Council of Nova Scotia” [S.l. : s.n., 1896?] https://archive.org/details/cihm_10453/page/141, https://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.10453/14?r=0&s=1

Laing, David, editor. “Royal letters, charters, and tracts, relating to the colonization of New Scotland, and the institution of the Order of knight baronets of Nova Scotia. -1638“. [Edinburgh Printed by G. Robb, 1867] https://archive.org/details/royallettersc11400lainuoft

Labaree, Leonard Woods. “Royal Instructions to British Colonial Governors 1670–1776“. Vol. I and Vol. II. The American Historical Association. (New York : D. Appleton-Century Company, 1935) https://archive.org/details/royalinstruction0001laba, https://archive.org/details/royalinstruction0002laba

Beamish Murdoch, “On the origin and sources of the Law of Nova Scotia” (An essay on the Origin and Sources of the Law of Nova Scotia read before the Law Students Society, Halifax, N.S., 29 August 1863), (1984) 8:3 DLJ 197. https://digitalcommons.schulichlaw.dal.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1399&context=dlj

Shirley B. Elliott, “An Historical Review of Nova Scotia Legal Literature: a select bibliography”, Comment, (1984) 8:3 DLJ 197. https://digitalcommons.schulichlaw.dal.ca/dlj/vol8/iss3/12/

Responsible Government in Nova Scotia

This book discusses the evolution of Nova Scotia’s constitutional and legal institutions during the 18th and 19th centuries in terms of the British institutions from which it sprang. As English settlers established colonies, they carried with them differing political and constitutional views, leading to tensions and migrations. Despite this scattering, the underlying issues persisted and grew, ultimately posing challenges for the British Empire as a whole.

The American Revolution emerged from these tensions, fueled by differing interpretations of political sovereignty and governance. Colonists demanded self-government and local autonomy, rebuffing British attempts at centralized control. The Declaration of Independence asserted the rights of man and consent of the governed, principles rooted in British constitutional history but revitalized in the American colonies.

The clash between local autonomy and centralized control led to the formation of the Articles of Confederation and the principle of federalism in the new American republic. Meanwhile, the colonies sought a partnership with Britain rather than subjugation, reflecting a new conception of empire and fellowship among equals.

This period of revolution and adjustment saw the birth of new constitutional principles and governmental customs, challenging traditional notions of imperial governance. Nova Scotia’s role in this constitutional evolution is highlighted, underscoring the neglected history of its contribution to the broader imperial narrative. Extensive research into original and manuscript sources sheds light on this overlooked aspect of history, providing insight into the complexities of constitutional development during this transformative era.


“From the beginning a most important feature of English history has been the steady evolution of a constitution and the development of legal and political institutions. During the period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when her people were expanding into the new world and establishing states as offsprings of the mother country, the constitution at home was undergoing some very necessary adjustments and fundamental changes. While these transformations were wrought primarily for the purpose of meeting the changing circumstances and growing needs of the ancient island kingdom, some of the friction which resulted was profoundly instrumental in sending out to the colonies great groups and sections of her own people, who, when they arrived and settled retained the points of view and the interpretations which had made it unwise and, in some cases, impossible for them to remain at home.

The Puritans, the Cavaliers, the Catholics, and the Quakers all held political and constitutional views somewhat different, representing in those views the points of controversy and change sought before and at the time of their departure. Indeed, no question whatever was actually solved by their removal; rather the difficulties were scattered over a wider field where their growth continued apace, in some cases more virulent than ever, producing in time a more serious problem for the Empire at large than it had been originally for the more limited sphere of the mother country. The need for adjustments was only delayed by this process of scattering, and in time emerged again in a larger form for the Empire as a whole. Also the basic conditions of life in the new world were different, essentially those of the frontier, which tended strongly to bring out, to renew and to revitalize one of the deepest seated characteristics of the British stock, that of self sufficiency.

This added to the difficulty, and out of these two circumstances, — the dissenting colonists and the new life of the frontier — arose a strong sense of constitutional right and a powerful spirit of political and economic independence. This called for statecraft and adjustments of the finest sort from the side of the mother country, but as yet she had not sensed the real meaning of empire, nor was she able to cope successfully with those new problems which expansion and growth had made inevitable.

