Lunenburg Common Lands: The March 1760 Peace And Friendship Treaty And Lunenburg’s Blockhouse Hill: Their Impact Today

Mar 18, 2023 | Free

Lunenburg Common Lands: The March 1760 Peace And Friendship Treaty And Lunenburg’s Blockhouse Hill: Their Impact Today

Editor’s Note: Over the last two weeks The Macdonald Notebook has written 14 stories – many news scoops – on the controversial plan by Lunenburg Mayor Matt Risser & his town council to create a massive housing development on lands created in 1758 as a park for the people, called The Lunenburg Common Lands – Blockhouse Hill Park, this story details the rich Indigenous history and heritage at Blockhouse Hill Park – that resulted in an important Peace and Friendship treaty  – editor Andrew Macdonald.

By Alison Strachan

The Macdonald Notebook

Warning to readers: This is a ten-minute read that won’t let you down — fill your java cups now! This piece would not be possible without recognizing two important Mi’kmaq who exhaustively impacted the course of Mi’kmaq lives and history into the 21st century. Wela’lin Daniel Paul and Donald Marshall, Jr. 

In last weekend’s The Macdonald Notebook edition, I wrote about the 1756 Wabanaki Confederacy ‘Raid’ with the caveat that virtually all written history on the event is from a Eurocentric perspective.

These recorded histories remain ‘unchallenged’ except for the Mi’kmaq perspective contained in the 2022 edition of We Were Not the Savages by 85-year-old author and elder Daniel Paul, who says this will be the last and final edition of his book, first published in 1993.

The foreword to the edition is written by Dr. Pamela Palmater, professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University:

“… Its core message rings as true today in the fourth edition as it did when it was first published in 1993. The so-called ‘Indian problem’ has never been about us. There is nothing wrong with our people; we were not the savages; the leaders of the invading European countries were. This truth has stuck with me ever since.”

While looking through documents and histories of the 1750s through the lens most available for researchers that being information that is mainly Eurocentric in origin I happened across this 1757 advertisement that appeared in the colonial newspaper, the Boston Newsletter, looking for Volunteer Rangers to serve as bounty hunters under Captain Benoni Danks (aka Danks’ Rangers).

This was for me, a stark and chilling reminder of the powerful title of Daniel Paul’s book.

Those who volunteered and complied with the government proposals (to be blunt, complied with the genocide of “Indians” in Nova Scotia) would receive a land grant of 200 acres in this province. Notably, this ad is on behalf of King George II and postdates Governor Edward Cornwallis’ departure from Nova Scotia a few years before.

Cornwallis was only one part of a disgusting and reprehensible bounty culture bent on changing the course of history in Canada under King George II. He was not a lone wolf. It was a pervasive strategic tool at the time, tested on the ground in the American colonies.

We have, as shown above, evidence of the objective of Danks’ Rangers. There were others. Volunteers served under Gorham’s Rangers, and Rogers’ Rangers to assist the Crown in various locations around Nova Scotia in the 1750s. All were handsomely compensated for their work in reducing the number of Mi’kmaq during those early settlement days.

Combined, these Rangers are said to have had a force of around 300 volunteers, armed and fully outfitted. Some were described as indentured “Indians” from Massachusetts.

For context, the Mi’kmaq population in Nova Scotia in 1750  is thought to have been 5,500, spread throughout the province. Virginia Miller’s article, The Decline of Nova Scotia MicMac Population, A.D. 1600 – 1850, which was presented to the Canadian Anthropology Society says:

“One reasonably informed person was French immigrant Moses des Le Dernier, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1750 and, upon inquiring about the Indians, was told by a Lunenburg preacher and ‘very intelligent man’ that the Micmac could arm ‘1,500 Effective Men’ … A 1750 population of 5,520, calculated from this statement, is more realistic than any of the other 18th century figures we have considered; this estimate dates from after the disastrous 1746 epidemic, but from only the halfway point in the English genocide campaign….If we were to accept this 5,520 figure, it would mean in 1750 the population density of the Nova Scotia Micmac was one Indian for each 10 kilometre, and more specifically,  one ‘Effective Man’ for each 80 km. Such a sparse population would hardly have forced the English to form several volunteer companies for the express purpose of killing Indians or to establish a bounty on Micmac scalps.”

