SHEFFIELD MILLS – GLIMPSES OF ITS EARLY DAYS (March 6/98)

Published, written but unpublished, researched, written and gone astray.

Briefly, this describes the community, town and county histories that have been painstakingly put together in the Annapolis Valley in the past century. Many community, town and county histories have been published and I know of several that are completed or nearly so and haven’t reached a printer.

Lamentably, the third category – researched, written and gone astray – includes several histories that I’m aware of, one of them possibly of Canning and others of adjacent communities. Last week a reader told me about a longtime Centreville resident who some years ago compiled a history of that community. According to my informant the history was never published and it disappeared after its compiler died. Undoubtedly it is gathering dust somewhere in an attic or basement.

Recently I mentioned the lost Centreville story to marine historian Leon Barron. It was fortunate that I did. Leon told me that decades ago someone had compiled a history of Sheffield Mills that had never been published; and he had a handwritten copy.

Sheffield Mill lies at the head of the Habitant River. Fast becoming famous as the site of a festival that celebrates the bald eagle, the Mills is a settlement that’s about 300 years old. The Acadians were first to settle the area. In his history of Kings County, Eaton noted that there was an early crossing at the Mills which probably was of Acadian origin and may have been the first dykeing in the area.

Eaton’s history only mentions Sheffield Mills a few times. This neglect of a long-settled site may have spurred Mrs. David Ells into sitting down and recording the community’s early days. In 1935, when she was 81, Mrs. Ells penned a brief history of the Mills, equal in length to about four of these columns. Taken mostly from memory, with some assistance from Mrs. Nathan Ells and Ezekiel Illsley, Ells wrote a chatty story that deals mainly with the comings and goings of the early families of the Mills.

For genealogists or anyone wishing to trace family roots, Ells’ work is a goldmine of information. One may weary of reading about who married whom and how original grants of land were traded, sold or passed from family to family, but in communities like Sheffield Mills that’s what history actually is. Our roots are in the land and histories cannot be written without acknowledging this, obliquely or otherwise. Thus Mrs. Ells provides significant information when she traces ownership of the original land grants in the Mills.

There is more than this in her history, of course. We are told about the Acadians and the evidence that they colonized the Mills. Ells mentions the Acadian homestead sites, the Acadian apple trees, and the Acadian blacksmith shop. We are told about Samuel Borden, founder of the family that Eaton calls “one of the most important (in) Canada at the present day.” Borden received a large land grant in the Mills, running from the Mills along the entire length of Borden Street.

In its heyday the Mills had a grist mill (owned first by a man named Knight and later acquired by the Sheffield family) a saw mill, woodworking factory, blacksmith shop and a small axe factory, started by Benjamin Eaton and later moved to Canning when it was purchased by the Blenkhorns.

And like many long-settled communities, the Mills has buried treasure, long sought but never found – the mysterious French treasure mound and an old pine which marks the area where the Acadians buried valued possessions before being expelled.

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