With the rapid growth and development of the older colonies, and with the acquisition after 1760 of the alien province of Quebec, the problems of political and economic adjustment in the new world became acute. Could the older institutions of the mother country be successfully adapted to the newer conditions and the widely varying circumstances of the several daughter colonies in America? Could the constitution of England in its broad historical meaning be transformed into a constitution for the whole of a vast imperial organization?

The strain was great; the demands for adjustments and change came too quickly upon the government in London; and that government in this evil hour unfortunately was more devoted to a few great private interests than to the larger problems of a growing empire. Indeed, it might be said that in this period the government of England was more a property of those private interests than it was a function of the constitution, and because of this defect it was impossible for the government to consider fairly the broader colonial policy and to preserve the whole of the growing colonial empire under a common Crown.

The deeper problems of adjustment which this British government was not able to meet successfully may be more clearly understood from a study of the constitutional issues of the American Revolution and a consideration of those principles upon which, at first, it was proposed to establish the new American Republic. The democratic life of the new world and the experience in the colonies for over a century of a large degree of self-government had not only produced reinterpretations of some of the older political and legal institutions, but had actually produced new constitutional principles and governmental customs.

The friction and circumstances following 1763 stimulated the colonial statesmen to attempt a definition of some of these new departures. By the time the disruption had been completed and the new republic established those basic principles had been given vivid and dramatic expression.

The Whig parliament in England had drifted far in its interpretation of the state and of its function in the government. Never “weary of expressing their contempt for public opinion” they “denied that members of the Commons sat as representatives of the people.” Standing in sharp contrast with this theory of an all sovereign and irresponsible parliament was the plain assertion in the Declaration of Independence of the rights of man and the “consent of the governed” as the proper basis for all just government wherever found. This broad and fundamental principle involved not only actual self-government for the people but also self-determination for a colony or a state.

But it was not a new constitutional principle, indeed it was as old as the British race and had been understood by such men as Sir Edward Coke in the time of the early Stuarts, and John Locke as he explained the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. In America this old principle, along with the British stock, had been revitalized and given a new and vigorous emphasis, while at home the Whig parliament and the Hanoverian kings had wandered far from any understanding of its constitutional importance and were unable, therefore, to make those finer adjustments demanded by the colonies prior to 1776.

As a natural corollary to the principle of self-government reasserted by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, was the demand on the part of the thirteen colonies for a system of general government in which the major emphasis should rest, not as the Whigs would have it, upon the central administration, but upon the sacred sovereignty of the local state as a political unit.

The British government had been unable to understand this need but continued to assert that the parliament in London had the power to legislate for them “in all cases whatsoever” and had gone on with its attempt to modify local administration with royal prerogative and centralized control. In this clash of principle — local autonomy versus centralized control — is found the explanation in part, of the first constitution of the new republic, the Articles of Confederation, and the origin of the American principle of federalism.

Of equal importance in the period of revolution and adjustment was the theory held in the colonies of the nature of the empire and of the place of the colony in the larger organization. In harmony with the principle of self-government the colonies maintained that their local legislatures should occupy, a coordinate position under the Crown with the Parliament of Great Britain. In this they were breaking new ground and building slowly a new conception of an imperial organization. Since the people in the colonies were entitled to all the rights of British subjects the colonies could not possibly be considered as possessions of the mother country.

The alternative, therefore, was a partnership relation among them and with the United Kingdom. But again the British government, dominated by the Whig theories, could not appreciate this new interpretation of a larger fellowship as it developed in the growing life of the new world communities. Soon after the organization of the republic this new principle found expression in the definition of the colonial policy of the new American nation. Like the Declaration of Independence, the Ordinance of 1784 came from the vigorous mind of the Virginia liberal, Thomas Jefferson, and the principle of empire which it explains is quite in harmony with his conception of the place of the individual in the social and political organizations. According to this principle, which was finally embodied in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the new states, subsequently formed from this Northwest Territory, should be free and autonomous units:

