EATON’S HISTORY – CHATTY, GOSSIPY IN PLACES (August 7/98)

In 1761, while preaching the Gospel in Kings County, Daniel Hovey apparently uttered remarks indicating he wasn’t in favor of the British Monarchy. For expressing his opinions freely in public, Hovey was slapped into jail without trial and in addition, was forced to post a bond guaranteeing his good behavior for one year.

On appeal, Hovey’s conviction was overturned immediately by the Halifax courts. In his history of Kings County, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton said that it was not known “what treasonable utterances Daniel Hovey had made in preaching the gospel.” He said, however, that the higher courts took a milder view of the case and found the actions of the County courts to be “irregular.”

You will find the odd case of Daniel Hovey in Eaton’s history under the “Current Events” chapter. This is the most interesting section of Eaton’s book and if history can be considered entertaining, the most readable. In this chapter, Eaton writes about the trials and tribulations of the ordinary citizens of Kings County. While it is a valuable work, most of Eaton’s book is dry history. In the Current Events section, however, there are a few personal glimpses and Eaton gives up his scholarly tone to become chatty and gossipy.

Eaton noted that winnowing machines were introduced into Kings County “about 1803,” for example. This labor-saving device should have been greeted with enthusiasm by Kings County farmers but it wasn’t. “These simple agricultural implements worked so mysteriously,” Eaton observed, “that people felt there was some witchery about them.”

When the Court of General Sessions for Kings County opened on October 13, 1812, before it were a number of trifling matters. Eaton tells us there were “bills against persons for tying a bush to the tail of Samuel Lilly’s horse and throwing stones at people’s houses.” Previously the Court had dealt with election rigging which apparently was on a par with practical jokes involving horses. Two elected officials were accused of manufacturing votes by “giving deeds of (their) own and other people’s lands to persons fraudulently to qualify them to vote.” This matter, Eaton said, was treated lightly by the Court.

Eaton appears to have tongue in cheek when he records the reaction of Governor Wentworth to an illegal seizure of liquor and other goodies. Eaton tells us that the Governor advertised for the “apprehension of persons who in disguise …. had forcibly entered the dwelling house of Archibald Thomas at Five Islands, Kings County, and there with force and violence took and carried away a quantity of wine, spirits and other conterband (sic) goods, which Charles Fraser, Esq. Inspector and Searcher in that district had seized according to the law.”

Practical jokes, election tomfoolery and skullduggery …. Eaton treated them equally in recording the comings and goings of Kings County’s early citizens. In passing he mentions much more serious events, however: A smallpox outbreak in 1775, a diphtheria epidemic in 1861 when whole families were wiped out and 144 persons died in Kings County alone; in 1844 the appearance of the “weevil or wheat fly” which eventually wiped out the wheat crop; a general failure of the potato crop in 1847, “caused by the rot.”

There are natural disasters, man-made catastrophes, crimes, shenanigans, ordinary people, leaders, lawgivers, and lawyers. This is the only chapter in Eaton’s history that best tells us what the early days were like in Nova Scotia.

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