A paper presented at the East Hants Historical Society Meeting in Kennetcook - February 13, 1968

A History of the MicMac Indians in Hants County, Nova Scotia
By Chester Hennigar

Up to this time it was believed that the earliest inhabitants of Nova Scotia lived here about 2000 years ago, but according to Dr. George McDonald of Canada’s National Museum, who has recently discovered a Paleo-Indian camp site at Debert, the frontiers of history have been moved back about 8000 years. Dr. McDonald has described the discovery as being proved to be rich beyond our expectations; he explained the archeological importance of the Debert camp site.

The 40-acre site was used about 10,600 years ago by a wandering band of Paleo-Indians, the ancestors of the Indian tribes of the Atlantic area. Radio-carbon datings taken from the remains of the campsite hearths helped archeologists to date the find to about that date. More important, the find helps to clear the picture of what human life was like all across North America at the end of the last Ice Age, the time of the Debert camp site.

The artifacts were a fluted-tip type of stone, made by chipping with stone hammers. A flame or chip of stone was chiseled out at the base for easier attachment of the handle. This type of stone work used by the Indians at the Debert site gave archeologists a much clearer picture of what was going on in the North America continent.

It was found in 1940 by Steckle Eaton, after a bulldozer clearing a parking lot for Debert army camp uncovered the artifacts. In the summer of 1963 and ’64, Dr. McDonald headed a group of archeologists in a systematic uncovering of the camp site. More than 4,500 Indian stone implements were recovered. The Indians were described as a nomadic band of a few families, who wore tailored skin garments to keep out the permafrost cold of that time. They probably moved from place to place about every month or so in search of caribou. How far they wandered is still a big question. When Dr. McDonald was asked about the finds he said it was only through a very unlikely set of events that we made this discovery. There could be a lot more sites like this in Cobequid Bay. At that time the Bay was dry east of Minas Basin.

This item was taken in part from a recent copy of the Halifax Herald:

After we go down through the centuries from thousands of years     ago, it is interesting to note the description of the MicMac Indians in 1605 as described by Beamish Murdoch’s History of Acadie. About the time of the arrival of the French in this country the aborigines were found to have abundance of warm clothing, made from the skins of wild animals. They had acquired the art of dressing these skins and making them soft and pliable. They had also acquired the art of making bright-coloured dyes from barks and roots, and the love of bright colours made their clothing a thing of beauty.

They were very skilful in making their wigwams and canoes of birchbark. The canoes were beautifully made and very light and made watertight. They had great skill with their bows and arrows, and their spears for salmon. They also had a peculiar portable cradle for their infants, carried on the back of their mother on their journeys.

Their moccasins and snow shoes were beautifully made and dyed and decorated. Their basketwork and ornamental porcupine quill work was acquired before their intercourse with white men.

The structure of their language was so complex, so musical and refined although they had no written alphabet or letters, you would be led to believe they had long been a civilized and thinking race of people. They were at that time an honest, frank, brave and humane type of people.

It is interesting to note the description of the MicMac Indian as given in 1750, 157 years later, after living under the influence of the white man; it is hard to believe that the remnants of the Indian tribes living around the towns and villages were the same people of 150 years ago. Many were half casts, indolent, miserable and beggarly; many were addicted to alcohol. In some communities, they were dying by the hundreds from tuberculosis and smallpox, introduced among them by the white man.

The MicMac country was supposed to include the area east of the St. John River, north to central New Brunswick today, and included Nova Scotia, PEI, Cape Breton, and Newfoundland. The population in 1607 was thought to be between 3000 and 3500.

“Indian Name” Places, Villages and Routes of Travel

A great number of villages, bays, and rivers in Hants County and Nova Scotia were named by the MicMac Indians before the arrival of the white man.

(Saa gaa dun aykaddy) “Shubenacadie”:  a place where the “sagabun” or MicMac potatoes grow. Pronounced and spelled by the French “Chiganakady.”

(Tweatnook) “Maitland”: meaning where the tide runs out fast.

(May Cobigilk) “Cobequid”: meaning the end of the flowing.

(Ketty poo aykaddy): the place of eagles, near the Shubenacadie River, at South Maitland.

(Kennowy) “Economy”:  meaning sandy point.

(Kunnetkook)  “Kennetcook”:  meaning “a place close at hand.”

