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Original title:  Richard Philipps, Governor of Nova Scotia, by Caroline Hall.

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PHILIPPS, RICHARD, military officer, governor of Nova Scotia; b. c. 1661 in Pembrokeshire, Wales (according to a plaque marking his burial place), son of Richard Philipps and Frances Noel; d. at London 14 Oct. 1750.

Richard Philipps came from a Pembrokeshire family with political and mercantile connections – none of them outstanding, but all of them useful in an England where the continued prosperity of a landed family often depended on its ability to follow the turns of politics and the royal succession. A younger son with no prospects of inheriting the family baronetcy, Richard entered the army as a lieutenant about 1678. His chance for preferment and a basis for his later career came in 1688 when William of Orange set sail for England and he was employed to circulate printed announcements of the prince’s intentions among the Jacobite troops in advance of William’s landing at Torbay. Philipps was arrested near Dartmouth, and, though accounts differ on the details, it is known that he was about to be hanged when the news of William’s arrival came and his captors hurriedly released him. He was awarded a captaincy, and with his good service at the Battle of the Boyne was launched on an army career that took him to Flanders and Spain. In 1712 he purchased the colonelcy of the 12th Regiment of Foot (Bretton’s).

Philipps’ first official connection with Canada came on 17 Aug. 1717, the effective date of his formal commission as “Governor of Placentia in Newfoundland and Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Province of Nova Scotia.” He was given an additional commission on 25 August as colonel of a new regiment that was to be formed from the independent companies of foot then garrisoning the posts at Placentia and Annapolis Royal (formerly Port-Royal), Nova Scotia. The governorship was apparently only an appointment by letter at first, for the commission was not issued until June or July of 1719.

The selection of a governor for Nova Scotia to succeed Samuel Vetch* was part of the British government’s plan to regulate the untidy affairs of the province. Since the capture of Port Royal in 1710 and the ratification of the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, British control of Nova Scotia had been erratic and ineffectual, betraying the home authorities’ lack of real interest and a seeming absence of policy. The senior officer at Annapolis Royal – the only British-occupied part of the province – was expected to govern the colony, extract a binding oath of allegiance from the resident Acadian population, and maintain authority with four infantry companies who had no regimental affiliation. The French were securing Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) by building a fortified settlement at Louisbourg, and were testing British resolve in Nova Scotia by claiming the rich fishery at Canso. The difficulties of governing the scattered Acadians effectively from a crumbling fort at Annapolis were balanced by British fears that the French strength in Cape Breton would be increased if the Acadians were allowed to take advantage of a clause in the 1713 treaty and leave the mainland.

The members of the Board of Trade and Plantations in London, spurred by the activities of the French and by the tangled financial affairs of the troops at Annapolis, convinced the government of the need for a change in the methods of running the colony. They seem, however, to have thought little about details. If Philipps had gone to Nova Scotia when his appointment was announced, it is doubtful whether much difference would have been noticed in the province, for the changes would have been limited to the appointment of a new governor, the creation of a regiment on the army establishment, and a set of vague instructions. Whatever might be said about Philipps’ subsequent efforts to earn his salary, or the disparity between official intentions and effective action, his astuteness in seeking a formal commission and more specific instructions gave the province what limited benefit it did receive from this brief flurry of interest at Westminster. He pointed out that his appointment would be valueless unless a form of civil government were provided. Since it was now the British government’s intention to encourage settlement and trade, he requested instructions “. . . proper for laying the foundations of a Civill Government . . . necessary for settling a Colony.” He was kept informed of developments in Nova Scotia by Captain John Doucett*, who had been sent out as lieutenant governor of the town and garrison of Annapolis Royal in the fall of 1717. Armed with Doucett’s lucid reports, and able to wait upon the Board of Trade in person, Philipps advocated settling the colony, retaining the Acadians for the time being, and vigorously promoting the fisheries.

The final instructions issued in June 1719 reflected Philipps’ views, and included a copy of the instructions given to the governors of Virginia to guide him in setting up a civil government. He arrived in Nova Scotia in April 1720 after wintering in Boston, and wasted no time in meeting the most pressing local problems. He appointed a council for the province, consisting of himself and 11 townsmen and officers, and spread the news of his arrival among the Acadians to prepare the ground for the administration of an oath of allegiance. Like Thomas Caulfeild* and Francis Nicholson* before him, he quickly found that the appearance of power without the substance was of little value in overawing the Acadians. He partially lost the initiative three days after his arrival, when Father Justinien Durand came to the fort with 150 Acadians “. . . as if he meant to appear formidable.” Philipps informed them that his instructions were to invite them to take the oath; Durand replied that in accordance with the choice given them by the 1713 treaty they had previously “in General Nicholson’s time . . . sett their hands unanimously to an obligation of continuing Subjects of France & retireing to Cape Breton. . . .” They were not, therefore, free to swear allegiance. Philipps stalled by persuading the Annapolis Acadians to choose six deputies to represent them in discussions on the issue, but by the end of May the people had signed only a submission that they would behave as good subjects if not required to bear arms. They showed no intention of leaving the mainland, however, and this attitude more than anything underlined the impotence of the new council.

