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Not to be confused with the Royal Nova Scotia Volunteer Regiment

Royal Nova Scotia Regiment of Foot
Active 1793 - 1802
Country  Kingdom of Great Britain,  United Kingdom
Allegiance King George III
Branch Provincial corps, North American command
Type Battalion
Role Infantry
Size 6 companies, rising to 8 companies
Garrison/HQ Halifax, NS (Fort Sackville), St. John's, NL, Annapolis Royal, Windsor (Fort Edward) and Sydney, NS
Engagements Saw only minor combat
Sir John Wentworth, 1st Baronet

The Royal Nova Scotia Regiment was a battalion of infantry raised in 1793 to defend British interests in the colony of Nova Scotia during the Wars of the French Revolution. The unit was commanded by Col. John Wentworth, the lieutenant-governor of the colony, throughout its existence. The Royal Nova Scotia Regiment (RNSR) had an undistinguished history through most of its existence, and saw very limited action, mostly in the role of marines, but did play an important role in the defense of Nova Scotia during these wars.


Part of a series on the
Military history of
Nova Scotia
Citadel hill.jpg
Battle of Port Royal 1690
Conquest of Acadia 1710
Battle of Jeddore Harbour 1722
Northeast Coast Campaign 1745
Battle of Grand Pré 1747
Dartmouth Massacre 1751
Bay of Fundy Campaign 1755
Fall of Louisbourg 1758
Headquarters established for Royal Navy's North American Station 1758
Burying the Hatchet ceremony 1761
Battle of Fort Cumberland 1776
Raid on Lunenburg 1782
Halifax Impressment Riot 1805
Establishment of New Ireland 1812
Capture of USS Chesapeake 1813
Battle at the Great Redan 1855
Siege of Lucknow 1857
CSS Tallahassee Escape 1861
Departing Halifax for Northwest Rebellion 1885
Departing Halifax for the Boer War 1899
Imprisonment of Leon Trotsky 1917
Jewish Legion formed 1917
Sinking of HMHS Llandovery Castle 1918
Battle of the St. Lawrence 1942–44
Sinking of SS Point Pleasant Park 1945
Halifax VE-Day Riot 1945
Walter Callow Wheelchair Bus established 1947
Notable military regiments
Mi'kmaq militias 1677-1779
Acadian militias 1689-1761
40th Regiment 1717-57
Troupes de la marine 1717-58
Gorham's Rangers 1744-62
Danks' Rangers 1756-62
84th Regiment of Foot 1775-84
Royal Fencible American 1775-83
Royal Nova Scotia Volunteers 1775-83
King's Orange Rangers 1776-83
1st Field Artillery 1791-present
Royal Nova Scotia 1793-1802
Nova Scotia Fencibles 1803-16
The Halifax Rifles (RCAC) 1860-present
The Princess Louise Fusiliers 1867-present
78th Highlanders 1869-71
Cape Breton Highlanders 1871-present
Nova Scotia Rifles 1914-19
No. 2 Construction Battalion 1916-19
West Nova Scotia 1916-present
The Nova Scotia Highlanders 1954-present

As tensions rose between the governments of Britain and revolutionary France in early 1793, the British secretary of state for the colonies, Henry Dundas, wrote to Wentworth that the question of raising a provincial regiment for the defense of Nova Scotia was under consideration.[1] In April, word arrived in Halifax, also from Dundas, that war had been declared, that all but 200 men of the British garrison were to be sent to the West Indies, that the militia was to be called out, and that Wentworth was to commence raising a provincial regiment of six companies (600 men). In spite of having no military experience, Wentworth was to be colonel of the regiment.[2] The regiment was to serve as a Fencible unit, for local defense only. The men were to be paid and equipped like regular soldiers; they would be, in effect, a full-time home guard. In October Wentworth was directed to raise the establishment to eight companies (800 men), although the regiment would not, in the event, ever reach this strength, and further ordered that the regiment might be called on to serve in the other North American colonies, to which the men assented.[3]

