CANADA, UNITED STATES AND THE WAR OF 1812. Papers of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia during the War of 1812; archive comprising substantial runs of Sherbrooke's letter books, original documents and correspondence; and an important group of manuscript maps and charts; with a portrait, a large funeral hatchment and other material
Lot 152
CANADA, UNITED STATES AND THE WAR OF 1812. Papers of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia during the War of 1812; archive comprising substantial runs of Sherbrooke's letter books, original documents and correspondence; and an important group of manuscript maps and charts; with a portrait, a large funeral hatchment and other material
Sold for £433,250 (US$ 716,257) inc. premium
Lot Details
Papers of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia during the War of 1812 against the United States of America, and subsequently as Governor-General of British North America during negotiations on the US-Canadian border and during the further exploration of Canada and the expansion of her cities of Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Halifax and Kingston; the archive comprising substantial runs of Sherbrooke's letter books containing his official transcripts of correspondence both with his superiors in Whitehall and those under his command in Canada; together with original documents and correspondence; and an important group of manuscript maps and charts used during Sherbrooke's conquests within the United States during the War of 1812, including his creation of the province of New Ireland out of what was formerly Maine as well as mapping the defences of Boston, New York, and other American cities, a group of surveying maps made for the settlement of the disputed US-Canadian border, and especially fine large-scale maps of York (later known as Toronto), Montreal, Quebec, Halifax, Kingston and the like; contained in three original wooden document chests, painted with Sherbrooke's name and rank; plus a contemporary portrait of Sherbrooke painted in oils and a large oblong funeral hatchment bearing his arms; together with correspondence concerning copies made for the National Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada) of both these papers and others held elsewhere

*For a full description of the contents of the archive, please click on the following link: Download PDF.


  • AN EXTRAORDINARILY RICH ARCHIVE OF MAPS AND CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF CANADA AND TO THE WAR OF 1812 WITH THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. It is often claimed that it was the War of 1812 that helped define Canada as a nation, and that it also put the final seal on the emergence of the United States as a nation, one free at last from any perceived threat from her erstwhile motherland. Few if any archives of such fundamental importance to the history of North America have been offered for sale, or indeed remain in private hands.

    Sir John Coape Sherbrooke (1764-1830) was a professional soldier who had served in Flanders, India, Sicily, Egypt and the Peninsula, rising to be the future Duke of Wellington's second-in-command. He was created a Knight Commander of the Bath in 1809 for his services at the Battles of Oporto and Talavera. On 4 June 1811 he was promoted Lieutenant-General and the following month was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, his commission dated 19 August (see full description on link above).

    In the words of his biographer, Peter Burroughs: 'The five years of Sherbrooke's administration were dominated by war with the United States, which broke out in June 1812, and matters relating to the colony's defence. With dilapidated fortifications and limited military resources, the needs of the Canadas being more urgent, he could do little to secure the scattered, vulnerable outports against the threat of invasion or the ravages of American privateers beyond mounting guns at harbour entrances and placing the militia in a state of readiness. For the rest, he had to rely on naval protection as British ships patrolled the seas and later blockaded the American coast, occasionally clashing with enemy men-of-war as in the celebrated engagement of the Shannon, commanded by Philip Bowes Vere Broke, and the Chesapeake in June 1813... Sherbrooke's calculated commercial policy, which stimulated the free exchange of goods with New England, turned the Atlantic provinces into a thriving entrepôt for international trade... The uneasy but lucrative state of commercial cooperation and military neutrality which existed between the Maritime colonies and New England was transfigured in 1814. Adopting a more belligerent posture in North America with the defeat of Napoleon in Europe, the British government instructed Sherbrooke to guarantee winter communications with the Canadas and to put pressure on the United States government by occupying part of present-day Maine. Deciding to strike at the long-disputed borderland between Passamaquoddy Bay and the Penobscot River, Sherbrooke led an expeditionary force that August which successfully landed at Castine and proceeded to subdue the entire region between the Penobscot and the St Croix... The eight-month occupation of Castine yielded customs revenues which were subsequently used to finance a military library in Halifax and found Dalhousie College' (Dictionary of Canadian Biography).

    On 10 April 1816, Sherbrooke was commissioned Governor-in-Chief of British North America, transferring from Halifax to Quebec on 12 July. It had been his distinction as a soldier that had earned him his appointment in the Canadas, and on the face of it he was not someone cut out for civilian life. A fellow officer has left a memorable description of him as a 'short, square, hardy little man, with a countenance that told at once the determined fortitude of his nature. Without genius, without education, hot as pepper, and rough in his language, but with a warm heart and generous feelings' (quoted Burroughs, op. cit,). Even his old chief, the Duke of Wellington seems to have been alarmed at his manner, describing him as ' a very good officer, but the most passionate man I think I ever knew'. His administration however was a conspicuous success, and he managed to avoid factional politics and display both tolerance and fair-mindedness. A token of this is to be found in his close friendship with the influential leader of the Roman Catholic clergy, Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis, to whom he appointed to the legislative council in 1818: the draft for this appointment, in Sherbrooke's own hand, is among the papers in this archive.

    Professor Burroughs summarises his attainments: 'It might seem surprising that a military man of violent temper and indifferent health should have achieved such remarkable success in making the constitution of Lower Canada work harmoniously and in winning the confidence and respect of colonists of all parties. Appointed to a colonial governorship at the age of 46 as a reward for military services, Sherbrooke proceeded to display in that civilian capacity unexpected gifts as an astute diplomat and conciliator. Though instinctively conservative, he was no reactionary and his thoroughly pragmatic approach to colonial politics enabled him to preserve a sense of proportion and detachment. He was encumbered neither by strong prejudices nor by undue sensitivity about official prerogatives or personal honour, which so vitiated the conduct of governors like Dalhousie. The secret of Sherbrooke's success lay in a declared determination to combat factionalism and adopt a neutral stance, allied with the necessary independence of mind to pursue these objectives unswervingly and the engaging frankness of manner to convince all kinds of men of his probity and even-handedness... Through force of character and shrewd management Sherbrooke secured a lull in the politics of confrontation in Lower Canada. In so doing he attained for himself the rare distinction of being a senior military officer in the Wellingtonian army whose reputation was enhanced when he became a colonial administrator' (op. cit.).

    The present archive has remained in possession of the family, with access given to the the Public Archives of Canada in 1970; for further details of these and other Sherbrooke papers, see the Library and Archives Canada website.
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  1. Luke Batterham
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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