PIRATE RAID UP THE CORNWALLIS RIVER (August 22/16)

In a “memorial” dated August 20, 1778, John Burbidge petitioned the Nova Scotia government on “behalf of himself and many of the principal inhabitants of Kings County” for military protection and compensation following a raid by American privateers up the Cornwallis River.

In the petition, Burbidge “honourably (showed) that on the night between 9 and 10 August at Cornwallis in said county, some whaleboats came up the Cornwallis River with between 30-40 armed men (and) invaded and plundered the home of Wm. Best Esquire.” The raid, notes the provincial archives, took place near what eventually was to be the town of Kentville.

The American Revolutionary War was raging at the time of the raid and privateers had been give carte blanche to take British ships whenever and wherever possible. Nearly 800 vessels were commissioned as privateers by the American Congress and the waters off Nova Scotia and settlements along the coast, which were largely undefended, were prime targets.

In the raid up the Cornwallis River, the privateers that plundered the home of William Best took “everything valuable of easy carriage (everything of value that could be picked up and carried to the whaleboats). They took cash and other effects to the amount of 1000 pounds and upwards,” Burbidge stated in his petition.”

Describing the raid in a 1933 Dalhousie University thesis (Pre-Loyalist Settlements Around Minas Basis) James Stuart Martell briefly described the raid, stating that before any assistance could arrive, the pirates had “escaped to their two brigantines, which were lying the Bay.”

As early as 1777, Martell writes, fearing attacks from American privateers the settlers in Cornwallis and Horton townships had petitioned the government to ask for military protection. The petition went unanswered, Martel says and “after this audacious visit from the pirates, panic spread among the inhabitants of Kings County.” Once again they petitioned the government, stating bluntly that unless some protection was given, they would be “induced to remove with their families from their settlements.”

Again quoting Martell, the direct result of the pirate raid up the Cornwallis River was the establishment of Fort Hughes in Cornwallis township. New barracks were built that would hold 56 men. Martell doesn’t indicate if British regulars or the local militia manned the fort, but by early November, about three months after the raid, Fort Hughes was operational.

Throughout the remaining years of the American Revolution, privateers constantly threatened the Minas Basin settlers. American privateers were reported in Minas Basin late in 1778. The following spring several armed American whaleboats were spotted in Minas Basin but there were no more raids up the Cornwallis River.

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