‘Demonizing The Past: Cornwallis’

Race activists in Halifax are threatening to take down the statue of the city’s founder, Edward Cornwallis. The ‘activists’ in Halifax on Canada Day were also protesting Cornwallis, claiming he was guilty of instituting the ‘genocide’ of local aboriginal tribes, the proof being his ‘bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps’ {which was simply a response to aboriginal scalping of the British – see below}. 

While Edward Cornwallis was far from a saint — see his brutal repression of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 — in Canada, Cornwallis was simply one participant in a much larger series of wars that included scalping on ALL sides: 

“The British Government appointed Cornwallis as Governor of Nova Scotia {1749} with the task of establishing a new British settlement to counter France’s Fortress Louisbourg…

“One of Cornwallis’ first priorities was to make peace with the ‘Wabanaki Confederacy’, which included the Mi’kmaq. (The Confederacy had been aligned with New France through four wars, starting with ‘King William’s War’.) A group of Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and single band of Mi’kmaq met with Cornwallis in the Summer of 1749. They agreed with the British to end fighting, and renewed an earlier treaty drafted in Boston, redrafted as the ‘Treaty of 1749’.

“However, Cornwallis’s diplomatic efforts were doomed to failure. The treaties signed at Halifax represented mostly native groups in New Brunswick. Most Mi’kmaq leaders in Nova Scotia regarded the unilateral establishment of Halifax as a violation of an earlier treaty with the Mi’kmaq people (1726), signed after ‘Father Rale’s War’… Cornwallis had no authority to respond by abandoning the Halifax expedition, and Mi’kmaq leaders regarded the Halifax settlement as

“a great theft that you have perpetrated against me.”

“A wave of Mi’kmaq attacks began immediately… At Chignecto Bay, two British ships were attacked while two others were seized at Canso. At Halifax, attacks began on settlers and soldiers outside the fortified township, beginning with the first of several raids on the longhouse settlement at Dartmouth across the harbour. This stage of the long-running Anglo-Mi’kmaq conflict is known by some historians as ‘Father Le Loutre’s War’. 

Father Le Loutre's War (1749–1755)
Father Le Loutre’s War (1749–1755)

“When Cornwallis arrived in Halifax, there was a long history of frontier warfare in Acadia and Nova Scotia between the British and the Wabanaki Confederacy (which included the Mi’kmaq). The Mi’kmaq sought to protect their land by killing British civilians along the New England/Acadia border in Maine (See the Northeast Coast Campaigns 1688, 1703, 1723, 1724, 1745, 1746, 1747)…

{You can already see that the story of aboriginals peacefully sharing the land with Europeans is mostly mythology…}

“Cornwallis sought to project British military power by establishing forts in the largest Acadian communities, at Windsor (‘Fort Edward’), Grand Pré (‘Fort Vieux Logis’), and Chignecto (‘Fort Lawrence’). The fighting started when Acadians and Mi’kmaqs responded by attacking the British at Chignecto, Grand Pré, Dartmouth, Canso, and Halifax…

British governors had often issued proclamations against the Mi’kmaq for their raids. After the Raid on Dartmouth, Cornwallis issued a proclamation to separate the two populations by banning the Mi’kmaq from peninsular Nova Scotia.

“In New England, the British paid their ‘Rangers’ a bounty for Mi’kmaq scalps, and the French paid the Wabanaki for British scalps. Cornwallis followed New England’s example in his proclamation, which offered a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaw fighters. The bounty was not effective. Cornwallis increased the bounty dramatically in March 1751, but this increase brought in only one scalp {‘Genocide’?} in the next four months…

“According to historian Geoffery Plank, both combatants understood their conflict as a “race war“, and both the Mi’kmaq and British were “single-mindedly” determined to drive each other from the peninsula of Nova Scotia
{Plank, Geoffrey (1996). “The two Majors Cope: the boundaries of nationality in mid-18th century Nova Scotia”. ‘Acadiensis’. XXV (2): 18–40.}

“But after eighteen months of inconclusive fighting since the outbreak of the war, uncertainties and second thoughts began to disturb both the Mi’kmaq and the British communities. By the summer of 1751, Governor Cornwallis began a more conciliatory policy. For more than a year, Cornwallis sought out Mi’kmaq leaders willing to negotiate a peace.

