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History of the Scots in New Scotland (Nova Scotia)

Contributed by Janet Mackay

New England, New France and New Spain were already established on this side of the Great Atlantic Roar" when New Scotland was founded by Sir William Alexander, and King James of Scotland in the early 1600s. At that time, New Scotland consisted approximately of the Atlantic Provinces as we know them today, and the Gaspe Peninsula.

Sir William Alexander with King James devised a settlement scheme of granting the title "Baronet of Nova Scotia" to any who would purchase large grants of land in New Scotland (Nova Scotia), secure and settle those lands. These Baronets of Nova Scotia received their lands in New Scotland (Nova Scotia) during the ancient ceremony of "Earth and Stone" while standing on a plot of land deemed by imaginative legalese to be part of New Scotland (Nova Scotia).

William Alexander, son of Sir William Alexander, brought out settlers to Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in the late 1620s and established Charles Fort there. When the colony again went back to the French, about three years after their arrival, these Scottish emigrants were required to return to Scotland.

More than a century later, when the French and the English had finished their "tug of war" in claiming Nova Scotia from each other, and the English finally kept it, Scottish emigrants again began to come here. They settled in all parts of Nova Scotia. When the 1871 census was taken, the Scots made up the greater percentage of the population in Colchester, Inverness, Pictou and Victoria Counties. They also settled in large numbers in each of the other counties and became one of the leading groups in developing New Scotland (Nova Scotia).

These Scots came from all regions of Scotland, and for many reasons. Those emigrating from the Lowlands of Scotland, such as Dumfries and the border areas, were seeking adventure and a better opportunities in the new colony. They settled in many areas of mainland Nova Scotia.

In the mid 1700s, Governor Lawrence invited people in New England to come to Nova Scotia and settle the lands vacated after the expulsion of the Acadiens. Those who came, and now known as the Planters. They had been settled in New England for about a century. Among them were many Scottish people who had fled from Scotland to Ireland to gain freedom to pursue their religious persuasions. They settled mainly in the Truro and Londonderry areas, and are known in New Scotland (Nova Scotia) as the Ulster Scots.

Following defeat at the Battle of Culloden, life and times became very difficult in the Highlands. The people were forbidden to speak their language (Gaelic), play the Bagpipes (considered instruments of war) or to wear their Highland dress. The economy went from bad to worse, and the atrocities committed on the Highlanders by Butcher Cumberland and his followers left tales almost too horrible to tell. The Highlanders, if they could, left.

The first Highlanders to come to Nova Scotia arrived on the Ship Hector at Pictou in 1773. Through the years, up to and especially during the Highland Clearances, shipload after shipload of Highland emigrants crossed the difficult seas to Nova Scotia. The main ports of entry was Pictou, followed by Sydney, Halifax and others. Pictou became rightly known as the Birthplace of New Scotland

Other Highlanders went to the Carolinas in the USA as we know it today. They were required to take an Oath not to fight against the British. When the American Revolution broke out, they found themselves fighting with the British. Many Regiments, such as the 82nd and 84th Regiments, came to Windsor, Nova Scotia to train. The 82nd and 84th Regiments were disbanded in Nova Scotia, and the soldiers given land grants in Hants, Halifax, Cumberland and Pictou Counties.

Following the war, many came with other Loyalists to Nova Scotia to begin their lives yet again. They settled mainly in the western regions of Nova Scotia. It is interesting that in Digby area, there is a small coastal community by the name of Culloden.

Today, the descendants of these Scots and others who came after them -=- many arriving even in our time -=- form a major part in the life and development of Nova Scotia. We look back in time to remember the original inhabitants of Nova Scotia, the Micmac people, and honour them with much gratitude for their kindness and help to the first Highland settlers. We look forward in time to a more Multicultural community in Nova Scotia, and participate in the Multicultural Associations and Councils throughout New Scotland (Nova Scotia).

"The only difference between our ancestors and the Boat People (Vietnam emigrants, in their struggles for freedom)," said Rev. Robert McClure in addressing the North British Society in January 1985, "is 200 years."

