Rename Cornwallis Petition

Governor Edward Cornwallis

[To the Governments of Canada, Great Britain, the province of Nova Scotia, and all its municipalities and school boards. Created/written by Cheryl LeBlanc-Weldon and Daniel Paul]

For a number of years, it has troubled many people throughout the province of Nova Scotia, particularly in the Halifax Regional Municipality, that there are numerous public entities such as parks, streets, schools, etc., named in honor of colonial English Governor Edward Cornwallis. Those of us who know the true history of this man, find these honors reprehensible.

Therefore, it is the goal of the Rename Cornwallis Initiative to have the names of these places changed, which, we hope, will restore justice to the people of the Mi’kmaq First Nation, and in the process educate the people of Nova Scotia about the true story of Edward Cornwallis. We feel it is grossly inappropriate that Cornwallis, who put a bounty on the heads of Mi’kmaq men, women, and children, should be honored in any manner.

To continue to honor him, knowing what he did, is morally wrong. No decent person should ever have to walk on a street named after him, enter a park named in his honor, or attend a school that bears his name. Further, for this society to continue to honor and esteem him, a man who put a price on the heads of their ancestors, is a downright slap in the face to the people of the Mi’kmaq First Nation, the Indigenous People of Nova Scotia.

Many people are not aware of the need for change because they have never been told about the atrocities Cornwallis committed against the original inhabitants of Nova Scotia. Dr. Daniel Paul, C.M., O.N.S., has been the driving force behind educating people about the history of this province through his book “We Were Not the Savages”. He has opened many eyes through his selfless determination to present the facts. One of those facts is that Edward Cornwallis placed a bounty on the heads of the Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia. This bounty, set out in the October 2, 1749 Proclamation, is a well documented and well accepted fact, which cannot be disputed. This is the legacy of Edward Cornwallis. This is the man who has schools, parks, and streets named in his honor.

For many years now, there has been a grassroots movement the aim of which is to try to rename the various places that bear the name of Cornwallis. This group is trying to organize this movement into a cohesive one with a plan of action.

The initial goal of the Rename Cornwallis Initiative is to educate people about the history of Edward Cornwallis. In addition, we want Cornwallis’ public honors, which exist throughout Halifax, Nova Scotia and Canada, removed, renamed or altered. We are not trying to erase Edward Cornwallis from history. However, he should never have been given the honors he holds and in order to correct this injustice, a renaming must take place.

One way you can become involved in this initiative is to sign the online petition and encourage others to sign it as well. Please be aware that your signature will not appear immediately as it must be reviewed before it can be posted (this is important because of the online nature of the petition).

You can view/sign the petition here in English or here en Francais, or here in Mi’kmaq (many thanks to Guéganne for doing the translations).

Another way, is to write to your municipal, provincial, and federal government representatives to let them know you support the Rename Cornwallis Initiative. You can find contact info for Halifax Regional Municipal councillors here, for Nova Scotia MLA here and for Members of Parliament here.

If you would like more information about the Rename Cornwallis Initiative, email [email protected]

You can read all about the atrocities committed by Edward Cornwallis by going here. The site is created by Daniel Paul, author of “We Were Not the Savages”.


1749 AND 1750

When Governor Edward Cornwallis and his entourage founded Halifax in 1749, it was during a lull in the war with the Mi’kmaq. In fact, the Mi’kmaq greeted them with hospitality. One settler wrote home: “When we first came here, the Indians, in a friendly manner, brought us lobsters and other fish in plenty, being satisfied for them by a bit of bread and some meat.”

The Mi’kmaq, although Cornwallis blamed it on the French, began to leave the area when he started to display designs against their land. At a meeting held in Cape Breton in the early fall of 1749 a British emissary told the Chiefs about their settlement plans for the province, which gravely alarmed the Mi’kmaq. Professor Jeffrey Plank, university of Cincinnati, remarks on the subject:

“…if the Micmac chose to resist his expropriation of land, the governor intended to conduct a war unlike any that had been fought in Nova Scotia before. He outlined his thinking in an unambiguous letter to the Board of Trade. If there was to be a war he did not want the war to end with a peace agreement. “It would be better to “root” the Micmac out of the peninsula decisively and forever.” The war began soon after the governor made this statement.”

If instead, the English had offered to make a reasonable land deal with the Mi’kmaq at this time everything could have been settled peacefully. But, they made no move to engage them in negotiations on any issue, let alone permission to settle on their land. Therefore, the Mi’kmaq renewed their declaration of war against them on September 23, 1749.

In response Cornwallis demonstrated how inhuman and ruthless he could be. On October 1, 1749, he called a meeting of Council aboard the HMS Beaufort; the following extract is taken 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.”

