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Edward Cornwallis
Edward Cornwallis by the painter Joshua Reynolds (1756)
Born (1713-03-05)March 5, 1713
Died 14 January 1776(1776-01-14) (aged 62)
Place of birth London, England
Place of death Gibraltar
Buried at Culford, Suffolk
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1730s-1776
Rank Lieutenant General
Unit 8th Foot
Commands held 20th Foot, 40th Foot, 24th Foot
Relations Charles Cornwallis, 4th Baron Cornwallis - father
Lady Charlotte Butler - mother
Mary Townshend - wife
Other work Governor of Gibraltar

Lieutenant General Edward Cornwallis (5 March 1713 – 14 January 1776) was a British military officer who was the first Governor of Nova Scotia at Halifax, Nova Scotia. He later served as the Governor of Gibraltar.[1]

Early life

He was the sixth son of Charles, fourth Baron Cornwallis, and Lady Charlotte Butler, daughter of the Earl of Arran.[2] The Cornwallis family possessed large estates at Culford in Suffolk and the Channel Islands.[2] 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.[2] They were enrolled at Eton school at age 14.

It was initially unclear which brother would enter the church and which the military. The matter was decided when Frederick Cornwallis fell and paralyzed his arm. Frederick would take the religious path.[3]

At age 18, Edward was commissioned into the 47th Regiment of Foot in 1731.[2]

Military career

War of the Austrian Succession

Cornwallis participated in the Battle of Fontenoy during the War of the Austrian Succession. He fought under Colonel Craig, who was killed in action. Cornwallis took over command of the regiment and organized a retreat. Cornwallis's regiment lost eight officers and 385 men. While the retreat was respected by the military, the British public mocked Cornwallis and the other leaders.[4]

Cornwallis played an important role in suppressing the Jacobite Rising of 1745.[2] He fought for the victorious British soldiers at the Battle of Culloden and then led a regiment of 320 men north for the Pacification of the Scottish Highlands. The Duke of Cumberland ordered him to "plunder, burn and destroy through all the west part of Invernesshire called Lochaber." Cumberland added: "You have positive orders to bring no more prisoners to the camp."[5] Cornwallis's campaign was later described as one of unrestrained violence.[6] Cornwallis ordered his men to chase off livestock, destroy crops and food stores.[7] Cornwallis's soldiers used rape and mass murder to intimidate Jacobites from further rebellion.[8]

Founding of Halifax

Edward Cornwallis Statue by renowned New York sculptor J. Massey Rhind, Halifax, Nova Scotia (1931)

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 Chebucto 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.[9]

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 advisers 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.[10]

Relations with the Wabanaki Confederacy

Edward Cornwallis by Sir George Chalmers (1755)

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.[11]

However Cornwallis's diplomatic 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.[12] 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, 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."[13]

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

The table first used by Edward Cornwallis and the Nova Scotia Council (1749), The Red Chamber of Province House (Nova Scotia)

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's 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.[14] By the time Cornwallis had arrived in Halifax, there was a long history of the Wabanaki Confederacy (which included the Mi'kmaq) protecting their land by killing British civilians along the New England/ Acadia border in Maine (See the Northeast Coast Campaigns 1688, 1703, 1723, 1724, 1745, 1746, 1747).[15]

Fort Edward (Nova Scotia), named after Edward Cornwallis

As well, to prevent the French and Wabanaki Confederacy massacres of British families, prior to Cornwallis, there was a long history of Massachusetts Governors issuing bounties for the scalps of Indian men, women, and children.[16] Cornwallis followed New England's example when, after the Raid on Dartmouth (1749), he put a bounty on Mi'kmaq men, women and children (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.[17] While the British paid the New England Rangers for Mi'kmaq scalps, the French paid members of the Wabanaki Confederacy for British scalps.[18] 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.[19] According to historian Geoffery Plank, both combatants understood their conflict as a "race war", and both the Mi’kmaq and British were “single-mindedly” determined to drive each other from the peninsula of Nova Scotia.[20]

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.[21] He eventually gave up, resigned his commission and left the colony in October 1752.[20] (Shortly after Cornwallis's 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.)[17]

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

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.[2] 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.[2] Byng, Cornwallis and the other officers were arrested when they returned to England. A large, unruly mob attacked the officers as they left their ships in Portsmouth and later burned effigies of Cornwallis and the other officers.[22]

The officers faced court martial on "suspicion of disobedience of orders and neglect of duty."[23] Byng was found guilty and executed. Cornwallis testified that he had not disobeyed orders, but that it was "impracticable" to land at Minorca due to stiff French defences. Further, he said he was following Byng's command. "I looked upon myself as under the command of the admiral and should have thought it my duty to have obeyed him," he testified.[24] Cornwallis was judged to have been a passenger under the control of Byng and was thus exonerated.

