Treason and Piracy in Civil War Halifax: The Second Chesapeake Affair Revisited

“A terrible retribution awaits the city of Halifax for its complicity in treason and piracy.”

“Reverend Nathaniel Gunnison, American Consul at Halifax, wrote to Sir Charles Tupper, provincial secretary of Nova Scotia, 10 December 1863, stating that the Chesapeake “had been seized by a band of pirates and murder committed”. The Chesapeake was an American steamer plying between New York and Portland, Maine, which had been captured by a party of sixteen men, led by John C. Braine, who had embarked as passengers at New York. After a foray into the Bay of Fundy and along the south shore of Nova Scotia, the Chesapeake was boarded and captured by a United States gunboat the Ella and Annie in Sambro Harbor fourteen miles from Halifax. She was subsequently towed into Halifax and turned over to local authorities after much diplomatic hurlyburly. The affair raised several interesting points of international maritime law, resulted in three trials before the issues raised by the steamer’s seizure, recapture and disposition were resolved and was the genesis of several myths and local legends. It posed the “most thorny diplomatic problem of the Civil War” provided Halifax with “the most exciting Christmas Week in her history””

“(Alexander) Keith was well known to be an ardent Confederate sympathizer who was “in frequent communication with rebel blockade-runners and with rebel agents in the United States”. According to his biographer he on more than one occasion assisted southern raiders, captured off this port [Halifax], to escape when they were being landed with a guard at one of the docks along the waterfront. By sheer impertinence … he stood before the guard while the man leaped into a boat and was rowed across the harbour to escape near Dartmouth.”

Jones, Francis I.W. “Treason and Piracy in Civil War Halifax: The Second Chesapeake Affair Revisited” Dalhousie Review, Volume 71, Number 4, 1992