“Destroy the Indians”

Edward Cornwallis had no desire for peaceful coexistence with this land’s original inhabitants, only to drive them from the peninsula “decisively and forever.”

click to enlarge An excerpt from Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, by Jon Tattrie. Available from Pottersfield Press. - VIA POTTERSFIELD PRESS
An excerpt from Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, by Jon Tattrie. Available from Pottersfield Press.

On October 1, 1749, governor Edward Cornwallis gathered his council in Halifax to discuss the growing French and Mi’kmaq threat. Cornwallis’ bright successes at the Battle of Culloden and in the Scottish Pacification may have been illuminating his mind when the councillors met in his Parade Square home. The Halifax settlement was small, isolated from the British empire it served, and the settlers’ appetite for battle was weak. They had come across the ocean to escape the poverty of the Old World; they had little interest in laying down their lives for king and country. The council talked about the hostilities committed by the Mi’kmaq at Canso, Chignecto and just the day before at the Dartmouth sawmill.

To the settlers, the Dartmouth site was a convenient place to station a sawmill so they could make use of Nova Scotia’s ample supply of wood to build their own homes, rather than rely on expensive imports from New England. Dartmouth was near Halifax and had a strong river to power the mill. For the Mi’kmaq, the same site was the head of a crucial waterway used for fishing and travelling. As the British refused to discuss territorial claims, the Mi’kmaq took any expansion into their territory as an act of war.

Council member John Salusbury recorded the details in hurried, partial sentences. “Major Guillman attacked at his sawmill. Six of his people clearing the river but 200 yards from his fort shot at. One escaped, the five butchered. He is supported. The murderers fled.”

Council sat grim-faced. A member asked Cornwallis if they should declare war against the Mi’kmaq. “I am of the opinion that to declare war against them would be in some sort to own them a free and independent people,” he said, “whereas they ought to be looked on as rebels to His Majesty’s government, or as so many bandit ruffians, and treated accordingly.”

“If there was to be a ‘war’, it will not be a war that ends with a peace agreement. That will only delay the final battle for another time. No, it would be better to root the Micmac out of the peninsula decisively and forever. In order to secure the province from further attempts of the Indians, some effectual methods should be taken to pursue them to their haunts and show them that because of such actions, they shall not be secure within the province.

“I give orders to the commanding officers at Annapolis Royal, Minas and all others within the province to annoy, distress and destroy the Indians everywhere.”

The government of Nova Scotia would encourage and pay for the murder of all Mi’kmaq of any age or gender. A company of 50 men was raised in the settlement to scour the woods around the town and kill or disperse any Mi’kmaq. A further 100 men were to join ranger John Gorham over the winter to hunt Mi’kmaq people across the entire province. To collect their pay, they were to cut off part of their victims’ scalps and bring them to a government post. Anyone who tried to help a Mi’kmaq person would likewise be subject to being harassed or killed.

The proclamation was signed by Cornwallis and the council and dispatched throughout the province.


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