READER SAYS COLUMNIST IS RACIALLY BIASED (August 11/00)

In a recent letter via e-mail, reader David Webster, Kentville, said he notes a tone of disparagement when I write about the Planters in this column; and writes Mr. Webster, I appear to have a racial bias in my interpretation of events.

Mr. Webster has also taken me to task for using the word “stoned” and “stoning” in a July column that dealt with a 1763 run-in between settlers and a native Indian. In the column, I had quoted from a 1979 article by Keith Hatchard in the Nova Scotia Historical Quarterly.

“In your column of July 21“, Mr. Webster writes, “you used the word ‘stoned’ or ‘stoning’ five times. Eaton’s History of Kings County, the ultimate source of your information, uses the word ‘beaten.’ Based upon your column, it appears to me that Mr. Hatchard’s account does not agree with his source of information. By repeating Mr. Hatchard’s misleading account without comment, you imply that his source contains substantially the same information.

“The Planters figured prominently in the history of this region but, on those few occasions in which they have been mentioned in your many historical columns, disparagement seems to predominate. I regret to say that I suspect you have a racial bias in your interpretation of events.”

“We are led to believe,” Mr. Webster continued, “that a dispute between settlers and a native revealed a racist attitude in colonial people and the tendency of historians to overlook events which put them (the settlers) in a bad light.” This is what I wrote in the column and this was my interpretation, rightly or wrongly, of the dispute between the settlers and the native Indian.

Concluding his letter, Mr. Webster asked for answers to two questions. “Where in Eaton’s History is the word ‘stoned’ used to describe this incident? Where in this history is there any indication that (the Indian) was being tormented?”

In reply to Mr. Webster I wrote as follows:

You are correct in your statement that Eaton does not use the word “stoned;” nor is it indicated in the history that the Indian in question was “tormented.” Both words were used by Hatchard in his account as per my quotes. Mr. Hatchard may have made an error when he talked about the “stoning,”, but he also may have had another source other than Eaton. I’m interested in knowing the facts here – was (the Indian) actually stoned? – and am writing Mr. Hatchard through the Nova Scotia Historical Society for a clarification. I will be glad to pass the results of my inquiry along to you.

As for my bias, I take the stand that historians tend to glorify events and historic figures a bit too much and some skepticism is healthy. I note that you said nothing about the fact that people like Burbidge and other notable figures of the time kept slaves. And finally, tell me that the incident involving (the Indian) and the settlers would be thrown out of court today simply because someone apologized.

In an e-mail reply to the above, Mr. Webster’s astute comment places the settlers-native affair and the slavery issue in context:

“This is a very long and involved subject,” Webster wrote, “but, in few words, the actions of an individual in some past era should be judged within the context of the conditions which prevailed at that time as opposed to current conditions.”

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