Founder of Halifax and Governor of Nova Scotia/Acadia 1749 -1752
Settlers 1749

Painting of Settlers in 1749

Edward Cornwallis’ mission in 1749 was to establish a fortified town at Chebucto Bay to counter the French at Louisbourg (the French held Cape Breton) and smaller settlements on the peninsula.

Shortly after his arrival, he met with Mi’kmaw, Maliseet and Acadian representatives; set up ‘His Majesty’s Council for the Province of Nova Scotia’ (seven members including former Lt Gov Paul Mascarene) and commenced submitting reports on activities and ‘challenges’ to his superiors in London, including the Duke of Bedford, Secretary of State and the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations (Board of Trade). Relevant excerpts from the reports and Council minutes involving relations with the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Acadians follow. The reports indicate that relations between Cornwallis/Council and the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet that apparently commenced on a friendly basis at the time of his arrival in late June had turned confrontational by mid-September, leading the Mi’kmaq to declare war on the British and Cornwallis and Council issuing the bounty proclamation in early October.

  •  Cornwallis to Duke of Bedford, 23 & 24 July, 1749: “The Indians hereto (are) very peaceable, many of them have come with their chiefs; I made them small presents, told them I had instructions from His Majesty to offer them friendship and all protection and likewise presents which I should deliver as soon as they should assemble their tribes and return with powers to enter into treaty and exchange their French commissions for others in His Majesty’s name.”Nothing is wanting but industry and assiduity to make this colony in time as it appears to me the most flourishing of any of the northeastern (American) Colonies, in respect of the fishery most certainly it has the advantage of them all…the harbour the finest perhaps in the world, therefore My Lord I can see no reason if a proper Government be once established…why the province of Nova Scotia may not come to be and that in a few years the most valuable..”
  •  Minutes of Council meeting 14 August, 1749, with”…the Indian Deputies being brought before the Council His Excellency (Cornwallis) bid them welcome …”
    Governor: “I have instructions from His Majesty’s to maintain Amity & Friendship with the Indians & to grant to those in these Provinces all manner of protection.”
    Indians: “We have seen the last Treaty with France & are glad of it.”
    Governor: “I am willing to enter into Treaty with the Indian Chiefs & with those of the St. John’s Indians in particular. Have you authority for that purpose.”
    Indians; “We reckon ourselves included in the Peace made by the Kings of Great Britain & France.”
    Governor: “I ask if you are empowered from your Chiefs to make a particular Treaty with me.
    Indians: “We come on that purpose.”
    Governor: “From what Tribes & from what Chiefs are your Delegates?”
    Indians:” from Octpagh. The Chief Francois de Salle from Medochg. The Chief Noellobig Pasamaquady, Chief Neptune Abbadouallette. From the Chinecto Tribe, Jean Pedousaghugh the Chief for himself & Tribe.”
  • Cornwallis to Lords of Trade 20 August, 1749: “Mr (Capt Edward) How went with Captain (John) Rous to the St.John’s River, returned here last Saturday and brought with him deputies from the St. John’s Indians who have renewed their submission to His Majesty, and signed articles of Agreement, the same as in their last treaty in 1726; they return by sea to have the Treaty ratified, and carries presents to the Chiefs and to the Tribes.”
  • Cornwallis to Lords of Trade 11 September 1749: “I have intelligence from Cape Breton and all parts of this province that the Micmacs design to make some attempt against this Settlement (and) they are joined by the St Johns Indians and headed by one Leute (Jean-Louis Le Loutre) a French priest.  The 19th of August they took 20 Englishmen prisoners at Canso, five of them were settlers that went to make hay, the rest were from Boston on the same errand…As soon as the schooner returned with the news I sent two armed vessels with soldiers to recover the prisoners…I gave the Officers particular instructions to avoid a quarrel with the Indians if possible…(16 were returned to Halifax)….Tis firmly my opinion, My Lords, that if the Indians do begin (hostilities)  we ought never to make peace with them again. It will be very practicable with an addition of force by sea and land to root them out entirely; this would have another effect entirely consequence. It would take from the French (Acadian) inhabitants the only pretext they have for refusing to be quite upon the same footing with the English (Acadians supposedly refusing to take Oath of Allegiance on threats from the Mi’kmaq)
  • Minutes of Council Meeting 18 September 1749: “His Excellency (Cornwallis) read two letters from Minas…informing him of two vessels being attacked by the Indians at Chinecto…that three Englishmen were killed & seven Indians. As it was known that Leute (Le Loutre) the Priest had been some time with the Indians, & it being highly probable that he is there on purpose to excite them to war, it was the Unanimous opinion of the Council that a Letter be sent to M.Desherbiers, Governor of Cap Breton to recall Le Leutre…”
  • Minutes of Council Meeting 1 October 1749: “The Council assembled to take into consideration the late Hostilities committed by the Indians of this Province at Canso, Chinecto & yesterday at the Sawmill upon this Harbour. They were of the opinion that to declare War against them would be in some sort to own them a free people, whereas they ought to be looked on as Rebels to His Majesty’s Government, or as many Banditti Ruffians & treated accordingly. They therefore came unanimously to the following resolutions: That His Excellency give orders to the Commanding Officers at Annapolis Royal, Minas & all within the Province, to annoy, distress & destroy the Indians everywhere. That a Premium be promised of ten Guineas for every Indian killed or taken Prisoner (as is the custom of America)”
  • Lords of Trade and Plantations to Cornwallis 16 October 1749: “The measures you have taken to secure the settlement (Halifax) from the Indians, and your caution to our own people not to be aggressors are much to be commended; but if the Indians should strike the first blow it will certainly be proper that they should feel your resentment. As to your opinion however of never hereafter making peace with them, and of totally extirpating them, we cannot but think that as the prosecution of such design must be attended with Acts of great severity, it may prove of dangerous consequences to the safety of His Majesty’s other Colonies upon the Continent by filling the minds of the bordering Indians with ideas of our cruelty, and instigating them to a dangerous spirit of resentment.”
  • Cornwallis to the Duke of Bedford 17 October 1749: “The French have begun their usual game—their Missionary to the Indians De Leutre that led them before Annapolis Royal, has once more persuaded them to begin hostilities…they had taken 20 Englishmen prisoners at Canso (August); Sept 8 at Chinecto they attempted to seize two sloops…Sept 30 they killed 4 men that were cutting wood near Major Gilman’s sawmill and carried off one. I summoned the Council the next day, who came to the following resolutions…That in order to secure the Province from further attempts from the Indians some effectual method should be taken to pursue them to their Haunts and show them that after such actions they shall not be secure within the Province (peninsula).” 
Sketch of Halifax circa 1750

