Nova Scotia

Kopit Hopson 1752? The story behind a Canadian Coast Guard ship's unusual new name

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Edward Cornwallis was renamed CCGS Kopit Hopson 1752 this week, leaving some people wondering who Kopit Hopson was, and what happened in 1752.

The former Edward Cornwallis has been renamed after a treaty signed 269 years ago

The coast guard ship once known as the Edward Cornwallis will soon have its new name displayed. (Submitted/Canadian Coast Guard)

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Edward Cornwallis was renamed CCGS Kopit Hopson 1752 this week, leaving some people wondering who Kopit Hopson was, and what happened in 1752.

The new name honours two people — Peregrine Hopson, the person who replaced Cornwallis as governor of Nova Scotia, and Kopit, a Mi'kmaw leader.

Cornwallis, a British military officer, had been sent to Nova Scotia to found Halifax in 1749. By 1752, he was regularly asking his superiors to find a replacement for him and to let him return to England. In the summer of 1752, he got his wish.

Hopson, another British military officer, replaced him. After a short handover ceremony in August 1752, Cornwallis boarded a ship bound for England, never to return, and Hopson moved into the governor's house inside the fortress city growing at the foot of Citadel Hill.

'I found Mr. Cornwallis extremely distressed'

"Upon my examining into the state of affairs of the province, I found Mr. Cornwallis extremely distressed, by having on his hands in and about this place all the foreign settlers who arrived the years 1750 and 1751, whom he had not been able to send out from hence to make any settlement at a distance," Hopson wrote to his superiors upon taking command. 

The more prosperous settlers had left England with the promise they would be given large estates suitable for farming in Nova Scotia.

The poorer settlers, including many "foreign" refugees fleeing Europe's wars, often came with nothing but the clothes on their back. They had been recruited by British agents who promised them Britain would provide everything they needed. But because they couldn't get out of Halifax, they couldn't start to make their own way.

On average, the Crown had to pay for everything for the first nine months the settlers lived in Nova Scotia. 

This illustration shows Halifax in 1750, much the way it would have looked to Kopit and Hopson. (Nova Scotia Archives)

Hundreds of these settlers were crammed inside the fortified city, forced to rely on government provisions. Often, they slipped away for more comfortable lives in Britain's Boston states. It was all costing the Crown a fortune and putting Nova Scotia's future in jeopardy. 

Hopson needed to slash the budget. He was told not to hire locals to work for Halifax, but to use indentured servants — European refugees who had been brought to Halifax at the government's expense, and who had to work a term of some years to repay the transit and settlement costs. 

He was also instructed to disband Gorham's Rangers, a mercenary force Cornwallis had relied upon to harass the Mi'kmaq out of Nova Scotia. Hopson also stopped offering the "scalping proclamation," a government bounty for killing Mi'kmaq. 

Sickly settlers

Hopson soon realized that while Britain claimed to own all of Nova Scotia, it really only held Halifax and Annapolis. The rest was controlled by Mi'kmaq or Acadians. Mi'kmaw warriors maintained a strong grip on their land and British settlers feared attack if they left the fortress. 

Hopson saw the first Haligonians as "poor old decrepit creatures." Some were frail people in their 80s. Dozens of children had been orphaned in the strange land. 

Peregrine Hopson had a vision for peace, but his eyes failed and he had to leave Nova Scotia. (Nova Scotia Archives Photo Collection)

"No mortal that has the least humanity can do otherwise than feel to the very heart at the sight of such a scene of misery as it is," Hopson wrote. He feared the winter would make it worse. 

He asked London to stop sending settlers until he could get the current ones out of Halifax and onto land outside the fortress where they could earn their own keep. To do that, he had to resolve the conflict with the Mi'kmaq. 

Where Cornwallis sought to conquer and coerce the Mi'kmaq, Hopson sought negotiations and consent. Hopson sent emissaries around Mi'kma'ki to discuss peace and trade. 

A partner for peace

He got a quick response from Kopit, an important Mi'kmaq who was chief of the Sipekne'katik people.

Kopit had been born in 1698, nearly a century after his people welcomed the early French settlers known as the Acadians. The French had long had a missionary post in Kopit's area and Kopit grew up fluent in the region's politics.

Kopit spoke Mi'kmaq, French, and likely at least some English.

He had dealt with the French government before and earned the title major, which he often used when negotiating with Europeans.

It gave them a framework to understand him. The Mi'kmaq didn't rely on hierarchy to determine who would lead them. Instead, Kopit and other leaders earned their status through merit, and with the consent of their people.

The two leaders sat down in September 1752 in Kjipuktuk, the Great Harbour, which the British called Halifax.

Kopit put his opening demand on the table: the British had taken land for Halifax without Mi'kmaw permission, so they should pay for it now. Hopson rejected that idea, but negotiations continued. 

Burying the hatchet

Kopit and Hopson developed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship. The eight-article treaty, which can be read in a few minutes, re-affirmed earlier treaties between the British and Mi'kmaq and created new terms for peace. 

