Halifax 1749

In 1749, Britain founded Halifax, Nova Scotia, to counter French fortifications, establish an important economic settlement, and assimilate the local French
population, known as Acadians. While Halifax became an important military center, it did not succeed in encouraging Acadian assimilation, and boomand-bust
cycles defined its economy in the colonial period.

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht transferred mainland Nova Scotia from the French to the English. To protect the approaches to the St. Lawrence River and the
heartland of New France, the French constructed a massive fortress, Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island (Ile Royale). While a force of New Englanders
captured Louisbourg in 1744, two factors soon increased British anxiety over their control of Nova Scotia.

The first was a failed French invasion of the colony in 1746. The French sent a fleet to capture the capital of Nova Scotia, Annapolis Royal. Weather
played havoc with the invasion, however, and though ships arrived at the large harbor at Chibouctou (the native peoples, the Mi’kmaq, called the place
chebookt meaning chief harbor), the invasion failed. Second, in 1748 a new treaty returned Louisbourg to France.

In England, the Duke of Bedford responded by calling for an intensive effort to make Nova Scotia a bulwark against the French. Bedford wanted a
comprehensive program of settlement and economic development at key points around the Nova Scotia coast. Such settlements would have the
secondary benefit, Bedford thought, of assimilating the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians.

In 1749, 2,500 people from England arrived in Chibouctou. The majority of these settlers had recently been released from the armed forces; others were
artisans such as carpenters. Edward Cornwallis, a 37-year-old army officer, commanded the new colony. Cornwallis changed the name of the settlement
from Chibouctou to Halifax in honor of Lord Halifax, the chief officer of England’s Board of Trade and Plantations. The settlers quickly built dwellings and
defenses, including a palisade, five wooden forts, and three batteries, to defend against a sea borne invasion.

The Mi’kmaq viewed these developments with alarm. Cornwallis responded by treating the Mi’kmaq with contempt. He did not recognize their sovereignty
and refused to negotiate for fishing and hunting rights. The Mi’kmaq were traditional allies of the French, and violence soon erupted between the natives
and the British settlers. Cornwallis responded by offering 10 pounds for every Mi’kmaq scalp. Despite mobilizing a force of New England Indian fighters
to combat the Mi’kmaq, the Halifax settlers remained unable to move freely beyond the fortifications.

This hostile relationship with the Mi’kmaq also affected the settlement of foreign Protestants brought from the Upper Rhine Valley in the early 1750s.
The British wanted to place them close to the Acadians, but fear of Mi’kmaq attack required that most be settled in Lunenburg, within easy reach of
Halifax.

In 1752, Cornwallis resigned. A number of the early Halifax settlers moved to New England. Business people and professionals from the American
colonies, who saw an opportunity to take advantage of government spending in Halifax, replaced them. Such spending increased markedly during the
Seven Years’ War (known as the French and Indian War in North America), which began in 1756. The new governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence,
along with Governor William Shirley of Massachusetts, wanted to attack the French at Louisbourg. Military expenditures soon flooded into Halifax as the
British built a new fort and established a naval yard.
Overcrowding, disorder, drinking, and brothels defined wartime Halifax. In 1758, 22,000 military personnel were in Halifax in preparation for an attack on
Louisbourg, but the bustle was short-lived. In 1758, Louisbourg fell, followed by Quebec in 1759, and Montreal in 1760. The French defeat in northern
North America substantially reduced Halifax’s military importance, and, as a result, the city’s population shrank to 3,685 by 1767.

After Governor Lawrence died in 1760, power rested with a small group of powerful merchants, despite the establishment of an elected assembly in Nova
Scotia in 1758. Joshua Mauger, who had created his vast wealth through West Indies trade, smuggling with Louisbourg, and a monopoly over the local
production of rum, was the most influential of these men. Although merchants like Mauger became very wealthy, most people in Halifax suffered from the
decrease in British expenditures in the city during the mid-1760s. Poverty was common, and most people visiting Halifax found it a small, crude
settlement.

The American War for Independence brought renewed prosperity to Halifax. Some people in Halifax identified with the complaints of the American
colonists, and there was a chance that Nova Scotia might join the thirteen colonies. Nova Scotia, nevertheless, remained within the British sphere. This
was, in large part, due to Britain’s substantial military presence and the fact that many Halifax merchants saw business opportunities for themselves if they
backed the mother country.

R. Blake Brown
See also: Acadia, Nova Scotia; Canada; French and Indian War.
Bibliography
Fingard, Judith, Janet Guildford, and David Sutherland. Halifax: The First 250 Years. Halifax: Formac Publishing Company, 1999.
MacNutt, W. S. The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 17121857. Toronto: McClelland Stewart, 1965.
Upton, L.S.F. Micmacs and Colonists: Indian-White Relations in the Maritimes, 17131867. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1979.Cornwallis’ Governorship | Governor Edward Cornwallis Allnewhairstyles

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