DYKELAND HAVOC – THE STORM OF 1759 (September 20/02)

In 1761, just over a year after they had taken up land vacated by the deported Acadians, the New England settlers in Kings County petitioned the government. The petition asked the government to keep an Acadian labour force in the province. The Acadians had been of great assistance not only as farm labourers but “particularly in the making and repairing of Dykes.” Without their assistance, the petition said, “many of us cannot continue our improvements, nor plowe our lands nor finish the dykeing still required to secure our lands from salt water.”

What was left unsaid in the petition, and the main reason for it being drawn up in the first place, was the condition of the dykes around the Minas Basin. Over five years had passed from the time of the expulsion and arrival of New England settlers; in that period the dykes, being untended, had rapidly deteriorated and salt water was threatening prime agricultural land.

Late in 1759 the unattended dykes of the Acadians had received a near disastrous blow. On November 3 a great storm swept over the region raising sea levels in the Minas Basin almost two meters higher than usual. A combination of gale winds and high tides brought huge waves crashing down upon dykes along the Kings and Hants County shore, flooding many acres of land the Acadians had farmed.

While the storm left flooded marshes and broken dykes in every township on the Minas Basin, some of the greatest damage from the storm occurred in what today is Kings and Hants County. In the summer of 1760 Nova Scotia’s Governor toured the area to assess the damage to the dykes. Lawrence died before he could report his findings but acting Governor Belcher sent an account of his visit to the Lords of Trade in Great Britain:

“The great object of his (Lawrence’s) attention were the Dykes, of which the breach made in that of the River Canard in the Township of Cornwallis, as it was the greatest, was his first care.”

We learn from Belcher’s account that Acadians being detained in the province were already being considered as a labour force. “For this purpose,” Belcher wrote, “the inhabitants with the Cattle and Carriages, together with those hired from Horton at their own expense, were joined with some of the provincial troops and french (sic) inhabitants, who were best acquainted with works of this kind, to make a collection of necessary materials to repair the breach.”

The great storm of 1759 appears to have set back Planter settlements along the Minas shore for at least a year. Provisions had been provided the Planters free of charge for the first year but Great Britain apparently balked at financing repair of the storm-damaged dykes. In his paper on the Planter settlements, James S. Martell quotes from a missive the Lords of Trade sent to Belcher in 1761 stating that they had “determined to grant nothing in particular towards the repairs to the dykes.”

Apparently the Lords of Trade felt that despite the damage caused by the storm, there was sufficient land left untouched by flooding to provide for the settlers. “We know that there is land enough improved which has suffered but little from this Calamity,” the Lords of Trade wrote. “In the Townships of Horton and Cornwallis, which are acknowledged both by you and Mr. Lawrence to have been principally injured, there appears to have been already enclosed from the Abstract which you have transmitted, and to which we are referred, 2700 acres of marsh land and 1500 Tons of Hay to have been raised in one year.”

This was the final word. With no more aid coming, the settlers dug into their own pockets to finance dyke repairs.

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