Imprint of the New England Planters: the Beginning

Words often change their meaning over time; while new words emerge to meet the needs of the present. Terms such as Planter or New England Planter, once in common use, are seldom heard today. Planter was an old English noun that described a colonist or settler. It was applied to the New Englanders who moved northward to Nova Scotia, (which then included New Brunswick), during the years 1759 to 1768.

To set the stage for this migration, it’s necessary to go back to the momentous year of 1755. On June 16th, Fort Beauséjour fell to the British. The deportation of the Acadian population took place the following autumn. Three years later, on July 17, 1758, Fortress Louisbourg was captured by the British, thus bringing to an end French ambitions in the region.

These events were closely followed by the establishment on Oct. 2, 1758, of representative government and the convening of the first elected Assembly in Halifax. Immediately Governor Charles Lawrence issued a proclamation, inviting New England Planters to take up some 200,000 acres of rich farmland, in the colony.

Later, on Jan. 11 1759, a second proclamation was issued spelling out terms and conditions. This document, sometimes called the Charter of Nova Scotia, stressed that local government both at township and provincial level, along with the courts of justice were: constituted in like manner with those of Massachusetts, Connecticut and the other Northern Colonies. Freedom of worship was also guaranteed.

Many New Englanders already had some familiarity with the lands being offered. For years, considerable trade both legal and illegal, in peace and in war, had existed between Acadia and New England. Some had served in colonial regiments, as the British fought for control of Acadia; while others recognized a golden opportunity to escape overpopulation. As one writer expressed it: Connecticut, which was to supply many Planters… swarmed like bees when the hive is full, as the surplus population went off to found new communities and townships.

Two distinct groups answered the call to settle in Nova Scotia. The first was attracted by the rich dykelands at Annapolis, Minas, Cobequid and Chignecto; and by fertile lands along the St. John River. The second founded new settlements on the south shore of the peninsula from Chester to Yarmouth. These were fishermen, drawn primarily from coastal towns in Massachusetts and particularly Cape Cod. By so relocating they were placing themselves much closer to the important Grand Banks fishery.

According to a census taken in 1767, well over half of Nova Scotia’s population of some 18,000 was of New England origin. This migration, described as an overflowing from the exuberant population of New England reached a peak on the Tantramar in 1761, with the arrival of settlers from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

By 1763, three new townships were created — Amherst, Sackville and Cumberland. Reliable statistics are hard to find; however, it would appear that in that year, Sackville and Cumberland townships contained thirty and thirty five families respectively. The first Sackville township meeting took place on July 20, 1762. It was held at the house of Mrs. Charity Bishop, owner of an inn located near Fort Cumberland, as Beauséjour was renamed. New England was officially transplanted to the Tantramar.

Over the next decade some significant shifts in population were to take place. Not all of the New Englanders were interested in farming; while others had been attracted largely by the possibility of land speculation. During the early 1770’s a significant addition of Yorkshire settlers took place, enabling a number of New Englanders to sell their holdings to these newcomers. A few settlers moved to other parts of the colony; while still others returned home.

At the same time, the storm clouds of revolution were beginning to form in New England. Public opinion on the Isthmus was predictably divided among those who supported the revolutionary cause, those who did not, and the remainder who wanted to maintain neutrality, as His Majesty’s Yankees. In this tense atmosphere public opinion was easily inflamed. When news of the battle at Bunker Hill, fought on June 17, 1775, reached Chignecto, supporters of the revolutionary cause hired a chaise (carriage) and six horses, postillion (rider for the lead horse), and waving a flag of liberty, drove about the Isthmus, proclaiming the news and the blessings of freedom.

Space prevents recounting details of the unsuccessful rebellion on the marsh led by the two local MLA’s Jonathan Eddy and John Allan. Readers interested in a full analysis are directed to Ernest Clarke’s thorough and well documented account: The Siege of Fort Cumberland 1776: An Episode of the American Revolution.

Reasons for the rebellion’s failure were many, as support for the Revolution was far from unanimous. There was little interest in the rebelling thirteen colonies to support an uprising in the fourteenth. The presence of the Royal Navy in the North Atlantic made the sending of support to the Isthmus next to impossible. Raids by New England privateers helped sway public opinion against the rebels. Finally, on the Tantramar, there was a new group of pro-British Yorkshire settlers, almost none of whom had the desire to aid the American cause.

Historian R. S. Longley, descendant of a distinguished Planter family, once observed: By the end of 1760 Nova Scotia’s Annapolis County had a new Massachusetts, Kings County a new Connecticut and what was later to be Hants County a new Rhode Island. It is true that New England Planter influence was greatest in the Annapolis Valley; however, its long range impact on the Tantramar and elsewhere should not be overlooked. The next

Tantramar Flashback on Feb. 2 will consider the local and regional legacy of the New England Planters.