Since the Cornwallis Town Book records that John North married Mary West on October 12, 1770, we can assume that he emigrated here from Birmingham, England, before that year. In his Kings County history, Arthur W. H. Eaton doesn’t concern himself with the date of John North’s arrival in Nova Scotia. However, in his family sketches Eaton does tell us that North’s first child by this marriage was William; and it is William North who is the topic of this column.
Born in 1771, William North farmed all of his life in Kings County. He married Lois Strong when he was 26, sired nine children, and apparently lead an uneventful, quiet life. However, William was not an average 19th century man of the soil. His penmanship, spelling and bookkeeping indicate he was well educated in a period when formal schooling was scarce.
William North reveals others things about himself, his business acumen for example, in a farm ledger he kept for most of his working life. North’s ledger was discovered in the attic of his old home in the Sheffield Mills-Atlanta area. The first entry in the ledger is dated 1814 and was made when North was 37 years old; the last entry is dated 32 years later when William North was in his 69th year.
At first glance North’s old ledger appears to be little more than a mundane record of farm commerce in the early 19th century. But as we read the yellowing pages and look at the simple entries, life as it was in our great-grandfather’s day is vividly described. “Settled (an account) by road work,” reads one entry, for example. Which tells us that in North’s day there were no paved highways and landowners were responsible summer and winter for maintaining the piece of road that skirted their property. We learn that the barter system, trading goods for goods, services for services, greased the wheels of everyday living, and that without bartering life would have been difficult.
Basically, North’s ledger is simply a record of the goods and services he provided to his neighbors and the goods and services received in return. While the goods and services are assigned a value in pounds, shillings and pence, apparently no great amounts of cash changed hands. On one side of the ledger we see, for example, that North supplied Oliver Thorp with flour, pork and wheat; provided in returns for such goods were “one days chopping,” “one day fencing,” “two days carting dung,” and so on.
Miscellaneous entries, taken from the ledger at random, tell us much about farm life in North’s day. North kept his ledger in a period when both horses and oxen were the beasts of burden; thus we find entries such as “gray mare folded” (foaled), and “to mending yoke.”
Other simple entries are also revealing. The goods commonly traded were hay, oats, turnips, potatoes, butter, flour and pork. The services provided are indicated by such entries as “for mowing orchard,” ” two days digging potatoes,” “for 30 lbs. clover seed,” “for one days dressing flax.” Cider and rum may have been frowned upon by the temperance societies of North’s day but we find entries such as “for one barrel cyder (cider),” “to making one barrel cyder,” and “for 1/2 gallon rum.”
Other entries that give us a glimpse of life North’s time: “Paid by wife in tallow fat,” “wood lent for school (one cord),” “to one stear (steer),” “making two pairs womings (sic) shoes.”
If you trace your ancestors back to farmers in this area, your great-grandfather’s name may be in the ledger and he may have traded with William North. In the ledger (to mention a few) we find accounts for William Chipman, Samuel Woodworth, Cyril and Isaac Newcomb, Jeddiah Ells, John Rockwell, Lemuel Rogers, Caleb Foot and Enoch Scofield. Families with these surnames still farm in this area.