Philipps wrote home for instructions, and informed the Acadians that he had unilaterally extended the royal deadline of four months for the imposition of the oath. This announcement removed the tension from the issue, but by autumn the only action that Philipps and the baffled council could think of was to petition the king for 600 new troops to enforce the government’s authority. The question of the oath was left in abeyance for the rest of Philipps’ first residence. In spite of this setback, Philipps had managed to establish a working relationship with the Acadians, at least in the Annapolis area. His extension of the deadline for the oath without seeming to lose face, his promptness in appointing a provincial council, and his willingness to let matters ride when new instructions were not forthcoming, seem to have convinced the people that the new governor was a man of some authority and prestige, and that they could reach an accommodation with him.

Powerless though he was with a small force, Philipps acted vigorously whenever the chance afforded. In 1720 he tried to induce the inhabitants of Newfoundland to move to Nova Scotia, but Lieutenant Governor Samuel Gledhill*, who resented Philipps’ authority, refused to circulate the governor’s proclamations. He was particularly interested in the Canso fishery, and quickly realized that the French threat in Île Royale could neither be watched nor contained from a seat of government at the opposite end of the province. The plundering of New England fishermen at Canso by Indians on 8 Aug. 1720 provoked quick action. Philipps sent Major Lawrence Armstrong* with troops to help the fishermen build a small fort, and in 1721 moved to Canso himself. When the Indians continued to harass the fishermen he first tried diplomacy, opening discussions with them in 1722 and distributing presents; but when in July of that year they turned pirates and showed alarming competence in preying on local shipping, he organized the New Englanders at Canso, put his own troops to work as marines, and in three weeks had dispersed or killed the marauders.

Philipps returned to England in the fall of 1722, and for the next six years the council at Annapolis and the senior officers, Doucett and Armstrong, were left to govern by what J. B. Brebner has aptly called “analogy and rule of thumb.” The question of whether Philipps was more neglectful of his duties than other absentee governors is fruitless, since it is difficult to find parallels to Nova Scotia’s condition. Certainly the province was to suffer in his absence, but, in the light of his second residence (1729–31), it would be gratuitous to claim that his presence would have saved the province from a neglect that originated with British priorities rather than with any apathy on his part. While in England he seems not to have bothered to reply with any frequency to the correspondence of his distraught deputies at Annapolis, but kept himself informed through consultations with the Board of Trade. In reply to the board’s queries as to what should be done, he reiterated in precise and patient memorials the same problems and solutions that he had identified with Doucett’s help before ever setting foot in the province. It was a mistake, he claimed, to think that an effective government could operate from Annapolis so long as there were insufficient troops, no Protestant settlers, no provincial revenue, and no fortifications at the principal Acadian settlements. He wanted a fort at Chignecto (near Amherst, N.S.), where the most independent Acadians lived, and a more substantial protection for Canso, as well as a road between the settlements at Chignecto, Cobequid (Truro), Pisiquid (Windsor), Minas (Wolfville), and those along the Annapolis River.

The Board of Trade managed to interest the king’s Privy Council in Nova Scotia in 1728, and Philipps was directed to return there. He could not have been too optimistic about the support of a government that in 1722 had refused to allow his expenses for a small vessel to enable him to inspect his province occasionally; but he offered his thanks, ventured to express the hope that his majesty would reread his earlier recommendations, and left for Nova Scotia in the spring of 1729.

After spending the summer at Canso keeping order among the fishermen, he arrived at Annapolis on 20 November. While at Canso he had received word of Acadian discontent, caused by Lieutenant Governor Armstrong’s harsh treatment of Father René-Charles de Breslay* at Annapolis, and his blunt attempts to administer the oath. Philipps’ policy now was to capitalize on Armstrong’s heavy-handedness and administer the oath after placating the inhabitants. By the end of the year he had reinstated Breslay in his parish and assured the Acadians that the government would take steps to confirm them in possession of their lands. On 3 Jan. 1729/30 he sent home an oath of allegiance signed by 194 Annapolis Acadians, obtained without “threats or compulsion, nor . . . a scandalous capitulation” – a reference to Ensign Robert Wroth*, who in 1727 had modified the oath to overcome Acadian reservations against bearing arms. Philipps spent the early spring of 1729/30 visiting the settlements at Minas and Chignecto, and capped his earlier success by returning to Annapolis in May with “the entire submission of all those so long obstinate People.” Curiously, and perhaps significantly, the council minutes take only perfunctory note of Philipps’ return, and Philipps did not report his success to the Duke of Newcastle until 2 September. He made another exhausting trip in the fall to obtain the signatures of the few who had not subscribed to the oath in the spring.