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.[2] Thevast force massed on the Isle of Wight before sailing for Rochefort. The fleet stopped at Ile D'Aix and examined the French defences. General Sir John Mordaunt, head of the land forces, decided the defences were too strong to attack. He called a council of war. Cornwallis voted to retreat, while Admiral Edward Hawke, head of the naval forces, and James Wolfe, quartermaster general, voted to attack. Mordaunt and Cornwallis carried the day and the mission was abandoned.[25]

Mordaunt was arrested and faced court martial. Cornwallis testified that an attempted landing at Rochefort would have been "dangerous, almost impracticable and madness."[26] Mordaunt was found not guilty, but the court martial left a stain on his career, and the career of Cornwallis.[27]

Cornwallis Park, Halifax, Nova Scotia

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.[2]

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

Personal life

In 1763, Conrwallis married Mary Townshend, daughter of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend and Dorothy Townshend (Walpole). His marriage to Mary did not produce any children. His brother, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Earl Cornwallis married Mary's half sister, Elizabeth, daughter of Charles and his first wife, Elizabeth Pelham. Through his brother's marriage, he became uncle of General Lord Conrwallis.[28]

Edward Cornwallis' wife, Mary Townshend


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 against Mi'kmaq civilians. Paul accuses Cornwallis of committing "genocide". Historians have asserted that this position distorts the past, paying little regard for the historical context of Cornwallis's decisions. Frontier warfare against civilians was standard practice during the colonial period - Mi'kmaq leaders and New England Governors had endorsed this type of warfare since King William's War (1688).[29] Further, rather than being intent on genocide, Cornwallis tried to create peace treaties with the Mi'kmaq before and after the 18 month bounty he imposed. As well, had Cornwallis been intent on genocide of aboriginal peoples, he would have also put a bounty on the other tribes in the region. Instead, Cornwallis was able to create peace treaties with the other tribes.[30]

Because of the efforts of Paul, in 1995 Cornwallis Place (Halifax) was changed to Summit Place. As well, in June 2011, Cornwallis Junior High School Paul influenced the Halifax regional school board to vote unanimously to change the school's name because of Cornwallis' legacy of offering a bounty for the scalps of Mi'kmaq.[31] Rather than destroying the Edward Cornwallis Statue, Paul has recently joined historian John G. Reid to advocate that the complexity of Cornwallis' legacy needs to be told by putting the statue in a museum or adding interpretive panels beside the existing statue.[32]

  • 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.
  • 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), Cornwallis River and Cornwallis Park, Nova Scotia
  • A number of ships were named after Cornwallis including the 1944 harbour ferry Governor Cornwallis and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship CCGS Edward Cornwallis.

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.

See also



  • Jon Tattrie. Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax. Pottersfield Press. 2013.
  • John Grenier. The Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. Oklahoma University Press.2008
  • John Grenier. The first way of war: American war making on the frontier, 1607-1814 Cambridge University Press. 2005
  • Geoffrey Plank, “The Two Majors Cope: the boundaries of Nationality in Mid-18th Century Nova Scotia”, Acadiensis, XXV, 2 (Spring 1996), pp. 18–40.
  • Geoffrey Plank. An Unsettled Conquest: The British Campaign Against the Peoples of Acadia. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2001
  • Geoffrey Plank. "New England Soldiers in the Saint John River Valley: 1758-1760" in New England and the Maritime provinces: connections and comparisons By Stephen Hornsby, John G. Reid. McGill-Queen's University Press. 2005. pp. 59–73
  • John Faragher. A Great and Nobel Scheme. Norton. 2005. p. 405.


