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Footesteps of Pasco Foote
Zachariah Foote and the Migration to Nova Scotia
By Harriet Rockwell

Map of  Cape Forchu Nova Scotia
At some point, most of us have read about the historic events that led to the migration of scores of New England colonists to Nova Scotia in the 18th century. For those of us with an ancestor who took part in that migration, the story is especially fascinating. Recently, several descendants of Zachariah Foote who migrated to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, in 1769, shared their lineages with me.

Zachariah was a great, great grandson of the immigrant Pasco Foote of Salem. I'm not a descendant of Zachariah, but I do have a Newcomb ancestor who migrated to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, in 1760, which was the reason for my research on the migration several years ago. Then this September, I spent 9 days touring Nova Scotia and doing a bit more research for this article.

Discovery of the Land
In 1497, the English adventurer John Cabot discovered the land mass which later became the province of Nova Scotia. But it wasn't until the seventeenth century, when the French established a settlement there and began a lucrative trade in furs, that other European countries became interested.

In 1604, the Frenchman, Samuel de Champlain, explored the area at the southern end of the province and named what later became Yarmouth's Harbor "Port Forchu" meaning forked harbor. The peninsula of land that extends along the western entrance to that harbor is now known as Cape Forchu. This is the area where Zachariah Foote settled.

Early in the seventeenth century, the English disputed the French claim to the land mass, which the French had named "Acadia" meaning fertile land. The English claimed it was a British possession based on John Cabot's discovery more than a hundred years earlier.

Naming of the Land
James I, King of England, who was also James IV, King of Scotland, gave Nova Scotia (Latin for New Scotland) the name it still has today. For decades the province was a battleground between the French and the English.

In 1749, urged on by New England colonists who feared attack from the French fort on the eastern coast at Louisbourg, the British fortified its settlement at Halifax, which was south of Louisbourg, and encouraged immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland to settle there. To further strengthen their position, the British expelled thousands of the French Acadians from lands they had farmed for generations.

Several years later, the British destroyed the French fort at Louisbourg and Nova Scotia became a British possession. Within months, the British issued an invitation to New England Planters (an Elizabethan term for colonists), stating that "since the enemy (France) which had formerly disturbed and harassed the province was no longer able to do so", the farm land vacated by the Acadians as well as land in other parts of the province were available for settlement.

Land Offered
Up to 1000 acres was offered rent free for 10 years to settlers. Furthermore, those who chose to migrate to Nova Scotia, would be transported with their tools, building materials, and household goods up to a weight of two tons at the expense of the British government. In addition, the British promised that the government of Nova Scotia, would be modeled after the government of the New England Colonies and that religious freedom would be extended to all except Catholics.

This offer was particularly attractive to families in Massachusetts and Connecticut who made their living directly off the land. By 1760 the best farming lands in New England had been taken up and in many cases a large family couldn't adequately support all their children on its land once those children became adults and had families of their own.

Nova Scotia's many natural harbors and the fact that the best fishing grounds were closer to the coasts of Nova Scotia than to the coasts of New England made the British offer also very attractive to those New Englanders who made their living as fishermen, ship builders, and coastal traders.

Most of the seamen who migrated to Nova Scotia, including Zacariah Foote, came from coastal Massachusetts and settled on land around the Yarmouth harbor. For many years there were very few roads in Nova Scotia, so people wishing to travel or send goods from one part of Nova Scotia to another, or from Nova Scotia to America, and the West Indies, did so by sailing vessel. The sea was a natural highway and Nova Scotia had the advantage of being almost entirely surrounded by the sea.

The response of New Englanders to the idea of migration to Nova Scotia was tremendous, as is shown by population figures for several townships in the Province of Nova Scotia published in January of 1767, two years before Zachariah Foote migrated there. In just those townships 6,913 of the ,374 English-speaking inhabitants were reported to have been Americans; 351 of 379 in Yarmouth alone; 697 of 727 in Cornwallis; 370 of 513 in Annapolis, 1,351 of 3,022 in Halifax.

Zachariah Foote of Beverly, Massachusetts, was born in 1734, the youngest of Samuel and Elizabeth (Brown) Britton Foote's seven children. He married Elizabeth Ives and in 1769, and they migrated to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, settling on the western side of the harbor.

Zachariah was one of Yarmouth's first sea captains. Records show that there were many marriages between the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of Zachariah Foote and those of others Massachusetts families who settled in the Yarmouth area, notably the Corning, Williams, Killam, Stanwood, Vickery, and Harris families.

