Does anyone recall the controversy that arose six years ago when a proposal was made to name a road between Bedford and Sackville the Capt. John Gorham Boulevard?
As you may recall, the proposal was quickly panned. As human rights activist and historian Dr. Daniel Paul publicly pointed out, honouring a man who enforced “colonial scalping proclamations” was shocking. Dr. Paul was supported on his stand by editorial writers of various provincial newspapers.
Eventually, the controversy fizzled out and the proposal to honour Gorham was quietly dropped. But not without a few voices being raised in his defence.
During the discussions about the propriety of honouring a historical figure with an atrocious past, however, little was revealed about Gorham’s character and the times he lived in. Dr. Paul tells us, for example, that Gorham led a ragtag group of “mostly Mohawk warriors… with a sprinkling of whites and half-breeds,” the so-called Gorham’s Rangers. Paul wrote about the atrocities perpetrated by the Rangers on the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. Gorham himself is portrayed as a shadowy, evil figure and we learn little else of substance about him.
Gorham was active in a time when treacherous acts of all sorts were taking place, and it has been argued that he was simply a man of his time. Gorham had served under Col. Arthur Noble, for example, and had left Noble’s regiment a few days before the Grand Pre massacre of Noble and his soldiers. Previously, Gorham was with Noble during the assault on Louisbourg.
It has also been suggested that forces such as Gorham’s Rangers were necessary during frontier days in Nova Scotia since settlers were ill-equipped to handle the constant harassment by the Mi’kmaq. Writing in 1839 on the settlement of Halifax, T. B. Atkins puts the use of Gorham’s Rangers in perspective.
“During the Indian hostilities (1749 – 17– ) opposition of the part of the colonists was altogether of a defensive nature. The regular troops, as well as the undisciplined militia, proving unfit for such warfare, it was found necessary to employ the New England (Gorham) Rangers. These were private troops – volunteers from the interior of Massachusetts and New Hampshire – accustomed to Indian warfare.”
John Gorham was the fourth generation of his family in North America to serve in the military. He arrived in Nova Scotia in 1744, accompanying a military force from New England that was sent to relieve the besieged garrison at Annapolis Royal. Gorham had with him 50 picked Indians, said to be Mohawks according to some historians but most likely a mixed group as stated by Daniel Paul.
Gorham’s Rangers immediately proved their worth as a fighting force. Applying unorthodox tactics, or as one historian put it, “methods not commonly employed by British regulars, including the applied use of terror,” the Rangers shifted the military balance in favour of the British.
After taking part in the siege of Louisbourg, Gorham returned to Nova Scotia with an even large force of Rangers, some 100 in all, and proceeded to strike out against the Mi’kmaq. It is to Gorham’s detriment that he vigorously pursued a career as a bounty hunter, preying in some instances on helpless Mi’kmaq. Daniel Paul reports that in one instance, Gorham and his Rangers brought in 25 scalps to Halifax and not all were Mi’kmaq.
Unbelievably, Gorham was honoured by the government for his war on the Mi’kmaq. His career reached its apex in 1749 when he was appointed to the governing body of the province, the Nova Scotia Council.