Horror Vacui: Meeting the Quota of Pacification in Planter Nova Scotia

The control of Planter Nova Scotia, while officially British, fell practically, and unintentionally to the Aboriginal nation there long established. It was during this period, from 1760 to 1782, that the issue of pacifying the conflicted internal relations of the young province became the central focus of the external entities influencing the territory, and simultaneously its greatest hindrance and guarantor.[1] As this essay will demonstrate in four ways, the issue—indeed, fear—of empty space, and in its interim of questioned assignment in Nova Scotia, led to the very limiting spatial definition which has come to define the province and its government in that era. Through the four means of pacification, population, proportion, and presentation—which, for ease of reference, will throughout this essay be referred to as a P-Principle—the governance of what was then Nova Scotia can be assessed and rationalized.

These four facets are what constitute a definition of Planter government in Nova Scotia and reveal that the Aboriginals retained active control, and rather impressively indirectly. This is the pax indigena of Reid’s article.[2] Even a brief survey of the role of Aboriginals in sovereignty over the province prior to the Expulsion reveals an impressive record of influence. According to Reid, the conflicts waged by the British and French against one another before the arrival of the Planters were both inconclusive and equally damaging, while the de facto neutrality of the Aboriginal nations, particularly the Mi’kmaq, during these skirmishes, proved the only apparent success.[3] From these, and continual clashes, the British emerged with a two-fold plan “to counteract their chief imperial rival [France] and mend the weaknesses that had appeared in wartime,” a plan which was, according to Reid, “envisaged [as] an approach that would be both military and environmental.”[4] From this plan was laid the foundation of the P-Principle that was introduced above; from the military aspect of the imperial plan arose that approach crucial to identifying the mechanism which transferred effectual power to the Mi’kmaq: environmental strategy.


Reid speaks of the imbalance posed “between a victorious empire and disempowered Aboriginal [nation],” and stresses the strategic importance of the treaties made between the British and the Mi’kmaq of the region.[5] Without official pacification which would make it appear that one side in the epic contest for Nova Scotia was actually assisting the seemingly-wounded other side, no foothold of control could be gained. Essentially, the treaties of 1760-1761 served not merely as vehicles of concession, but more aptly as means of highly-calculated damage control which used the prospect of theoretical pacification to assert superiority; in reality, the treaties were doing anything but serving their philosophical duty of calming the storm and were allowing it to brew beneath the surface through eloquently-worded oppression.[6] While such an interpretation is one of many that Reid enumerates based on his research, it is this view of “British hegemony . . . consolidated conclusively by the early 1760s . . . in ways that could be characterized as . . . strategically expedient” that creates the tension necessary for the implosion of control in Planter Nova Scotia.[7]

That there is still debate in the courts today about the sovereignty guaranteed and limited by the treaties struck at the time of the Planter arrival shows that there is no single way to interpret the intentions of the imperial forces—both British and French—at that time, but one can observe the implications, particularly when they have seemed to have backfired and given the Aboriginals the control over the shrinking territory which had for so many years been disputed, and remains so.[8] Reid maintains this interpretation by saying that “the Aboriginal role remained diplomatically and militarily powerful far beyond the chronological point at which most historians have been willing to write it off[,]” and as will continue to be demonstrated, Reid is correct.[9] He is correct because the two imperial opponents, while officially in a time of peace during the influx of Planter emigrants, were essentially eking out the foundations of a society which they were desirous of rooting on territory which was not theirs originally, in any way. The seemingly-official intent of the Planter invitation was to establish a British colony on the territory which had been its—by their account of the story—rightfully-gained prize. It went beyond meagre aspirations of colonial growth, though, and focused realistically on making a militaristic statement in the guise of a diplomatic endeavour. The treaties, as mentioned, were damage control, sweetening, at least in British perception, the bitter realities of conquest. This leads directly and perhaps simultaneously, to the next facet of the complex ordeal: that of population.