“That Whenever any of the sd. states shall have of free inhabitants as many as shall then be in any one of the least numerous of the thirteen original states, such states shall be admitted by its delegates into the Congress of the United States, on an equal footing with the said original states.” (Report to Congress, March 1, 1784. Journals of Congress Containing their Proceedings (Philadelphia, 1800), Vol. IX (April 23, 1784), pp. 109-110. In the Ordinance of 1787 “in all respects whatsoever” was added. The same principle is found in the earlier deed to the Northwest Territory given by Virginia to Congress and prepared also by Jefferson: “… and that the states so formed, shall be distinct republican states, and admitted members of the federal union; having the same rights of sovereignty, freedom and independence as the other states.” Ibid., p. 48)

The conception here is clearly that of a union of equals freely associated together, and as such it is a definition of a new colonial policy and of a new imperial order. Upon this conception the new American “empire of liberty,” as it was called by Jefferson, was to expand indefinitely under republican institutions. Little did he realize that the older empire of Britain would also in time accept the same liberal interpretation of its own imperial bond.

A history of this political and constitutional process is the scope of this study. The field is new, for Nova Scotia and the period of her important contribution to the constitution of the newer empire has been neglected by the students of history and politics. (In June 1926, the Canadian Historical Review published the writer’s article, “The First Responsible Party Government in British North America”. Last year, 1929, since the completion of this volume, the Oxford Press published a study by Professor Chester Martin, Empire and Commonwealth, which has a section devoted to the constitutional evolution of Nova Scotia.)

The research, therefore, has involved the use and study of original, and in many cases manuscript sources, hitherto unexploited. Most of these are available in the Public Archives of Canada at Ottawa. Some are in the Provincial Archived of Nova Scotia and others are to be found only at the Public Record Office in London.”

Livingston, Walter Ross. Responsible Government In Nova Scotia: a Study of the Constitutional Beginnings of the British Commonwealth. Iowa City: The University, 1930. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89080043730https://archive.org/details/responsiblegover0000livi

A Plan of National Colonization

dartmouth royal instructions 1749

More time is spent describing Dartmouth here than in many other similar books of its kind, yet another instance of 1756 being given as the date of Dartmouth’s “destruction” at the hands of the Mi’kmaq.

The timing of the attack, 1756, as it relates to the delay of the institution of representative government at Halifax until 1758; the requirement of a population of 25 electors in 1757 in order to qualify for a representative in the legislature, which become 50 electors by 1758; all these points, when put together, have always struck me as curious.

Earlier events, such as the arrival and settlement of various “wastrels” as well as the “King’s bad bargains” at Halifax not to mention French hostilities has led me to question whether it was really the Mi’kmaq who were to blame for the “destruction of Dartmouth” at all.

I’m not sure how far those intent on advancing their position would go — whether it would include the removal of people situated across the harbor by any means necessary, to prevent any additional representation which would compete with Halifax — or in furtherance to claims for land located there. That the imposition of the BNA and “amalgamation” were repeats of this scenario in many ways, at least in terms of administrative capture and the furtherance of land claims, means that I can’t help but give the possibility of this scenario credence, especially considering differing descriptions of these events in various sources and the revisionism that has taken place since.

Of further interest in this “Plan for National Colonization” was that the partisan affiliations of each of the newspapers published in Halifax at the time are listed, the disdainful attitude of the author towards the black people settled here (perhaps due primarily to their American origin) is also apparent. Whether that was the prevailing attitude of the British more broadly at the time is an interesting question, especially with respect to today’s 1619 project era of presentism which operates as if British attitudes towards blacks were more benevolent in nature in comparison to Americans, when it was British law that served as the basis for slavery to begin with.

In earlier chapters especially, but even when describing the people of Nova Scotia, we see many attempts to extol the virtues of Anti-Americanism, to showcase the loyalty of Nova Scotians towards the crown and to stress they weren’t disaffected; no chance is wasted to cast Americans as uncivilized throughout.