Wentworth went to work on this project with enthusiasm. Winckworth Tonge, Jr., formerly adjutant of the 60th Reg't. of Foot as well as an officer of the Royal Fencible Americans and the 22nd Reg't. of Foot, was appointed as adjutant, and recruiting began on Apr. 14. By May 28, 350 men had been enlisted. Wentworth was keen to have his regiment given the prefix "Royal" (probably based on the precedent of the Royal Nova Scotia Volunteer Regiment of the Revolutionary War), and in October Dundas granted this, but "without special sanction".[4]

Many of the officers of the RNSR were veterans of the earlier war, or sons of veterans. For example, Samuel Bayard, named as Lt. Col. en second, had served as a captain in the King's Orange Rangers. Maj. George H. Monk and Cpts. Jones Fawson and John Solomon had held the same ranks in the Royal NS Volunteers, while Cpt. Hector Maclean had served with the 84th Highlanders.[5]

There was a labour shortage in Nova Scotia at that time, and many Halifax merchants, led by John Butler Butler, began to protest to Wentworth that his recruiting efforts were driving up wages. This opposition soon collapsed when the merchants began to realize the lucrative contracts that the war effort was bringing; Butler even had the effrontery to apply to Dundas for a contract to supply the regiment.[6] Wentworth also faced difficulties from Maj. Gen. Ogilvie, the commander of the regular garrison, who refused his requests for barrack space, clothing and provisions, while at the same time using Wentworth's men for three-quarters of the garrison's duties and as a source of recruits for his own 4th Reg't. of Foot.[7] This state of affairs was finally ended in May of 1794 with the arrival of Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, to take over as C-in-C of the King's Forces in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Wentworth and the Prince were to form a friendship over the coming years, much to the benefit of the RNSR.[8]


During its existence the RNSR had its headquarters in Halifax, where it assisted in doing garrison duty, and had small parties in all of the outposts in the neighbourhood and in other parts of the province. A fairly large detachment, successively under command of Cpt. Maclean, Cpt. Aldridge, and Lt. Van Cortlandt, was at St. John's, NL from Aug. 1794 until Nov, 1795, assisting in the raising and the training of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Other detachments were at Annapolis Royal, Windsor, and Sydney. For a short while a guard was posted at Parrsboro, to protect the north end of the ferry link across Minas Basin from Windsor to Partridge Island, the fastest route at the time from Halifax to New Brunswick.[9]

As of July 1, 1797, the officers and men of the RNSR were distributed as follows:

  • At Halifax (Citadel Hill and HQ) - 66
  • At Prince Edward's quarters at Birch Cove - 42
  • At Eastern Battery - 96
  • At George's Island - 77
  • At Point Sandwich (York Battery) - 91
  • At Point Pleasant Battery - 50
  • At Northwest Arm Battery - 23
  • At Kavenaugh's (Melville) Island - 16
  • At Fort Sackville - 34
  • At Windsor (Fort Edward) - 31
  • At Annapolis Royal (Fort Anne) - 31
  • Aboard the Earl of Moira, as marines - 36
  • At Duncan's Cove (Chebucto Head) - 7
  • At Sambro Lighthouse - 4
  • On leave - 2
  • Orderlies at Regimental Hospital - 2
  • Telegraph (semaphore) men on Citadel Hill - 2
  • King's workmen at Halifax - 5

for a total of 618, of which 527 were other ranks. There were wanting 273 to complete the establishment.[10]

A detachment of 40 - 50 men was always stationed the Prince's residence as a sort of guard of honour. The men posted at Sambro, Duncan's Cove, and the two men at the Citadel operated the semaphore telegraph that the Prince established to relay messages from the mouth of the harbour to his headquarters; it was the first of its kind in North America. The men at Kavenaugh's Island guarded French prisoners from La Felix, a ship captured at St. Domingo in 1794; the island was renamed in honour of Dundas (Lord Melville) after the war. A rotation of men, from 14 to 36 at a time, served as marines aboard His Majesty's armed snow Earl of Moira, a vessel of 14 guns in the pay of the province, commanded by Capt. Fawson. These were probably the only men of the Regiment to see combat.[11]