Sketch of Halifax circa 1750 – Click to Enlarge

  • Lords of Trade to Governor Cornwallis 16 February 1750: “Since our letter to you dated 16t October, we have received yours of the 17th of the same month and the 7th of December last.  The accounts contained on these Letters of the Hostilities committed by the Indians, the obstinate disposition of the French (Acadian) Inhabitants and their refusal to take the Oaths of Allegiance together with the unjustifiable proceedings of the Governor of Canada sending detachments of troops into the heart of His Majesty’s Province, strongly point out the necessity which you so justly represent of a vigorous support to the settlement this year… As to the measures which you have already taken for reducing the Indians, we entirely approve them, and wish you may have success, but as it has been found by experience in others parts of America, that gentler methods and offers of Peace have more frequently prevailed with Indians than the sword, if at the same times the sword is held over their heads, offers of peace and friendships were tendered to them, the one might be means of inducing them to accept the other, but as you have had experience of the disposition and sentiments of these savages you will be better able to judge whether measures of Peace will be effectual or not; if you should find that they do not, we don’t in the least doubt of your vigour and activity in endeavouring to reduce them by force.”
  • Cornwallis to Lords of Trade and Plantations 4 September 1751: “As there is to be a conference at George in New England with the Indians, I have taken that opportunity to try if an accommodation could be brought about, and have empowered Colonel Mascarene (at that time living in New England) to act in behalf of this Province; by the behaviour of the Indians lately, I have some glimmering of hopes. The St Johns have already accepted a belt of Wampum, which is a token of accommodation, this I am obliged to do by way of New England, as there is no coming at them from this Province…”

The raids and clashes between the British and the Mi’kmaq that started in 1749 continued throughout 1750 and the first part of 1751 but dropped off towards the end of the year. (In early 1750 Cornwallis’ approach was to “…harass and hunt the Mi’kmaq…until they had either to abandon the Peninsula or come in upon any (treaty) terms we please.”) The lull in fighting in 1751 prompted Cornwallis and other Council members to explore the possibility of bringing the Mi’kmaq to the peace table.  In August 1752 prior to resigning as Governor and returning to England, Cornwallis rescinded the bounty proclamation and his successor Peregrine Hopson  met with Jean Baptiste Cope  to sign the Treaty of 1752 in November.

