A biography of Silvanus Cobb, one of the people prominent in Nova Scotia history in the mid-1700s, on the occasion of the 2010 Celebration of the New England Planter migration to Nova Scotia in the 1760s.

Silvanus Cobb

(1710-1762)




Cobb, Silvanus, mariner, military officer; born 18 March 1709/10 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, son of Elisha Cobb and Lydia Rider; married Elizabeth Rider 22 October 1734 and had one daughter; died probably at Havana, Cuba, in the summer of 1762.

          Little is known of Silvanus Cobb's life before 1745, when he raised a company of soldiers in Plymouth for the New England expedition against Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) [see William Pepperrell]; he was then a captain in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment. After the siege ended he served on garrison duty at Louisbourg. He was part of a committee chosen in July 1745 to "search for and secure all the plunder belonging to the army," and in March 1746 was ordered to inspect houses in the town and provide quarters for soldiers so that the barracks could be repaired.

          In January 1746/47 Cobb was sent from Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, by Paul Mascarene, the commanding officer, with reinforcements for Colonel Arthur Noble's garrison at Grand Pré; Cobb was not present when French forces attacked the garrison later that month. He commanded a detachment of Colonel Samuel Waldo's regiment sent to the Minas region in March to restore English authority and in April visited Chignecto as Mascarene's emissary to exchange some French prisoners. In 1748 he was master of a vessel carrying dispatches for Mascarene, and that August accompanied Charles Morris and his soldiers on a reconnaissance up the Bay of Fundy.

          Governor Edward Cornwallis hired Cobb's sloop York for government service in January 1749/50 at a monthly rate of £22 10s., paying Cobb 10s. per day as master. Thus Cobb's vessel became part of Captain John Rous's sea militia which helped keep open communications along the coast of Nova Scotia and with New England. Cornwallis described Cobb as a settler who "knows every Harbour and every Creek in the Bay [of Fundy], a man fit for any bold enterprise."  He instructed Cobb to arm his vessel at Boston and recruit additional crew. Cobb was to sail secretly to Chignecto to capture Abbé Jean-Louis Le Loutre, whom Cornwallis blamed for inciting Indian raids in Nova Scotia. The venture had to be abandoned after Spencer Phips, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, allowed Cobb to advertise in Boston a "Cruise" against "the Enemy."  In the summer of 1750 Cobb encountered French forces in a small fort at the mouth of the Saint John River, in territory which was claimed by both the French and the English. When the French commander, Charles Deschamps de Boishébert, declared that he would remain until the boundaries were settled, Cobb told him "if he maintained the land, I would the sea."

          For the next decade Cobb's vessel was employed in taking troops and supplies to Fort Anne (Annapolis Royal), Fort Edward (Windsor), Fort Lawrence (near Amherst), and the Saint John River, and in convoying transports which carried German settlers to found the town of Lunenburg in 1753 [see Patrick Sutherland]. In the winters of 1753, 1754, 1755, and 1756 he was ordered to Chignecto with stores for the garrison and remained there each year till spring. Cobb had a house and farm near Fort Lawrence where he lived with his wife and daughter, and where, according to Jedediah Preble, he owned many cattle, sheep, swine, and a large supply of claret, the quality of which was highly approved by his friend Preble. Colonel John Winslow stayed at Cobb's farm in the early days of the siege of Fort Beauséjour (near Sackville, New Brunswick) in June 1755. Cobb's vessel, the York and Halifax (80 tons), was active bringing supplies to the besiegers, and was attacked by French forces. On 28 August Cobb was sent with some of the soldiers of Major Joseph Frye to expel the Acadians from Chipoudy (Shepody, New brunswick) and burn their houses. At Petitcodiac (near Hillsborough, New brunswick) a party of Canadian troops and Indians attacked the New England soldiers, whose armed vessels operated with difficulty because of strong currents caused by the high Fundy tides.

          Cobb was also active in 1754 and 1755 in the prevention of clandestine trade between the Acadians and the French and was the only master of a provincial vessel to bring prizes into the vice-admiralty court at Halifax. In April 1755, outside Halifax harbour, he seized the English schooner Wolf for conducting illegal trade. After the vessel was condemned, Cobb received £16 4s. 8d. as one-third share of the prize. Later that month, while searching for a wrecked vessel at Port La Tour, Cobb discovered the French schooner Marguerite (Margarett), laden with provisions, guns, and other military stores from Louisbourg destined for French troops on the Saint John River. He returned to Halifax with the news and was ordered by Governor Charles Lawrence to blockade the harbour until Captain William Kensey (MacKenzie?) arrived in the warship Vulture, and then to assist Kensey in capturing the French prize. A dispute arose later between Cobb and Kensey about their respective shares and each received £103 14s 1d.

          From 1755 to 1758 Cobb continued to cruise off the Nova Scotia coast. He is said to have conducted General Wolfe on a reconnaissance near the Louisbourg fortress in 1758 on board his vessel, and to have received high praise from Wolfe for his skilled seamanship and bravery. In the fall of that year, after the English captured Louisbourg, he accompanied the expedition under Robert Monckton to the Saint John River to drive away the French and Acadians, and again displayed superior seamanship in these dangerous waters. Monckton had to rely on the smaller sloops and schooners to carry his forces and sailed upriver on board Cobb's vessel.

          Cobb's sloop York and Halifax was engaged in many duties in connection with the movement of New England settlers to Nova Scotia. In July 1759 he transported their agents to view the lands available for settlement [see Robert Denison], but after he reported to Governor Lawrence that a number of Acadians and Indians at Cape Sable had fired on them, the settlements were postponed. In April, June, and November 1760 he assisted a local committee in Plymouth in bringing settlers to Liverpool, and remained in Liverpool for the winter to protect the new township. In the grant of Liverpool Township, dated 1 September 1759, Silvanus Cobb had received one share and his brother Jabez 1½ shares. The proprietors' committee gave permission on 1 July 1760 to Captain Cobb for a "Spot to build a Store, House & Wharf," and to Cobb and several others to dam the mill brook and flood four acres of land to provide water for a saw and grist mill. Tradition states that Captain Cobb demolished a house on Cape Cod and brought the materials on his own vessel to Liverpool where he built his home – the oldest house in Liverpool until it was burned in the 1940s. In April 1761 Cobb was sent to Boston to bring settlers to Truro and Onslow, and that autumn he was transporting Indian corn supplied by the government to the New England settlers in Cumberland and Kings counties, who had not been able to raise enough grain to feed themselves.

          Cobb is said to have succumbed to sickness during the siege of Havana in the summer of 1762, expressing his chagrin that he had not died a soldier's death in battle. He may have gone there via New York with the rangers of Joseph Gorham. A capable soldier and sailor, Cobb helped to protect the English possessions in Nova Scotia and was instrumental in extending the influence of New England in Nova Scotia. He cooperated with the English authorities to secure more effective control of the province and is remembered for his part in establishing settlements of New Englanders on lands formerly occupied by the Acadians in Nova Scotia.


—  Phyllis R. Blakeley
Assistant provincial archivist
Public Archives of Nova Scotia
Halifax, Nova Scotia




Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Silvanus Cobb (the original article)

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