Cottnam, Deborah

Deborah Cottnam, née How, teacher, poet (b probably at Grassy Island, Canso, NS 1728; d at Windsor, NS 31 Dec 1806). Polished and literarily inclined, Cottnam met the vicissitudes of the French-English wars and the American Revolution with an initiative rare in 18th-century women and established a high standard of female private education in the Maritimes. Cottnam and her family were displaced after the fall of Canso (1744), and again displaced in the mid-1770s when their Tory sympathies forced them to leave their merchant life in Salem, Mass, although she tried to return briefly to open a school.

From 1777 to 1786 Cottnam directed an academy for women in Halifax, moving by invitation to Saint John from 1786 to 1793, where she continued to instruct the daughters of the LOYALIST elite. After the death of her husband, Captain Samuel Cottnam, in 1780, both her settlement of 405 ha of land on Minor Basin in NS in 1785 and her government pension in 1793 reflected her widowed state and the service of her family to the Crown. Although retiring to Windsor later in the 1790s, she wrote from Halifax in 1794 that she had just opened a day school. A poet of classical control (pseudonym "Portia"), she was a literary inspiration for her students and for her great-granddaughter, poet Griselda Tonge.