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Early History of Nova Scotia.
BY CHARLES KNIGHT.
THE history of this infant colony is little known to English readers; although its settlement by Sir William Alexander, and his scheme of Nova Scotia baronets, form a curious chapter in the story of our colonization of North America. Mr. Halliburton, in his "Historical and Statistical Account," etc., has given much too slight a notice of this first establishment of our countrymen in "L'Acadie," the name by which the former French colonists designated this territory. He appears to have overlooked Sir W. Alexander's account of its first British settlement given in the rare volume, entitled "An Encouragement to Colonies."
There had been a French settlement in L'Acadie since the year 1598. The fortunes of these colonists had been very chequered. In some cases the French and Indian races had become intermixed. There was jealousy amongst the English colonists of Virginia, when it became known that the French had established themselves in their favourite Acadia. But there was no attempt to interrupt the settlements of the French until the year 1613. Then Captain Argall, an Englishman, who had discovered a more direct passage to Virginia than the track of the ancient navigators, while engaged in a coasting and fishing voyage, was informed that some white people were settled on land which was held to be included in the charter granted to Virginia. The settlers on the continent had not previously been informed of the French colonization of Acadia. Argall found the people dispersed at their various employments, who being altogether unable to resist an enemy, abandoned the forts and fled to the woods. This incursion of the Virginians was followed by some very treacherous and cruel conduct towards the French settlers. After Argall's departure, some of the Frenchmen dispersed through the country and mixed with the savages; others went to the River St. Lawrence, and strengthened the settlement which Champlain had made there; the rest were carried to England, and reclaimed by the French Ambassador. Thus terminated their first effective settlement in North America, after an existence of eight years.
About this period the desire to colonize America had widely spread
amongst the English and the Scots, and it was kept alive amongst the educated classes by the power of romance which invested the distant and the unknown with circumstances more exciting than the commercial interest of individuals or companies. The stories of hairbreadth escapes from the cruelty of savages, and especially anecdotes of their conversion to the principles of Christian love, produced a deeper sympathy with the discoverers of new lands, than their hopes of finding regions where gold and jewels could be had for the labour of gathering them. In the last decade of the reign of James I., a female from the Virginian settlements was brought to court, where "divers persons of great rank and quality were very kind to her." The history of Pocahontas has often been told in prose and verse, but never more effectively than by Captain Smith, who, in requital of her former courtesies, “made her qualities known to the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty and her Court."
The first of the Stuarts who was called to reign over England was accustomed to hear the voice of adulation from no common poets; and even Shakspere-if he wrote the last scene of Henry VIII., which some doubt-has added his tribute to the successor of the great Eliza. Colonization was to be the especial glory of the pacific king.
"Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
His honour, and the greatness of his name,
Shall be, and make new nations."
Under this prophetic assurance, an indefatigable Scot who aspired to the honours both of poet and statesman, might approach his countryman on the English throne, with a confidence that his schemes for the plantation of Nova Scotia would be favourably received.
Sir William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Stirling, published in 1603, "The Tragedy of Darius," which in 1604 was followed by two other tragedies, "Julius Cæsar," and "Croesus.' These, with another dramatic effusion called "The Alexandræan Tragedy," were collected in 1607, under the title of " The Monarchicke Tragedies." Sir William Alexander's poetical efforts are now happily forgotten. Shakspere followed North's Plutarch in making Cæsar have a dread of "palevisaged and carrion-lean people." Our great dramatist does not look about for fine words to paraphrase a natural remark :
"Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights:
The time we may hope is past for ever when the same sentiment expressed in the words of Sir William Alexander would be thought far grander and more poetical :—
"No corpulent sanguinians make me fear."
