Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

The British Colonies

A Different Model

The British colonies that emerged in the seventeenth century around the periphery of New France, in what is now Canada, were very different from their American neighbours. These settlements were small with tiny populations, living primarily from the sea. After the capture of Port-Royal, Great Britain maintained relatively large garrisons in the Atlantic region, and especially in Nova Scotia, because of the interest which France continued to show in its natural resources and strategic advantages. In 1713, four independent companies were stationed here, each consisting of three officers and 88 soldiers, including the various detachments posted to Annapolis Royal in 1710. Two years later, the strength of each company had fallen to 60 because of deaths and desertion.

Another reason for maintaining strong garrisons in this region was the difficulty in organizing militias. After the capture of Port-Royal, the population living in the conquered region was largely Acadian. The presence of these neutral Frenchmen in an English colony was a constant source of concern for the British authorities, who feared an uprising. There was certainly no thought of arming and providing military organization to people who might turn their weapons against Britain at the first opportunity. As a result, only colonists of British or American ancestry could become militiamen. In the early seventeenth century, the first Anglo-Scottish settlements had developed a sort of militia. The French who captured Fort Rosemar on Cape Breton in 1629 found 15 men armed with harquebuses and wearing burgonet helmets and cuirasses with arm-guards and thigh-pieces. Other defenders were armed with muskets and pikes. These men were clearly just as much colonists as soldiers. After 1713, the militia in this fairly modest and rudimentary colony was not given any formal military organization until 1720, when the governor issued two captain's commissions. The merchants of the area were then organized into two companies. However, their duties were apparently not solely military, because the captains were also law officers. This militia disappeared without leaving a trace.