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 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. Made in Saint Germain

1638 – Grant to Charnesay and La Tour

1654 – August 16, Capitulation of Port-Royal

1656 – August 9, A grant by Cromwell to Sir Charles de Saint Etienne, a baron of Scotland, Crowne and Temple

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 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 established in Nova Scotia (Members of the legislature had the ability to elect 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.

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.

Kennedy, William P. Statutes, Treaties and Documents of the Canadian Constitution: 1713-1929. Oxford Univ. Pr., 1930.

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., 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.

Murdoch, Beamish. “Epitome of the laws of Nova-Scotia” [Halifax, N.S.? : s.n.], 1832 (Halifax, N.S. : J. Howe) Volume One:, Volume Two:, Volume Three:, Volume Four:

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), Second Edition:

Livingston, Walter Ross. Responsible Government In Nova Scotia: a Study of the Constitutional Beginnings of the British Commonwealth. Iowa City: The University, 1930.

Bourinot, John George. “The constitution of the Legislative Council of Nova Scotia” [S.l. : s.n., 1896?],

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]

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),

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.

Shirley B. Elliott, “An Historical Review of Nova Scotia Legal Literature: a select bibliography”, Comment, (1984) 8:3 DLJ 197.

Sketch of Propositions for a Peace, [after 26 September 1776 and before 25 October 1776]

“Sketch of Propositions for a peace

There shall be a perpetual peace between Great Britain and the United States of America on the following conditions.

Great Britain shall renounce and disclaim all pretence of right or authority to govern in any of the United States of America.

To prevent those occasions of misunderstanding which are apt to arise where the territories of different powers border on each other through the bad conduct of frontier inhabitants on both sides, Britain shall cede to the United states the provinces or Colonies of Quebec, St. John’s, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, East and West Florida, and the Bahama islands, with all their adjoining and intermediate territories now claimed by her.

In return for this Cession, the United States shall pay to Great Britain the sum of [blank in MS] Sterling in annual payments that is to say [blank] per annum for and during the term of [blank] years.”

To George Washington from Richard Derby, Jr., 2 August 1776

“The Inclosed letter I have this day laid before the Council of this State, who have directed me to inclose it to your Excellency, desiring (if you think proper) when a convenient opportunity offers it may be forwarded agreeable to its directions.”

Derby apparently enclosed the council’s letter of this date to the Massachusetts delegates in Congress. “The Bearer hereof Capt. Jonathan Edy,” the council writes, “has brought us a Petition from the Town of Onslow in Nova Scotia representing their distress’d situation & praying relief either by sending them Forces, or Vessels to bring them away. We are truly concern’d for their unhappy condition, and should be glad to afford them assistance were it in our power; but as the General Court is not sitting, we conceive that we are not authorised to do any thing in the matter. We must therefore refer Capt. Edy to you. He will give you a particular account of the circumstances of that Province, and what he thinks may be done for their relief and the service of the common cause—We leave it with you, Gentlemen to take such steps in the affair as you may judge best.” The letter, which is signed by John Winthrop, is in DNA:PCC, item 65 (see also Force, American Archives, 5th ser., 1:733–34)

The Committee of Secret Correspondence to the Amerìcan Commissioners, 30 December 1776

“The military defeats that had followed consistently on the Battle of Long Island, and had brought the British so near Philadelphia that Congress had fled to Baltimore, changed the mood of the delegates. The change showed itself immediately after the committee’s letter above of December 21. On the 24th Congress appointed a committee to form a plan for obtaining foreign assistance, on the 28th and 29th debated its report, and on the 30th adopted a series of resolutions that embodied a new approach to foreign policy. Gone was the old optimism, which assumed that French assistance could be had by the offer of a treaty and the promise of neutrality if that treaty brought France and Britain to war. Now the commissioners were authorized to offer much more: military help in obtaining joint control of the fisheries and dividing Newfoundland, while the United States annexed Cape Breton and Nova Scotia; a joint monopoly of American trade with the West Indies; and, if more were needed, a Franco-American assault on British possessions in the Caribbean for the benefit of France alone.”

Plan of Treaties as Adopted (with Instructions), 17 September 1776

“Art. IX. The most Christian King shall never invade, nor under any pretence attempt to possess himself of Labradore, New Britain, Nova Scotia, Acadia, Canada, Florida nor any of the countries, cities or towns on the Continent of North America nor of the islands of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, St. Johns, Anticosti nor of any other island lying near to the said continent in the seas or in any gulph, bay or river, it being the true intent and meaning of this treaty, that the said United States shall have the sole exclusive, undivided and perpetual possession of all the countries, cities and towns on the said continent and of all islands near to it, which now are or lately were under the jurisdiction of or subject to the king or crown of Great Britain, whenever they shall be united or confederated with the said United States.”

