Colonial Canada: Canadian history from the pre-contact period to 1867

Module 4: War and Revolutions in America

The American Revolution and the Impact of the Loyalists


The Seven Years War fundamentally reshaped North America. It removed the French from any significant role in the future of the continent; it offered the British empire, and especially the increasingly expansionary colonies, militarily weaker western and northern frontiers; and it effectively killed a major strategy of many Indigenous peoples (especially the Haudenosaunee): playing the French and British off each other. The British knew this too and it’s exactly why they passed the Royal Proclamation in 1763. The Royal Proclamation reserved all land west of the Appalachian Mountains to Indigenous peoples. It was a move designed, on the one hand, to offer a kind of reassurance to Indigenous peoples that they would not be penalised for their relationships with the French, and on the other hand to contain the expansion of the rapidly growing American colonies. The British understood clearly that the American colonies were increasingly independent of their colonial masters. Ironically, in their many measures to contain the colonies, the British may have in fact given fresh momentum to an emerging sense of the colonies’ autonomy. Indeed, fifteen years later, the American Revolution would occur, very much a direct outcome of that story.
What had this meant for Canada? In New France, it meant wholesale change. What had been a French territory, was now British, though it remained populated primarily by French-Canadian Catholics. The Quebec Act (1774) went a long way toward appeasing that population by preserving French law and the rights of Catholics in the British-ruled colony. Ironically, that increased the anger of the British colonists who had just fought to defeat the same French Catholics. Why, they asked, was Britain protecting the rights of these people with whom we had just fought a war? A war in which our own people gave their lives? Some British and British-American settlers moved into Canada, but nowhere near enough to upset the demographic dominance of the French population. Like Acadia had been, Canada would be peopled by French Canadians and Indigenous peoples, but ruled by a handful of Britons and Anglo-Americans.
Nova Scotia was different. Of course, it had been in British hands longer (since 1713) and so there was more time, but the British (and New Englanders) were much more aggressive about utilising Nova Scotia as a settlement colony, and so over the 1750s, 60s and early 1770s Britain sought to remake Nova Scotia as a British Protestant colony. They imported foreign protestants from England, Switzerland and Germany, as well as over 10,000 New England settlers. By 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution the demographics of the colony had changed dramatically, turning it from a primarily French-Catholic (Acadian) and Mi’kmaq (many of whom had become Catholics) to a largely English-Protestant colony, most of whom came from New England.
In the end, neither Canada nor Nova Scotia formally joined the American Revolution and so remained in British hands after the revolution ended in 1783. The result of that defeat was another large-scale movement of refugees into Canada, the so-called Loyalists: those American colonists who had remained loyal to the British during the revolution. Over 40,000 American colonists settled in Canada and Nova Scotia, and they too now additionally shifted demographic (and therefore political!) boundaries. As we’ll see in our screencast, that too required a political response in the constitutional organisation of the remaining British colonies (the Constitution Act of 1791). Those changes gave basic shape to modern Canadian politics.

The Impact of the American Revolution

Read Belshaw, sections 7.4, 7.7, and 7.8


Our reading this week take us to Nova Scotia and the question of why Nova Scotia didn't join the American Revolution. As you'll see, we have five readings and each offers us a quite different perspective on how to explain that story. Indeed, one highlights for us the fact that some Nova Scotians did attempt to mobilize in support of revolt. Settlers from Maugerville, joined by some Mi'kmaq warriors and Acadians, attempted to capture Ft Cumberland. They failed, and even had they succeeded it's by no means certain that Nova Scotia's fate would have changed. But it might have. Capturing Ft Cumberland might well have forced the British to send more troops into the countryside to maintain order; it may also have allowed other Nova Scotians to see that the revolution had support. These differences might have changed the course of history in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia could have been the 14th state of the Untied States.

Introduction to Nova Scotia and the American Revolution

Discussion about the Nova Scotia as the 14th Colony 

Questions and Instructions

This week, we read chapter four in the Visions reader: "The 14th Colony".

Our question is fairly obvious: why didn't Nova Scotia join the American Revolution?

So, when you're making your posts to the forum, try answering that question as directly, and as succinctly, as you can. Don't bother with the first excerpt on the siege of Ft Cumberland (though if you do this chapter for your essay, you should certainly include it). Focus on the other four pieces, each of which â€‹emphasises a different dimension of why Nova Scotians didn't join.

As a challenge, think about ways of categorising your answer. This can be very helpful in an essay as a way of explaining to your reader where you're going. Imagine, for example, one historian emphasizing economic questions, and another saying no it's really more about culture. You can say categorise one historian as taking an economic approach, while categorising another as focussing on culture - and you can then go on to explain some of the particulars.  

Aim for brevity - being succinct, and direct, is always a mark of good writing, and clear thinking. 

And all those great conversations you're having about the details is wonderful stuff. But,as you write those interesting comments, try to maintain a connection to the authors' arguments. This entire exercise is about you exercising your skills on arguments and evidence.


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