Page 342: “(Nova Scotians) are entirely British in their feelings, and loyal to a degree that reminds one of the reign of George the Third, and the threatened invasion of England by Napoleon, when it was not enough to be loyal, but every one was expected to make constant profession of his being so, to prevent his being classed among the disaffected.

Following there is a note about Joseph Howe and his compatriots efforts at reform.

Here, as in Canada there is a large class of Reformers, who contend for the necessity of Responsible Government; — by which is simply meant, that while the Sovereign at home shall have the appointment of the Governor, and the nomination of the Legislative Council— the members of the Executive Council, corresponding to our Cabinet Ministers in England, shall be selected from that party which has the majority in the House of Representatives, so that the acts of the Executive shall be somewhat in harmony with the public opinion, as expressed by the choice of their delegates.”

Also included here is the book’s timeline of historical events concerning Nova Scotian colonization, since it delves into the Baronets and baronetcies in a manner I haven’t seen in other sources — an institution that I’m not at all sure has actually faded into the history books. The anecdote shared by the author which attempts to rationalize the ad hoc and arbitrary nature of the British monarchy (“for ever”) is revealing, where it was thought at first it must have been an issue with translation and not the totalitarianism of the British crown that led to a “misunderstanding”. The crown’s perpetual redefinition of words and terms as it suits the crown as an institutional affect, the “royal prerogative”, is something which might seem familiar to Canadians today — it’s a story that helps to explain some of the impetus for the American revolution, from the perspective of American colonists in terms of rule of law and the desire for a written Constitution.

It helps to explain the feelings of the New Englanders who formed the majority of settlers in the province initially. Almost all were dissenters, until a push of loyalists in the 1780s changed the political landscape. Those New Englanders had settled in Nova Scotia thanks in large part to assurances that they could enjoy local self government — township government in the New England form — and that their rights to enjoy religious liberties would be respected, that which would otherwise serve as the basis for the Bill of rights a few miles away. Both were yanked out from underneath them in order to concentrate even more power within the Halifax establishment.

Over the generations what was an initial radical Whig interpretation and reaction to the revolution, and in some cases republican sympathies, has been morphed into what’s derisively called “conservatism” by those who aren’t. This can be seen in Wilkie and Howe’s time as they were more finely tuned against the magistrates in what was still being governed as Virginia had been a century earlier, by quarter session, a process which wasn’t interrupted in the slightest, regardless of the many protestations and prayers of the people until 1841. The effort to recast “conservatism” as “Tory’s” exclusively is in my opinion a way to prevent any kind of fusion like that which John Adams’ identified as the basis for the spirit of the revolution. A regime of philosophical intoxication against republicanism by proxy exists today, as any number of thought crimes against woke intersectionality, gender and/or climate confusion. It’s present regardless of party and in many ways identifies the uni-party, used to assuage anything other than the default government orthodoxy of “global equity” and “diversity”, in everything but political ideology.


Opposite to Halifax, on the eastern shore of its harbour, is the small town of Dartmouth, the soil around which is more fertile than on the west, and is advantageously cultivated chiefly by German settlers. The breadth of the harbour here is about a mile and half, and a steam ferry-boat goes across every half hour. It is of nearly as early a date as Halifax, having been founded in 1750; but about six years after its foundation it was destroyed by [Mi’kmaq], and the greater number of its inhabitants massacred. It was revived in 1784 by some families from Nantucket, among whom were some of the Quebec family of the Roches, related to the wealthy merchants of that name in New Bedford. They carried on the whale-fishery here with great success till 1792, when a branch of them removed to Milford Haven in Wales. The town has now a population of 1,500 only; but if the projected canal, called the Shubenacadie – intended to pass through a chain of small lakes behind the town towards the river Shubenacadie, which falls into the Bay of Fundy – should ever be completed, it would no doubt greatly advance the prosperity of Dartmouth.

It is from this point of view that the town of Halifax, with its crowning hill and fortifications, its busy wharves lined with shipping below, the spires of its churches and the general mass of dwellings, is seen to the greatest advantage.