Sir William Alexander

When old sea dogs regaled King James I with tales of the New World, Sir William Alexander listened. He noted New England, New France and New Spain. There was NO New Scotland!

In Victoria Park (Halifax, Nova Scotia), a cairn succinctly states Sir William's accomplishments:

Sir William Alexander
   Statesman, Colonizer

His efforts to create a New
Scotland in the New World
led to the Royal Charter of
Nova Scotia, 1621
Attempts at settlement 1622-3
The creating of the Order
of Knight Baronets of
Nova Scotia 1624-5
The Coat-of-Arms of
Nova Scotia, 1626
and the occupation of
Port Royal
by Scottish settlers, 1629-32

You can see pictures of the cairn at

In 1621, King James granted Sir William territory between New England and Newfoundland as New Scotland (Nova Scotia). The Baronets of Nova Scotia were created, as a settlement scheme.

Nova Scotia (approximately the Maritimes today) was divided into provinces, each sub-divided into dioceses. Each diocese was divided into three counties, then each county into ten Baronies of 16,000 acres each.

Each Baronet paid 1000 merks for his Barony and 2000 merks to maintain six soldiers in the colony for two years.

Under Scots Law, Baronets "take sasine" by receiving symbolic "earth and stone" on the actual land. Part of Edinburgh Castle was deemed granted to Sir William as part of Nova Scotia. The Baronets were installed with "earth and stone" there while standing in Nova Scotia. Each received a badge on an orange ribbon, worn about the neck.

In 1629, Sir William Alexander's son brought 70 settlers to Port Royal and built Charles Fort. When the land was returned to France (1632), the Scots left.

Baronet of Nova Scotia is a hereditary title. They enjoy the privilege of wearing the arms of Nova Scotia as a badge, are addressed as Sir, and place Bt. or Bart. after their names.

Three years after Hon. Angus L. Macdonald, then Premier of Nova Scotia, unveiled a plague at Edinburgh Castle (1953) commemorating Sir William Alexander and Baronets of Nova Scotia, Menstrie Castle (Sir William's birthplace) was scheduled for demolition. Attempts to bring Menstrie Castle to Halifax failed when Scots pleaded that it remain in Scotland.

Scots, many in Nova Scotia, financed restoration of Menstrie Castle and established the Nova Scotia Commemoration Room there.

23 stones from a staircase, of which the Victoria Park cairn is constructed, are all Halifax obtained of the Castle.

Today the Nova Scotia Commemoration Room requires repair and refurbishing. The National Trust for Scotland seeks help from Nova Scotians for renovations.

Hon. T. G. D. Galbraith, Parliamentary Secretary of State for Scotland, noted: "If Menstrie castle had to go, it could not have gone to a more beautiful or appropriate place, but I am glad that it has been left standing where it has stood, impregnable, for four centuries."


Pictou is a beautiful little town located on Nova Scotia's Northumberland shore. It is a very historic town which draws travelers from around the world. Pictou, heralded as the birthplace of New Scotland, is the home of the first Scottish Settlers. It was in Pictou in 1773, the first boatload of Scottish immigrants landed from the Ship Hector. This picturesque town is easily accessible off the Trans Canada 104, off exits 20 and 22.

The town is a fishing and shipbuilding centre, home to many medium and small businesses, including local craft shops. The recent development of the waterfront has thrust Pictou in the forefront of tourism. The Ship Hector project is the focus of the waterfront development. The aim of the project is to construct the Ship Hector over a period of 10 to 15 years to emphasize the construction of the ship during this period. The new Hector Quay Marina will offer docking facilities in the downtown area. The Hector Trust Archives, Hector Nat. Exhibit Centre and McCulloch House are also located in the town.

Many local festivals and events take place during the summer season, including the famous Lobster Carnival. The Hector Festival takes place in August at the deCoste Entertainment Centre. The nearby marina and boat docking facilities allow boating enthusiasts to visit the town by water. There is plenty for you to do and see in this historic community! It is also located within minutes of the Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island ferry. This is the only ferry that goes to Prince Edward Island from the province. This makes Pictou a terrific stop for a couple days before and after the one hour ferry trip to or from the Island. Plan to make this historic town a stop in your travels.



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