The War of 1812 began in June 1812, when the United States of America declared war on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland — only three decades after the rebellious Thirteen Colonies had achieved their independence from Great Britain in the War of the American Revolution.
The declaration of war in 1812 meant that regardless of their proximity to or relationships with their neighbour to the south, all the remaining British North American colonies — Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island (then separate from Nova Scotia), New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario) were automatically at war with the United States.
The impact of the war in British North America was experienced mostly in Upper Canada and on the Great Lakes but the other colonies, including Nova Scotia, also had a role to play, primarily at sea. This activity was led by the Royal Navy from its North Atlantic Squadron base at Halifax, joined by privateer vessels from home ports along the Atlantic coast and Bay of Fundy.
The War of 1812 was part of a much larger European struggle which ended with the Treaty of Ghent, signed on 24 December 1814 and ratified by the United Kingdom six days later. News travelled slowly in those days, however, and it took a long time for sailing vessels carrying mail and newspapers to cross the North Atlantic in winter. As a result, the United States did not sign the treaty until February 1815 — and in the meantime unknowingly continued the hostilities, with a significant victory at the Battle of New Orleans in January.
Explore these resources on our website to learn more about Nova Scotia’s involvement in the War of 1812:
Spoils of War: Privateering in Nova Scotia — A privateer was an armed sailing vessel owned and crewed by private individuals and commissioned with a government ‘letter of marque’ authorizing use of the vessel to capture merchant enemy shipping. Today, many consider this little more than legalized piracy. Back then, however, privateering was big business, and Nova Scotia played a lead role in these wartime activities.
Acadian Recorder — Published in Halifax beginning in January 1813, this four-page weekly newspaper carried local, provincial, British and international news stories, a weekly almanac, shipping news, marriage and death notices, and a wide range of advertisements. War news was featured regularly, but appeared days, weeks and sometimes months after the actual events. See for example, the coverage given one of the most famous naval encounters of the war, the capture of the American frigate Chesapeake by HMS Shannon: the event took place off Boston on 1 June 1813; the Chesapeake was escorted into Halifax by the Shannon five days later on 6 June; the incident was finally reported another six days later, in the issue of 19 June 1813 Vol. 1 No. 23.
African Nova Scotian Diaspora: Selected Government Records of Black Settlement, 1791-1839 — The 500+ digitized government records featured here collectively tell the story of Black settlement in Nova Scotia during the years 1791-1839. The documents focus mostly, however, on the settlement of 2000 Black Refugees in the province between September 1813 and August 1816.
Halifax List: Return of American Refugee Negroes who have been received into the Province of Nova Scotia from the United States of America between 27 April 1815 and 24 October 1818 — This list is part of a larger resource, ‘African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition,’ found elsewhere on our website. The list is a numbered and alphabetical tally for 1663 Black Refugees arriving from the United States at the end of the war, and includes names or other identification, gender, age and ‘remarks.
Black Refugees, 1813-1834 — This is a virtual exhibit forming part of the larger resource referred to above, ‘African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition.’ The ‘Black Refugees’ component tells the story of the immigrants’ first twenty years of challenge and achievement in Nova Scotia, through 75 digitized documents, news clippings, documentary art and print items.