Newspapers appear to be as numerous here, as in any town of a similar size in America. None of them are published daily; but there are large weekly papers-the Times, Conservative; the Nova Scotian, Reformer; the Royal Gazette, official; the Journal and the Acadian Reporter, neutral. These are all conducted with great care, and respectable talent. There is also a religious paper in the Baptist interest, called the Christian Messenger; and another in the Methodist interest, called the Guardian. Besides these, there are three penny papers published twice and thrice a week – the Herald, the Morning Post, and the Hailgonian, which furnish only the heads of news, without exercising much influence on public opinion.

There is a Theatre in Halifax; but, like most of these establishments in the Colonies, it is so little frequented by the higher and even middle classes, that its support is left to strangers, and the lowest class of the population, so that it is constantly in debt and embarrassment, and will ultimately, no doubt, be abandoned.

The Commerce of Halifax is confined chiefly to the United States, the West Indies, and the Brazils, in America; and to Great Britain and the Mediterranean, in Europe. It consists chiefly of the export of timber, dried fish, wheat, flour, oats, salted pork, butter, and fish-oil; and in the import of manufactured goods from England, wines from the Mediterranean, and sugar, molasses, logwood, mahogany, coffee, cigars, and rum, from the West Indies. The aggregate amount of exports and imports on an average of several years past, is about £750,000 annually for each; though for the whole Province of Nova Scotia, including the few other ports, it is about £1,000,000.

The population of Halifax is estimated at 16,000 persons, including at least 1,000 black people], and a few [Mi’kmaq] of the [Mi’kmaq] tribe. These last are rather occasional visitors than permanent residents; but, like the black people], being seen frequently in the streets, and attracting attention from their fantastic dress and colours, they give an impression to the stranger of their being more numerous than they really are. The black people] settled here are chiefly from the United States and the West Indies. During the American war, the British squadron, under Sir Alexander Cochrane, after ravaging the shores of the Chesapeake, and going up to Washington to burn the Capitol, and destroy the public records there, brought away a great many black people] from Maryland and Virginia, as prisoners of war; and these becoming free as soon as they were landed here, had no disposition to return. Ships arriving from the West Indies also brought, from time to time, runaway slaves, who sometimes secreted themselves in the shipsholds, till they got to sea, and sometimes entered on board vessels as cooks or stewards, and finding many of their own colour here, joined them as residents. The greater number of them appear to have made little or no improvement in their condition, being poor, ignorant, dirty, and indolent; while no pains seems to be taken, either by the Government or by any Benevolent Society, to elevate them, by education and training, above their present state.


The history of Nova Scotia may be briefly told. It was first discovered by the Cabots in 1497; was visited by the Marquis de la Roche in 1598; and was first colonized by the French, under De Monts, in 1604, when it was called Acadia. In 1613, however; the English sent a small expedition [–Argal, from Virginia] to expel the French, and take possession of Acadia, on the ground of their navigators having been the first to discover the territory. This practice of claiming a property in every land discovered, as if there were no higher title, is happily ridiculed by one of the writers of the day, in this quaint couplet-

“For these were the days – to all men be it known, That all a man sailed by, or saw, was his own.”

But even this was not literally true, for it was rather the monarchs of the hardy navigators, than the territories because their subjects had discovered them. Accordingly in 1621, King James the First granted the whole of this country of Acadia to Sir William Alexander, and changed its name to Nova Scotia. The boundary line then fixed for the territory was one drawn from the river St. Croix to the St. Lawrence, so that it included all the present colony of New Brunswick, as well as a part of Lower Canada from Bic Island to Gaspe. In conformity with the usage of the times, this grant was made on the royal word “for ever;” but in treaties, grants, and diplomatic documents, the words “eternal peace and amity,” and “perpetual and undisturbed possession,” have a very limited meaning; their true signification being only just as long as may suit the convenience or interest of the parties to let this “eternity” continue, which may be twenty years, or ten, or only one, as circumstances may render expedient.*