“On 16 February 1752, hoping to lay the groundwork for a peace treaty, he repealed his 1749 proclamation against the Wabanaki. Having only committed to being Governor for two years, Cornwallis eventually resigned his commission and left the colony in October, 1752.

Cornwallis laid the groundwork for the peace treaty signed shortly after he left. Chief Jean-Baptiste Cope signed the only peace treaty of the war, which was ultimately rejected by most of the other Mi’kmaq leaders. Cope burned the treaty six months after he signed it…”

— ‘Edward Cornwallis’,

PHOTO: Canadian Press

“There’s a debate currently raging in Halifax about the city’s founder, British Governor Edward Cornwallis, who founded the city in 1749. The agitation is centred on a statue of the Governor in Halifax’s downtown Cornwallis Square:

“Last May, an unknown vandal spray-painted “Self righteous ass” on a statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, the 18th century British military governor who once placed 10 guinea bounties on Mi’kmaq scalps. In 2001, someone else doused the statue in red paint and scrawled “killed natives” on its base.

At the city’s 250th birthday party, an actor dressed as Cornwallis was forbidden from speaking {???} and in 2011, a Nova Scotia school was renamed to scrub out Cornwallis’ violent legacy. And now, some Haligonians are wondering whether they even need a statue of Cornwallis at all. 

Rev. Richard Walsh of Upper Tantallon, dressed as 18th century Royal Artillery bombardier, looks over painting of Edward Cornwallis, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 2006. (PETER PARSONS—ChronicleHerald)

“The debate is largely about a contentious proclamation Cornwallis issued in an attempt to deal with a violent uprising by Mi’kmaq natives who were targeting the British settlements in Acadia. It reads:

“His Majesty’s Council do hereby authorize and command all Officers Civil and Military, and all his Majesty’s Subjects of others to annoy, distress, take or destroy the Savage commonly called the Micmac, wherever they are found,”

… “[And] promise a reward of ten Guineas for ever Indian Micmac taken or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp.”

“We have a tendency to look at historical issues like the Cornwallis administration through the lens of modern grievances. The ‘Scalping Proclamation’ is indeed horrific by modern standards, but it must be taken in context. The Mi’kmaq weren’t exactly Boy Scouts — there had been a series of brutal Mi’kmaq attacks on British settlers in Acadia leading up to the proclamation, and indeed the Mi’kmaq themselves were being paid by the French to collect British scalps. In a 1749 raid on Dartmouth, across the harbour from Halifax a month before Cornwallis’ proclamation, Mi’kmaq warriors attacked a British party cutting firewood:

“On September 30, 1749, about forty Mi’kmaq attacked six men who were in Dartmouth cutting trees. The Mi’kmaq killed four of them on the spot, took one prisoner and one escaped. Two of the men were scalped and the heads of the others were cut off. The attack was on the saw mill at Dartmouth Cove, which was under the command of Major Ezekiel Gilman. A detachment of rangers was sent after the raiding party and cut off the heads of two Mi’kmaq and scalped one.”

To prevent the French and Wabanaki Confederacy massacres of British families, on October 2, 1749, Governor Edward Cornwallis offered a bounty on the head of every Mi’kmaq. Prior to Cornwallis, there was a long history of Massachusetts Governors issuing bounties for the scalps of Indian men, women, and children. Cornwallis followed New England’s example. He set the amount at the same rate that the Mi’kmaq received from the French for British scalps. The British military paid the ‘Rangers’ the same rate per scalp as the French military paid the Mi’kmaq for British scalps.

“Despite Cornwallis’ efforts to defend the community, in July 1750, the Mi’kmaq killed and scalped 7 men who were at work in Dartmouth. In August 1750, 353 people arrived on the ship ‘Alderney’ and began the town of Dartmouth. The town was laid out in the autumn of that year. The following month, on September 30, 1750, Dartmouth was attacked again by the Mi’kmaq and five more residents were killed. In October 1750, a group of about eight men went out

“to take their diversion; and as they were fowling, they were attacked by the Indians, who took the whole prisoners; scalped … [one] with a large knife, which they wear for that purpose, and threw him into the sea …”

“In March 1751, the Mi’kmaq attacked on two more occasions, bringing the total number of raids to six in the previous two years. Three months later, on May 13, 1751, Broussard led sixty Mi’kmaq and Acadians to attack Dartmouth again, in what would be known as the ‘Dartmouth Massacre’.

