Lt.-Gen. Edward Cornwallis

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About Lt.-Gen. Edward Cornwallis

Lieutenant General Edward Cornwallis (5 March 1713 – 14 January 1776) was a British military officer who founded Halifax, Nova Scotia with 2,576 settlers and later served as the Governor of Gibraltar.

Early life

He was the sixth son of Charles, fourth Baron Cornwallis, and Lady Charlotte Butler, daughter of the Earl of Arran. The Cornwallis family possessed large estates at Culford in Suffolk and the Channel Islands. His grandfather, Charles Cornwallis, 3rd Baron Cornwallis, was First Lord of the Admiralty. (His nephew, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, would become a British general in the American War of Independence, and was later Governor-General of India.)

A twin brother to Frederick Cornwallis, both Edward and Frederick were made royal pages at the age of 12. They were enrolled at Eton school at 14, and at age 18, Edward was commissioned into the 47th Regiment of Foot in 1731.

Military career

War of the Austrian Succession

Cornwallis participated in the Battle of Fontenoy during the War of the Austrian Succession and the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

Founding of Halifax

The British Government appointed Cornwallis as Governor of Nova Scotia with the task of establishing a new British settlement to counter France's Fortress Louisbourg. He sailed from England aboard HMS Sphinx of 14 May 1749, followed by a settlement expedition of 15 vessels and about 2500 settlers. Cornwallis arrived at at Chibouctou Harbour on 21 June 1749, followed by the rest of the fleet five days later. There was only one death during the passage due to careful preparations, good ventilation and good luck, a remarkable feat when Transatlantic expeditions regularly lost large numbers to disease.

Cornwallis was immediately faced with a difficult decision: where to site the town. Settlement organizers in England had recommended Point Pleasant due to its close access to the ocean and ease of defence. His naval advisors opposed the Point Pleasant site due to its lack of shelter and shallows which would not allow ocean-going ships to dock. They wanted the town located at the head of Bedford Basin, a sheltered location with deep water. Others favoured Dartmouth. Cornwallis made the decision to land the settlers and build the town at the site of present day Downtown Halifax halfway up the harbour with deep water, protected by a defensible hill (later known as Citadel Hill). By 24 July, the plans of the town had been drawn up and on 20 August lots were draw to award settlers their town plots in a settlement that was to be named "Halifax" after Lord Halifax the President of the Board of Trade and Plantations who had drawn up the expedition plans for the British Government.

Relations with the Wabanaki Confederacy

One of Cornwallis' first priorities was to make peace with the Wabanaki Confederacy, which included the Mi'kmaq. (The Confederacy had been aligned with New France through four wars starting with King William's War.) A group of Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and single band of Mi'kmaq met with Cornwallis in the Summer of 1749. They agreed with the British to end fighting and renewed an earlier treaty drafted in Boston, redrafted as the Treaty of 1749.

However Cornwallis' peace efforts were doomed to failure. The treaties signed at Halifax represented mostly native groups in New Brunswick. Most Mi'kmaw leaders in Nova Scotia regarded the unilateral establishment of Halifax as a violation of an earlier treaty with the Mi'kmaq people (1726), signed after Father Rale's War. Mi'kmaw leaders met at St. Peters in Cape Breton in September 1749 to respond to British moves. They composed a letter to Cornwallis making it clear that, they while they tolerated the small garrison at Annapolis Royal, they completely opposed settlement at Halifax: "The place where you are, where you are building dwellings, where you are now building a fort, where you want, as it were, to enthrone yourself, this land of which you want to make yourself absolute master, this land belongs to me". Cornwallis had no authority to respond by abandoning the Halifax expedition and Mi'kmaw leaders regarded the Halifax settlement as "a great theft that you have perpetrated against me."

A wave of Mi'kmaw attacks began immediately after the letter. At Chignecto Bay, two British ships were attacked while two others were seized at Canso. At Halifax, attacks began on settlers and soldiers outside the fortified township, beginning with the first of several raids on the longhouse settlement at Dartmouth across the harbour. This stage of the long-running Anglo-Mi'kmaw conflict is known by some historians as Father Le Loutre's War.

