October 3, 1997 Halifax Herald
Scots fell victim to Cornwallis before Mi'kmaqs
Scots fell victim to Cornwallis before Mi'kmaqs
October 2, 1997, was the 248th anniversary of the date when Governor Edward Cornwallis's issued his infamous proclamation for Mi'kmaq scalps.
On October 1, 1749, Cornwallis convened a meeting of Council aboard HMS Beaufort. The following is an extract from the minutes:
“That, in their opinion, to declare war formally against the Micmac Indians would be a manner to own them a free and independent people, whereas they ought to be treated as so many Banditti Ruffians, or Rebels, to His Majesty's Government.
“That, 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.
“That, a Company of Volunteers, not exceeding fifty men, be immediately raised in the Settlement to scour the wood all around the Town.
“That, a Company of one hundred men be raised in New England to join with Gorham's during the winter, and go over the whole Province....
“That, a reward of ten Guineas be granted for every Indian Micmac taken, or killed."
Dr. Geoffrey Plank, University of Cincinnati, has made this assessment of the situation: "...everyone involved understood the conflict to be a race war...In 1749, the governor began offering bounties for the scalps of Micmac men, women and children. The aim of this program was to eliminate the Micmac population on the peninsula of Nova Scotia, by death or forced emigration."
Until this past summer, I've often wondered where Cornwallis might have acquired his taste for committing atrocities. I now have information which reveals that he was previously involved in meting out such treatment in Scotland. According to data enshrined in a book entitled Culloden, by John Prebble, he was the Lieutenant-Colonel of Bligh's militia. The book published in 1961, relates some of the details of how Cornwallis participated in the English army's barbaric mistreatment of the Highland Scots during and after the Scottish rebellion of the 1740s.
The following example from the book depicts events after Achnacarry had been looted and burned:
"The black smoke of burning Achnacarry was still coiling down Loch Arkaig when Bligh's went away, swinging toward Moidart with Culcairn's militia, ‘burning of houses, driving away cattle and shooting those vagrants who were found to be in the Mountains.’
"Much of what they did was not reported in Michael Hughes's narrative, but John Cameron, Presbyterian Minister and Chaplain at Fort William, wrote down an account of it in his journal. He said that when the party camped for the night on the braes of Loch Arkaig they saw what they thought was a boat on the shore. A party went down to examine it, and found it to be a large black stone, "but that they might not return without some gallant action on meeting a poor old man about sixty, begging, they shot him." They also found an old woman, blind in one eye and not much more than a beggar herself, and when she would not say where Lochiel was hidden (if she knew) she too was shot. "This is certain," said Minister Cameron, "but what is reported to have been done to her before she was dead I incline not to repeat--things shocking to human nature."
"Culcairn's... according to Cameron, were responsible for these shootings, but the men of Bligh's did their share. They saw two men carrying dung to their bitter fields and these were ordered to come before Cornwallis. They came but on their way were foolish or thoughtless enough to look back at their field. The soldiers shot them."
Much of the summary executions and torture which occurred, and the burning of homes and looting of properties, were overseen by men such as Cornwallis. He and his men displayed a complete lack of conscience while subjugating the Scots. In view of this, one can easily conclude that the beast had an inborn taste for committing crimes against humanity.
The Colonel was rewarded in 1749 for his military performance in Scotland; he was made Governor of the colony of Nova Scotia. The 250th anniversary of the founding of Halifax by Cornwallis slides ever closer. When it arrives, will the powers that be, both federally and provincially, heap praise upon a man whose inhuman actions against the Mi'kmaq compares with Hitler's actions against the Jews? Or will they start a healing process by finally condemning him for the barbarian he was?
Before a condemnation can occur, white Canadian society will have to agree to belatedly deem his efforts to drive the Mi'kmaq to extinction to be a crime against humanity. But they may not. After all, it was just in the 1960s when a white engineer nonchalantly responded with, "so their just Indians," to a white government official who expressed concern about the health and welfare of the people who would be left in homes adjacent to the industrially polluted lagoon at Boat Harbour - the Pictou Landing Mi'kmaqs!
Daniel N. Paul
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