MORE THAN A PIONEER MERCHANT, MILLER, TRADER (February 11/00)

When leaving downtown Kentville and travelling eastward towards the flat, one crosses what most residents call the smelt brook. This is Mill Brook, which at one time was Magee Brook after Kentville’s first merchant, Henry Magee. Mr. Magee’s trials and tribulations during the American Revolution and his eventual arrival in the Annapolis Valley were chronicled in this column several weeks ago.

Mr. Magee left his mark on the Valley and in particular the Kentville area in several ways. Kentville historian Louis Comeau told me that the straight stretch of Mill or Magee Brook above the bridge on east Main Street is an artificial channel. Mr. Comeau believes that Magee’s grist mill was located near the bridge and the original channel of the brook was diverted to run by it. Comeau said that at one time Magee Brook ran across the flat, perhaps just below Wickwire Hill. Magee also erected a sawmill on the lake south of Kentville that bears his name, Magee Lake.

After I talked with Louis Comeau, another reader called to tell me that Henry Magee had been profiled in one of the vignettes published by the Kings County Historical Society. This account can be found in volume four of the Kings County Vignettes, which is available in local bookstores and the Courthouse Museum on Cornwallis Street, Kentville.

The Orpin account, which I used in my column, and the vignette piece differ in details but they both have Magee fleeing the Revolution and arriving in Nova Scotia, where he is eventually reunited with his family. Elizabeth Rand wrote the vignette article and like everything the late historian worked on, it is well researched. Rand describes a Henry Magee who was an entrepreneur first class and one of the Valley’s early merchants kings.

Besides the store and grist mill in Kentville and the lakeside sawmill, Magee also erected a grist mill and saw mill on the appropriately named Magee Brook in Auburn. Rand tells us that Magee’s clientele came from a wide area. “Customers came from Wilmot, Aylesford, Cornwallis, Horton, Falmouth, Windsor and even as far as Parrsboro,” Rand writes. In addition to grinding their grain in his mills and supplying lumber and firewood, Magee’s store stocked everything the settlers of this area required; everything “from a needle to a plow,” Rand says, which suggests to me that this may have been Magee’s store motto.

Magee was more than a merchant, miller and lumber mill operator. Rand describes him as a “friend of the whole community” as well as a “trader (and) pawnbroker.” In the days when there was little “hard money,” Magee apparently bartered goods for goods and goods for services. In his store account books, for example, are entries indicating the local schoolmaster provided his services in exchange for goods.

As mentioned in the previous column, Magee’s loyalty to the Crown was rewarded with a grant of land in what is now the township of Aylesford. Magee decided to settle at Horton Corner/Kentville, however, and he built a home and store there in 1788. Louis Comeau tells me that when Magee settled in Horton Corner there were only 14 homes in the village. It is safe to assume that Magee’s store and mills were the embryo of Kentville’s evolvement as the business, social and political centre of Kings County.

Henry Magee is buried in Kentville’s oldest cemetery, Oak Grove, and a large headstone marks his resting place. The stone salutes his Irish ancestry but surprisingly fails to mention his contributions as a pioneer merchant.

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