One ‘Effective Man’ for each 80 km, spread throughout the province, would be slim pickings in terms of an armed enemy. But the Mi’kmaq had a strategic edge through their intimacy with their land and waterways. After reading Miller’s essay, there is no definite number of deaths caused by the Rangers, but it is logical to suggest that any assault wreaked havoc on the lives of those constantly under threat.

However, if we depend on Miller’s estimate of the Mi’kmaq population, it seems clear the Mi’kmaq would be outnumbered and under-armed at almost every turn and the bloodshed would be fierce and the way of life seriously disrupted would include substantial interference with hunting and gathering for their own sustenance.

In 1758, things took a turn for the worse at the Blockhouse guarding the Lunenburg settlement in what has been called the Lunenburg Campaign: a combined offensive against the British by the Mi’kmaq and Acadian militias against the foreign Protestants who the British had settled on Lunenburg’s peninsula during the French and Indian War.

During this campaign, the British were outnumbered, as it seems the Rangers were mostly occupied elsewhere in what is now the Annapolis Valley.

Below is a map of the area from that time. Readers will see the location of the one-acre Blockhouse property, situated at the edge of what is described in 1753, as 80 acres of Common Land adjacent to the young Lunenburg settlement.

Nova Scotia Archives Map Collection: V7 239 Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Colossal confusion must have ensued. The first languages of these warring parties were English under the Crown’s settlers; Acadian French; the French Lutheran and German Protestant settlers recently dispatched to Lunenburg from Halifax; and the Mi’kmaq. It is doubtful there were interpreters for this language chaos and there is some suggestion that the ‘enemy’ was not easily identifiable by those on the ground.

The period from 1756 to 1758, we understand from readings, was a period of increasing and escalating conflict.

Blockhouse on Windmill Hill (Western Blockhouse), Lunenburg. Public Archives of Nova Scotia

By the end of May 1758, many on the Lunenburg peninsula abandoned their farms and headed for protection at the fortifications around the settlement. The one-acre Blockhouse and its parade square perched atop the vantage point of Blockhouse Hill would be the main fortification at the time.

By way of illustration of the peninsula’s layout, these two images from the past are helpful. First, the blockhouse atop Blockhouse Hill is clearly representative of how settlements were protected. The second is an overall map of the peninsula that shows the smaller Battery Point blockhouse positioned near the entrance to Lunenburg harbour.

Nova Scotia Public Archives, 16 June 1851, R.M. Parsons, Lt. R.E. Reference: Nova Scotia Archives, Royal Engineers Maps and Plans, A. 42

Royal Engineers Nova Scotia Archives map showing Blockhouse Hill and parade adjacent to the town’s grid streets layout.

And although from a later date, this depiction of Lunenburg and its Blockhouse Hill gives an idea of the strategic lay of the land.

William Inglis Morse Collection Morse Print, 1816. Dalhousie University

It is likely that both the Mi’kmaq and the British and those in the British settlement were utterly exhausted from the near-constant battles and skirmishes of the late 1750s. There was pressure on both sides to enter into negotiations that resulted in a number of treaties set forth in the King’s language, an important consideration that would later impact judicial scrutiny.

