What’s it Like in the Eye of a Battle?

This is the time of the year when Atlantic Canada undergoes its annual hurricane watch. No words or pictures can truly convey the impact of these freaks of nature; they must be experienced to be understood. Of all the first hand accounts, the most frightening come from those who experienced the eye of the hurricane, and lived to tell the tale.

The same situation holds true in wartime. What’s it like to be in the midst of a battle? Ask any veteran or civilian who endured the Second World War, or listen to the stories of Canadian peace keepers returned from duty in Bosnia, to mention but one recent conflict.

It is sometimes overlooked that the Tantramar region was, more than once, in the eye of a battle. The last occasion took place during the American Revolution and is usually referred to as the Eddy Rebellion.

But first let’s focus on its impact on those who once lived here. By this time the area was largely resettled by New England Planters, drawn from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Each of these colonies strongly supported the revolutionary cause.

Following the Declaration of Independence on July 4th 1776 there were many unanswered questions: Should the Tantramar settlers follow the lead of their friends and relatives to the south and take up arms? Would Nova Scotia, which then included present day New Brunswick, be the fourteenth colony to rebel?

Certainly Jonathan Eddy, who served as MLA for Cumberland Township from 1770 to 1775, thought so and did his best to enlist sympathizers to the revolutionary cause. Further, there was concern among the British authorities that uprisings might occur, particularly in areas settled by New Englanders.

When a call went out for the establishment of militia units to cope with such possibilities, one recruiter reported to Governor Francis Legge: As nineteen out of twenty are natives of New England, what dependance or reliance could Your Excellency have on such troops? In the end although the rebellion failed, its repercussions were to be felt for many years. Psychological wounds created by families and neighbors once bitterly divided take time to heal.

What was it like to live on the Tantramar in the midst of the Eddy Rebellion? What immediate effect did the conflict have on daily life in the autumn of 1776? One surviving account fills in some of the detail. Unlike many others, this person and his family did not support the uprising. A teenager in the eye of the battle of 1775-6, he was later to recall his experiences:

In the fall of 1776 some people [Eddy and followers] came among us; raised all the disaffected and disarmed all friends of the government. They forbade us to stir off our farms, burned buildings and threatened many with imprisonment and death. In the night they would fire upon the garrison, [Fort Cumberland previously Fort Beausejour] and the garrison would fire back on them.

It was our usual custom to sit up the whole night at cards and dancing. When we heard the cannon roar, and the discharge of musketry, we would watch the flash of fire from the guns; and as soon as that was over, return again to waste our time in sin and vanity. We could easily see the fort from my father’s house. Death and danger were at our door.

Such were the memories of Reverend William Black of his boyhood on the Isthmus of Chignecto in 1776.