Nova Scotia governor sends word of potential American invasion

From Halifax, Canada, on this day in 1776, Governor Francis Legge reports to British headquarters in London that traitorous elements in Cumberland, Nova Scotia, have contacted American General George Washington. Washington received a letter from the Nova Scotians, in which they expressed their sympathy for the American cause, on February 8. They invited General Washington and the Continental Army to invade Nova Scotia at his earliest possible convenience.

Legge found himself in a precarious position. He had alienated many of his constituents through a zealous anti-corruption probe. Now he reported that Nova Scotia had spawned a nascent revolutionary movement. Some of those whom Legge accused of corruption in his drive to clean up colonial politics had allies in the imperial capitol who were insisting that he explain himself in person.

Fortunately for Legge, little notice was taken of his subjects’ letter to Washington. The Continental Congress decided on February 16 to allow General Washington to investigate the expediency and practicability of an Expedition to Nova Scotia, but cautioned that Washington should by no means accept the plan proposed for the destruction of the Town of Halifax. After Benedict Arnold retreated in May 1776 from his six-month long siege of Quebec, which included the disastrous attack Quebec on December 31, 1775, the Continental Army gave up its hope that Canada would join the rebellion. Still, Governor Legge received orders to return to London in February 1776 and departed Halifax in May.

Although Canada ceased to be a direct military target, it continued to play an important role as a haven for Loyalists and slaves fleeing from Patriots less concerned with other peoples’ liberties than their own. On December 18, 1778, a force of New Jersey and New York Loyalists, The King’s Orange Rangers, traveled to Liverpool, Nova Scotia, to help in its defense against Patriot privateers, privately owned ships that used pirate tactics to disrupt British shipping. The Rangers remained until August 23, 1783. Nova Scotia ultimately attracted 30,000 American Loyalists, one-tenth of which were fleeing African slaves. Of the slaves, one third eventually resettled in Sierra Leone. White Loyalists moved to Canada to flee the abuse of Patriot neighbors, African slaves came to British Canada in order to gain freedom from their Patriot owners.

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