* I remember an anecdote so strictly in point to illustrate this, that I cannot refrain from mentioning it. When I was at Shiraz, in Persia, in 1816, I lived in the house of an exiled Indian prince, named Jaffier Ali Khan, who was very much attached to the English, and who had, before this kindly entertained the estimable Henry Martyn, the lamented Church of England Missionary, under the same roof, and was delighted to hear that we were both natives of the same county, Cornwall. The father of Jaffier Ali Khan had ceded some territory among the Northern Circars, under the Presidency of Madras, to the East India Company; in consideration of which, the Company, through the Madras government, undertook to pay, to himself and the dependent members of his family, certain fixed annuities, which were to be guaranteed to them “in perpetuity for ever.” After a few years had elapsed, however, the Prince found his annuity considerably reduced in amount; and no reason being assigned for this, he wrote, first to India, and then to England, but could get no satisfactory explanation on the subject. He then thought it possible that the words “perpetuity” and ”for ever” might have a different meaning in English, from their equivalents in Persian, or that some change had taken place in the general acceptation of the terms; as words sometimes grow obsolete and change their meaning. He therefore sent to England for one of the latest and best editions of the most generally approved dictionary of the English language, which he spoke imperfectly, but which he could read pretty well; and on turning, with great eagerness and anxiety, to the words in question, he found that ”perpetuity” meant exactly as he had supposed, “without change or cessation;” and that “for ever” was only another and stronger mode of expressing the same “continual duration.” But he found that at the India House, as in the courts of other monarchs, “perpetual and everlasting” meant only “as long as might be expedient, and no longer.”

Charles the First, therefore, soon put an end to the “for ever” of his predecessor James; and shortly after his accession, this monarch sold what his royal parent had previously given away. This was done by the institution of a new order of Nova Scotia baronets, which were limited to 150 in number. To each of these baronetcies, a grant of land in the province was attached, and the titles and territory were sold to such persons as would undertake to make certain payments to the crown, in aid of settlement, as it was called, but in reality to replenish the King’s privy purse.

Many of the original French settlers, however, remained in Acadia; when Cromwell, in 1654, sent a force to dislodge them, and was successful. In the reign of Charles the Second, it was again ceded to France, by the treaty of Breda, in 1667, and remained in her possession till 1689, when it was taken by the English, with an expedition from Massachusetts, then a British Colony, under the command of Sir William Phipps. The leader of this expedition was one of the most remarkable men of his day. He was the son of a very humble blacksmith, and was brought up as a shepherd’s boy. At the age of eighteen, he was first apprenticed to a shipwright; and before he was twenty-one, he built a small vessel, with which he offered to raise some treasure, sunk in a Spanish ship, that was wrecked some years before at the Bahamas. His offer was made to the English court, and was accepted; and with the assistance he received from thence, he succeeded in recovering 300,000l. from the wreck. Of this he retained a portion sufficient to enrich himself, and the rest was given to his patron, the Duke of Albermale, who had assisted him in the equipment of the ship in which he performed this expedition. He was afterwards made a knight by King James the Second; and subsequently Governor of Massachusetts, in 1691, by the authority of William the Third.

Another change took place in the possession of Nova Scotia, when it was ceded a second time, by the Treaty of Ryswick, in 1696, to France, who held it till 1710, when it was again captured by the English, with an expedition from Boston; it was finally ceded to the British in the reign of Queen Anne, in 1713, since which it has remained in our undisturbed possession.

Halifax from Dartmouth
Halifax from Dartmouth near the gazebo on the bluff at Dartmouth Common, the church with steeple at left is undoubtedly the first St. Peter’s at the corner of Ochterloney and Edward Streets.

 

Buckingham, James Silk, 1786-1855; Bartlett, W.H. (William Henry), 1809-1854. “Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the other British provinces in North America : with a plan of national colonization”. 1843. https://archive.org/details/McGillLibrary-130149-5095

“As Near as May Be Agreeable to the Laws of this Kingdom”: Legal Birthright and Legal Baggage at Chebucto, 1749

“The new governor’s commission gave him power to establish the accepted institutions of civil government: a council, a legislative assembly, courts, and a judiciary. It accorded him the power of the civil executive to defend the colony, exercize the king’s prerogative of mercy, administer public funds, make grants and assurances of lands, and establish fairs and markets. Most significantly, Cornwallis’ commission, tested 6 May 1749, gave authority to the governor “with the advice and consent of our said Council and Assembly or the Major part of them respectively . . .” in Nova Scotia

to make, constitute and ordain Laws, Statutes & Ordinances for the Publick peace, welfare & good government of our said province and of the people and inhabitants thereof and such others as shall resort thereto & for the benefit of us our heirs & Successors, which said Laws, Statutes and Ordinances are not to be repugnant but as near as may be agreeable to the Laws and Statutes of this our Kingdom of Great Britain.