Treaty ‘discussions’ between Charles Lawrence, Governor and Commander in Chief of Nova Scotia, and Mi’kmaq Chief Paul Laurent, who presided over the “Lahave tribe of Indians”, led to a 1760 Peace and Friendship Treaty that refers specifically to Lunenburg and includes the following:

“And I do further promise for myself and my tribe that we will not either directly nor indirectly assist any of the enemies of His most sacred Majesty King George the Second, his heirs or Successors, nor hold any manner of Commerce traffick nor intercourse with them, but on the contrary will as much as may be in our power discover and make known to His Majesty’s Governor, any ill designs which may be formed or contrived against His Majesty’s subjects. And I do further engage that we will not traffick, barter or exchange any Commodities in any manner but with such persons or the managers of such Truck houses as shall be appointed or Established by His Majesty’s Governor at Lunenbourg or Elsewhere in Nova Scotia or Acadia.”

Daniel Paul, in We Were Not the Savages, describes the treaties as follows:

“With contempt for their dignity, the English soon forced the Mi’kmaq to enter into treaties that were demeaning and blind to their needs. The Treaty of 1752, at least, had left the Mi’kmaq with a small measure of dignity, but such was not the case for the Mi’kmaq Districts after 1760”.

But he also notes the significance of the 1760 Lahave treaty as one of the most important of the treaties entered into because of its 1999 interpretation by the Supreme Court of Canada in R.v. Marshall  where Justice Binnie, on behalf of the majority, said:

“In my view, the 1760 treaty does affirm the right of the Mi’kmaq people to continue to provide for their own sustenance by taking the products of their hunting, fishing and other gathering activities, and trading for what in 1760 was termed necessaries.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada recognizes this important Supreme Court of Canada interpretation of the 1760 treaty in the following on its website accessible here.

“The Marshall decision is a landmark decision in Canada that affirmed First Nations’ treaty right to fish, hunt, and gather in pursuit of a moderate livelihood. The decision stemmed from the prosecution of Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’kmaq member of the Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia”.

The full text and information about the transcription of that treaty may be accessed here.

It is also important to note that on page 36 of The History of the County of Lunenburg by Mather DesBrisay there is a reference to April 1760 for when a grant for 2000 acres was made by Colonel Lawrence for common lands. This would likely have not occurred but for the 1760 treaty signed one month earlier. Arguably, the gateway to stability that would let the settlement grow was opened by that April 1760 treaty.

So there it is. The most important treaty in terms of modern Indigenous rights in the Atlantic region, the 1760 Lahave treaty, was a direct result of the ongoing clashes and insecurity occurring near and even most likely within the Lunenburg settlement which, at the time, was under the protection of the original British Blockhouse located at Blockhouse Hill.

Arguably, this makes events occurring in the 1700s at or near the Blockhouse and Lunenburg absolutely significant in history to both Lunenburg and to all Mi’kmaq territory throughout the entire Atlantic Provinces, as well as providing the context for the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation 239 years later.

The Marshall decision’s importance in leading to a robust Indigenous fishery is summarized by the Department of Fisheries as follows from their website here.

“More than 30 years ago, First Nations in Atlantic Canada and Quebec had only a small share of commercial fisheries licences and quotas. Today, 33 of the 34 First Nations impacted by the Marshall decisions participate in the Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative.”

The skirmishes, blood spilled, bodies buried, and people from all sides of the events leading up to the 1760 treaty directly stem from the military ordnance established on Blockhouse Hill, and the treaty signed in March 1760 is grounded in both Mi’kmaq and Nova Scotian history to this day.

It is not lost on this writer that two of the largest players in the Canadian seafood industry are located in Lunenburg today and that one of those players, Clearwater Seafoods, is half-owned by a coalition of East Coast First Nations that recently reported a leap in annual sales, as 2022 revenues rose by $71.6 million, compared to the year before. More on that exciting news here.

Editor’s Note: For more coverage of how Lunenburg Mayor Matt Risser and Lunenburg Town Council propose massive housing development on these Indigeneosu rich heritage at Blockhouse Hill Parklands  – The Lunenburg Common Lands – which a 1758 NS government had the vision to create a people’s common interest over the lands, click here.

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