Once the British had vindicated their side of the story by painting themselves as the deliverers of peace and order to the troubled region, they immediately endeavoured to physically reinforce not so much their commitment, but to commit to creating a human blockade against future issues. To best ascertain the notion of this essay’s interpretation, one must recognize imperial efforts as actions in transition from reactionary to active, reflective of the culture of fear not only propagated by such actions, but one which bore heavily on all classes of consciousness in the eighteenth-century. Once ceded by the French to them, the British made no immediate colonization efforts in the Nova Scotia, and their attempt remained concentrated at Port-Royal, which they recognized as Annapolis Royal. From those days of infancy in British Nova Scotia, the appearance and not so much the practice of true diplomacy pervaded subsistence; they were “confined to an enclave in Annapolis Royal,” which was not so much uniquely their own, but rather barely getting by as “the site of European enclaves of various nationalities (French, Scottish, [and] English)” according to Reid’s work.[10]

By the time that Britain had taken such dismal pursuits of community command into their own hands with the Expulsion of 1755, their imperial powerhouse in London had devised a plan to recognize their greatest fears—which included further war with the French, the past conflicts of which had already near-depleted the British coffers, as well as fears of losing Nova Scotia, which they had seemingly up to the arrival of the Planters, had no direct plan of use for—which were embedded in driving people from one locale to another, rather literally. Space became a big issue, not due to overpopulation, but a lack nearly entirely thereof. As Reid demonstrates, the only substantial British settlement in Nova Scotia was itself an enclave within one which was originally and in most every way French. The British did not found Annapolis Royal, but merely usurped it, and were unsuccessful while resident there, in pushing out the French until the Expulsion of all Acadians from the province years later.[11] What the British began to realize—and their invitation of the New England Planters was the act which declared such recognition—was that treaties between their power and other imperial forces, as well as between the Aboriginals were only as good as the parchment on which they were written.

The reality of control fell solely to physical possession. The British had spent decades, indeed, centuries, prior to the Planter project fighting back and forth through treaty and battlefield decisions alike for vast tracts of land which they did not up to that point bother securing with peopled precision. The solution came in what was essentially the pin-pointing of population efforts in regions specifically chosen to push the Mi’kmaq further into their supposed wilderness, keeping them at cultural and spatial bay, while doing the same to the French more permanently—through literal removal. This effort of physical claim and therefore, theoretical control, was facilitated through the illusion of agricultural development. Reid noted that

[a]lthough eighteenth-century Europeans would have seen agricultural development at one level as a natural and beneficial use of soil, imperial strategists were aware that it also represented an efficient means of undermining Aboriginal societies where they had become obstacles to strategic or economic ambitions. Thus, the deliberate unleashing of an agriculturally based population [from New England] on Aboriginal territory was an act of profound aggression, in which environmental destruction became a tool of empire.[12]

In essence, the introduction of the Planters to Nova Scotia was an act no short of terrorism, seeking to dismantle the established and natural order of the Aboriginals there. The Mi’kmaq were not agricultural, but as was fairly obvious, and crucial, the Planters were. It was the means which the Mi’kmaq would challenge in order to gain their own foothold.


In conclusion, the Mi’kmaq gained true control of Planter Nova Scotia by scaring the transplanted inhabitants by threatening those spatial boundaries required by the British imperial power to oust their efforts to gain such a claim. The Britsh, focused too much on making their efforts appear as diplomatic and peaceful, actually undermined what could have been their genius, and gave the final push needed to make the Aboriginals finally decide on hostility. Theirs was certainly a much more subdued hostility, but one founded on the preciseness of proportion, and too, relying on the delicate art of presentation. It was all about who appeared to have power, not so much who had it by way of written documents.[13]


Reid, John G. “Pax Britannica or Pax Indigena? Planter Nova Scotia (1760-1782) and Competing Strategies of Pacification,” The Canadian Historical Review 85, 4 (December 2004): 669-692.

[1] John G. Reid, “Pax Britannica or Pax Indigena? Planter Nova Scotia (1760-1782) and Competing Strategies of Pacification,” The Canadian Historical Review 85, 4 (December 2004): 672.

[2] Ibid., 669.

[3] Ibid., 676.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 672.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 692.

[9] Ibid., 672.

[10] Ibid., 674.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 675.

[13] Ibid., 681.