It is generally conceded that Philipps gave the Acadians at Minas and Chignecto – the more intractable inhabitants – a verbal promise exempting them from the normal subject’s duty to bear arms, and that he told a spectacular and portentous lie by simply not giving Newcastle the whole truth. A lengthy list of events and documents have been cited in proof, including a notarial declaration attesting to the verbal promise, recorded by the Minas people days after the oath was taken [see La Goudalie]. Moreover, it was the unquestioning assumption of later administrators, including Governor Edward Cornwallis*, that Philipps had temporized and “did not do his duty.” The reason why Philipps granted the qualified oath may lie less in his hopes of official approval than in a cynical, if realistic, belief that the difference did not matter so long as the British authorities could not enforce an unqualified oath. He had a low opinion of the Acadians, calling them “a pest and encumbrance,” and this, rather than any understanding of their position, may have convinced him that the best to be expected was their neutrality. He was not, of course, the first to retreat from the unqualified oath. In 1726 Armstrong had agreed to write a marginal note concerning the exemption on the copy of the oath he read to the Annapolis Acadians. The difference between Armstrong’s verbal concession and Philipps’ is important, however, for the Acadians took no particular reassurance from the former and placed their faith in the latter. Philipps’ compromise was to haunt the masters of Nova Scotia for 25 years and contribute significantly to the tragic elements of the expulsion of 1755.

Philipps’ final months in Nova Scotia were devoid of accomplishments. The loss of his authority over Placentia, occasioned by the appointment of Captain Henry Osborn* in 1729 as governor of Newfoundland, affected him little, since he had been unable to exercise control over Samuel Gledhill, the lieutenant-governor, because of distance and the political nature of Gledhill’s position. He could not have been surprised when the colonization schemes advanced by the Board of Trade in 1728 came to nothing. His recall in 1731 was due directly to the complaints of his officers over non-payment of the debts they had incurred to supply and feed their soldiers in his absence. The tangled treasury accounts at Annapolis led to an inquiry in England and Philipps, as the 40th regiment’s colonel, was abruptly summoned home in July to explain. He left his council with the legacy of Acadian neutrality and a host of jurisdictional jealousies. Major Alexander Cosby, who had been appointed lieutenant governor of the town and garrison after Doucett’s death, was Philipps’ brother-in-law; and his further appointment in 1730 as president of the council over more senior members, such as Paul Mascarene and John Adams, ensured that the tendency of this isolated garrison to petty disputes would flourish long after Philipps’ departure. Philipps’ relations with Mascarene seem to have cooled after the latter’s objections to Cosby’s appointment as council president. Armstrong and Philipps were barely civil to each other; Philipps had earlier refused to support Armstrong’s claims for financial losses.

During his long tenure as governor Philipps took great pains to avoid expense, for the treasury officials were notoriously picayune about money matters; but he seems not to have even risked displeasure by insisting on extra expenditures for the province. He kept a particularly watchful eye over anything that would be chargeable to his governor’s allowance. Though he escaped censure in the matter of his regiment’s victualling debts, there is little doubt that he skimped on the legitimate needs of his troops and the salaries of such government officers as Arthur Savage*, William Shirreff, Doucett, and Mascarene. Philipps deprived Mascarene of his pay as acting administrator in his absence by persuading the authorities that the lieutenant governorship of the province was an unnecessary position. At best he can be charged with miserliness; at worst he falls under a suspicion of building a personal fortune at the expense of his troops and council.

Philipps remained governor of Nova Scotia until 1749, making occasional appearances before the Board of Trade to give advice when requested. He could suggest nothing new, because the fundamental problems remained the same. Nothing is known of his later years, or whether he was consulted when the government decided to establish a settlement at Chebucto (Halifax). He became a lieutenant-general in 1743, and in 1749 or 1750 he exchanged his regiment, which became Cornwallis’, for the 38th (Dalzell’s). His last days were spent in Great Queen Street in fashionable Westminster, where several of his kinsmen apparently lived, and he died there 14 Oct. 1750. The death notice in the Gentleman’s Magazine was a garbled reference to “Lieut.-Gen Philips of horse, formerly Col. of a Regt. of Foot in the Leeward Islands, aged near 100.” He was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey, appropriately in the corner occupied by the dukes of Newcastle.

Philipps was married twice: to Elizabeth Cosby (d. c. 1739), sister of Alexander, and to Catherina Bagshawe, née Stratham. He had two daughters and possibly a son by the first marriage.

Maxwell Sutherland

PAC, MG 11, Nova Scotia A, 8, p.214; 9, pp.27, 128; 10, pp.85–97; 15, pp.198–207, 252–65; 17, pp.230–31; 19, pp.3, 39; 20, pp.94–96; MG 21, E5, 42. Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1750. N.S. Archives, I; II; III; IV. J. B. Burke, A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the British Empire (34th ed., London, 1872), 905. English army lists (Dalton), VI, 65. DNB. Brebner, New England’s outpost. Smythies, Historical records of 40th regiment, 496–97.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Maxwell Sutherland, “PHILIPPS, RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/philipps_richard_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/philipps_richard_3E.html
Author of Article:   Maxwell Sutherland
Title of Article:   PHILIPPS, RICHARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1974
Year of revision:   1974
Access Date:   June 16, 2024