COX, NICHOLAS, army officer and colonial administrator; b. c. 1724 in England; m. Deborah – ; d. 8 Jan. 1794 at Quebec.
Nicholas Cox joined the 58th Foot as an ensign in 1741 and served during the rebellion in Scotland four years later. In 1750 his regiment (now the 47th Foot) was sent to Nova Scotia, where Cox participated in the capture of Fort Beauséjour (near Sackville, N. B.) and the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755 [see Robert Monckton; John Winslow]. He also saw action at the siege of Louisbourg, Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) in 1758 and at Quebec the following year. He had risen to the rank of captain by 1764.
In 1775 Governor Guy Carleton* chose Cox, now a major, to fill the newly created position of lieutenant governor of the District of Gaspé; the post probably had its origin in the French practice of appointing a subdelegate of the intendant to represent the government on the remote and rugged Gaspé coasts [see François Lefebvre de Bellefeuille]. When Cox arrived at Quebec with his family in August, Canada was threatened with attack by American forces and he was immediately put to work training recruits. It was not until the summer of 1777 that he was able to travel to the Gaspé.
Following closely Carleton’s instructions, Cox took a census on his first trip and reported 631 Europeans permanently settled on the coastline between Gaspé Bay and the Restigouche River, in addition to 572 men brought out to labour on the fisheries for the summer only. He found that the Acadians of the Baie des Chaleurs were successfully combining fishing and agriculture to gain their living. North of Paspébiac, however, the population depended almost entirely on the fisheries. Cox discovered little sympathy for the American revolutionary cause but organized militia forces in any case. He again visited the district for brief periods in 1778 and 1780 but spent the remainder of the war in England and Quebec. Since Gaspé was constantly harassed by American privateers during the war, Cox urged Haldimand, who had succeeded Carleton in 1778, to provide naval protection as well as economic assistance to the region. His entreaties had little effect, however, and the Gaspé experienced both depopulation and starvation in the period of the American revolution.
In 1784 Cox journeyed to Gaspé again, this time to supervise the settlement of over 500 loyalists. He found this task unpleasant because of the loyalists’ quarrelsome dispositions and their desire to obtain large land grants, often at the expense of the established Indian and Acadian inhabitants. The loyalists were not granted land, but were instead given “location tickets,” documents which assigned plots of land. Although Cox succeeded in obtaining the same documents for the Acadians, he recognized the necessity of acquiring regular title deeds for everyone in the region. He failed to impress this need upon the government, however, and the result was nearly a century of uncertain land holding in the Gaspé.
Much of the land at the head of the Baie des Chaleurs, where both loyalists and Acadians were expanding, was claimed by the Micmacs of the Restigouche River, and in 1786 Cox, as a member of a commission responsible for investigating the Indians’ grievances, averted a violent clash between the Indians and the settlers. He persuaded the Micmac chiefs, Joseph Claude among them, to relinquish their land claims and offered them in exchange his mere opinion that the government would consider granting them an equivalent amount of land nearby and would protect their rights to the Restigouche salmon fisheries and give them a “gratuity.” Although these compensations were not granted the Indians’ fears were assuaged, and it was not until the 1820s that they again became militant over the land question.
Cox was eager to establish a strong agricultural economy in the district to provide an alternative to the traditional fishing industry, but he could offer only moral encouragement to the farmers of the Baie des Chaleurs region. At the same time he supported the fishing industry, and in particular the interests of Charles Robin*, the leading fish merchant in the area. In 1787 Cox successfully urged the government to grant Robin extensive tracts of land and fishing privileges; it is perhaps significant that Cox was deeply in debt to Robin at the time.
The office of lieutenant governor of Gaspé was not high in the government hierarchy, and Cox often reported to the lieutenant governor of Quebec. Certain supplementary functions were attached to the office; for example, Cox was superintendent of trade and fisheries on the Labrador coast. The government did not, however, supply a vessel with which to patrol the Labrador and Gaspé coasts, and there is no evidence that Cox ever went to Labrador. He did live permanently in the Gaspé for a few years after 1784. He received a salary of £400 per year and a house at New Carlisle; in 1787 he was granted Île Bonaventure. Cox was also colonel of the Gaspé militia and a member of the district land board. He died in office and was succeeded by Francis Le Maistre*. Cox’s successors were, however, much less attentive to their duties. The office eventually became redundant in 1826.
AN, Col., C11B, 35, f.136. BL, Add. mss 21723, pp.355–60; 21743, p.5; 21862 (PAC transcripts). PAC, MG 11, [CO 42], Q, 25, pp.178–79; 27, pp.240, 460–64; 28, p.193; 63, pp.124–25, 135–36; 67, pp.57–59; MG 28, III, 18; RG 1, L3L, 67, pp.33313–32; 168, p.81836; RG 4, A1, 21, p.7310; 29, pp.9488–90; 31, pp.10084–99. [Thomas Ainslie], Canada preserved: the journal of Captain Thomas Ainslie, ed. S. S. Cohen ([Toronto, 1968]), 94. Quebec Gazette, 24 Aug. 1775, 27 Nov. 1788, 14 May 1789, 16 Jan. 1794. Almanach de Québec, 1792, 120. Langelier, List of lands granted, 4, 13–14. W. H. Siebert, “The loyalist settlements on the Gaspé peninsula,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., VIII (1914), sect.ii, 399–405.