When Henry Youle Hines wrote about an old burial ground in Hants County, he included a great deal of history about Acadian settlements in the Canard area of Kings County. A. W. H. Eaton’s seminal work, the history of Kings County published in 1910, also contained numerous references to areas that today lie within Hants County.
This may be puzzling to anyone not familiar with the period when Nova Scotia was divided into five counties. Kings was one of the original five counties and much of what is Hants County today was part of it. The province was divided into five counties in 1759, Annapolis, Kings, Cumberland, Lunenburg and Halifax; Hants County was established in 1781.
There were several reasons for breaking up Kings County. Firstly, the county was simply too large. Government records from 1781 note that the distance from the shiretown of Horton and the inconvenience of crossing the tidal Avon River to transact county business were factors in establishing Hants County. Keep in mind that in the 18th century most roads were rough trails and travel on land was by foot or horseback.
As I mentioned, the references by Hines and Eaton are puzzling if one is unaware that Kings and Hants were once a single county. Another history book, a work on the Minas Basin region by W. C. Milner, would also be puzzling if one wasn’t aware of this. I wrote about Milner’s book in my last column. I’ve be re-reading the hundred or so pages I photocopied from a library copy and it’s interesting to see how this region was governed before Kings County was split and Hants County didn’t exist.
“In 1759, four years after the removal of the Acadians,” Milner wrote in an overview, “the government at Halifax divided the province into five counties…. The immigration from New England colonies had not yet commenced; Kings (County) had no settled population except at Horton, and it was arranged that those hailing from Kings could vote at Halifax for the coming elections.
“There were no sheriffs for many years after and the Provost Marshall was authorized to appoint deputy presiding officers. The counties were each allotted two members, the townships twelve. Apparently, Kings sent two members, John Burbidge and Isaac Deschamps.
“Two organizations took charge of the civil affairs of the county – the town meetings and the court of sessions. The township books of Horton and Cornwallis are still in existence but the sessions record book up to the year 1812 is missing from the county records at Kentville.”
Milner laments the loss of the sessions record books which he said were “full of interesting information respecting schools, roads, poor and proceedings for petty misdemeanours” in Kings/Hants. In consequence, Milner wrote, “a vast amount of information respecting the proceedings and acts of the forefathers of the present generation is unknown to them.”
This overview is confusing since Milner in a few sentences jumps from the period before the Planters arrived to the time when the governing of Kings/Hants was in the hand of early Planter settlers. Milner places John Burbidge and Deschamps in the province before the Planter, yet it appears that the former arrived with them.
A check in Eatons Kings County history cleared up this confusion. On page 83 Eaton writes that some of the extra lots in Cornwallis township were “given to Halifax men who had been for a few years in the province, and who had influence with the government, as for example Messrs. John Burbidge and William Best, who settled in the county.”