LOOKING BACK: WOLFVILLE IN 1856 (July 26/02)

In the years from 1856 to 1858, a gentleman by the name of H. S. K. Neal attended Horton Academy in Wolfville. In 1924, when he was in his eighties, Neal wrote a letter to historian W. C. Milner describing the Wolfville of his boyhood school days and reminiscing about the people he met in the town and studied with. Excerpts from Neal’s letter follow. His first reference is to a prominent Wolfville merchant who successfully ran for the Liberals, representing the township of Horton from 1859 to 1863; we get a glimpse of election rivalry in those far off days.

“The political contest between John L. Brown and his brother (Dr. E. L. Brown) was a hot one. I’m not sure whether it was 1856 or ’57, but it was about planting time for I often listened to John L., who was a farmer as well as a merchant. He made no bones about giving Edward (his brother) a call down everywhere he went to speak. Edward retaliated and the war raged until election day. I think it was a close election but John L.’s prestige among farmers and those who dealt with him won the day, but they were bitter to each other for quite a length of time.”

Several references to John L. Brown are found in the Wolfville history, Mud Creek, including one that tells us he “left his mercantile business in Grand Pre in 1847 and moved to Wolfville to the west half of a surgery of his brother Dr. E. L. Brown.” The Wolfville history tells us that Brown’s residence, which was built in 1852 is “the Acadia University president’s house of today.”

Neal’s letter is gossipy and undoubtedly would never be printed in a formal history of Wolfville since he makes personal observations and comments. However, the letter is far more interesting, at least to me, than the often boring details in most history books. His comments on John L. Brown’s election campaign illustrate what I mean; a few more examples follow.

In Wolfville Neal writes there lived “Mr. Fowler who kept a house where people put up for a while; he had a son Elijah and one or two daughters, and an adopted boy… whose father was an old Baptist minister. Near by Mr. Fowlers was a Mr. Blackadar, who had quite a large furniture whareroom. T. R. Patillo kept a store next to Blackadar, dry goods, groceries, and stationery and books. I think he came from Lunenburg or Queens County, of Italian origin. A very smart and keen business man.”

Then there was “James Patriquin (who) kept a barber shop, but his original trade was a harness maker, a fine fellow, well liked and well patronized. He came from Cumberland County. William Thompson kept a hotel, put up travellers as they came along for shelter day or night. He was an Irishman, clever and attentive to all. Wet goods could be had at a cheap rate at that time, although most of the people talked prohibition. Whether they practised it or not, I do not know.”

An example of how explicit, and perhaps unkind, Neal was in this interesting letter can be found when he writes about a Wolfville character, Scotchy S…, who “kept a little speak easy at Mud Creek.” During Brown’s election campaign Scotchy “tried to drown himself three times in one day, but was pulled out. I do not know whether he finished the job another time or not. He had a son, deaf and dumb; he published the Avon Herald, I think that was the name.”

In his letter, Neal recalled the names and origins of students at Horton Academy and Acadia University for the period 1856 to 1858. The list is probably incomplete since Neal apparently depended on his memory to compile it, but it should be of use to anyone looking for information on their ancestors.

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