The last clause, as to non-repugnancy and agreeableness to the laws of England, had a long history behind it. And it was a history that included the province of Acadia for three decades before Cornwallis and his colonists arrived at Chebucto. After seven years of essentially military rule following the capture of Port Royal in 1710-under those two rigorous warriors, Samuel Vetch and Francis Nicholson, who took the fort-British Acadia came under the governorship of Col. Richard Philipps in 1717. And there it remained for thirty-two years of increasing neglect and, after the first four years, the continuous absence of the governor.

The Board of Trade was hardly less soporific with respect to the province. In 1719 it finally got around to issuing instructions to Philipps that hinted at the creation of a regular civil government on what was the already accepted pattern for Britain’s colonies, with a legislative assembly to make laws, but directed him in the meantime to follow the 1715 instructions to the Earl of Orkney as governor of Virginia. Clause 62 of the Virginia instructions read:

You are to take Care that no Man’s Life Member freehold or Goods be taken away or harm’d in our said Colony otherwise than by establish’d and known Laws, not repugnant but as near as may be agreeable to the Laws of this Kingdom.

Virtually the same provision had been contained in the January 1682 instructions to Gov. Thomas Lord Culpepper of Virginia.

The non-repugnance and agreeableness clause in colonial enabling instruments originated in the 1632 charter to Lord Baltimore for Maryland, which directed that the laws made by colonial legislative authority were to be “inviolably observed” under penalties,

So, nevertheless, that the Laws aforesaid be consonant to Reason, and be not repugnant or contrary, but (so far as conveniently may be) agreeable to the Laws, Statutes, Customs, and Rights of this Our Kingdom of England.

In this point, so close are the instructions to Cornwallis to the provisions in the 1632 Maryland charter, it is reasonable to suppose that, if the latter was not the immediate parent of the former, it was the remote ancestor.”

Thomas Garden Barnes, “As Near as May Be Agreeable to the Laws of this Kingdom”: Legal Birthright and Legal Baggage at Chebucto, 1749” (1984) 8:3 DLJ 1. https://digitalcommons.schulichlaw.dal.ca/dlj/vol8/iss3/1/

Settlement previous to 1749

census 1688

From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:

Dartmouth, long before the European explorers and colonizing forces, had a 7,000 year history of occupation by the [Mi’kmaq]. The [Mi’kmaq] annual cycle of seasonal movement; living in dispersed interior camps during the winter, and larger coastal communities during the summer; meant there were no permanent communities in the Euro-centric sense, but Dartmouth was clearly a place frequented by [Mi’kmaq] for a very long time. Whether it was the Springtime smelt spawning in March; the harvesting of spawning herring, gathering eggs and hunting geese in April; the Summer months when the sea provided cod and shellfish, and coastal breezes that provided relief from irritants like blackflies and mosquitos, or during the autumn and its eel season; Dartmouth with its lakes and rivers, both breadbasket and transport route back and forth to the interior, was a natural place for the [Mi’kmaq] to spend their non-winter months.

A fascinating look into what Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada could’ve looked like, from the end of the ice age at 19,000 BCE, until present. By 12,000 BCE, this model shows Cape Cod extending much further into the ocean than it does at present, along what is now Brown’s bank, a ridge which more or less stretches all the way to Sable Island along the continental shelf. A sea level 300 feet lower than it is today was enough to create a kind of land bridge to the parts of western and central Nova Scotia no longer under ice, the Bay of Fundy looking like it was an inshore repository for glacial meltwater until sea levels rose. This could’ve allowed for human exploration and settlement in what is now known as Nova Scotia previous to the retreat of the ice sheet in full.