Although Shakspere's verse was described by Ben Jonson as : "Flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza and our James,"
William Alexander received more substantial rewards than "sov'ran In 1613, after being gentleman usher to Prince Charles, he was knighted and made Master of the Requests. These were trifles compared with the grant made to him in 1621 of the whole territory of Nova Scotia. Connected with this chartered grant, was a scheme for making baronets out of colonists of the new settlement, who were to purchase their honours. This plan was laid aside till Charles I. had ascended the throne, when it was revived; and Sir William Alexander assiduously laboured to attract purchasers of land in the territory then first called Nova Scotia. These were to have grants of many thousand fertile acres, and be decorated with the badge of the new Order worn with an orange ribbon. In 1624, Sir William published a quarto volume of forty-seven pages, entitled "An Encouragement to Colonies;" there is a copy of this work in the British Museum, but its extreme rarity has probably induced too ready an acquiescence in the bitter criticism of Sir Thomas Urquhart, published twelve years after the author of "An Encouragement to Colonies" was dead. The author of that strange treatise known as " The Jewel," holds that the charms of Nova Scotia, its "fruitful corn-lands watered with pleasant rivers, running along most excellent and spacious meadows," were pure inventions of King James's "philosophical poet." Amongst the many interesting works connected with our early colonization, there are few more interesting than portions of Sir William Alexander's volume when he has got beyond the Greeks and Romans, and speaks of what he had learnt in his own time. My readers, I trust, will not be wearied by the length of the following extract from Sir William Alexander's volume, in which he describes, simply and vividly, circumstances which came within his own immediate knowledge :
"As soon as my patent was passed, resolving to take possession of the lands, that were granted unto me, I provided myself of a ship at London, in the month of March, in Anno 1622; but that the business
might begin from that kingdom, which it doth concern, whereby some of my countrymen might be persuaded to go, and others by conceiving a good opinion thereof, to depend by expectation upon the reports of such of their acquaintance, as were to adventure in that voyage, I directed her to go about by St. George's Channel, to Kirkcudbright, where she arrived in the end of May; some gentlemen of that country, upon whose friendship I reposed most, happening at that time to be out of the kingdom, I encountered with sundry unexpected difficulties: the prices of victuals being within the space of three months, since I had parted from Scotland, suddenly tripled, and yet so scarce, as I could hardly in haste be well furnished; yet since I was so far advanced, lest I should lose that which was done, if I did not the rest, I used the best diligence I could to provide the ship with all things necessary. Then the very people, specially artizans, of whom I stood in need, were at first loath to embark for so remote a part, as they imagined this to be, some scarce believing that there could be any such bounds at all; and no wonder, since never any in that part had ever travelled thither, and all novelties being distrusted, or disvalued, few of good sort would go, and ordinary persons were not capable of such a purpose."
I omit the recital of the delays and difficulties experienced by the Scotch colonists, before they reached the Goshen promised by Sir William Alexander. The sneers of Urquhart are doubtless founded apon the florid descriptions now subjoined.
"The three-and-twentieth of June, they loosed from St. John's Harbour, and sailed towards New Scotland, where, for the space of fourteen days, they were by fogs and contrary winds kept back from spying land till the eighth of July, that they saw the west part of Cape Breton, and till the thirteenth day they sailed alongst the coast till they ran the length of Port de Mutton, where they discovered three very pleasant harbours, and went ashore in one of them, which, after the ship's name, they called 'Luke's Bay,' where they found, a great way up, a very pleasant river, being three fathoms deep at a low water at the entry thereof; and on every side of the same they did see very delicate meadows, having roses, white and red, growing thereon with a kind of wild lily, which had a dainty smell. The next day they resolved-coasting along the land-to discover the next harbour, which was but two leagues distant from the other, where they found a more pleasant river than the first, being four fathoms deep at a low water, with meadows on both sides thereof, having roses and lilies growing thereon as the others
had. They found within this river a very fit place for a plantation, both in regard that it was naturally apt to be fortified, and that all the ground between the two rivers was without wood, and very good fat earth, having several sorts of berries growing thereon, as gooseberries, strawberries, hindberries, raspberries, and a kind of red wine berry, as also some sorts of grain as peas, some ears of wheat, barley, and rye, growing there wild; the peas grow in abundance alongst the coast, very big and good to eat, but did taste of the fitch. This river is called Port Jolly, from whence they coasted alongst to Port Negro, being twelve leagues distant; where all the way as they sailed alongst, they spied a very pleasant country, having growing everywhere such things as were observed in the two harbours where they had been before. They found, likewise, in every river abundance of lobsters, cockles, and other shell-fishes, and also, not only in the rivers, but all the coast alongst, numbers of several sorts of wild fowl, as wild-goose, black-duck, woodcock, crane, heron, pigeon, and many other sorts of fowl which they knew not. They did kill as they sailed alongst the coast, great store of cod, with several other sorts of great fishes. The country is full of woods, not very thick, and the most part oak; the rest are fir, spruce, birch, with some sycamores and ashes, and many other sorts of wood which they had not seen before. Having discovered this part of the country in regard of the voyage their ship was to make to the straits with fishes, they resolved to coast from Luke's Bay to Port de Mutton, being four leagues to the east thereof, where they encountered with a Frenchman, that in a very short time had made a great voyage; for though he had furnished one ship away with a great number of fishes, there were near so many ready as to load himself and others. After they had taken a view of this port, which to their judgment they found no ways inferior to the rest they had seen before, they resolved to retire back to Newfoundland, where their ship was to receive her loading of fishes. The twentieth of July they loosed from thence, and the sevenand-twentieth thereof they arrived at St. John's Harbour, and from thence sailed alongst the Bay of Conception, where they left the ship, and despatched themselves home in several ships that belonged to the west part of England."
Sir William Alexander, in his recital of the first attempts of his countrymen to colonize Nova Scotia, does not conceal the previous labours of the French to found settlements in their favourite Acadia. The progress of De la Roche and De Monts was known in Europe with sufficient circumstantiality to form the basis of future histories;