Burying the Hatchet ceremony (Nova Scotia)

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Governor Jonathan Belcher by John Singleton Copley. Belcher with the Nova Scotia Council created the Halifax Treaties of 1760-61

The Burying the Hatchet Ceremony (also known as the Governor's Farm Ceremony) happened in Nova Scotia on June 25, 1761 and was one of many such ceremonies where the Halifax Treaties[1] were signed that successfully ended a period of protracted warfare, which had lasted over seventy-five years and encompassed six wars, between the Mi'kmaq people and the British (See the four French and Indian Wars, Father Rale's War and Father Le Loutre’s War). The Burying the Hatchet Ceremonies and the treaties they commemorated created an enduring peace and a commitment to obey the rule of law.

Despite the intentions of the British dignitaries who attended the ceremony and helped draft the treaty, many of British commitments and rights the treaties afforded to the Mi'kmaq for becoming British subjects were not delivered on. Since the treaties were enshrined into the Canadian Constitution in 1982, there have been numerous judicial decisions that have upheld these treaties in the Canadian Supreme Court, the most recognized being the Donald Marshall case. Nova Scotians celebrate the Treaties of 1760-61 every year on Treaty Day (October 1).

Historical context[edit]

Pierre Maillard, Negotiator for the Mi'kmaq, Plaque, Saint Mary's Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia (He is reported to be buried on the grounds of St. Paul's Church (Halifax))

The northeastern region of North America, encompassing New England and Acadia/Mi'kma'ki, increasingly became an area of conflict between the expanding French and British Empires. Expansion by both Empires, over a seventy-five-year period, through six wars brought the Mi’kmaq and Acadians into conflict with the invading British New Englanders.

Frontier warfare against families was the Wabanaki Confederacy and New England approach to warfare since King William's War began in 1688.[2] Over this seventy-five years, there was a long history of the Wabanaki Confederacy (which included the Mi'kmaq) killing British civilians along the New England/ Acadia border in Maine (See the Northeast Coast Campaigns 1688, 1703, 1723, 1724, 1745, 1746, 1747).

In an effort to prevent these French and Wabanaki massacres of British subjects, many Massachusetts Governors, issued a bounty for the scalps of men, women, and children of the Wabanaki Confederacy.[3] During Father Le Loutre’s War, Edward Cornwallis followed New England's example when, after the Raid on Dartmouth (1749), he attempted to protect the first British settlers in Nova Scotia from being scalped by putting a bounty on the Mi'kmaq (1749).

During the final period of this conflict, the French and Indian War, French Officers, Mi’kmaq and Acadians carried out military strikes against the British, particularly after the deportation of the Acadians and the bounty proclamation of 1756. The Mi'kmaq and their French allies conducted the Northeastern Coast Campaign (1755) in Maine and extended this campaign into Nova Scotia, attacking civilians during the raids on Lunenburg. Following the British capture of Louisbourg in 1758, Quebec in 1759, and Montreal in 1760, French imperial power was destroyed in North America. With the loss of their French ally the Mi’kmaq recognized the need for a new relationship with the British.

There were various treaties signed with other tribes of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet before the formal burying the hatchet ceremony. On 11 February 1760, two tribes of the Passamaquoddy and Saint John River came to Halifax with Colonel Arbuthnot and appeared before council, renewing the treaty of 1725, giving hostages or their good behavior. Truck houses for trade were established at Fort Frederick. Two days later, on Feb 13, a treaty was ratified with Roger Morris and one of the Mi'kmaq chiefs.[4] The following month, 10 March 1760. Three Mi’kmaq chiefs Paul Laret, (LaHave); Michael Austine (Richibucto); Calude Renie (Cheboudie and Musquodoboit) made a treaty.[5] The treaties continued even after the formal ceremony: on 15 October 1761, Jannesvil Peitougashwas (Pictock and Malogomish) made a treaty.[5]

Former ally of Father Le Loutre, French priest Pierre Maillard accepted an invitation from Nova Scotia Governor Charles Lawrence to travel to Halifax and assist in negotiating with the Mi'kmaq peoples. He became a British official ("Government Agent to the Indians", with an annual salary of £150). He asked for (and received) permission to maintain an oratory at a Halifax battery, where he held Catholic services for Acadians and Mi'kmaqs in the area.[6] In his official capacity Maillard was able to obtain agreement from most of the tribal chiefs to sign peace treaties with the British in Halifax.[7]

The Ceremony[edit]

On June 25, 1761,[8] a “Burying of the Hatchet Ceremony” was held at Governor Jonathan Belcher’s garden on present-day Spring Garden, Halifax in front of the Court House.

Representing the colony were Belcher and four members of the Nova Scotia Council: Richard Bulkeley, John Collier,[9] Joseph Gerrish,[10] and Alexander Grant.[11] Also present were Admiral Lord Colville, commander-in-chief of British naval forces in North America, Major-General John Henry Bastide, the chief engineer in Nova Scotia and Colonel William Forster, the commander of Nova Scotia’s army regiments. These three men were accompanied by a detachment of soldiers.[12]

There were at least four Mi’kmaq chiefs that signed the treaty: Jeannot Peguidalonet (representing Cape Breton), Claude Atouach (Shediac), Joseph Sabecholouet (Miramichi), and Aikon Ashabuc (Pokemouche). Representatives from other villages were also present at the treaty signing.[12]

The occasion was one of “great pomp and ceremony". The two parties faced each other near a British flag. French priest Pierre Maillard was in the middle acting as the interpreter. Belcher promised the crown would protect the Mi'kmaq from unscrupulous traders, protect their religion and not interfere with Catholic missionaries living among them. Belcher gave presents to each chief along with medals that were passed down through generations as testimony to the words that bound their people to uphold the peace. Both Belcher and the chiefs then moved to the flag post, where Belcher and the chiefs formally buried the hatchet.[12]

