HOW, EDWARD, justice of the peace, militia officer, member of the Nova Scotia Council; b. possibly c. 1702 in New England, perhaps the son of David How and Elizabeth D’Eath; d. near the Missaguash River (N.S.-N.B.), October 1750.
Nothing is known of Edward How’s life before 1722, when his presence at Canso, Nova Scotia, is first noted. Troops were sent there in 1720 to protect the New England fishery from French marauders and soon a permanent population, almost entirely from New England, was established. How began his career at Canso as a merchant and was prominent enough by 1725 to be recommended by Lieutenant Governor Lawrence Armstrong* for a seat on the Nova Scotia council; he was not, however, appointed on this occasion. That same year he received a grant of 12.6 acres on an island in Canso harbour – now called How’s Island – as part of a plan for a permanent settlement. Indeed Armstrong had requested permission to move the seat of government from Annapolis Royal to Canso that year, but the Board of Trade took no action. How may have been nominated for the council so that Canso could be represented at Annapolis Royal. He often went to parley with the Indians in the Canso area and likely learned the Micmac tongue. This might explain his commission in 1725 as captain in the local militia, though he always considered himself a civilian.
In 1728 he paid for the building of barracks and a guardhouse at Canso. He also owned a schooner which was sometimes used for local government business. In 1730 he was appointed justice of the peace at Canso and, about the same time, sheriff. A crisis arose in 1732 between How and his associate justices and Christopher Aldridge Sr, the garrison commander, when Aldridge tried to preside over the meetings of the local justices to protect the interests of his troops. The New England residents at Canso were furious over Aldridge’s arbitrary action and the justices appealed to Annapolis; Aldridge was reprimanded.
How was appointed commissary of musters for the British forces in Nova Scotia in March 1736 and in August was sworn in as a member of the provincial council at Annapolis Royal. At this time the council authorized the erection of a 50,000-acre township of Norwich in the Chignecto area, and How was one of the 36 grantees; but the township was never established. How was sent to England, probably in September 1736, to report on the state of affairs at Canso, but was unable to obtain help to improve the fortifications there. In 1735 he himself had financed construction of a blockhouse. He built two storehouses for the king’s provisions in 1737 and repaired the barracks in 1739. The Canso fishery had begun to decline after 1735, however, and by 1738 the population had greatly diminished, with fewer than ten families remaining. How had spent much on the Canso defences – likely upwards of £800 in view of the large sums owed him by the crown at his death. Possibly to salvage their own operations and provide a bulwark against a French attack on Canso from Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), How and his associates proposed in 1739 that lands adjacent to Canso be laid out as a township. The local military officers opposed this suggestion, fearing their interests would be hampered by the presence of a civil power at Canso. The council finally approved the plan in April 1744, but shortly afterwards a French force under François Du Pont* Duvivier destroyed the settlement and carried off the garrison to Louisbourg. How’s business there was completely wiped out.
How was summoned to Annapolis Royal in 1743 by Paul Mascarene, president of the council, in view of the worsening relations between the French and the English. He seems to have been respected by the Acadians and for this reason Mascarene sent him in May 1744 to visit French settlements on the Saint John River and at Minas to try to secure their allegiance or ensure at least a strict neutrality. In June, at Annapolis, How married Marie-Madeleine Winniett, his second wife, daughter of William Winniett and Marie-Madeleine Maisonnat. Family papers indicate that he had at least three sons and one daughter by a previous marriage. That summer Annapolis Royal itself was under siege and How was prominent in helping to save the lower part of the town from being burned by pro-French Indians.
As commissary of musters, How was obliged to remain at Annapolis Royal during the colonial expedition against Louisbourg in 1745. In August 1746 he was sent up the Bay of Fundy with a small force to obtain intelligence of French movements and managed to gain news of a sizable French fleet which was sailing for Nova Scotia [see La Rochefoucauld]. How later reported that he had also kept “the inhabitants in Due Allegiance punishing some offenders and reducing the Cattle and Grain, In order to render the Approaches of the Enemy less formidable than before.” The following winter at Grand Pré he was commissary for the garrison and a commissioner in charge of civil affairs, along with Erasmus James Philipps. On the night of 31 Jan. 1746/47, the French attacked the English garrison, and How was so badly wounded in the battle that he lost the use of his left arm. He was taken prisoner and was later exchanged for six Frenchmen – an indication of his importance to the colony. Later that year he was made a judge of the vice-admiralty court.
In July 1749 How was appointed to the new provincial council at Halifax and was immediately sent by Governor Edward Cornwallis* to renew and ratify a peace treaty with Indians in the Saint John River area. Because of his lack of professional military experience he was bypassed in favour of Charles Lawrence in 1750 when Cornwallis chose a new lieutenant governor. How accompanied Lawrence as commissary to the Missaguash River on the Chignecto isthmus of Nova Scotia in August 1750 and shortly thereafter the British began to build a fort – later named after Lawrence – to offset French forces on the other side of the river. How knew the region and many of the inhabitants and was chosen to meet with the French under a flag of truce on the banks of the Missaguash, mainly to secure the release of some English prisoners. On 4 October, after several meetings, How was returning from a parley at the river when a shot rang out and he fell, seriously wounded. He died either that day or within several days of the attack.
Accounts of the murder differ. Some say it was an ambush, others that an Indian named Jean-Baptiste Cope or, more likely, Étienne Bâtard killed How. Many writers have put the real responsibility on the Abbé Jean-Louis Le Loutre*, but his role has not been proved conclusively. Whoever the guilty party might have been, How’s death certainly made conditions throughout Acadia more tense.
Governor Cornwallis noted in a memorial on How that he “always behaved . . . with the greatest Fidelity & Care in everything I required of him.” How’s widow sought compensation for the funds he had devoted to public construction at Canso and a claim for £1,320 was approved in 1769; it was paid as an annuity of £100 per annum, which came into force two years later. The number of children surviving How from his two marriages is not known.
PANS, MG 1, 472, nos.10, 13; 473, no.5. [The warrant for How’s marriage (item no.13) names his wife as “Mrs. Magdelene Winniett,” but the available evidence and family tradition indicate that he married Winniett’s daughter, not his widow.] The building of Fort Lawrence in Chignecto; a journal recently found in the Gates Collection, New York Historical Society, ed. J. C. Webster (Saint John, N.B., 1941), 9, 10, 12. [Louis Leneuf de La Vallière?], “Journal de ce qui s’est passé à Chicnitou et autres parties des frontières de l’Acadie depuis le 15 septembre 1750 jusqu’au 28 juillet 1751,” PAC Report, 1905, II, pt.iii, 325–26. N.S. Archives, I; II; IV. PRO, CSP, Col., 1732. Calnek, History of Annapolis (Savary), 115–16, 527–30. W. S. MacNutt, The Atlantic provinces: the emergence of colonial society, 1712–1857 (Toronto, 1965), 21–24. Murdoch, History of Nova-Scotia, II, 193–94. J. C. Webster, The career of the Abbe Le Loutre in Nova Scotia with a translation of his autobiography (Shediac, N. B., 1933), 21–24; The forts of Chignecto; a study of the eighteenth century conflict between France and Great Britain in Acadia (n.p., 1930), 91–92. G. T. Bates, “Your most obedient humble servant Edward How,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., XXXIII (1961), 1–19. Albert David, “L’affaire How d’après les documents contemporains,” Revue de l’Université d’Ottawa, VI (1936), 440–68.