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HANDFIELD, JOHN, military officer, member of the Nova Scotia Council; m. Elizabeth Winniett; d. c. 1763.

Little is known of John Handfield’s early life. Commissioned an ensign in Philipps’ regiment (the 40th Regiment of Foot) in February 1719/20, he spent his entire military career in Nova Scotia. In 1721 he was among the officers signing an indictment of Lieutenant John Washington*’s behaviour and in the winter of 1729/30 he witnessed the oath obtained by the governor of Nova Scotia, Richard Philipps, from the Acadians of the Annapolis River area. By 1731 he had built a home at Annapolis Royal (formerly Port-Royal) “at a Considerable Charge for the Conveniency of his ffamily. . . .” Mention of his family would indicate that his marriage to the daughter of William Winniett had taken place by this time.

Promoted lieutenant in April 1731, he was appointed to the council, along with his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Edward Amhurst, and Ensign John Slater, in November 1736. Lieutenant Governor Lawrence Armstrong* described the new members as “Men of Sense & Merit. . . .” For 13 years Handfield regularly attended council meetings, contributing to the discussions and serving on committees. In 1740 he was promoted captain. He was still at Annapolis Royal in 1744 when French troops under the command of François Du Pont* Duvivier unsuccessfully besieged the fort.

A break in his Annapolis service came in 1749 when Paul Mascarene, the commanding officer of the garrison there, was instructed to send 100 men to Minas to meet the French and Indian threat in the area. Handfield was in charge of the contingent and, in one skirmish with the Indians, his son, Lieutenant John Handfield, was taken prisoner. By the early 1750s Handfield was back in Annapolis Royal commanding the troops there. He was granted a commission as justice of the peace in July 1751 and, because there was no clergyman present at the time, he received permission to perform the marriage ceremony between his daughter and John, son of Otho Hamilton, in August 1752. As commandant of Annapolis Royal, Handfield was ordered to threaten with severe punishment “such Inhabitants as Communicate too much with the French” and to try to prevent the Acadians and the English traders on the Bay of Fundy from supplying the French and Indians with corn. These instructions were embarrassing for him since one of the individuals suspected by Governor Charles Lawrence of trading with the enemy was his brother-in-law, Joseph Winniett.

The Acadian deportation provided another occasion when Handfield was torn between personal relationships and his duty as a British officer. In August 1755 he received instructions that the Acadians were to be “dispersed among his Majesty’s Colonies upon the Continent of America” and that he was to be responsible for the embarkation of the inhabitants of the Annapolis district. He carried out his orders methodically and on 8 Dec. 1755 seven transport ships left Annapolis Basin carrying their cargoes of exiled Acadians to the New England colonies and the Carolinas. In correspondence with Colonel John Winslow*, who was carrying out the same task at Minas, Handfield revealed his dislike of his duties: “I heartily join with You in wishing that we were both of us got over this most disagreeable and troublesome part of the Service. . . .” He had good reason for finding the deportation “most disagreeable.” His wife’s mother had been Marie-Madeleine Maisonnat, and among the victims of the deportation were Elizabeth’s “sister-in-law, nephews and nieces, uncles, aunts and cousins.” In at least one instance he intervened, delaying a relative’s departure and writing on his behalf to New England.

Promoted major on 15 Oct. 1754, Handfield became lieutenant-colonel in March 1758. In the same year he participated in the capture of Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). According to the Army lists he retired from the regiment in 1760. He apparently took up residence in Boston, and his death date has been suggested as around 1763. In addition to his son John and his daughter Mary there was at least one other child, Thomas, who “became the ancestor of the Handfields of Montreal.’

William G. Godfrey

Boston Public Library, Mellen Chamberlain autograph coll., Ch.F.1.65. PANS, RG 1, 21, pp.29, 150; 35, nos.5, 11; 134, pp.2, 6, 7, 74, 75, 86, 87, 88, 107, 201, 202, 246, 247, 248, 287, 288, 302, 303, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326; 164/1, p.68. Army list, 1760, 91. Documents relating to currency in Nova Scotia, 1675–1758 (Shortt), 147. Knox, Historical Journal (Doughty), I, 214. N.S. Archives, I, 274–76, 580; III, 182, 183, 185, 186, 232, 233, 234, 239, 243, 249, 254; IV, 6, 10, 11, 14, 18, 22, 25–27, 29–33, 40, 42, 49–53, 55–56, 86, 88, 90, 93, 95–97. Winslow, “Journal,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., III (1883), 103, 134, 137, 138, 142, 164, 168. Calnek, History of Annapolis (Savary). Dalton, George the first’s army, II. C. J. d’Entremont and H.-J. Hébert, “Parkman’s diary and the Acadian exiles in Massachusetts,” French Canadian and Acadian Geneal. Rev. (Quebec), I (1968), 241–94. A. W. H. Eaton, Lt.-Col. Otho Hamilton of Olivestob: lieutenant-governor of Placentia, lieutenant-colonel in the army, major of the 40th Regiment of Foot, member of the Nova Scotia Council from 1731 to 1744 (Halifax, 1899). Harry Piers, “The fortieth regiment, raised at Annapolis Royal in 1717; and five regiments subsequently raised in Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll. XXI (1927), 115–83. Smythies, Historical records of 40th regiment.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

William G. Godfrey, “HANDFIELD, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 26, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/handfield_john_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/handfield_john_3E.html
Author of Article:   William G. Godfrey
Title of Article:   HANDFIELD, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   February 26, 2024