RACISM ALIVE AND WELL IN 18th CENTURY (July 21/00)

Writing on the apple industry in a 1979 issue of the Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly, Keith Hatchard comments on an incident involving Kings County fruit growing pioneer, Colonel John Burbidge and another prominent settler, William Best.

“In 1763, an Indian named Bartholomew Nocout was experiencing some difficulty in the townships of Horton and Cornwallis and was at one point set upon and stoned by some of the new settlers,” Hatchard writes. “Messrs Burbidge and Best rescued the Indian from his tormentors and took him to their home for care and treatment.”

Hatchard mentions this incident only to elaborate on the generous character of Colonel Burbidge; unwittingly, he also gives us an unpleasant look at the mentality of early Annapolis Valley settlers. Most accounts of the settlers, who were freely granted land forcibly vacated by the Acadians, dwell on their hardships and grand accomplishments, the dyke building, for example. Historians rarely touch on the sordid, seamy side of colonial people and even when they do, we are usually given brief glimpses.

But despite being ignored by most historians, social ills such as slavery and racism were alive and well in the Annapolis Valley in the colonial period. Hatchard reveals the racist attitude of settlers while describing Burbidge and Best’s rescue of an Indian being stoned by settlers. We are only given a fleeting glimpse of the incident by Mr. Hatchard, but a footnote informs readers that he gleaned his information from A. W. H. Eaton’s history of Kings County.

Eaton devoted about half a page, a 16-line paragraph, to the stoning incident. Why he felt it necessary to mention the stoning is puzzling since he rather downplays the whole affair. The courts decide it is a trivial matter as well. While an officer appointed by the Lieut. Governor spent four days “investigating the affair,” and the Attorney General was “ordered to prosecute… those who had beaten Nocout,” little comes of it.

For the “severe if not dangerous injuries” (Eaton’s words) handed Nocout, the settlers involved, while obviously guilty, are never charged. Eaton tells us that the offenders “admitted their fault and the trouble was satisfactorily settled without recourse to the law.” Was Eaton serious or being facetious when he quotes an earlier historian’s views on this incident. “It is pleasing, says Murdoch, to find that if some of the new settlers were excitable, they were ready to acknowledge and make amends for their faults.”

It may not be a matter of racism when a native is stoned because he “got into difficulty with some of the new settlers,” (Eaton’s words again). But the fact that no charges were laid when the offenders said “sorry,” tells us not everyone was equal under the law in colonial times.

In his Kings County history, Eaton also glosses over the fact that some early settlers owned slaves. Col. Burbidge and other upper-class settlers, including some of the Planters, owned slaves. Hatchard notes that while Burbidge was one of the pioneers of the apple industry, “he was, nevertheless, a slaveowner and must have employed a number of these unfortunate people in the orchards of Annapolis.”

 

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