The treaty held until the following spring (1753) when two settlers (James Grace and John Connor) returned to Halifax from the eastern shore with several Mi’kmaw scalps. In an affidavit, they claimed they and two companions had been captured by the Mi’kmaq and the two companions scalped (Michael Haggarty and John Poor). Grace and Connor claimed they overpowered and killed their captors.  The Mi’kmaq (supposedly led by Major Cope) retaliated by luring a trading ship from Halifax to the Jeddore area, captured the crew of eight and scalped seven. The eighth crew member, Anthony Casteel, an Acadian interpreter was held for ransom and on being released provided a deposition of the events, including describing how the Mi’kmaq scalped the ship’s captain and other crew members.

Also in 1753, 1450 Foreign Protestant settlers in Halifax were moved to establish Lunenburg. With the outbreak of the Seven Years War, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet — in some instances aided by Acadian insurgents– carried out eight raids in the Lunenburg area including the scalping of settlers. Names of those killed as recorded in church and family records include: 1756: Louis Payzant family, Covey Island, Mahone Bay (Louis Payzant, female servant and child (two) and an unidentified boy;  Payzant’s wife  and four children captured/held for ransom); 1758:  Johannes Ochs family, LaHave ( husband, wife and children two and four and adult female); Conrad Hatt family, LaHave (husband and wife; adult male); 1759:  Tripo/Trippeau family, LaHave (three members including a child); Oxner family (three members).  Rev JB Moreau, who served as a missionary in Lunenburg area, reported to Society for Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in London, “…the number massacred by Indians in Lunenburg District during the (Seven Years) War was 32.”

In 1755, after an Anglo American force captured Beausejour, Governor Charles Lawrence and his Council made the decision to expel the Acadians from the peninsula for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown (a simmering issue from the time of the Treaty of Utrecht). Through much of the 1750se there were numerous clashes between British forces, including the Rangers and the Mi’kmaq and Acadian insurgents in the Chignecto area, with resulting casualties/atrocities on both sides.

The British capture of Fortress Louisbourg in 1758 not only seriously crippled French power in Acadia it also affected the Mi’kmaq who had come to rely on their French allies for much of the food, arms and other materials needed to continue their fight with the British.  By 1760 most of the Mi’kmaq bands had agreed to negotiate a final peace with the British and ‘bury the hatchet.’

New Brunswick Historian Stephen Patterson  has written  “…from the 1740s through the 1750s the British were never sure what they were dealing with (the Mi’kmaq); Nova Scotia governors…looked constantly for opportunities to treat with the Natives, hoping for both peace and an acceptance of  British sovereignty. But at the same time they maintained a defensive position and took the necessary steps to protect such tiny and scattered settlements as there were…”


  • Hostilities involving imperial powers Britain and France and the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet  and other aboriginal groups  marked much of the first half of 18th century Nova Scotia/Acadia, with all sides involved in scalping/mistreatment of prisoners up to 1759-1760 period.
  • Cornwallis’s mission, to establish a fortified settlement at Chebucto and smaller settlements on the peninsula, occurred during a period of international tension between the ending of the War of Austrian Succession in 1748 and the lead up to the Seven Years War (1756-63). He was successful in establishing Halifax but had limited success in advancing settlements in other areas since the opposing Mi’kmaq pretty much kept the British contained in Halifax.
  • The British intent was to exert sovereignty and expand settlement and trade in Nova Scotia/Acadia. It is debatable whether the 1749 bounty on the Mi’kmaq can be labeled genocide (a 20th century term)  but rather a military tactic to protect settlers and to “…harass and hunt the Mi’kmaq…until they had either to abandon the Peninsula or come in under any (treaty) terms we please.” There are few figures on the total number of casualties suffered on all sides during the Cornwallis era, including the number of non-combatants killed (Mi’kmaq and those of European descent).


 Thomas B. Akins, ed. Acadia and Nova Scotia: Documents Relating to the Acadian French and the First British Colonization of the Province 1714-1758. Reprint 1972

Don (Byrd) Awalt “The Mi’kmaq and Point Pleasant Park An Historical Essay in Progress,” Halifax, NS

Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, “Rev Tutty’s Letters to the Society (SPG),” Vol Vll  1891

Alan Marble, Deaths, Burials, Probate of Nova Scotian 1749-1799 from Primary Sources, Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia, 2 Vols  1990

Dianne Marshall, Heroes of the Acadian Resistance 1702-1765 Formac  Publishing  2011

MG4 (Public Archives & Records Management) Churches and Community Records Vol  91

MG 100 Miscellaneous Papers/Family Bible of Johann Michael Schmitt, LaHave

RG1 (Public Records of Nova Scotia) Minutes of Executive Council 1749-1753, Vol 186

Jon Tattrie Cornwallis  The Violent Birth of Halifax Pottersfield Press 2013