“Certainly, Edward Cornwallis’ legacy in Canada is not without controversy, but that doesn’t mean his significance as the founder of one of Canada’s oldest cities should be expunged from our collective memory. Halifax as it is today would not exist were it not for Governor Cornwallis. Canada in the 18th century was a brutal, violent place, and for those who make a fetish of our “proud peacekeeping tradition“, the colonial wars are an embarrassment. That doesn’t mean we should pretend they didn’t occur and flush all references to them down the memory hole.

“Edward Cornwallis is an important figure in Canadian history, and he deserves a statue in the city he founded…”

–‘The legacy of Edward Cornwallis’,
Diogenes Borealis, May 30, 2014

Feature IMAGE: ‘The founding of Halifax, 1749’. (Soldier of the 29th Regiment of Foot (right) guarding Halifax against raids by Acadian and Mi’kmaq militia; ‘Horsemans Fort’ in the background; painting by Charles William Jefferys.


See also:
Who Started Scalping?{January 19, 2015}:

“It is clear that, contrary to historical revisionists, Europeans did not teach scalping to the Native Americans; in fact, the opposite is true. Scalping was a practice that Europeans learned from the Native Americans. It was a practice, moreover, that Indians practiced long before whites arrived.”


Photo: CBC

“…The Halifax regional school board’s decision to rename Cornwallis Junior High School was one of several events in 2011 that reopened the blame/guilt game surrounding Cornwallis and the contentious Mi’kmaq bounty proclamation of 1749.

“Cornwallis, governor of Nova Scotia/Acadia, 1749-1752, has become a lightning rod for long-standing grievances of the Mi’kmaq community…

“For {race activist} Daniel Paul, author of “We Were Not the Savages”, and other Mi’kmaq leaders, Cornwallis should be swept into history’s dustbin, insisting that

“anything with the Cornwallis name has to go.”

“But before we start removing Cornwallis’s name from other public entities, including the Cornwallis River, or boarding over his statue in Halifax, what would be helpful is an agreed-upon body of knowledge and a dispassionate assessment of his time as governor and the geopolitical turmoil of mid-18th century Nova Scotia.

“What is often missing in public comments and media reports are balance and context, including the challenges Cornwallis faced in founding Halifax, dealing with the Acadians and the opposing French-Mi’kmaq alliance and why he issued the bounty proclamation. 

“Saint Mary’s University professor John Reid (“Essays on Northeastern North America in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”) points out that a historiographical rebalancing has taken place in recent years as historians place increased significance on the role of Nova Scotia in the interconnected imperial, colonial and aboriginal events and hostilities in northeastern North America in the 1600s and 1700s.

“Hostilities involving imperial rivals Britain and France and ‘First Nations’ {‘Siberian settler communities’} in Nova Scotia and other frontier areas — particularly after British forces captured Port Royal in 1710 — were frequent and included scalping and mistreatment of prisoners on all sides.

“There was no ‘United Nations Declaration of Human Rights’, no ‘Geneva Convention’ governing captured and wounded combatants. As New Brunswick historian Stephen Patterson observes in the book “The Atlantic Region to Confederation, A History”,

“The historical lesson, if there are any such to be drawn (of the period), is that it is difficult to separate victims from villains.”

Edward Cornwallis, soldier, politician and founder of Halifax (courtesy ‘Library and Archives Canada—C-11070’)

“Cornwallis’s mission — during a period of international tension — was to strengthen the British position in Nova Scotia by establishing a fortified town at Chebucto Bay to counter Fortress Louisbourg and other settlements on the mainland. The French controlled Cape Breton.

“He succeeded in establishing Halifax but had little success with settlements outside Halifax, due to Mi’kmaq and French opposition. Although Britain claimed jurisdiction and dominion over Nova Scotia (‘Treaty of Utrecht’ 1713, treaty of 1725/1726), the Mi’kmaq resisted any British encroachment.

Several months after Cornwallis’s arrival with 2,500 settlers in June 1749, the Mi’kmaq declared war on the British and attacked and scalped a small group of woodcutters near Dartmouth Cove. Cornwallis — following the legalistic practice of British administrators — issued the bounty proclamation, “as is the custom in America“, a hasty but probably not illegal action of the period.

“He would rescind the proclamation in 1752 in hopes of making peace with the Mi’kmaq (‘Treaty of 1752’) before returning to England. There are few records regarding the number of Mi’kmaq, including non-combatants, taken or killed by British forces under Cornwallis’s command (1749-1752). 

