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COSBY, ALEXANDER, military officer, lieutenant governor of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia; b. c. 1685 in Ireland; m. Anne Winniett c1726; d. 1742.

Alexander Cosby was born on the family estate of Stradbally Hall, Queen’s County (now Leix County, Republic of Ireland), the ninth son of Alexander Cosby and Elizabeth L’Estrange. When his younger sister, Elizabeth, married Richard Philipps, governor of Nova Scotia and colonel of the 40th regiment, Cosby was appointed a major in this regiment and came to Nova Scotia, probably in 1721. At first he filled purely military functions, chiefly at Canso. In 1725 he sought appointment as lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia and was obviously bitter when the position went to Lawrence Armstrong*.

Trouble between these two men began almost at once and by 1727 Armstrong was complaining that Cosby refused to obey orders or remain in his post at Canso. That same year Philipps, who had been in England since 1722, greatly aggravated the situation by appointing Cosby to succeed John Doucett* as lieutenant governor of the fort and town of Annapolis Royal and by making him a member of the Nova Scotia Council. When both Cosby and Armstrong claimed command of the troops in the fort, a stalemate was reached, with neither one accepting orders from the other. Philipps returned from England in 1729 and resumed command of the troops, thus forcing an outward settlement; but, as Philipps himself observed, “the inward Leven may still remain.”

Philipps added fuel to the quarrel when on 18 May 1730, taking advantage of Armstrong’s absence, he appointed Cosby president of the council, thus ignoring the rights of Armstrong, Paul Mascarene, John Adams, William Skene, and William Shirreff, all of whom occupied senior civil positions. When Philipps returned to England in 1731, these men made it quite clear that they would not sit on a council presided over by Cosby, and demanded redress from London. Their position was upheld by Whitehall but the difficulty had already been overcome in May 1732, when Cosby withdrew from the council because of quarrels with Armstrong.

Cosby refused to serve further under Armstrong’s command and continued to stir up discontent and controversy, assisted by his father-in-law, William Winniett, an important merchant of Annapolis Royal. The differences between Cosby and Armstrong had grown so serious that the latter was unable to leave Annapolis Royal, for fear that Cosby would seize control in his absence. Armstrong ordered him to proceed to England to account for his actions, but Cosby refused to obey. A semblance of order appears to have been restored by 1737, when Cosby was sent to command the small garrison at Canso; there he soon quarrelled with the officers serving under him.

On the death of Armstrong in December 1739, the presidency of the council went automatically to Mascarene, but he was deliberately passed over when Cosby was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the regiment on 22 March 1739/40. Conflict between the two men became inevitable. As lieutenant-colonel, Cosby was in direct control of the regiment and thus Mascarene’s superior officer. Mascarene, however, was not only in charge of civil affairs, but was also commander-in-chief of the British forces in Nova Scotia, and therefore could issue military orders to Cosby. Within three months unconfirmed rumours had spread in Annapolis Royal that Cosby would use his new military powers to order Mascarene to Canso, thus depriving him of his position as head of the civil government. By October 1740, Mascarene and Cosby were no longer speaking and the conflict continued unabated until Cosby’s sudden death at Annapolis Royal on 27 Dec. 1742. He left a widow and six children, the second of whom, Philipps, later attained the rank of admiral of the white in the British navy and succeeded to the family estates at Stradbally Hall.

Cosby appears to have been habitually quarrelsome, lacking tact and good judgement in his dealings with others, and in many respects much like his brother William, who was governor of New York and New Jersey (1731–36) and has been described as “devoid of statesmanship, seeking money and preferment.” In fairness to Alexander Cosby, however, it must be remembered that our view of him is based on the evidence of his detractors, as his own correspondence has apparently not survived.

Barry M. Moody

Mass. Hist. Soc., Mascarene family papers, Letter book, 1740–43. New Eng. Hist. Geneal. Soc., Lord Walter Fitzgerald, “Pedigree of the Cosbys of Stradbally from the 16th to the 18th century.” PAC, MG 11, Nova Scotia, A, 20, pp.94–97, 101–11, 161–62, 163–64; 21, pp.73–77; 23, pp.38–39, 40–41; 25, pp.58–59; Nova Scotia B, 3, p.27. PANS, RG 1, 9, pp.251–56, 262–66; 14, pp.186–87; 17, nos.12, 15, 23; 18, nos.39, 50, 52. New Eng. Hist. and Geneal. Register, X (1856), 143–47. N.SArchives, I; II; III; IV. Smythies, Historical records of 40th Regiment. DAB (biography of William Cosby). DNB (biography of Phillips Cosby). S. C. W. Allen, Our children’s ancestry ([Milledgeville, Ga.], 1935), 317–18. Brebner, New England’s outpost; “Paul Mascarene of Annapolis Royal,” Dal. Rev., VIII (1928–29), 501–16. Calnek, History of Annapolis (Savary). Murdoch, History of Nova-Scotia.

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Cite This Article

Barry M. Moody, “COSBY, ALEXANDER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 5, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cosby_alexander_3E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cosby_alexander_3E.html
Author of Article:   Barry M. Moody
Title of Article:   COSBY, ALEXANDER
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   December 5, 2023