J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Halifax Reacts to the Occupation of Boston

In 1768 the royal governor of Nova Scotia, which included modern-day New Brunswick, was Lord William Campbell, shown here.

According to Emily P. Weaver’s 1904 paper “Nova Scotia and New England During the Revolution,” as of 1766 the royal government counted only 9,789 subjects in the whole province. This page from Statistics Canada gives the number 11,779. Either way, that was considerably smaller than Boston on its own.

That number didn’t include the soldiers stationed in the province or the crews of the Royal Navy ships that stopped at Halifax. Those men, and their families, were seen as transient. With such a small local population, however, they shaped the society greatly. Though Halifax had seen some anti-Stamp Act protests, it stayed close to the royal authorities through the Revolutionary turmoil. The Nova Scotia legislature ignored Massachusetts’s Circular Letter, for example.

On 25 June 1768, Gen. Thomas Gage sent important orders to the highest-ranking army officer in Halifax, Lt. Col. William Dalrymple of the 14th Regiment. Dalrymple was to consolidate all forces in the province and prepare them to sail to Boston. Gage wrote:
There is now at Halifax, one entire Regiment, and five Companies of another, and if you have Time to put the Orders in execution, which are transmitted to you, concerning the withdrawing the Troops from Louisbourg, St: Johns Island, and Fort Frederick, before any Requisition is made for the Aid of the King’s Forces; you will then have under your Command, and ready for immediate Service, a number of Troops equal to two Regiments, and three Companys.

You will embark therefore, if your Assistance is required, with the Whole, or any Part of those Troops, as Governor [Francis] Bernard shall demand, and if the Governor should be of Opinion, that it wou’d be requisite you should bring Artillery with you, the Detachment of the Royal Regiment of Artillery at Halifax, will be embarked at the same time, with such a Number of Pieces of Artillery, as they shall be Able to manage.

You will pay no Regard, in effecting this Service, to the leaving Halifax without Troops: it will be sufficient, that you leave there one Company, or a Detachment equal to a Company.
Gov. Bernard managed to slip out of demanding troops as Gage wanted him to do. Thus, he could claim to the Massachusetts Council that the decision to station soldiers in Boston came entirely from the Secretary of State in London, Lord Hillsborough, and he was merely following orders.

On 13 October, 250 years ago today, the Boston Whigs shared their understanding of how Halifax had experienced that redeployment:
A private letter from Halifax contains some particulars relative to the Boston expedition, not known before, viz. “That in consequence of orders received Sept. 11th, from this place, all the workmen in the King’s yard, necessary to equip the ships, were set to work on Sunday; a strict embargo laid, and guard vessels sent to the mouth of the harbour to prevent intelligence being sent, and more caution used than when fixing out for the Louisbourgh expedition; the embargo so strict, that an open shallop going a mackerel catching, was stopt and sent back to town; and that the troops embarked in as great hurry as was ever known in time of war.[”]—

What a tragi-commick scene is here presented! and how must it be viewed by European politicians?—

Another letter mentions, that as Halifax must sink without the support of troops and ships of war, some of their patriots were about erecting a liberty pole, and employing some boys to sing the Liberty Song through the streets, in hopes it may procure the return of those ships and forces or a larger number from Britain, in order to quell such disturbances.
If anyone from Halifax made such a remark, it was a joke. But the local economy really did depend on supplying the army and navy. On 12 September, the day after Dalrymple received his orders to sail, Lord William Campbell wrote to Hillsborough asking him to send those regiments back north as soon as possible. The royal governor warned that Nova Scotia’s “chief dependence was the circulating cash spent by the troops.”

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