By 10,000 BCE most of the ice had retreated, which squares with the earliest artifacts found in the area, such as at Debert, which date to the same general period, if not previous to that. That sea levels had risen one hundred feet in this two thousand year period might be instructive as to why artifacts are few and far between from this period, many of the settlements, if coastal, would have long ago been lost to the sea. Assuming the artifacts found (at Debert and Belmont) were not from nomadic hunters, and that this model is somewhat accurate, Nova Scotia could have been settled for 10,000 years or more.

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20210807155606/https://sos.noaa.gov/catalog/datasets/blue-marble-sea-level-ice-and-vegetation-changes-19000bc-10000ad/, https://web.archive.org/web/20130219202242/https://sos.noaa.gov/Docs/bluemarble3000h.kmz

A census of the district of Acadia taken in 1687-1688 attributed to de Gargas shows Chebucto had 1 French family consisting of a man, wife and son; that there were 7 Mi’kmaw men, 7 Mi’kmaw women and 19 Mi’kmaw children, “36 souls” in total. 1 French house, 7 Mi’kmaw homes, 3 guns, 1/2 acre of improved land.

census 1688
Source: https://dalspace.library.dal.ca/bitstream/handle/10222/15754/MS-6-13A1_DeGargas_Census.pdf?sequence=1
carteacadie6 map
“Chibouctou: https://cityofdartmouth.ca/carte-particuliere-de-la-coste-daccadie/
Source: “Recensements d’Acadie (1671-1752)”, (info), http://139.103.17.56/cea/livres/doc.cfm?livre=recensements, http://139.103.17.56/cea/livres/doc.cfm?retour=R0231&ident=R0040

The St. Malo fishermen who were located at Sambro and at Prospect in the days of French ownership, must often have run to the inner harbor either to dry fish on our long beaches, or to barter furs with the natives who were always their allies. On the Dartmouth side of the harbor, geographical conditions were far more favorable for congregating, with three voluminous streams of never-failing fresh water flowing down to the estuaries of the two little bays, both later known as Mill Cove.

Besides that, there was an abundance of shell fish available at low tide, along with lobsters, crabs, sea-trout, salmon, halibut, codfish, and haddock, with the usual runs of herring and mackerel in warm weather. The woods teemed with wild life. Partridge roosted on trees, moose and deer roamed the forest, and wedges of wild fowl honked high overhead.

The evidence already submitted that the [Mi’kmaq] resorted to the Cove, is borne out by the description of Cobequid (Truro district) by Paul Mascarene about 1721, where he states that “there is communication by a river from Cobequid to Chebucto”. This Implies that the Shubenacadie route had long been in use. Engineer Cowie, after studying several harbor sites for Ocean Terminals a hundred years ago was of the opinion that Chebucto had been used as a trading post over a century before its permanent settlement.

In 1701, when M. Brouillan the newly appointed French Governor, came here from Newfoundland to rule Acadia, he went overland from Chebucto to Port Royal. This is in Murdoch’s History. Dr. Thomas H. Raddall, in his bicentennial story of Halifax, thinks that on this occasion, [Mi’kmaq] transported the Governor by the well-known canoe route of Dartmouth Lakes. (One can’t imagine a viceregal party trudging over a rough black-flied trail from Bedford to Windsor, or portaging through the shallow rivers of that section of country).

One of the early sketches of Dartmouth side is preserved at the N.S. Archives. It is a detailed drawing of the whole shore and harbor, showing the depth of water from the Eastern Passage to the head of the Basin, done by the French military engineer De Labat in 1711.

The indentations of the various inlets seem quite accurate. The soundings must have occupied a full summer, and the work was no doubt done from small boats; otherwise his large vessel would have butted such shoals as Shipyard Point and the one off shore at Queen Street.

dartmouth map

Not sure whether this is the 1711 map Martin attributes to De Labat but it is detailed, especially as it relates to the Dartmouth Cove, and it contains a number of soundings as he describes. From: “Plan de la rivière de Seine et en langage accadien Chibouquetou” http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53089940v/f1.item.r=halifax.zoom