“I believe people should consider all aspects of historical criminal actions before trying to defend the indefensible,” Dr. Daniel Paul wrote in a recent letter to the Kings Historical Society. Published in the Society’s September newsletter, the letter was a response to an earlier article which Dr. Paul said was an attempt to “excuse the murderous sins of (Governor Edward) Cornwallis by stating that they stemmed from the standards of his day.”
Dr. Paul further said that “attempts to exterminate a race of people has never been… part of the acceptable standards of any day.” In the future, he asked, “do our descendants someday excuse the actions of Adolph Hitler, Stalin, Pot Pol, Edi Amin, etc., declaring that they were relative to the standards of the 20th century? I think not!”
Cornwallis was governor in Nova Scotia from 1749 to 1753. During that time, Dr. Paul said, Cornwallis instigated policies against the Mi’kmaq people that amounted to genocide. Paul takes the stand that given Cornwallis’ treatment of the Mi’kmaq, he should not be honoured in any way today by perpetuating his name. Locally, for example, we have the Cornwallis River, Cornwallis Square, Cornwallis Inn, and Cornwallis Street, to give a few examples. Cornwallis is also recognized as the founder of Halifax.
To some it may seem a trivial issue since we’re not actually honouring Edward Cornwallis by naming streets, commercial firms, buildings and so on after him. In most cases designating something “Cornwallis” was simply a matter of a lack of originality or laziness on someone’s part when it came to coining a name.
However, Dr. Paul does have a point regarding Cornwallis. Here’s what he wrote earlier in one of his articles:
“On October 1, 1749, in what appears to be ignorance of the existing state of war, Cornwallis called a meeting of Council to deal with the Micmac situation. They decided that to declare war against the Micmac would acknowledge them as a free and independent people, whereas they should be treated as criminals, or as rebels to His Majesty’s government. They would raise a company of up to fifty volunteers locally for immediate field action against the Micmac, and further would raise during the winter a company of one hundred bounty hunters in New England to join with Gorham’s Rangers to hunt the province for human prey. They would pay the bounty hunters a fee for every Micmac taken or killed.”
In keeping with the course decided upon, Paul wrote, Cornwallis issued a proclamation on October 2 authorizing and commanding “all Officers Civil and Military, and all His Majesty’s Subjects or others to annoy, distress, take or destroy the Savage commonly called Micmac, wherever they are found, and all as such as aiding and assisting them, give further by and with the consent and advice of His Majesty’s Council, do promise a reward of ten Guineas for every Indian Micmac taken or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp if killed to the Officer Commanding at Halifax, Annapolis Royal, or Minas.”