Prince Edward took almost as much pride in the regiment as Wentworth did. However, he also saw it as a source of recruits for his own 7th Reg't. of Foot (Royal Fusileers). Already in 1795 he had persuaded several officers of the RNSR to take up commissions in the 7th of Foot,[12] and he later decided on a plan to draft into his own regiment the best men of the RNSR in exchange for some poor-quality recruits he had received from Britain. Wentworth was horrified, in part because the Prince was known as a very severe disciplinarian. He wrote in protest to the Duke of Portland, who sent a mild reprimand to the Prince ordering him not to use the RNSR as a "nursery or recruiting fund", because the men had enlisted as fencibles. Fear of being drafted into the Fusileers caused recruiting to dry up for several months. The Prince did throw his influence behind Wentworth's persistent efforts to have the regiment placed on the British Army's regular establishment, which would have, among other things, secured a colonel's salary for Wentworth, but these efforts came to nothing.[13]

On Nov. 16, 1797, the frigate HMS Tribune was wrecked during a southerly gale off Herring Cove. Lt. Benjamin James, Sgts. William Mullens and Sniffen Baker, and privates Michael Brown, Cornelius Kenrick, John Bush and William Barry, all of the RNSR, were drowned attempting to rescue the crew of Tribune. It is said that the Prince, in referring to Lt. James, stated that "the flower of my regiment is gone."[14]


The Royal Nova Scotia Regiment was disbanded at Halifax on Aug. 24, 1802, following the Treaty of Amiens.[15] Wentworth's biographer, Brian C. Cuthbertson, sums up the regiment's service as follows:

At a time when Nova Scotians needed patriotic symbols and reassurance in the face of threatened attack, the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment filled a vital need and did so most commendably. It was a fine body of men, well officered, and one in which Wentworth and all Nova Scotians took pride.[16]

By the end of October, those men who wished had been given land grants in various districts of the province. Many of the officers and men would go on to do further service in the Nova Scotia Regiment of Fencible Infantry, which was raised in July, 1803, after the renewal of the war with France.[17]


At the time of their enlistment, the men of the RNSR mostly wore civilian clothing, essentially, whatever they were wearing when enlisted. Wentworth's difficulties with Ogilvie delayed the outfitting of the regiment with proper uniforms, although Wentworth had ordered them from England in May, 1793, asking Cpt. Stewart of the Life Guards to advise and aid "in the fashion and selection of them."[18] With the arrival of Prince Edward in 1794, the regiment was soon fully clothed.[19]

Remarkably, a uniform coatee of a man of the RNSR still exists. This coatee is one of the earliest surviving military uniforms known to exist in Canada, and is currently held at the Army Museum at the Halifax Citadel. It confirms that the RNSR wore red coats with royal blue facings, with plain white lace for other ranks, and buttons in pairs. Given the wings on the shoulders, this would have been the coatee of a man of the grenadier or the light infantry company. This uniform would have been worn circa 1798.


  1. Piers, Harry; "The Fortieth Regiment, Raised at Annapolis Royal in 1717; and Five Regiments Subsequently Raised in Nova Scotia"; Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, vol. XXI, Halifax, NS, 1927, p 164
  2. Cuthbertson, Brian C., The Loyalist Governor, Petheric Press, Halifax, 1983, p 62
  3. Piers, pp 165-66
  4. Piers, p 165
  5. Piers, p 167
  6. Cuthbertson, p 63
  7. Cuthbertson, p 63- 64
  8. Cuthbertson, p 70-71
  9. Piers, p 170
  10. Piers, p 171
  11. Piers, p 171
  12. Piers, p 168
  13. Cuthbertson, p 77
  14. Piers, pp 171-72
  15. Piers, p 172
  16. Cuthbertson, p 77
  17. Piers, p 173
  18. Piers, p 165
  19. Piers, p 166

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