This short history of the Foreign Protestants is an excerpt from a small family history that I wrote several years back for my wife's relatives. As anyone who knows the subject will immediately recognize, it is heavily indebted to Bell's "History of the Foreign Protestants and the Settlement of Nova Scotia". That is the one book that is an absolute "must" for anyone interested into going more deeply into the subject.
Nova Scotia had originally been settled by the French in the 1500s, but it had changed hands between the French and the British several times in the 17th century as a result of the Colonial Wars fought throughout North America over that period. By the Treaty of Utrecht at the end of Queen Anne's War in 1713, Britain had gained control of the peninsular part of present day Nova Scotia; Cape Breton Island remained in the hands of the French. Compared to the relatively thriving British colonies of that period, peninsular Nova Scotia was thinly populated in 1713. It consisted of a few French villages and hamlets scattered among Indian villages with only one small town of any note, the fortified former French capital at Port Royal on the western shore.
In 1744, fighting between France and England resumed in the Nova Scotia area when they were drawn into the European War of the Austrian Succession on opposite sides. Although the British succeeded in capturing the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton, the peace treaty of 1748 reflected the more favorable French performance in the European area. All of Cape Breton was restored to the French and the western boundary of British Nova Scotia redefined. The French almost immediately took advantage of ambiguities in the boundary definition to station military forces in the western areas of the Nova Scotia peninsula claimed by the British.
The British position in Nova Scotia in 1749 was somewhat precarious. Even after more than thirty-five years, British dominion over peninsular Nova Scotia still had more the character of an occupation of a foreign country than that of an established British colony. There were several reasons why only a small number of British inhabitants had settled in Nova Scotia. Its harsh climate and hostile circumstances offered little attraction when compared to the more benign conditions in the colonies to the south, putting Nova Scotia at a disadvantage in attracting voluntary immigration. In addition, in the period from 1713 to 1749 the British navy had resisted proposals for various large scale royal land grants in Nova Scotia on the grounds that they first needed to be assured that sufficient areas would be reserved as timber stands for their ships.
The arrangements for governing Nova Scotia reflected this lack of substantial British settlements in the colony. The royal governor and his council ruled without any local legislature and all financial matters were directly administered by the King's Board of Trade and Plantations in London.
Most of the French and Indian inhabitants "tolerated" British rule but, by and large, continued to resist giving formal allegiance to the British Crown. Aside from the few fortified strongholds that the British had erected along the coasts, effective control over most of the colony was contested by bands of Indian and French guerrillas. In general, armed patrols were needed to travel any distance from the few British strongholds that had been built along the coasts. In fact, Halifax itself was a British town that had only been established in 1749 as a stronghold on the eastern coast to counterbalance the French fort at Louisbourg.
By late 1749, the unresolved tensions between France and Britain pointed toward the likelihood of war resuming between them once again in the near future. The British Board of Trade and Plantations then decided on a policy of aggressively recruiting "suitable" immigrants for Nova Scotia. They resolved to rely on additional financial inducements, if necessary, to overcome the disadvantages of Nova Scotia in the competition with other colonies for immigrants. With relatively prosperous conditions in the British Isles at that time, all of the British North American colonies were having trouble attracting British immigrants and several had undertaken programs of offering subsidies and other inducements to foreigners .
Influenced by the Pennsylvania Colony's recent success in recruiting immigrants, the Board of Trade and Plantations settled on "German Protestants" as being the most fruitful target for this recruiting effort. They reasoned that conditions in Germany at that time were unsettled and depressed by the nearly continuous fighting of the past century. Thus, it might be possible to attract industrious peasants and artisans with offers of free land and other subsidies. Furthermore, the British at that time considered the Germans to be cultural cousins; Britain itself was ruled by King George II, who was also the German Elector of Hanover. German Protestants were thus seen as innately likely to attach their loyalty to that King. If war should resume between Britain and France, they would serve as a loyal counterweight to the existing, predominantly French Catholic, population in Nova Scotia.