  1. Charlotte Gray 'The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder' Random House, 2004
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 profile of Edward Cornwallis
  3. Tattrie, Jon. Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax. Pottersfield Press, 2013, p. 36.
  4. Tattrie, Jon, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, Pottersfield Press (2013), p. 20.
  5. Tattrie, Jon, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, PottersfieldPress (2013), p. 28.
  6. Plank, Geoffrey, Rebellion and Savagery, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005, p. 67.
  7. Tattrie, Jon, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, PottersfieldPress (2013), p. 29.
  8. Tattrie, Jon, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, PottersfieldPress (2013), p. 31.
  9. Raddall, Thomas, Halifax: Warden of the North McClelland & Stewart (1948), p. 24-25.
  10. Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  11. Patterson, Stephen, "Colonial Wars and Aboriginal Peoples", in The Atlantic Region to Confederation University of Toronto Press (1994). p. 129
  12. John Grenier. The Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. Oklahoma University Press. 2008
  13. Johnston, A.J.B Endgame 1758 Cape Breton University Press (2008), p38-40.
  14. John Grenier. The first way of war: American war making on the frontier, 1607-1814 Cambridge University Press. 2005.
  15. John G. Reid.“Amerindian Power in the Early Modern Northeast: A Reappraisal.” in Essays on Northeastern North America: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008) ; Grenier, John. The Far Reaches of Empire. War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2008.
  16. A particular history of the five years French and Indian War in New England ... By Samuel Gardner Drake, William Shirley. p. 134
  17. 17.0 17.1 Plank, 1996, p.33-34
  18. The regiments of both the French and British militaries were not skilled at frontier warfare, while the Natives and Rangers were. British officers Cornwallis and Amherst both expressed dismay over the tactics of the rangers and the Mi'kmaq (See Grenier, 2008. p.152, Faragher, p. 405).
  19. Plank, 1996, p.33
  20. 20.0 20.1 Plank, 1996, p.34
  21. Patterson, p. 134
  22. Tattrie, Jon, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, PottersfieldPress (2013), p. 212.
  23. The Report of the General Officers, Appointed to enquire into the conduct of Major General Stuart, and Colonels Cornwallis and the Earl of Effingham, Dec. 8, 1756.
  24. ibid.
  25. Tattrie, Jon, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, Pottersfield Press (2013), p. 217-220.
  26. The Proceedings of a General Court-Martial held at Whitehall upon the Trial of Lieutenant-General Sit John Mordaunt.
  27. Tattrie, Jon, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, Pottersfield Press (2013), p. 220.
  29. For example, see the work of amateur historian Daniel Paul on Cornwallis and the newspaper article Replace Cornwallis statue to honour Marshall: author; Halifax Weekly News, August 2009 and Paul on Cornwallis: You be the judge. In contrast, historian Geoffery Plank provides the historical context of Cornwallis' military decisions. According to Plank, both combatants - Mi'kmaq and British leadership - understood their conflict as a "race war" and both were “singlemindedly” determined to drive each other from the peninsula of Nova Scotia (Plank, 1996, pp.33-34). Historian John Grenier also provides the historical context for Cornwallis' decisions and cautions against minimizing the military strength of the Mi'kmaq during this time period (See National Post, July 5, 2011 "300 Year feud plays out in Halifax"). For examples of Mi'kmaq and Maliseet treatment of New England prisoners see the Captivity narratives of those taken prisoner in Nova Scotia.
  30. John Grenier. War in Nova Scotia. 2008.
  32. Documentary on Cornwallis Statue - CBC Radio - Maritime Magazine Archives

External links

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Stephen Cornwallis
John Cornwallis
Member of Parliament for Eye
With: John Cornwallis 1743–1747
Roger Townshend 1747–1748
Nicholas Hardinge 1748–1749
Succeeded by
Nicholas Hardinge
Courthorpe Clayton
Preceded by
Viscount Trentham
Sir Peter Warren
Member of Parliament for Westminster
With: Viscount Trentham 1753–1754
Sir John Crosse 1754–1761
Viscount Pulteney 1761–1762
Succeeded by
Viscount Pulteney
Hon. Edwin Sandys
Military offices
Preceded by
Richard Philipps
Colonel of the 40th Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
Peregrine Hopson
Preceded by
The Marquess of Lothian
Colonel of the 24th Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
William Taylor
Preceded by
The Earl of Home
Governor of Gibraltar
Succeeded by
Sir John Irwin

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