The Battle of Fort Cumberland
November 7-29, 1776 at Fort Cumberland, Nova Scotia
The Battle of Fort Cumberland (aka the Eddy Rebellion) was an attempt by a small number of militia commanded by Jonathan Eddy to bring the Revolutionary War to Nova Scotia in late 1776. With minimal logistical support from Massachusetts and 400-500 volunteer militia and Natives, Eddy attempted to besiege and storm Fort Cumberland in central Nova Scotia.
The Fort Cumberland's British defenders, the Royal Fencible American Regiment led by Joseph Goreham, successfully repelled several attempts by Eddy's militia to storm the fort, and the siege was ultimately relieved when the RFA, plus Royal Marine reinforcements, drove off the American besiegers on November 29.
In retaliation for the role of locals who supported the American siege of the fort, numerous homes and farms were destroyed, and Patriot sympathizers were driven out of the area. The successful defense of Fort Cumberland preserved the territorial integrity of the British Maritime possessions, and Nova Scotia remained loyal throughout the war.
Facts about the Battle of Fort Cumberland
- Armies - American Forces was commanded by Johnathan Eddy and consisted of about 500 militiamen. British Forces was commanded by Col. Joseph Goreham and consisted of about 200 militia.
- Casualties - American casualties were unknown killed/wounded and 5 captured. British casualties was approximately 13 killed, unknown wounded, and 56 captured.
- Outcome - The result of the battle was a British victory. The battle was part of the Northern Coastal Theater.
With a force now numbering about 72, Eddy sailed up the Bay of Fundy to Shepody Outpost. The exact location of this outpost, established probably by Joseph Goreham in September, is subject to debate. It may have been present-day Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick on the Bay's western side, or it may have been Fort Folly Point on its eastern side.
On October 25, it was there that Eddy captured a patrol of Goreham's Fencibles, commanded by Colonel Joseph Goreham. The prisoners were shipped back to Machias, and Eddy sent some of his men to Cocagne in a largely fruitless effort to enlist Mi'kmaqs in the cause. Eddy himself continued on to Memramcook, where about two dozen of the Acadian locals joined him. This enlarged force marched to Sackville, where more settlers joined the force, swelling it to about 180 men.
On October 31, the British frigate HMS Juno escorted the British supply sloop Polly to Fort Cumberland, where she docked below the fort on the Aulac River. The Polly was laden with supplies to last the fort through the winter, and work began immediately to unload those supplies. Juno, easily visible from Sackville, was a concern to Eddy, since her presence added to the fort's defenses. Fortunately for Eddy, she sailed on November 3, leaving Polly docked below the fort.
On November 4, Goreham was finally alerted to Eddy's actions when a boat sent with supplies for the Shepody patrol was informed of Eddy's activities by locals. Goreham heightened the guard on the fort, but did not immediately attempt to notify Halifax or Windsor, since he was uncertain what routes away from the fort might have been blocked by Eddy.
On November 6, Eddy's patrols began ranging closer to the fort, alerting Goreham to the approaching force. Goreham took no additional steps to protect the Polly, and any attempts to get word of his predicament out were again delayed by his decision to await the return of scouts he had dispatched earlier. That evening, thirty of Eddy's men surprised the sleepy guards aboard the Polly, taking thirteen prisoners. They also seized another ship, owned by a Patriot sympathizer, that happened to be anchored nearby.
On the morning of November 7, Goreham decided that it was time to get a message to Windsor. He sent a party of men down to the dock that morning. These men, numbering about 30, were taken prisoner by Eddy's men as rapidly as they arrived due to their unawareness that Eddy had control of the ship. The Polly was then sailed to Fort Lawrence, to the east of Fort Cumberland, where the supplies were landed. Sentries in the fort spotted the move, and Goreham, realizing Eddy had taken the ship, fired an ineffectual cannonade against the ship.
Goreham took stock of his situation. Nearly one quarter of his garrison had been captured by Eddy, along with critical fuel and other supplies that had not been unloaded from the Polly before her seizure. His defenses consisted of a hastily constructed palisade that encompassed most of the fort, and six cannons, for which his men had only completed three mounts.
The fort's military complement was 176 men, including officers and artillerymen. Over the next few days, local militia arrived to raise the garrison's size to about 200, although this included individuals not effective for combat due to illness. On both November 7 and 8 he again attempted to get messengers out of Eddy's cordon, without success.
On November 8, Eddy was joined by about 200 men from Cobequid and Pictou, and he finally felt ready to act on November 10. Eddy sent a letter demanding that Goreham surrender his garrison. Goreham refused, suggesting in retort that Eddy surrender.
On November 9, authorities outside the area learned of Eddy's activities. Michael Francklin, patrolling in the Bay of Fundy for privateers, recovered a ferry that had been taken, and learned from its passengers that Eddy was active. When the news reached Halifax through the efforts of Thomas Dixson, Lt. Governor Marriot Arbuthnot responded by dispatching orders on the 15th for any available ship based at Annapolis to go to Fort Edward in Windsor, to convoy troops to relieve the siege.
Commodore Sir George Collier had previously dispatched the HMS Vulture into the Bay of Fundy on rumors of privateering activity there, so he ordered the HMS Hope to locate the Vulture so that she could assist. However, the Hope captured a prize and returned to Halifax; she was then sent out again to accompany a supply ship to Fort Cumberland. In the meantime, the Vulture fortuitously arrived at Windsor, where she took on some marines and Fencibles.
On November 12, while lacking artillery, the rebels attempted to storm the fort, attempting a feint to draw Goreham's strength away from the weak points of the defenses. The experienced Goreham saw through the feint and repulsed the attack. One of Eddy's Maliseet warriors sneaked into the fort and very nearly opened a gate but was stopped at the last moment. Following the failed attack, Eddy effectively lost control of the expedition, as a council of leaders formed against him.
On November 22 and 23, night attacks were ordered by the council and succeeded in capturing and burning several buildings, but Goreham grimly held his ground, and the invaders were again repulsed.
On November 27, the Vulture arrived. Rather than retreat in the face of arriving relief, the rebels increased their guard; Goreham, with some intelligence about the size of the force opposing him, planned a sortie.
On November 29, in the early morning, Major Thomas Batt led 150 men from the Vulture's Royal Marine contingent and the Royal Fencible Americans, and scattered Eddy's men. Batt's men chased Eddy's militiamen, but bad weather and the lack of adequate footwear eventually caused him to call off the pursuit. Eddy's forces scattered, with many retreating overland to Maugerville.
Homes and farms of rebel supporters were burned in reprisal but British authorities took a lenient approach toward captured rebels, . Goreham issued an offer of pardon for those who would surrender their arms, which more than 100 locals accepted.
The British victory at Fort Cumberland strengthened the British presence in Nova Scotia, in part by driving Patriot sympathizers like Allan and Eddy out of the province, but also by cowing those that remained, often by requiring people to make pledges to the Crown. Some unrest continued for the remainder of the war, although no further large scale military threat occurred.
Increased British naval presence following the battle also frustrated American privateering in the region. The Americans had previously conducted raids along the Gulf of St. Lawrence with relative impunity, looting and sacking several towns.