In 1763, the French and Indian War concluded, the nearby Fortress of Louisbourg had fallen and the threat from France had been eliminated. Attention then turned to settling the recently ceded French Island of Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) which had lost most of its population during “Le Grand Dérangement”
Early immigration was minimal with several families arriving from Quebec, New England and Nova Scotia as well as immigration from the United Kingdom. Early Island settlers found it difficult to get the assistance they needed as part of the larger colony of Nova Scotia which included the three Maritime provinces at this time. However, after determined lobbying, these early Island inhabitants and their representatives were successful in establishing St. John’s Island as a separate colony on June 28, 1769.
The Islanders realized the early benefits of an independent colony and peacetime. However, little consideration was given to the downside of independence which meant that the new colony was no longer protected as part of Nova Scotia. That is until April 19, 1775, when the first shots of the American War of Independence were fired at British soldiers in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.
Royal Highland Emigrants
The Royal Highland Emigrants, also known as the 84th Regiment of Foot, was formed on June 13, 1775, after receiving Royal approval to raise the corps from North America for the defense of Quebec and Nova Scotia. The Regiment was led by Lieut. Col. Allan MacLean2 and Major John Small3 and another prominent recruiter was Capt. John MacDonald, the proprietor of Prince Edward Island Lots 36 & 37.4 The recruits were primarily veteran Highlanders who had settled in North Carolina, New York, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland after the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763. Later, the RHE would recruit from the ranks of recent Highland immigrants to PEI. During the summer and autumn of 1775, at the onset of the American Revolution hostilities in Massachusetts, the troops were deployed to their various destinations. Some members of the 84th returned to Prince Edward Island after the war and received land entitled them as Disbanded Soldiers.
St. John’s Volunteers
After the departure of the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment recruits, lacking a local militia, the island Colony found itself defenseless when 2 American privateer schooners arrived on November 17th, 1775. The “Franklin” and the “Hancock” from Beverley, Massachusetts had been actively raiding along the Maritime coast and when assailing Pictou, Nova Scotia they received local intelligence that Prince Edward Island was lightly defended. When they arrived at Charlottetown, they pillaged the better homes, stole the Mace of the Colonial Assembly, the Great Seal of the Colony and took the acting Governor Philips Callbeck and Surveyor-General Thomas Wright, a member of the Executive Council hostages. Upon the intervention of George Washington, the prisoners were released, and their return arranged. The Mace and Great Seal were never recovered. Upon his return, Callbeck relentlessly lobbied Major General Howe of Halifax for funding and supplies for a locally raised Regiment of 100 – 110 members. His efforts were in vain as Howe replied on June 4th, 1776, that that Vice-Admiral Lord Studholme would send a “sloop” to protect Charlottetown. He added that a frigate from Quebec would be tasked with keeping the “area” under surveillance adding “the company you intend to raise becomes an unnecessary measure”.
Reluctant to remain defenseless and potentially let such an incident happen twice, Callbeck prudently raised a local militia from the limited military-aged available male population that remained on Prince Edward Island. The Regiment was named the St. John’s Volunteers5 and contained 44 recruits from Prince Edward Island but attempts to recruit further troops in Newfoundland were largely unsuccessful.
Muster Roll of the St. John Volunteers taken at Charlottetown, June 12, 1784.
Royal Nova Scotia Volunteers
By 1778 American privateer activity in the Maritimes waters increased steadily, which was followed by the French declaration of War against Britain. Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton, being left with little alternative relented and reassigned Major Timothy Herlihy’s 5 companies from Cape Breton to Charlottetown where they arrived on July 17, 1778, supplementing the meagre force of the St. John Volunteers. Herlihy’s companies were a combined force of Loyalists and Nova Scotia raised troops. They would stay for a few years, returning to NS c. 1780. A detachment under Lt. Col Hierlihy would return in 1782. The regiment was disbanded on October 20, 1783.
Muster Roll of the Nova Scotia Volunteers taken at Charlottetown, June 12, 1784:
Kings Rangers, 1st Battalion
In May 1779 a Warrant was issued approving the raising of two Battalions of the Kings Rangers. The first Battalion was raised mostly in New Jersey and was led by Capt. Samuel Hayden. Operating primarily in New Jersey and later New York City, the 1st Battalion was sent to St. John’s Island late in the War. Upon disbandment of the Regiment most members were given land grants in Pownal Bay and Lot 47, Kings County, PEI.