The horror contained in these words probably escaped the English. In their blind arrogance they could not see the unspeakable crime against humanity they had authorized. The next day, without conscience, the bounty was proclaimed by proclamation by Cornwallis:

“Whereas, notwithstanding the gracious offers of friendship and protection made in His Majesty’s Names by us to the Indians inhabiting this Province, The Micmacs have of late in a most treacherous manner taken 20 of His Majesty’s Subjects prisoners at Canso, and carried off a sloop belonging to Boston, and a boat from this Settlement and at Chinecto basely and under pretence of friendship and commerce. Attempted to seize two English Sloops and murder their crews and actually killed severals, and on Saturday the 30th of September, a body of these savages fell upon some men cutting wood and without arms near the saw mill and barbarously killed four and carried one away.

“For, those cause we by and with the advice and consent of His Majesty’s Council, do hereby authorize and command all Officers Civil and Military, and all His Majesty’s Subjects or others to annoy, distress, take or destroy the Savage commonly called Micmac, wherever they are found, and all as such as aiding and assisting them, give further by and with the consent and advice of His Majesty’s Council, do promise a reward of ten Guineas for every Indian Micmac taken or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp (as in the custom of America) if killed to the Officer Commanding.”

Thus, at a cost to his Majesty’s colonial government’s treasury of ten guineas per head, and at a cost to his servants of their immortal souls, the planned extinction of the Mi’kmaq was under way. It was an action no civilized nation would countenance, nor could any nation that undertook it be called civilized!

That aiding and assisting the Mi’kmaq was used by the English as an excuse to slaughter the French is attested too by Abbé Maillard, who kept a record of the Mi’kmaq declaration of war in Míkmaq and English. The following excerpt is translated from it:

“In 1758,while the King and his Ministers debated policy at Westminster in London, guerilla warfare intensified in the Maritimes, with English militiamen skirmishing with roving parties of Míkmaq and French soldiers. Captain John Knox witnessed some of the atrocities that seem to have become commonplace on the Acadian frontier. What follows is an excerpt from Knox’s war journal, which was not published until 1914. It describes an incident in which a party of French soldiers were taken prisoner by British colonials.

“And as there was a bounty on Indian Scalps (a Blot on Britain’s Escutcheon), the Soldiers soon made the supplicating Signal, the Officers turn’d their Backs and the French were instantly shot and scalp’d. A Similar Instance happened about the same time. A Party of the Rangers brought in one day 25 Scalps pretending that they were Indian. And the Commanding Officer at the Fort then Col. Wilmot, afterwards Gov. [Thomas] Wilmot (a poor Tool), gave Orders that the Bounty should be paid them. Capt. Huston who had at that time the Charge of the Military Chest objected such Proceedings both in the Letter & Spirit of them. The Col. told him, “That According to law the French were all out of the French [sic], that the Bounty on Indian scalps was according to law, and that tho’ the Law might in some Instances be strain’d a little yet there was a Necessity for winking at such things.” Upon which Huston in Obedience to Orders paid down £250, telling them that the Curse of God should ever attend such guilty Deeds“.

In the first paragraph of his sick proclamation Cornwallis cites various incidents as justification for its issuance. As far as I can ascertain it was only in the Americas where European colonial administrators would sometimes condemn to death an entire race of people for the actions of a few of their members. Imagine, holding innocent children responsible, and condemning them to die in an effort to try to terrorize adults into submitting to one’s will!

Cornwallis, in a 1749 memorandum to the Lords of Trade requesting retroactive approval for actions he had already initiated, provides further proof of his insincerity and treachery towards the Mi’kmaq:

“When I first arrived, I made known to these Micmac, His gracious Majesty’s intentions of cultivating Amity and Friendship with them, exhorting them to assemble their Tribes, that I would treat with them, and deliver the presents the King my Master had sent them, they seemed well inclined, some keeping amongst us trafficking and well pleased; no sooner was the evacuation of Louisbourg made and De Lutre the French Missionary sent among them, they vanished and have not been with us since.

“The Saint John’s Indians I made peace with, and am glad to find by your Lordship’s letter of the first of August, it is agreeable to your way of thinking their making submission to the King before I would treat with them, as the Articles are word for word the same as the Treaty you sent me, made at Casco Bay, 1725, and confirmed at Annapolis, 1726. I intend if possible to keep up a good correspondence with the Saint John’s Indians, a warlike people, tho’ Treaties with Indians are nothing, nothing but force will prevail.”

Cornwallis cites everything but the real reason why the Mi’kmaq ended their brief cordial relations with the settlers. The omitted reason-and perhaps due his biases he was unable to recognize it-was that they had discovered that the British had come to seize more of their land and establish more settlements instead of making a lasting peace. Therefore, their disappearance from the site of Halifax at the same time the British were evacuating Louisbourg was only coincidental. The declaration of war made by the Mi’kmaq Chiefs in response to the seizure of ancestral lands attests to this.

The statement Cornwallis makes that “Treaties with Indians are nothing, nothing but force will prevail” provides a clear picture of the morally bankrupt people the Mi’kmaq had to deal with. His pretending to promote honour and good faith in dealings with the Mi’kmaq and other Amerindians while at the same time having no intention to act accordingly clearly reveals his own corrupt ethical standards and those of the system he represented.

