George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Bowdoin, 31 May 1780

Boston May 31 1780

Dear Sir

Since the last Post, by Which I had the Honour of writing to you, I have seen a Gentleman well acquainted with Nova Scotia, and particularly with Halifax, whose account concerning them, I doubt not, may be depended on. It represents the State of things as they were in December last.

Very fortunately I had Some business with him, which gave me a good opportunity of entering into Conversation with him on the military State of that Province: the result of Which is contained in the paper enclosed, whose contents I communicated to majr Genl Heath. The Situation and description of Halifax & its Defences will be made intelligible by the plan, wch accompanies that Paper. If these Papers Should give any valuable information to yr Excy, and our good Allies, it will afford me the highest satisfaction. I have the honour to be to be with the sincerest regard Sir Yr Excy’s most obedt hble Servt

James Bowdoin

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


c.31 May 1780

The Letters a b c &c. refer to the enclosed Plan of the Town & Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia, copied from a printed one.

a The Arsenal, Surrounded by a Wall 16 ft high, wch
includes about ten acres. On the inside against the wall
are buildings for the reception of Stores &c.: on the top
of wch Buildings is a walk all round, above which the Wall
forms a Breast-work abt four feet high. Within this
Enclosure is the Commissioner’s house.
Last Summer there werein this Arsenal Cables, Cordage,
Sails, &c. &c. &c. to the value of one million pounds
A little North of this is a Fort with Several ps of
cannon, which commands the Harbour above George’s Island.
b The Citadel, or a Strong Fort (inclosed) on the Back of
the Town, and west of a line of Palisades with Blockhouses.
It is about one quarter of a mile from the Water, on a very
high hill, which overlooks the Town & commands the harbour:
the perpendicular height of it above the water being 263
feet, and the flat top of it containing six or eight acres.
It is planned
for 5 bastions in the lower works, and 4 bastions, higher
up the hill, beside Cannon on the Top. Each Bastion when
compleated will have ten ps of Cannon. The Bastions next
the Harbour are completed, and the other were intended to
be so this spring.
c A Battery (not inclosed) of 22 Guns, 48 poundrs next
the water, on the South Side of the Town.
dddd. A Breast-work with a Ditch on the back of, and
including, the Town & all the Sd Works: being about two
miles in length, & having Several Spurs with a Cannon in
each to Scour the Ditch.
e a Small post wth Several Small Cannon on a hill to the
Westward of the Sd Breastwork, & commanded by the Citadel.
f A Battery (not enclosed) of about 12 Guns 24 poundrs on
the Point formed by the harbour & Sandwich river, or the N.
West Arm.

These are all the defensive works, that were in Decr last on the West Side of the harbour: but there is a very high large flat rock inaccessible next to the water & bordering on it, near a mile North of Sandwich Point, & opposite to Mauger’s Beach, where Genl McLane talked of making a Fort, & is a very proper place for one: viz; on the flat top of the rock at g.

On George’s Island (between the Town & the opposite shore) is a Strong Fort with 5 Bastions, each containing ten ps. of Cannon of 24 & 32 prs Situated about 70 or 80 feet (perpendicular) above the water: & also with 4 Bastions Still higher, each containing Six Cannon 24rs making in the whole 74 ps. of Cannon. The top of this Island is about 130 feet perpendicular above the water. These are enclosed works.

A Battery (not enclosed) of 16 Guns 24rs, on the Back of which is a Barrack for 300, or 400 Men & a Block house with several small Cannon, both enclosed with a Breast-work. These being on the East Side of the harbour, a little more South than George’s Island.

I could not learn there were any other Land-works for defence.

To the Westward of Halifax Harbour is a fine deep Bay called St Margaret’s Bay, in which are many Islands. The depth of water is Such, that a first rate Ship of war can go to the head of it. It is noticed here, because the head of it is not above 14 miles across by land to the town of Halifax; and (if I do not mis-remember) the ground open & the travelling good. This observation was Suggested by another map we had before us, called "A new Map of Nova Scotia & Cape Britain &c. published May 1755 by Thos Jeffries, London."

There were 6 Regiments of regulars in the Province with about 500 men in each, thus disposed of, viz.: 1 at Annapolis, 1 at other posts, and 4 at Halifax. The whole Militia of the Province are abt five thousand. They were 2 or 3 years ago unwilling to take up arms: but for divers reasons will be disposed to it now for the defence of the Province. The Militia of Halifax (part of the 5000) are about 1100, & well disciplined. In the County of Lunenburg are 750 within the compass of 12 miles, that can be collected in 3 hours at Lunenburg 15 leagues from Halifax. Between these two places there is either no road, or the road bad. There are but few Inhabitants in the Province to the East of Halifax.

There was a 64 Gun Ship Stationed at Halifax near the arsenal with her Guns on board. She was used as a Hulk, by which to heave Vessels down: But can be moved to answer the Purpose of a floating Battery. A 74 Gun Ship arrived from N. York last [Fall] & a Small Frigate. These were the only armed Vessels at Halifax in Decr last. General McLane has greatly Strengthened Halifax within these 12 months past: having employed the Soldiers & 600 of the Militia in that Service. He is a vigilant & good Officer, and what adds to his character is, that he has well used our People, who were Prisoners at Halifax.


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