Article 2 stated "all transactions during the late war shall on both sides be buried in oblivion with the hatchet" and they actually buried a hatchet. 

Kopit promised that his people would rescue any European settlers they found shipwrecked on their territory and bring them safely to Halifax, where the Mi'kmaq would be compensated for their troubles.

He pledged to try to bring other Mi'kmaw groups on board with the peace and trade plan and to stop any Mi'kmaw warriors from attacking British settlers.

In return, he extracted a promise from Hopson that his people would have "free liberty" to hunt and fish and to set up trade posts. Mi'kmaq were permitted to enter Halifax and all other settlements to sell that catch to the settlers, along with blankets, tobacco, gunpowder and ammunition. 

Hopson ordered British forces to stop attacking Kopit's people, or "they shall answer the contrary at their peril." 

The eight-article treaty was signed in 1752. It shows the name Kopit used when dealing with Europeans: Jean-Baptiste Cope. (Nova Scotia Archives)

While the British declined to pay for the Halifax land, they did offer a "gift" that satisfied Kopit. Twice a year, each Mi'kmaw family would get a supply of bread, flour and other provisions.

Hopson and Kopit agreed that the great treaty would be celebrated on Oct. 1 each year, when they would meet and receive the "gift."

Under Cornwallis's rule, the Mi'kmaq had been declared bandits and outside of the rule of British law. The new treaty would ensure that during any disputes between Mi'kmaq and British settlers, both sides could find justice in the British courts. 

After long negotiations, Hopson and Kopit signed the treaty on Nov. 22, 1752. It promised both sides "a new start."

It seemed Hopson and Kopit had ushered Mi'kma'ki/Nova Scotia into a new era of peace, where Mi'kmaq, Acadians and British settlers — comprising refugees from across Europe — would live separately, yet together.

Hopson was finally able to get the settlers out of Halifax to establish Lunenburg. 

Violence shatters the peace

But just a few months into the peace, four British settlers raided a Mi'kmaw village near today's Jeddore. The locals fought back and killed two of the raiders; two others fled. Those men soon shipwrecked near Torbay where, under the terms of the new treaty, the Mi'kmaw villagers rescued them, unaware of what had just happened. 

The British raiders killed those people too and took all of their scalps, though the government was no longer offering cash for such grisly evidence. 

Kopit demanded the men be tried by the British, as the treaty promised. But the men never faced trial. It's not clear why Hopson violated the treaty. 

Kopit felt betrayed and according to some reports, burned a copy of the treaty, saying the English had broken it barely six months after signing it. He launched a retaliatory attack against British diplomats, killing several of them. 

As the Kopit-Hopson vision of peace faltered, Hopson's own vision started to fail. He had severe eye problems and returned to England in 1753 for treatment. He returned to Halifax, but so did his eye problems. In 1755, he had to step down to get treatment. 

Hopson was replaced by Charles Lawrence. Mi'kmaw leaders proposed a two-state solution that could bring a lasting peace.

Each nation would remain in its own section of Mi'kma'ki/Nova Scotia and neither side would be allowed to enter the other's territory without permission. 

The Mi'kmaq said the offer was "very moderate and very limited in view of the immensity of the land they did possess." 

Lawrence called it "extravagant" and rejected it. He said it wasn't even worth replying to, as the proposed solution was "insolent and absurd." 

The Mi'kmaq offered to discuss the borders, but that too was rejected. In 1755, Lawrence started the expulsion of the Acadians, driving the Mi'kmaw's closest allies out of Nova Scotia. 

Daniel Paul's book, We Were Not the Savages: Collision Between European and Native American Civilizations, helped open the debate about Edward Cornwallis's legacy. (Steve Berry/CBC)

France and England fell into the Seven-Year War across the world, including in North America. France was eventually defeated, leaving Britain alone to rule Nova Scotia. Mi'kmaw people were forced onto small, poor land and entered a deadly period that nearly led to their extinction decades later. 

Hopson died in 1759 on a military expedition to Guadeloupe. Kopit's fate is less documented, but he likely died around 1760. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld their treaty in the 1980s, affirming it still governs people today.

It was the promise of their peace and friendship treaty that led Mi'kmaw elder Daniel Paul to suggest the coast guard rename the Cornwalllis the CCGS Kopit Hopson 1752.

Paul said the 1752 treaty shows what can be accomplished when people on opposing sides sit down and decide to do something positive.

"We're still here and we've got to learn to live together and prosper together and get rid of the thing called systemic racism," Paul said.

Bernadette Jordan, the federal minister responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard, said the new name honoured the historic treaty. 

"They envisioned a partnership built on mutual respect and service to one another. The core values of the Canadian Coast Guard are honour, respect, and devotion to duty, and this vessel now has a name that reflects those principles," Jordan said Monday.

"Reconciliation is a journey, and we will continue to work together to honour the promises made in the treaties."


with files from Haley Ryan