Abram Foote's two-volume "History and Genealogy of the Foote Family" doesn't include these marriages, but George S. Brown's Yarmouth Nova Scotia Genealogies Transcribed from the Yarmouth Herald does, and I trust the FFAA sequel to Abram Foote's work, now well underway, will also include this information. Descendants of Zachariah, you're on notice, let's make this happen. Send FFAA your lineages while there's still time.

Historians divide the 18th century New England colonists who migrated to Nova Scotia into two groups, the Pre-loyalists who migrated there between 1759 and 1774; and the Loyalists who migrated to Nova Scotia during and immediately after the American Revolution.

The two groups were different in several important ways.

The Pre-Loyalists
The Pre-loyalists went to Nova Scotia seeking new opportunities with the promise of a government modeled after the government in the American colonies. When the British attempted to levy heavy taxes on the New England colonies, and the colonies rebelled, Pre-loyalists in Nova Scotia were caught in an awkward position. Most stayed in Nova Scotia and refused to take sides, but some did side with the British, while others returned to New England to support their Patriot families and neighbors.

The Loyalists
In contrast to the American Pre-Loyalists in Nova Scotia, the Loyalists in the American colonies were in favor of continued British rule there and, for the most part, would have liked to remain in there.

In both Nova Scotia and the American colonies a substantial portion of the population had no enthusiasm for either the rebellion or its suppression, and the number and zeal of Patriots and Loyalists alike changed constantly with the varying fortunes of the war.

Relations between loyalists and their patriot neighbors became so hostile during and immediately after the Revolution that many loyalists had their properties in the American colonies confiscated and, fearing for their lives, fled to Canada.

Although Yarmouth's shipping trade with Halifax was cut off by American privateers during the war, the British appear to have paid little attention to Yarmouth. And as a result, Yarmouth seamen were able to continue some trading with the ports of Beverly and Salem, Massachusetts.

A few of them also transported American prisoners. who had escaped from British custody and found their way to Yarmouth, back to these American ports. However, by 1781 some Massachusetts residents had become suspicious that the Yarmouth traders were passing information to the British concerning patriot vessels and the General Court granted the petition of 61 merchants of Salem and Beverly for permission to search their towns and take anyone from Nova Scotia found there prisoner.

However, much sympathy for the Nova Scotia traders continued to exist and a later petition signed by 161 others, mostly seamen and escaped American prisoners who had been aided by these traders, prompted a reversal of the Courts former decision.

Trade was resumed, but the seed of suspicion had been planted, and in 1782 the vessel of David Corning of Nova Scotia, while bringing 14 American prisoners home to Massachusetts, was captured by a Salem privateer. He was later released and allowed to return with his vessel to Nova Scotia.

This David Corning was probably the David Corning who was the brother of Zachariah Foote's sons-in-law, Ebenezer and Jonathan Corning. Although I was not able to confirm that Zachariah Foote was one of the Yarmouth traders who visited the Massachusetts ports during the Revolution, Lawson's Record of the Shipping of Yarmouth, NS tells us that in 1784 "the sloop Zachariah Foote", about 25 tons, Zachariah Foote master and owner, sailed from Yarmouth for Salem, Massachusetts, about the first of January and was not afterwards heard of.

Not much is known about Zachariah Foote's life in Nova Scotia, but we do know a great deal about the temper of the times in which he lived and the issues that must have affected his life and that of other New Englanders who migrated to Nova Scotia in the 18th century.

Loyalists who "adhered to the Unity of the Empire and joined the Royal Standard in America before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783" were given the honorary title of United Empire Loyalists and were granted free land in Canada. Some were given land in Nova Scotia, but the Loyalists had emigrated under duress and they didn't mix well with the Pre-Loyalist settlers whose loyalty they doubted and whose monopoly in government positions they resented. Many soon moved on in groups to New Brunswick and Ontario.

Main sources for this article:
Some of the sources used for this article:
  • Nova Scotia's Massachusetts:
    A Study of Massachusetts-Nova Scotia Relations 1630-1784 by George A. Rawlyk

  • Canadians in the Making
    by Arthur R. M. Lower, Beverly, Massachusetts and the American Revolution.

  • One Town's Experience
    by Thomas A. Askew and Jean M. Askew, History of Nova Scotia by Peter Landry.

  • New Englanders in Nova Scotia
    by F. E. Crowell.
A special thanks to Stuart McLean of the Yarmouth County Archives, Philip Hartling of the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax and Zachariah Foote descendants Terri Foote, Mary Ann Mitchell, Janet Rice, and Judy Phillips

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(Last updated 29 December 2017)