Edward Cornwallis

“But neither the bounty nor the offensive operations of ‘Gorham’s Rangers’ deterred the Mi’kmaq and they pretty much kept the British contained in Halifax during Cornwallis’s governance. The settlement at Dartmouth is a case in point.

“Between 1749 and 1759, the Mi’kmaq (in some instances aided by Acadian insurgents) carried out eight raids on Dartmouth, resulting in a significant number of deaths.

“The most devastating occurred in the pre-dawn of May 13, 1751, when more than a dozen settlers and soldiers were killed and scalped, or seriously wounded.

“Accounts of the time state that

“they spared not even women and children . . . (and among the wounded) . . . the casualties mounted each day for about a month.”

“The dead were brought to Halifax and Rev. William Tutty of St. Paul’s Church recorded the names and conducted the burials in the Old Burying Ground. Several Mi’kmaq were also reported killed.

“The raids had a lasting effect on the settlers. From the 353 settlers who arrived on the transport Alderney in 1750, only half remained in 1752. Tutty, in a letter to church officials in London in July 1751, refers to the

“many outrages and most unnatural barbarities (of the Mi’kmaq) at Dartmouth, (which) have so intimidated the inhabitants that they have mostly deserted it.”

“Dartmouth historian Harry Chapman (In the “Wake of the Alderney”) notes that

“the census of 1766 records the population at 39. . . . Dartmouth was virtually a ghost town and would remain so for (some time).”

“The taking of scalps on all sides, including non-combatants, continued after Cornwallis’s departure from Nova Scotia in 1752, heightened by the official start of the ‘Seven Years War’ (1755), the expulsion of the Acadians from the province, and the attacks of Acadian insurgents.

“At the beginning of the ‘Seven Years War’, it was reported British warships had captured two French warships off Nova Scotia carrying 10,000 scalping knives intended for the Mi’kmaq and Acadian insurgents.

“Looking back to 1749, should we view Cornwallis’s bounty proclamation as ‘genocide’, as claimed by some Mi’kmaq leaders, or as a military measure to protect settlers, and in Cornwallis’s words to

“harass and hunt the Mi’kmaq . . . until they had either to abandon the Peninsula (mainland) or come in upon any (treaty) terms we please?”

“American historian John Grenier (“The Far Reaches of Empire, War in Nova Scotia 1710-1760”) says it is important to look at context in assessing Cornwallis’s proclamation, and that British actions

cannot be viewed entirely by today’s standards and values, . . . there’s too much present-day emotional weight.” …”

–‘Cornwallis era part of brutal struggle’,
LEN CANFIELD, Halifax Chronicle Herald, March 25, 2012


From May, 2017:
“A new survey suggests that the majority of Haligonians believe Edward Cornwallis’s name should remain on public parks, buildings and street signs.

“The survey results, released Tuesday by ‘Corporate Research Associates’, showed 58% of respondents “mostly” or “completely” disagreed that Cornwallis’s name should be removed, while 31% “mostly” or “completely” agreed that it should be removed.

“Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax in 1749…

“Over the past few years, Nova Scotians have discussed whether it is appropriate to keep Cornwallis’s name on buildings, streets and schools.

“In 2011, the ‘Halifax Regional School Board’ voted unanimously to rename ‘Cornwallis Junior High’, changing it to ‘Halifax Central Junior High School’. In 2015, Premier Stephen McNeil had signs for the Cornwallis River in the Annapolis Valley removed.

“And in March, the ‘Cornwallis Street Baptist Church’ decided to change its name, but has not yet settled on a new one. Also that month, the ‘Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre’ asked the city of Halifax to rename Cornwallis Street.

“In April, Halifax Regional Council voted to create a panel to advise the municipality on public spaces and monuments named after Cornwallis. A similar motion had been defeated in 2016.

“Don Mills, the chairman and CEO of ‘Corporate Research Associates’, said his firm’s survey results may surprise some people given the media coverage of the issue.

“Quite often, the silent majority is not represented in these kinds of debate,” he said. “In fact, it’s almost two to one against removing his name.”

–‘Most Haligonians say Edward Cornwallis’s name should stay, survey suggests’,
Frances Willick, CBC News, May 23, 2017


See also:
How We Teach History Matters Most{November 6, 2015}:

Politically Incorrect History‘ (Conrad Black) {December 9, 2014}:
Post also at: 


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