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Halifax County, Nova Scotia

Dartmouth Patriot, 4 May 1901 Edition


It Was Granted to the Cornwallis Brothers
in 1752 and Named After Them

(Series of Articles by H.W. HEWITT)

No. 1

I propose to give in weekly instalments a concise history of McNab's Island, Lawlor's Island, Devil's island, Cow Bay, Eastern Passage and perhaps Cole Harbour. As these places have not been written up before sources of information are hard to find, so I must ask readers of the articles to excuse any mistakes I may unavoidably have made. I would esteem it a favour on the part of any one who (knowing more about any particular part of my subject than I have been able to find out) will send me those particulars or corrections. (Address such to H. W. Hewitt, Eastern Passage.)

 Little or nothing can be read of McNab's Island before the settlement of Halifax, but it is tolerably certain that it was not a scene of human habitation prior to 1749. Then, to a greater degree than at present, woods covered the island to its beach. But it did not remain unused for long. Of its history since then it is my purpose to write, briefly for the present.

 McNab's Island is situated in Halifax Harbour, which it divides forming two entrances. The Western (used by all large craft and the greater part of the smaller craft too), and the Eastern Passage used chiefly by small coasters from the Eastward. It is about three miles long and one half mile in width. It lies much nearer the Eastern than the western shore. On its western side is a long gravelly point of very low land called Meagher's Beach. On the south the island terminates in Thrum Cap, whose shoal extends far out to sea. The island is owned for the most part by the Imperial Government.

 The first mention of the island which has come to my notice shows the use to which it was put after the settlement. At a Council held at the governors' on Wednesday, the 27th day of December, 1749, the following minute was recorded. "The Council being informed that the prisoners in jail for killing cattle upon Cornwallis Island, had petitioned for their trial, resolved that a general court be held on Thursday the 4th of January."

 In the "Halifax Gazette," 1752 edited at that time by Richard Bulkeley, the public is warned by Bulkeley, probably in his capacity as Secretarey to the Governor, against cutting wood on McNab's Island, then, of course called by the older name Cornwallis Island. This brings me to the derivation of the early name of McNab's Island. It is, I believe, generally contended, that the island received its name from Henry, James and William Cornwallis, who received a grant of the island, July 20th, 1752. But there is evidence to show that its name was given before the grant of the island to the three brothers. The order in Council of Dec. 27th, 1749 refers to the island as Cornwallis Island. That alone shows that its name was not derived from the first grantees of the island. There can be little doubt that its name was given it in reference to Hon. Edward Cornwallis, the first governor at Halifax.

 I have said that the first grant was given to the brothers Henry, James and William Cornwallis in 1752. In 1758, (Oct 23) I find that an island in Chebucto Harbor (Cornwallis Island) was allotted to Edward, Henry, James and William Cornwallis. The grant and allottment included all the island with the exception of Meagher's Beach. The area with the exception of that part, is given as 995 acres. Meagher's Beach included 5 acres making the island 1000 acres in area. This beach was granted on the same day that the island was granted.

 At this time (July 1752) by refering to a list of persons settled in Halifax and vicinity, I find the following persons employed in fishing business on Cornwallis Island:

Head of family.       Males above 16.

Capt. Joseph Rouse .............. 4

  "  Mauger ..................... 6

  "  Cook ....................... 5

Mr. Bradshaw ................... 16


In Bradshaw's family was one female over 16.

 On Friday, Oct. 9th, 1761, the island's population was considerably increased by the arrival of Alexander McNutt from Ireland, with more than 300 settlers. They were temporarily landed on Cornwallis Island. McNutt applied for 2,000,000 areas of land on site of Shelburne; also for land in other parts of the province. He succeeded in getting some large grants. The island which lies in the middle of the outer harbour of Shelburne still bears the name of McNutt's Island.

 News now reached Halifax of the capture of St. John's Nfld. In Halifax all preparations were made in case of an attack on the city by the French. On Friday, July 23rd 1762, at a Council of War held at the Governor's house Major General Bastide gave in the following report in writing. (I give here only the part refering to my subject.) "He further acquaints this Board, that a detachment of two hundred men of the Provincial Regt. went over two days ago to begin cleaning the brush and underwood at the point of Cornwallis's Island, whereon a post and a battery has been proposed (if our numbers will admit of a sufficient detachment to occupy it) and that he hopes to be able to spare about a hundred and fifty men more from point pleasant to-morrow for Cornwallis's Island, to hasten the cleaning of that ground, which is greatly encumbered with roots and logs, of decayed trees as well as underwood, as soon as that is done it will be carefully measured and a report made to this board in what manner such a post and battery must necesearily be constructed, and what number of men will be wanted to man the battery and defend it at the same time."

 In this year, too, the Council decided to make Thrum Cap Island a signal station.

 At this period then, we must give the commencement of the military history of McNab's Island, although the present fortifications are much more recent. The site of the clearing made in 1762 is, I believe, the sight of Ive's Point battery.

I had almost forgotten to mention that a short time before this the government had deported the Indian inhabitants from the opposite eastern mainland to McNab's Island. They camped on the north easterly point of the island still called from them, Indian Point. Here they lived up to about 50 or 60 years ago.

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