Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Annapolis County Call to Arms - 1866

I have a couple interesting pieces of Canadian history today. A few years ago a gentleman walked into the O'Dell House Museum with what looked like a board game. After showing me the side with a hand drawn playing board, he flipped the piece over to show me two documents pasted on the opposite side. The first document was a handwritten letter and the second was beautifully printed proclamation. While I immediately realized that these were important documents, it took me a few minutes to digest what he had presented.

In the years directly following the American Civil War (1861-1865) there was a great unease in the North American colonies with an allegiance to Britain. At wars end there was a large and well trained army which could easily decide to march north. In addition to this, there was a military threat from another source. Today this may seem like an odd threat but, it was a very legitimate concern in 1866.

The Irish Fenian Brotherhood were an organization dedicated to liberating Ireland from British Rule. During the Potato Famine of the 1840s a great number of Irish had emigrated to North America. Many of these people brought their desire to liberate their home land with them. Between 1866 and 1871 a series of cross border attacks were launched by Fenians living in the United States. These attacks have come to be known as the Fenian Raids. Among the desires of the Fenians was to cause enough trouble in North America that the British would be distracted in their dealings with Ireland. While the raids may have been a concern, they never really amounted to much more than border skirmishes.

Now, back to the documents. As I read the material, I realized that these were orders to call out the militia to defend Nova Scotia against the possibility of Fenian Raids. The printed document was a proclamation by Sir William Fenwick Williams, pictured at the top of this post, that there was the threat of an invasion. The handwritten document was a set of orders to Lt Colonel W.E. Starratt of how he was to muster and drill the militia. This document goes on to provide instructions for what to do if there is an attack. I have provided transcriptions of both of these documents at the bottom of this post.

While there was never a Fenian attack in Nova Scotia, there was a raid on Campobello Island on the New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy just a month after these orders were written. In April 1866 a group of more than 700 Fenians appeared on the Maine shore across from Campobello Island. The goal, although poorly planned, was to seize the island. Many of the men had arrived weeks before their weapons. The large numbers of men had alerted authorities on both sides of the border and may have been the reason that these orders were written. While some shots were fired and buildings burned, the raid was broken up without casualties.

All for now,

Royal Gazette Extraordinary
Published by Authority
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Saturday March 17, 1866

Sir William Fenwick Williams, of Kars, Baronet, Lieutenant-General in Her Majesty’s Army; Knight, Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath; Grand Officer Legion d’Honneur; 1st class of the Turkish Order of Medijee, &c. &c.; Lieutenant –Governor and Commander –in –Chief in and over Her Majesty’s Province of Nova Scotia and its Dependencies, &c. &c.&c.
[ L.S.]


WHEREAS, a Hostile Invasion of the Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is threatened, by which the lives and property of Her Majesty’s subjects therein may be put in jeopardy, and preparations are necessary to repel such Invasion of Made;

And Whereas, in such an emergency , I am by Law authorized and require required to call out the Militia Force of Nova Scotia in aid of Her Majesty’s Regular Forces, for its defence:

I do hereby Command and require all Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Privates of the Militia Force of Nova Scotia, and all persons liable to perform Militia Duty in said Province, to turn out for actual service as in time of War, according to Law, and subject, on failure to do so, to the pains, penalties, and forfeitures thereby imposed and provided:

Of which all persons interested will take notice, and govern themselves accordingly.

Given under my Hand and Seal at Halifax, this Seventeenth day of March, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty-six, and in the Twenty-ninth year of Her Majesty’s Reign.

By Command of His Excellency
The Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief.


Bridgetown 23rd March 1866

Memo of Instructions to Lt Col W.E. Starratt Com Aug 3rd

Regiment Ann Co Militia

Muster your Regiment without delay – Read the Proclamation at the Head of your Regiment and explain – Administer Oath of allegiance to Companies as you arm them, - the Rifles on hand 40 Stand to one of your companies and immediately drill them for “5” five days – notify another company for next 5 days &c. unless arms come, if ea drill all whom you can furnish with arms – Learn them to shoot – Have a lookout at Port Williams. Post relays of horses, and telegraph to A.G. Militia, and Col. Milsom – if enemy appear. Send any information you may obtain – Keep the Ammunition in your own possession until required – If 800 rifles are sent to you, divide the Ammunition in proportion to rifles. Store Arms if possible in Charge of Captains – Send Col Milsom a Parade State of Muster day, note no of arms and kegs of Ammunition ?? by you on corner of said Parade State – Warn Regt to repair to respective Hd. Quarters or rallying post. On intimation of danger, throw up brush wood or timber near landing places to screen men from fire “on the alarm”. The men drilling with arms will immediately repair to the place where their arms are deposited – Should any attack or landing be made upon any one point, it will be the duty of all the other companies to march off at once to the assistance of the attacked party. Keep a constant lookout to sea and establish a line of communication to Regimental Head Quarters.

Lt Col T Milsom IFO
Dist D

W.E. Starratt Comm of the 3rd Rega An Co Mil

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