Original Correspondence : Nova Scotia and Cape Breton (CO 217) : 1710-1867.

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LPR .G7C6N6C6
Category: Great Britain
Creator: Great Britain. Colonial Office.
Description: 111 microfilm textual records (242 volumes) ; 35 mm
            Records precede the development of the Colonial Office, created in 1854, and contain records in the offices of the Board of Trade and the Secretaries of State which held responsibility for British colonial matters at different times until 1782; thereafter, responsibility was held by the Home Office until the War and Colonial Department was created in 1801.  The Original Correspondence, or in-letters, are those sent from the colony to Great Britain, and are one of 6 groups of documents pertaining to a colony.  The others are:  Entry Books (out-letters from Britain), Acts, Sessional Papers (printed proceedings of local legislatures), Government Gazettes (official government newspapers), and Miscellanea. Each class was given a consecutive number designation by which it became known, eg. Original Correspondence, CO 217; Entry Books, CO 218; Acts, CO 219; Sessional Papers, CO 220; and Miscellanea, CO 221.

During its history, the boundaries of present-day Nova Scotia, also known as Acadia during the French period, previously included present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and northern Maine.  Peninsula Nova Scotia was lost to the French formally by a treaty in 1713.  New Brunswick and northern Maine were contested areas for years to come.  French loss to Britain of eastern North America in 1763 included Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island and brought the two under the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia. (Cape Breton, between 1784-1820, had a separate government.)  Prince Edward Island separated from Nova Scotia in 1769 and New Brunswick separated from Nova Scotia in 1784.  During the French period, the capital was at Port Royal; during British control, it was at Annapolis Royal until removed to Halifax in 1749.
            Some of the volumes are available electronically; see Finding Aid section.

This collection contains correspondence (1710-1787 between officials in Great Britain and Nova Scotia:  Board of Trade and Secretaries of State in Britain, and Governors in Nova Scotia; as well as associated writing between public offices which relates to the colony, such as between governor and governor, Secretary of State and Lords of Trade, Lords of Trade and Treasury or Admiralty.  The correspondence is complemented by many enclosures providing details on the circumstances of the province, and cover geographically areas that had connections or relations to Nova Scotia.  The topics covered relate to the governing of the province and thus are quite vast in subject.  The general topics of interest include:  colonisation and settlement, trade and commerce, wars, military, local history, government and politics, finances, diplomacy and relations, natives, French and Acadians, and maritime matters such as shipping and privateering.

Detailed Contents:

The correspondence contains various other types of documents, such as, Minutes of Council; maps and sketches of places or forts; reports on the state or situation of Acadians, industry, trade, defence, or the province; Naval Office lists of vessels entering or clearing port; annual account of expenditures of the civil and military establishment, returns of inhabitants and the military; laws enacted; petitions or requests by individuals; and instructions from the Colonial Office relating to trade and navigation.  Documents concern and sometimes are generated by other areas connected politically, militarily, or economically to Nova Scotia:  New Brunswick; Prince Edward Island; New England, particularly Maine and Massachusetts; Quebec; and to a much lesser extent, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Newfoundland, the West Indies, and Bermuda.  

Types of topics covered include:  colonisation (settlement and emigration, pertaining to French, Scots, English, Germans, Swiss, Irish, loyalists, Black people; and may include transactions with agents, lists of passengers, provisioning, memorials from settlers, terms and conditions, proposals); population studies (population numbers and lists of inhabitants), trade and maritime matters - Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with America, Britain and the West Indies (state of, competition, contraband and smuggling, shipping, monopolies, merchants, imports and exports - duties and reports, rates of exchange, privateering);  English conflicts and relations (Acadians including reasons for their removal; French including Quebec, Louisbourgh and St. Pierre and Miquelon; and Americans); Natives especially previous to Acadian deportation, including agreements; and Americans); wars (American War of Independence, War of 1812, military, intelligence, security, refugees such as blacks and American loyalists, diplomacy, policy, finances); religion (education, missionaries and ministers, French, state of, finances, Society for the Propagation of the Gospel); agriculture (hemp and gypsum); mines particularly in Cape Breton; fishery; land or property (quit rents, grants, escheats, sketches, plans, descriptions, petitions, disputes, boundaries); women and children (orphan house, memorials from widows for pay, land, boat passages, and pensions); law and crime (records of courts,   military, pardons, trial accounts), politics (reform and responsible government, appointments and wages, internal conflict, confederation), and narratives or personal accounts of journeys. 


The overall arrangement of the records reflects the geo-political development of Nova Scotia and the fact that Cape Breton was both a separate colony (1784-1820) and a part of Nova Scotia.  Most of the documents are in chronological order by category of documents, with some exceptions.  