Father Le Loutre's War

Cornwallis sought to project British military forces by establishing forts in the largest Acadian communities, which were located at Windsor (Fort Edward), Grand Pre (Fort Vieux Logis) and Chignecto (Fort Lawrence). As a result, during Cornwallis' three years in Nova Scotia, Acadians and Mi'kmaq people orchestrated attacks on the British at Chignecto, Grand Pre, Dartmouth, Canso, and Halifax. The French erected forts at present day Saint John, Chignecto and Port Elgin, New Brunswick. Cornwallis's forces responded by attacking the Mi'kmaq and Acadians at Mirligueche (later known as Lunenburg), Chignecto and St. Croix.

Frontier warfare against families was the Wabanaki Confederacy and New England approach to warfare with each other since King William's War began in 1688. To prevent the French and native massacres of British families, many Massachusetts Governors, issued a bounty for the scalps of Indian men, women, and children. Cornwallis followed New England's example when he protected the first British settlers in Nova Scotia from being scalped by putting a bounty on the Mi'kmaq (1749). In Acadia and Nova Scotia, both the British and Wabanaki Confederacy engaged in frontier warfare or total war, that is, both sides of the conflict repeatedly killed combatants and non-combatants. While the British paid the New England Rangers for Mi'kmaq scalps, the French paid members of the Wabanaki Confederacy for British scalps. At the same time the British were adopting an uncomplicated, racially based view of local politics, several leaders of the Mi'kmaq community were developing a similar stance. According to historian Geoffery Plank, both combatants understood their conflict as a "race war", and both the Mi’kmaq and British were “singlemindedly” determined to drive each other from the peninsula of Nova Scotia.

After eighteen months of inconclusive fighting since the outbreak of the war, uncertainties and second thoughts began to disturb both the Mi’kmaq and the British communities. By the summer of 1751 Governor Cornwallis began a more conciliatory policy. For more than a year, Cornwallis sought out Mi’kmaq leaders willing to negotiate a peace. On 16 February 1752, hoping to lay the groundwork for a peace treaty, he repealed his 1749 proclamation against the Wabanaki Confederacy. He eventually gave up, resigned his commission and left the colony in October 1752. (Shortly after Cornwallis' departure, Chief Jean-Baptiste Cope signed the only peace treaty of the war, which was ultimately rejected by most of the other Mi'kmaq leaders. Cope burned the treaty six months after he signed it.)

Led by the efforts of Daniel N. Paul, there has been much public attention in the twenty-first century on Cornwallis' use of frontier warfare, with little regard for both the historical context and that Mi'kmaq leaders used this type of warfare against New England settlers since King William's War (1688).

Cornwallis left Nova Scotia in 1752, three years before Father Le Loutre's War ended in 1755.

Seven Years War

Further information: Great Britain in the Seven Years War

In November 1756 Cornwallis was one of three colonels who were ordered to proceed to Gibraltar and from there embark for Minorca, which was then under siege from the French. Admiral John Byng called a council of war, which involved Cornwallis, and advised the return of the fleet to Gibraltar leaving the garrison at Minorca to its fate. Cornwallis was also one of the senior officers in the September 1757 Raid on Rochefort which saw a failed amphibious descent on the French coastline.

Governor of Gilbraltar

Cornwallis served as the Governor of Gibraltar from 14 June 1761 to January 1776 when he died at the age of 63.

His body was returned to England and laid to rest at Culford Parish Church in Culford, near Bury St. Edmunds on 9 February 1776.


A statue of Edward Cornwallis was erected in 1931 by J. Massey Rhind, an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy. The statue stands at the center of Cornwallis Park in downtown City of Halifax.
Cornwallis Place (Halifax) was named after Edward Cornwallis. The name was changed to Summit Place in 1995.
Cornwallis Junior High School in Halifax is named for him, but in June 2011, the Halifax regional school board voted unanimously to change the school's name because of Cornwallis' legacy of offering a bounty for the scalps of Mi'kmaq.
Canadian Forces Base Cornwallis, a former Canadian Forces Base located in Deep Brook, Nova Scotia, was named in his honour.
He is also the namesake of Cornwallis Street (Halifax), Cornwallis Street (Shelburne), Canadian Coast Guard Ship CCGS Edward Cornwallis, Cornwallis River and Cornwallis Park, Nova Scotia

In popular culture

Edward Cornwallis is the subject of The Hampton Grease Band song entitled "Halifax" which appears on the double album Music to Eat.
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Lt.-Gen. Edward Cornwallis's Timeline