On December 31, 1749, the British Board of Trade and Plantations in London negotiated an initial contract for this recruiting effort with their agent for continental Europe, John Dick. He almost immediately began to sign up immigrants and was sufficiently successful in his early efforts to be able to charter one ship, the Ann, to sail from Rotterdam with his first recruits during the 1750 summer sailing season. The Ann arrived in Halifax with 321 immigrants on September 13, 1750, after a crossing of over twelve weeks and with the loss of seventeen passengers.
Although the length of the crossing and the mortality rate were not considered to be significantly unusual for that period, the Board of Trade and Plantations was concerned that it might serve as a discouragement for future recruiting. Consequently, they renegotiated the contract with Mr. Dick so as to provide for improved sailing conditions: higher standards of ventilation, less crowding, and more ample food and water rations. In the 1751 summer sailing season, Mr. Dick was able to send out four ships with 1,004 immigrants, but the mortality rate was still relatively high ã 87 fewer passengers were landed than embarked.
As part of the 1752 recruiting efforts, Mr. Dick's representatives visited Montbeliard, where Jacques Bissett and his family were living. As with most of the region, Montbeliard had a chaotic history. In the 12th century, Montbeliard had been a province within the Holy Roman Empire with a mixed French and German heritage. The German House of Wrttemberg incorporated it as an integral part of its Duchy in 1397 and had ruled it, albeit with significant interruptions, from that day. During the persecutions of the Protestants in France in the later part of the 17th century, the area had been overrun by French Huguenot refugees, many of whom settled in Lutheran Montbeliard.
As a result of the many wars over the ensuing years, by 1752 Montbeliard had become geographically separated from the rest of the Duchy of Wurttemberg by an expanding France. Although the German House of Wurttemberg still ruled over Montbeliard, it had found it necessary to concede that its rule, outside of the main town, was only as an agent of the King of France. Although the Wurttemberg rulers did not enforce the King of France's edicts for the restoration of Catholicism in Montbeliard, neither did they aggressively put down the French inspired mobs who sought its enforcement in the countryside. This atmosphere of uncertainty over the direction of the region proved to be an ideal supplement to the other inducements offered by Mr. Dick to move to the friendly Protestant British colony of Nova Scotia. The terms offered to the 1752 immigrants must have appeared to be very attractive. The fare for transport across the Atlantic was fixed at $2750 (estimated in 1995 U.S. dollars) for each adult over sixteen years old. This was considered to be somewhat cheaper than the going rate at the time. Minor children, between four years old and sixteen years old, would be charged half-fare and children under four would be free. The British Government would make them an interest free loan covering their fares and any incidental costs incurred while awaiting boarding in Rotterdam; usually, a fifteen percent surcharge on the principal was added to cover interest. The loan could be paid off at the rate of $20 a day by work that the immigrant would be liable to provide the Nova Scotia government on various public works, such as building forts, laying roads, etc. If the "settler" died before the loan was fully paid off, then ã contrary to custom ã the balance would be waived and his family not held responsible. Enough land for a large farm, along with the basic farming implements and materials to build a house, would be provided to each settler and his family without charge. For their first year in Nova Scotia, they were to be housed and fed by the government. Although the immigrants were themselves financially responsible for getting to Rotterdam, Mr. Dick's representatives would assist them in obtaining transportation.
Yet, in spite of the attractiveness of the offer, the decision to emigrate could not have been easy. The trip itself was highly dangerous. Almost 10% of the individuals who embarked at Rotterdam for Nova Scotia in the years 1750 through 1752 died while crossing the Atlantic. The climate in Nova Scotia was harsh and would contribute to making the clearing and farming of virgin land difficult. The Indian and French inhabitants were overtly hostile and often conducted guerilla raids against small British settlements. If the people listening to the inducements of Mr. Dick's representatives did not know all of this on their own, they most likely were soon told by others. Mr. Dick's letters to the British Board of Trade and Plantations are filled with complaints that recruiters for other American colonies were discouraging potential immigrants from signing up for Nova Scotia; and even causing them to renege after they had signed.