If we look at a map of Nova Scotia it is very easy to understand why there were Indian villages situated at certain places. Shubenacadie, for instance, was one of the largest MicMac villages in Nova Scotia. When we know that their only means of travel was by canoe, we realize that they can travel right across the centre of Nova Scotia, through the Dartmouth Lakes, Grand Lake, and down the Shubenacadie River; and at the junction of the Shubenacadie River and the Stewiacke River, for Indians traveling from the eastern shore, what better location for a large Indian village than Shubenacadie? And as they travel down the Shubenacadie another Indian village was at Maitland, a place to rest and embark to continue the trip over the Bay to Masstown, in the vicinity of Debert, another Indian village. Then they would paddle their canoes up the Isgonish River and portage a short way over the mountain, thence down the river to Tatamagouche, another Indian name and village. There were other trails and other river routes as well, and it is well to remember that the French Acadians and early settlers used the same mode of travel and the same Indian routes and trails. At the time of the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, the only known roads in Hants County were a road from Maitland to the top of Nathan’s Hill, and from Maitland to the head of the Kennetcook at Five Mile River. This was an Indian trail that was used when they paddled their canoes down the river to Windsor, or traveling over the ice on the river in winter.

Perhaps there was never in the history of Nova Scotia, or at least in the period between 1737 and the following 20 years, that there were two men that caused more fear and hatred in the hearts of Englishmen and, to a lesser extent, the French and Indians, than the Abbé Jean-Louie Le Loutre and the Indian Chief Jean Baptiste Cope, sometimes called the Major or “Major Cope.”

It was the year 1737 that Jean-Louie Le Loutre was sent out from France by the French Foreign Missions for the purpose of converting MicMac Indians to the Christian religion. He had constructed at Shubenacadie the first church to be built in Hants Co. It was called St. Ann’s Chapel. It was built of logs, and in 1754 an English officer described it as being the finest mass house in the province, adorned with a lofty steeple and a weather cock. It is recorded that the remains of that church could be seen there as late as 1800.

Le Loutre’s mission work was to cover most of the central part of the province. A large part of his time was spent with the Indians at Shubenacadie and the Acadians at Masstown. In writing of this man, we must not judge him too harshly as he was living in a time of extreme suffering and war, and trying to keep the MicMac Indians under his control. His mission at Shubenacadie was no comfort to the English, as it was a collecting place for many of their scalps. It was a rallying place for plotters and plots.

It is recorded that the Indians were slow to take the scalps without pay. Perhaps we judge Le Loutre and his Indians as being very cruel, but they were no less cruel than the English, because we find in the records that on June 21st, 1750, a proclamation was made by the English officials at Halifax that the sum of £50 would be paid for the head or scalp of an Indian when brought to Halifax. Many soldiers took advantage of this to earn some extra money. Perhaps the records might show as to what the extent of the cruelty and hatred was running between the Indians, French, and English by the year 1751.

On May 14 and 15, 1752, a court martial was held against the commanding officers for allowing Dartmouth to be pillaged. On the night of June 24th, 1751, a large party of Indians attacked and killed four inhabitants and carried off six soldiers not on guard. Six of the Indians were killed, and an Indian scalp was brought in under the reward of £50. Six days later, on June 30th, a horrible massacre took place at Dartmouth. The Indians killed, scalped, and horribly mangled several of the soldiers and inhabitants, sparing not even women and children. A little baby was found lying beside its mother and father, all three scalped. Some of the people had their hands cut off, some their bellies ripped open, others their brains dashed out. It is almost certain that this offence was connected with Jean Baptiste Cope and his Indians from Shubenacadie, as they had easy access to Dartmouth down the Shubenacadie, through grand Lake and the Dartmouth Lakes. They were pursued a short distance in that direction.

In the following year, 1752, steps were taken to declare peace with the Indians. September 14th, 1752, the Governor and Council met at Government House. The MicMac Chief Jean Baptiste Cope who called himself the Major, appeared before them, and he signed an agreement to come on the 16th with his tribe to sign and ratify the peace. On November 22nd, the Chief and 90 of his tribe appeared and the Peace Treaty was signed.

However, we do not hear the last of Major Cope and his son. After being treated civilly by some men on a ship at Jeddore, the men, after going ashore, were set upon by the Indians and killed and scalped. They decided to spare one man by the name of Casteel, who called himself a Frenchman, Cope boasting of being a good soldier and harassing the English. Casteel was later carried by the Indians by way of Shubenacadie, Maitland, and over the Bay to Tatamagouche, then to a French Fort at Baie Vert. He admitted to being an Englishman, and was later ransomed for 300 livres from the Indians.

So, we enter a more peaceful era with the MicMacs on February 12th, 1817. Mr. Walter Brownly petitioned the Legislature saying that a few benevolent persons in England had sent to him some aid, and he had formed a MicMac settlement at Shubenacadie of about twenty-four Indian families. They were engaged in cultivating the land and other families expected to join them in the spring, and he prayed for aid from the assembly to the settlement. This was the first start to establish an Indian reserve in Shubenacadie.