The Lords of Trade responded to Cornwallis’s letter in a memo dated February 16, 1750. They were not overly enthusiastic about the course of action he had chosen, for they cautioned him:

“As to the measures which you have already taken for reducing the Indians, we entirely approve them, and wish you may have success, but as it has been found by experience in other parts of America that the gentler methods and offers of peace have more frequently prevailed with Indians than the sword, if at the same times that the sword is held over their heads, offers of peace and friendship were tendered to them, the one might be the means of inducing them to accept the other, but as you have had experience of the disposition and sentiments of these Savages you will be better able to judge whether measures of peace will be effectual or not; if you should find that they will not, we do not in the least doubt your vigour and activity in endeavouring to reduce them by force.”

Many apologists have claimed that the cruelties inflicted upon the Mi’kmaq and other Amerindian Nations were for the most part local acts of depravity and not acts sanctioned by the European Crowns themselves. However, this reaction by British officialdom towards Cornwallis’s proclamation proves that contention wrong. By not rescinding or condemning his inhuman proclamation, the Lords of Trade, policymakers for the British government, showed support, thus implicating the British Crown itself in the crime of genocide.

The Lords also put into writing the paranoid fear the English had of Amerindians. It’s embodied in the worry they expressed that the bounty on the Mi’kmaq might, “by filling the minds of bordering Indians with ideas of our cruelty,”somehow unite all the Amerindian Nations of the Americas against them in a continental war. The equivalent of such an impossible feat would have been the uniting of all the countries in Europe against an invader, which, based on their mutual dislike of one another, would have been impossible. However, what the Lords proposed might happen poses an interesting point. If the people of the Americas could have overcome their cultural differences and united, and if they had been heirs to a class-based, barbaric and warlike history similar to that of the Europeans, whom they may have outnumbered, most of the citizens of Europe today might be speaking a language imported from the Americas rather than the other way around.

On June 21, 1750, in what must have resulted from dissatisfaction with the number of Mi’kmaq scalps being brought in, Cornwallis’s Council raised the monetary incentive by proclamation to fifty pounds sterling per head. It’s interesting that Gorham himself was part of the Council which approved the 1749 scalp bounty, and he was also a member of the Council in 1750 when the bounty was raised. One might be excused for concluding that he was in a conflict of interest.

Professor Jeffery Plank, University of Cincinnati, comments:

Everyone involved understood the conflict to be a race war…. During the 1750s the politics of Nova Scotia centered on issues of national identity. At various times during the decade, the British engaged in combat with several different peoples who inhabited, or passed through, Nova Scotia: The Micmac, the French … and the Acadians…. The British governors of Nova Scotia generally believed that they were surrounded by enemies, that the Acadians, the Micmac and the French would soon find a way to cooperate and overthrow British rule. One of the principle aims of British policy, therefore, was to keep these people separated, to isolate the Micmac, the Acadians, and the French. To achieve this goal of segregation, the colonial authorities adopted two draconian policies. 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. In 1755 the British adopted a different but related strategy: it deported the Acadians, and relocated them in safer colonies to the west. Viewed in the abstract, these two programs, to pay for the deaths of the Micmac and to relocate and absorb the Acadians, represented very simple thinking. The colonial authorities who endorsed these programs placed the inhabitants of Nova Scotia into two categories, Europeans and savages, and treated them accordingly.
The following is quoted from ‘Micmac History’, by Lee Sultzman…

The Micmac did not sign any peace agreement with the British that year. They had suffered a severe smallpox epidemic during 1747, and the French had accused the British of deliberate infection. Whether true or not, the Micmac believed the French and were so angry about this, they refused to make peace. In this decision, they had the full support of a French priest, Father Le Loutre (the new Rasles). Settlements at Chebucto and Canso were attacked during the summer of 1749. Especially galling to the British was the capture of an army detachment at Canso which later had to be ransomed from the French commandant at Louisbourg. The British refused to declare war reasoning that, since the Micmac were supposed to have submitted to British authority in Nova Scotia at the Treaty of Boston (1726), they could be treated as rebels, not enemies. In other words, no rules of civilized warfare. Offering £10 for every Micmac scalp or prisoner, Cornwallis dispatched the Cobb expedition with 100 men to hunt down and kill Micmac. In addition to the usual £10 for scalps or prisoner, Cornwallis offered an additional incentive of £100 for the capture of Le Loutre.

Cobb’s expedition destroyed just about everything they found, but Micmac resistance only stiffened. By 1750 the price of scalps was raised from £10 to £50 which provided incentive for the formation of two additional ranger companies under Captains William Clapham and Francis Bartelo. During 1751 the fighting continued across the Chignecto Isthmus of Nova Scotia, but by summer Cornwallis ordered all ranger companies (except Gorham’s) to disband. Too many strange scalps had been turned in for payment, including several which bore unmistakable signs of European origin. The French were still providing arms to the Chignecto Micmac – who were still dangerous and under the hostile influence of Father Le Loutre – but sending hired killers after them was never going to solve the situation. Cornwallis’ decision ultimately proved correct, and in November, 1752 at Halifax, the Micmac signed a peace treaty with the British.

Unfortunately, the peace lasted less than two years…