January 16, 1998 Halifax Herald

Time to stop honouring monsters of past

I was shocked, but not surprised, when the Department of Transportation named the connector road between Bedford and Sackville after a man who was considered by the Mi'kmaq and Acadians, and by many of his peers, to be an "uncivilized savage." Captain John Gorham, the man honoured, and his kinfolks were not strangers to enforcing colonial scalping proclamations. In the late 1600s, his great-grandfather was involved in the New England "Indian wars," which virtually exterminated the area's Native Americans.

Gorham, Nova Scotia's first official bounty hunter, was set loose on the Mi'kmaq in 1744 by Governor William Shirley of the Mass Bay colony.

In 1744, the English and French, for the umpteenth time, declared war upon each other. The English fort at Annapolis Royal came under siege by French troops and Mi'kmaq warriors. In response, Nova Scotia's colonial Governor, Paul Mascarene, wrote to the Mass Bay Governor for assistance. Shirley, who was everything but in name governor of Nova Scotia, responded by issuing a Proclamation declaring war upon the Mi'kmaq.

It contained these infamous instructions: "that there be granted to be paid out of the public treasury to any company, party or person...who shall voluntarily, and at their own cost,...go out and kill a male Indian of the age of 12 or upwards... (duration) for...as long as the war shall continue,... and produce his scalp in evidence of his death, the sum of 100 pounds in bills of credit of this Province of New England; and 105 pounds for any male...who shall be taken captive;...and...fifty pounds...for women, and for children under the age of 12...killed in fight;... and fifty five...(for those) taken prisoner, together with plunder."

To enforce his monstrous Proclamation, Shirley sent Captain John Gorham and fifty of his bloodthirsty rangers to Annapolis. These first bounty hunters were mostly Mohawk Warriors, historic enemies of the Mi'kmaq, with a sprinkling of whites and half-breeds. In later years, whites would make up the majority.

Because of their murderous reputations, the civilian and military populations of the garrison did not welcome these barbarians with open arms. In fact - some say with good cause - many loyal British subjects were terrified of them.

George T. Bates reports in a paper he read before the Nova Scotia Historical Society in 1951:

"Not long after their arrival, Mascarene tells us, they fell upon a family of Indians lurking in the woods nearby. The rangers seized this opportunity to establish a reputation for themselves by killing some and scattering the rest." Gorham soon satisfied Mascarene that he was well qualified for the post. Father Maillard, a Catholic missionary, reports that among the first victims of these monsters were three pregnant women and two small children.

When Edward Cornwallis became governor in June of 1749, Gorham was still plying his ungodly trade in Nova Scotia. After the new governor, in October 1749, had circulated his own proclamation for Mi'kmaq scalps - which was also for the heads of men, women and children - he became its chief enforcer.

Bates reports: "It is reported that...a party of Gorham's rangers one day brought in 25 scalps, claiming the bounty of 10 per scalp. It was strongly suspected that not all of the scalps were those of Indians, but included some Acadians too. The paymaster protested the payment, but was ordered to pay 250 anyway... The records of Chignecto include several instances of extreme cruelty and barbarism by the rangers..."

Gorham profited from his assignment to Nova Scotia. He became a ship owner and his family lived quite handsomely. It was reported that at least one of his ships was built with slave labour. From what I've read about him, I have no doubt that he was capable of using humans as work animals.

The Great Spirit intervened on behalf of the Mi'kmaq in December of 1751; John Gorham, while visiting London, contracted smallpox and died. However, his barbarous rangers continued to function in this province until 1761.

One might be excused for asking what kind of mentality does the leadership of this province harbour. Here we have a bounty hunter, a man who also committed atrocities against Acadians and probably used slaves, being honoured by having a highway named after him.

Will this mentality someday lead to having Nova Scotia buildings, roads, etc., named after other historical monsters who undertook to exterminate people they considered inferior? It just might. After all, what is the real difference between the likes of Hitler and Stalin and the likes of Cornwallis, Gorham? They all tried to kill off what they deemed to be sub-human peoples.

One can't help but think that the Mi'kmaq are still viewed by many in the white power structure as being less than human. Why else would these power brokers continue to honour men who tried to exterminate them? Possibly the answer is ignorance. Whatever it is, I think its high time the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission took a hard look at this practice and did something to stop it!

Daniel N. Paul


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