8 July 1776

“8 July. The congress resolved that George Washington have the power to call to New York the continental regiments in Massachusetts not bound for Ticonderoga; that Washington have permission to employ as many Indians as necessary from the St. Johns, Nova Scotia, and Penobscot tribes; and that the commissary general have full power to supply the armies on the lakes and at New York respectively and to appoint and remove subordinates”

A Plan of Treaties, 18 June 1776

“Art. 8. In Case of any War between the most Christian King and the King of Great Britain, the most Christian King Shall never invade, nor attempt to invade, or get Possession, for himself of Labradore, New Britain, Nova Scotia, Accadia, Canada, Florida, nor any of the Countries, Cities, or Towns, on the Continent of North America, nor of the Islands of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, St. Johns, Anticoste, nor of any other Islands lying near to the Said Continent, in the Seas, or in any Gulph, Bay, or River, it being the true intent and meaning of this Treaty, that the Said united States Shall have the Sole, exclusive undivided and perpetual Possession of all the Countries, Cities, and Towns, on the Said Continent, and of all Islands near to it, which now are, or lately were under the Jurisdiction of or subject to the King or Crown of Great Britain, whenever the Same can be invaded, and conquered by the Said united States, or shall in any manner submit to or be confederated with them.

To John Adams from Horatio Gates, 23 April 1776

“Here we are surrounded by Crowds of Tories, and I wish our Army may be free of those Vermine, I hold a Cautious Eye, and as Shakespear says will try, to Delve a Yard below their Mines, and Blow them at the Moon; the New York, and Jersey Regiments, have Men, but Scarce any Arms; little Discipline, and less Subordination; but this, if the Enemy gives us time, must be rectifyed: By my Calculation General Howe will not be Able to leave Hallifax before the 10th, or Middle of May; if he is here by the first of June, it is as soon as I think he can Arrive; should he Divide his Army, and send a large Detachment to Quebeck, they must go directly to the Southward, and have the Gulf of Saint Lawrence well open before they can Steer for the River. A Five Years Acquaintance with Nova Scotia inform’d me that the Drift Ice, which lays in May, and the beginning of June, off the East End of Cape Breton, must make the passage to Quebeck at that Season exceeding Tedious by the Coast of that Island.”

From George Washington to John Hancock, 1 April 1776


This Letter will be deliver’d you by Jonathan Eddy Esq. the Gentlemen from Nova Scotia who I mention’d to you in mine of the 27th Ulto. He seem’d desirous of waiting on the Honorable Congress in Order to lay before them the state of public Affairs, and situation of the Inhabitants of that Province; and as it might be in his power to communicate many things personally, which could not be so well done by Letter, I incouraged him in his design and have advanced him fifty dollars to defrey his Expences—The Acadian accompanies him, and as they seem to be solid, judicious Men, I beg leave to recommend them both to the Notice of Congress, and am most respectfully Sir Your most obedient humble Servant

Go: Washington”

From George Washington to John Hancock, 27 March 1776

“I beg leave to Transmit you the copy of a petition from the Inhabitants of Nova Scotia, brought me by Jonathan Eddy Esq. mentioned therein, who is now here with an Accadian—From this It appears they are in a distressed situation, & from Mr Eddys account are exceedingly apprehensive that they will be reduced to the disagreable alternative of taking up Arms & Joining our Enemies, or to flee their Country, unless they can be protected against their Insults & oppressions—he says that their Committees think many salutary & valuable consequences wou’d be derived from Five or Six hundred men being sent there, as It wou’d not only quiet the minds of the people from the anxiety & uneasiness they are now filled with and enable ’em to take a part in behalf of the Colonies, but be the means of preventing the Indians (of which there are a good many) from taking the side of Government, and the Ministerial Troops from getting such supplies of provisions from thence as they have done—How far these good purposes wou’d be answered If such a force was sent as they ask for, is impossible to determine in the present uncertain state of things—For If the Army from Boston is going to Hallifax as reported by ’em before their departure, that or a much more considerable force wou’d be of no avail—If not, and they possess the friendly disposition to our cause, suggested in the petition & declared by Mr Eddy, It might be of great service, unless an other body of Troops shou’d be sent thither by Administration too powerfull for ’em to oppose—It being a matter of some Importance, I judged It prudent to lay It before Congress for their consideration, and requesting their direction upon the Subject, shall only add, If they determine to adopt It, that they will prescribe the number to be sent and whether It is to be from the Regiments which will be left here—I shall wait their decision & whatever it is, will indeavour to have It carried into execution. I have the honor to be with Sentiments of the greatest regard Sir Your Most Obedt Servt”

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