Volumes 1 - 29; Board of Trade (1711-1782); Volume 20 includes Upper Canada - Lord Amherst's Instructions, 1835-1836
Volume 30; Abstracts for above (1713-54)
Volumes 31 - 37; Secretary of State, America and West Indies, Miscellaneous (1710-1817)
Volumes 38 - 40; Secretary of State, America and West Indies, (1716-1752)
Volumes 41 - 42; Military Despatches (6 Feb. 1782-6 Aug. 1786)
Volumes 43 - 58; Secretary of State (1762-12 Oct. 1786)
Volume 59; Secretary of State, Miscellaneous (1777-1786)
Volumes 60 – 70; Secretary of State (1787-22 Oct. 1799)
Volume 71; Military Despatches (1794-99)
Volume 72; Secretary of State; Miscellaneous (1788-1800)
Volumes 73 – 75; Secretary of State (1798-1801)
Volumes 76 – 102; Secretary of State, Despatches, Offices and Individuals (1802-1819)
Volumes 103 – Secretary of State, Cape Breton, America and West Indies, Miscellaneous (1744-1800
Volumes 104 – 113; Secretary of State, Cape Breton (1784-1797 Oct. 17)
Volumes 114; Secretary of State, Cape Breton, Miscellaneous (1790-97)
Volume 115; Secretary of State, Cape Breton, Despatches (1797 Nov. 1-1798 Aug. 10)
Volume 116; Secretary of State, Cape Breton, Miscellaneous (1797-1798)
Volume 117 – 138; Secretary of State, Cape Breton (1798 Nov. 5-1820)
Volumes 138 – 211; Secretary of State, Nova Scotia, Despatches and Offices and Individuals (1820-1867), with Appendix. (Volume 173 relates to responsible government in Nova Scotia, 1839; Volume 121, Parts 1-2 - Minutes on the State of Affairs in Lower Canada (southern Quebec), April & November 1836, both with Appendices.

Also found at the start of Reel 1: Great Britain. Colonial Office. Miscellaneous: Canada (CO 47/120-121):

Volume 120 - Upper Canada, Instructions for Lord Amherst (1773-1857), 1835-1836, with minutes
Volume 121, Part I, Minutes on the State of Affairs in Lower Canada, April 1836 with Appendix; and Part II Lower Canada Minutes of the 15th November 1836 with Appendices

Originals: The original documents are held by The National Archives in England. Library and Archives Canada holds a microfilm copy of both the transcripts and originals. The Loyalist Collection holds the microfilm of originals reproduced by Library and Archives Canada.
Archival Ref. No.: TNA CO 217 /1 - 242; CO 47/120 - 121.
Finding Aids:

Internal listings of documents for the volumes do not appear with any regularity until volumes dated after 1815.

Online: Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies covers the dates 1573-1739 and includes transcriptions and summaries of the original documents in the Colonial Office detailing British administration in its colonies in North America and the West Indies. The series is arranged chronologically and is available and searchable online from British History Online.

Documents of the American Revolution 1770-1783; (Colonial Office series), volumes 1-21; edited by K.G. Davies and published by Irish University Press, provides indexes, abstracts and transcripts to material from the Colonial Office records from British North America. This is available with The Loyalist Collection book collection - HIL-MICGDL E203 .G68 1972. Finding documents - There are references at the end of each of the abstracts; check the front of the book for what province/state it is connected, ie. CO 217 is Nova Scotia, and there should be a check mark inserted if available; type in The Loyalist Collection catalogue the CO reference, without periods (CO 217) for the call number; use the microfilm shelflist to find the microfilm reel number for the volume of interest (see Electronic Finding Aid section below).

Transcripts Some portions exist also in the form of transcripts, produced separately by Library and Archives Canada from originals in England. Calendars, or listings of documents with summaries of contents, have been produced by the Archives under its previous names in its annual Reports for the years 1894-95, 1946-48.

  • Online: The Transcript volumes have been electronically produced and are found via canadiana.ca on the Heritage website. This product is browseable but not searchable.
  • Online Calendars: listings of documents with summaries have been reproduced from the Archives Reports and made available electronically from Internet Archive: 1894 Report covering Nova Scotia from 1603 to 1801, and 1895 Report covering 1784-1801 for Cape Breton. Both are browseable and searchable.
  • Online Database: Searchable databases are available from HathiTrust for calendars produced under the Archives' earlier name, Public Archives: Reports 1946-1948 , covering the years 1802 to 1840 (Report for 1946 covers years 1802-1820; Report for 1947 covers 1821-1836; Report for 1948 covers 1837-1842)

The above Calendars can be used as finding aids to the originals: 1. Use the key at the back of Andrews' Guide to Materials in American History to 1783 in the Public Record Office (vol. 1, p. 279) to correlate the old references in the transcripts with the new in the originals. 2. For those old references in the transcripts designated Colonial Office Correspondence, as well as for co-ordinating those designated Nova Scotia A, use Library and Archives Canada's Finding Aid 201. 3. Then use the Microfilm Shelflist for the microfilm reel number of the CO 217 volume of interest; see Electronic Finding Aid section below. Related Finding Aid: See Registers and Indexes

Related Fining Aid: See Colonial Office. Registers and Indexes...for chronological listing with brief abstracts of correspondence from the governor; as well as alphabetical index - subject and proper name - people and places.

Electronic Finding Aid Record: CO 217.Microfilm Shelflist.pdf
CO 217. Nova Scotia and Privateering Selections.pdf

Before The National Archives in Britain created CO 217, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) had begun preparing transcripts which are known as Nova Scotia "A" and Cape Breton "A." These transcripts, before 1802, also contain material relating to Nova Scotia gathered from other institutions, such as the British Museum and Lambeth Palace. After 1802, the microfilmed versions of the transcripts and originals are by and large the same. The transcriptions do not contain marginal notes and memoranda before 18111 for Nova Scotia and 1814 for Cape Breton.

For related material, researchers should consult the Nova Scotia Archives, RG 1 Series. Selected volumes of this Series are available in the Nova Scotia Public Records section of the Loyalist Collection.

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