BRECHIN: PIONEER COUNTY HISTORIAN (May 28/99)

I’ve been told that it contains minor inaccuracies, but that is to be expected in a work as extensive as Eaton’s History of Kings County. “After all, Eaton worked alone in writing it and was unable to check out all his sources” a reader explained when he mentioned finding a trivial error in Eaton’s book.

If you read Eaton’s history thoroughly you will discover that in one sense he didn’t work alone in compiling his work. In several instances, Eaton quotes earlier historians and researchers extensively. In his chapter on the Acadian French, for example, Eaton’s discussion on the origin of roads in Kings County is mostly based on a manuscript researched and written by Dr. William Pitt Brechin.

In his preface as well, Eaton acknowledges that a number of people were of great help when he was writing his history. What Eaton says in the preface is that he literally picked the brains and used the research of some prominent people of his time, such as Robert William Starr, Dr. Benjamin Rand and Harry Piers. Eaton also leaned heavily on a number of amateur historians, most of which are acknowledged in his preface.

The researcher/historian Eaton quotes from most is Dr. William Pitt Brechin, 1851 – 1899. The Brechins are included in Eaton’s chapter of family sketches; from these sketches, we learn that Dr. Brechin was a third generation Nova Scotian. Brechin’s great-grandfather, James, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. Eaton doesn’t tell us when James arrived in Nova Scotia, only that he died in Halifax or Chester around 1796. His son and grandson remained in Nova Scotia. The grandson, Major Perez Martin Brechin who was born in Halifax, married a Kings County woman and sired William. Dr. Brechin was born in Cornwallis, and likely was raised on an original Planter land grant since his mother was a Harrington.

Eaton tells us nothing of Dr. Brechin’s life other than that he graduated at the Harvard Medical School, practised medicine in Boston and died there suddenly on December 10, 1899. It is obvious, however, that Dr. Brechin never lost contact with his native land. Brechin was a keen student of Annapolis Valley history and a historical writer. Confirmation of this is given in the preface to Eaton’s history:

“In the preparation of family sketches the well known newspaper articles, now in scrap books, of the late William Pitt Brechin, M.D., of Boston, have been of great assistance. Dr. Brechin was an indefatigable genealogist of Cornwallis families.” Eaton goes on to mention that the “vital records of the Cornwallis Town Book” were the original source “from which a very considerable part of Dr. Brechin’s material was drawn.”

As mentioned, Eaton leans heavily on the work of Dr. Brechin in his discussion of the early road system in Kings County. Further on Eaton again refers to Brechin’s research on the so-called massacre at Bloody Run or Moccasin Hollow, west of Kentville. According to Brechin’s findings, a small party of British troops was ambushed and slain in this area by the French and Micmacs.

Brechin’s interest in local history may have been stimulated by his boyhood surroundings. Eaton writes that the farm of Brechin’s father, Perez, was situated in an area steeped in Acadian history. Eatons says, for example, that “near the willow trees on the easterly side of Mr. Perez M. Brechin’s farm… it is said an Acadian blacksmith shop stood.”

Other than the references in Eaton’s history, Dr. Brechin has received little recognition for his pioneer historical work. Some of his historical work was published in various periodicals, but if Eaton is right, all that might exist of it today lies in yellowing scrapbooks.

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