The War of 1812 and Shag Harbour’s Involvement
The war began on June 18, 1812 when the United States of America declared war on Great Britain. Several factors influenced the American government, led by President James Madison at the time, to make this decision. One was the United States’ frustration regarding Britain’s recently adopted overseas trading policies, which greatly reduced the ability of American ships to take goods to Europe. The Napoleonic wars were putting a great deal of pressure on Europe at the time, forcing Britain to create these new policies, which also included seizing American citizens to be put to work on British ships. This only added to the tension that already existed between the United States and Great Britain. Americans were further frustrated when in 1807, at Chesapeake Bay, the British HMS Leopard opened fire on the American frigate Chesapeake when the latter refused to be searched for British deserters that both parties knew to be on board. Along with the United States’ belief that Britain was hindering American territory expansion, the American government came to the conclusion that war was necessary.
As an easily accessible colony of Great Britain, Canada became targeted by the United States. The Americans believed that Canadian loyalty to Britain would be weak overall and that they could gain the cooperation of many Canadians. However, this was not the case. English, French, and First Nations Canadians came together to fight for Britain and their homeland. Most of the major battles took place in central Canada, where key figures such as British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock and the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh worked to repel American forces. The war went on for about two years until December 24, 1814, when the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent. The treaty stated that all areas captured by either country during the war were to be restored to their pre-war ownerships.
A clear-cut winner of the War of 1812 is difficult to identify. The British and the Canadians won several key battles and prevented any American expansion northward, but the United States were not without victories. They were able to later expand westward, which was one of their original goals; however, the war did not change the British policies that had initially infuriated the United States. Both sides were required to give up territory conquered during the war, so the War of 1812 can be considered a draw in some aspects.
Nova Scotia’s Contribution to the War of 1812
Although the major battles of the war were fought in central Canada, Nova Scotia was not entirely uninvolved. Halifax served as a port for the British to send over supplies and troops, and was a vital base for the North American Royal Navy. In addition to this, Atlantic Canada sent out privateer ships to capture American vessels and goods, and also saw many attacks from the United States’ own privateers. One of the most known privateer ships from Nova Scotia is the Liverpool Packet schooner, which collected prizes worth approximately $264,000.
Shag Harbour’s Involvement in the War
Though Shag Harbour is a small community, there are records that indicate that American privateers visited the area during the war. In “History of Barrington Township” written by Edwin Crowell, there is a mention about the effects of privateers on Barrington and the surrounding areas. He writes that the fishing industry was “almost at a standstill on account of the operations of American privateers”.
On display in the museum is a cannonball found by Gilbert Nickerson on Outer Island, which is now more commonly known as Bon Portage Island. It is believed that the cannonball dates back to the early 1800s, which means that it was possibly left behind by the privateers.
The following information has been taken from a minutes of meeting book from the Chapel Hill Historical Society dated back to October 2,1980, with Anne Wickens as the guest speaker, stirring the society’s interest about Shag Harbour and the battles that took place here in the war of 1812.
During the war of 1812 much privateer activity took place in Shag Harbour waters with attacks and counter attacks on cargo vessels, fishing vessels, etc. resulting in the seizure of these ships and cargo. There was the historic incident of Abigail Kendrick recruiting women of the area to defend Shag Harbour during the absence of the men folk. With their pans, brooms sticks and bravado, they routed the enemy who decided the place was well protected.
Cannon balls fired from an American Privateer were found 125 or more years later in the washed away sea-wall by the Richardson children at Bon Portage. Men from Shag Harbour had provoked this when they fired on a landing party coming after fresh water from the brook.