One of the Mi'kmaq Chiefs declared that “he now buried the hatchet on behalf of himself and his whole tribe, a token of their submission and of their having made peace."[13] The Chief of the Cape Breton Mi'kmaq’s declared: “As long as the Sun and the Moon shall endure, as long as the Earth on which I dwell shall exist in the same State as you this day, with the Laws of your Government, faithful and obedient to the Crown”.[14]

At the same time the hatchet was being buried, the Chiefs went through the ceremony of washing the paint from their bodies in token of hostilities being ended. The whole ceremony was concluded by all present drinking to the king’s health. The cornerstone of the Halifax Provincial Court (Spring Garden Road) now stands beside the spot of the burial, a symbol of peace and the rule of law.[15]


Reverend Thomas Wood at St. Paul's (1751-1764)[16]
Part of a series on the
History of
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax Town Clock.jpg
Part of a series on the
History of Nova Scotia
The Famous Bluenose (Restored).jpg
Port Royal established 1605
Conquest of Acadia 1710
Halifax established 1749
Bay of Fundy Campaign 1755
Fall of Louisbourg 1758
Representative Government established 1758
Halifax Treaties 1760-61
First significant Scottish immigration 1773
Battle of Fort Cumberland 1776
Birchtown established 1783
Capture of USS Chesapeake 1813
Freedom of the Press 1835
First Acadian MLA elected 1837
Responsible Government established 1848
‪Chesapeake Affair 1861
Co Op Movement begins 1861
‪Anti-Confederation Party elected 1867
Saxby Gale 1869
Launch of William D. Lawrence 1873
First airplane in the British Commonwealth 1909
Halifax Explosion 1917
Nova Scotia [Women’s] Franchise Act 1918
Launch of Bluenose 1922
Coal Miners' Memorial Day 1925
Pugwash Conferences established 1957
Springhill mining disaster 1958
NS Human Rights Commission established 1967
Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia established 1968
First 'Treaty Day' 1986
Westray Mine explosion 1992
First Black MLA elected 1993
Mi'kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite Forum 1997
Viola Desmond Apology 2010

The Halifax Treaties effectively established peace between the Mi'kmaq and the British by both committing to uphold the rule of law. Historians disagree about whether or not the Treaties reflect that the Mi'kmaq surrendered or not to the British.[17] Daniel N. Paul notes that the wording of the document ascribed to the Chiefs uses language and knowledge of European conventions that would be incomprehensible or unknown to the Mi'kmaq.[18]

See also[edit]



  • Paul, Daniel N. (2006). First Nations history: we were not the savages, 3rd ed. Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing. ISBN 978-1-55266-209-0. 
  • Patterson, Stephen. "Eighteenth-Century Treaties:The Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy Experience" (PDF). Native Studies Review (18, no. 1 (2009)). 
  • Reid, John G. "Empire, the Maritime Colonies, and the Supplanting of Mi’kma’ki/Wulstukwik, 1780-1820". Acadiensis (38:2 (Summer/Autumn 2009)): 78–97. 
  • Reid, John G.; Baker, Emerson W. "Amerindian Power in the Early Modern Northeast: A Reappraisal". William and Mary Quarterly (3rd series, 61 (2004)): 77–106. 
  • Wicken, William. Treaties on Trial: History, Land and Donald Marshall Junior. University of Toronto Press. pp. 215–218. 


  1. ^ Stephen Patterson. Eighteenth-Century Treaties:The Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy Experience. Native Studies Review 18, no. 1 (2009).
  2. ^ John Grenier. The first way of war: American war making on the frontier, 1607-1814 Cambridge University Press. 2005.
  3. ^ A particular history of the five years French and Indian War in New England ... By Samuel Gardner Drake, William Shirley. p. 134
  4. ^ (Atkins, p. 64)
  5. ^ a b (Atkins, p. 65)
  6. ^ These services were held "with great freedom" according to Maillard's report. Dictionary
  7. ^ The treaties he eventually secured would endure into the 21st century, becoming the legal basis for many important Mi'kmaq land claims. Daniel N. Paul website
  8. ^ Some accounts give the date as 8 July 1761
  9. ^ Hamilton, William B. (1974). "Collier, John". In Halpenny, Francess G. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. III (1741–1770) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 
  10. ^ Patterson, Stephen E. (1979). "Gerrish, Joseph". In Halpenny, Francess G. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. IV (1771–1800) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 
  11. ^ Alexander Grant, Esq. of London who moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1760. He apparently received an appointment as Indian Commerce Contractor for Canada and as Agent Victualer to His Majesty's Ships at Halifax. I have also found a vague reference to him being a member of His Majesty's Council of Nova Scotia from which point he was referred to as the Hon. Alexander Grant Esq. Alexander returned to London about 1766.
  12. ^ a b c Wicken, p. 216
  13. ^ Thomas Radall. Halifax: Warden of the North. p. 62
  14. ^ Stephen Patterson. Atlantic Canada to Confederation. p. 150
  15. ^ Atkins, History of Halifax. p. 66; Radall,
  16. ^ Thomas, C. E. (1979). "Wood, Thomas". In Halpenny, Francess G. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. IV (1771–1800) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 
  17. ^ Stephen Patterson. Eighteenth-Century Treaties:The Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy Experience. Native Studies Review 18, no. 1 (2009).
  18. ^ Paul 2006, p. 168.

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