In October of 1758, Britain’s royal governor for Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, made an exciting offer to the New England Planters: They could have land for free if they cultivated it.
“New England Planters,” an Elizabethan term for the American colonists, came to describe the group of farmers who couldn’t refuse Lawrence’s offer. Later, they somehow earned the nickname ‘bluenoses’ – perhaps because of the cold winter, perhaps because of a purplish-blue potato abundant in the region
The British had kicked out about 11,000 Acadians in 1755 after the French surrendered their forts at Beausejour and Gasparaeux. They wanted to settle the sparsely populated territory with people loyal to the Crown.
A Call to New England
On Oct. 12, 1758, Lawrence published a proclamation in the Boston Gazette. It said the enemy could no longer disturb and harass the province. Therefore, the time had come to ‘people and cultivate the lands’ vacated by the deportation of the Acadians.
Three months later, Lawrence issued a second proclamation. Every head of family was entitled to 100 acres of wild land and another 50 for each member of his household, up to 1,000 acres. The land would be free for 10 years, then a small rent would be charged. Grantees would have to improve one-third of their land every 10 years until they’d cultivated all of it.
Lawrence’s powerful offer of a huge amount of rich farmland came at a time when New England had virtually no free land. He had perfect timing.
Great Migration of 1760-1775
Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island had run out of land for the sons and daughters of colonial farmers. Farmers then made up 90 percent of the population. Large families were common then, and younger sons of farmers had to buy land from Indians. Or they had to get it from the government or squat to start their own farms.
In the early 1760s, 66,000 colonists migrated to New York’s Mohawk River Valley, New Hampshire and what would become Vermont and Maine. From 1760 to 1775, 100 new towns were established in New Hampshire, 94 in Maine and 54 in Vermont.
Lawrence’s invitation to revive Acadian farms made big news in Connecticut. There, the population had nearly doubled to 141,000 since 1747. So a large group from southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island towns — including New London, Norwich, Lebanon, Lyme and Tolland — met in Norwich to form a grantee group. They named five agents to look over the land in Nova Scotia.
In April 1759 the men sailed to Halifax to ask questions of Nova Scotia’s Governor-in-Council. They also wanted to look over the lands. They were delighted with the outcome.
The Council agreed to give weapons to the planters so they could defend themselves. It also agreed not to impress the settlers into the army or navy for 10 years. The government would also transport them for free, and give a monthly allotment of grain to the poorest 50 families.
The American agents agreed to supply 200 families for the new township of Horton and 150 for the new township of Cornwallis. Another 100 families from Rhode Island would settle the township of Falmouth.
News of their successful negotiation spread, and another group from eastern New Hampshire sailed to Halifax. They then made a deal to send 200 families to establish the town of Granville. Two more towns were granted that year, one from central Massachusetts.
The New England Planters Arrive
For the next year, the New England Planters prepared to leave, selling their land, assembling stock and equipment and waiting for their ship’s uncertain arrival. The Charming Molly arrived first, in April, and carried 31 men, two women and 12 children from Massachusetts to Annapolis. Some of the wives would arrive later.
In June, a flotilla of 22 ships carried planters from Connecticut to Horton and Cornwallis.
Four ships carried the Rhode Island planters, 73 families in all, to Falmouth and, later, Newport.
Massachusetts fisherman wanted land, too, and the governor’s council agreed to give them land on similar terms. They settled mainly in Liverpool, Yarmouth and Barrington townships.
The settlers continued to arrive, and they brought something else with them to Nova Scotia: the Town Meeting, in which they divided the land and the Acadian ruins by lot.
By the end of the year 1760, Annapolis County had a new Massachusetts, Kings County a new Connecticut, and the present Hants County a new Rhode Island. “The whole Valley was a new New England, with a population of nearly 2,000 people,” wrote R.S. Longley in a paper, The Coming of the New England Planters to the Annapolis Valley.
By 1768, 8,000 New England Planters lived in Nova Scotia.
This story was updated in 2023. Acadian Cross and Planter’s Monument by By Verne Equinox – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5858970