In the history of Kings County Arthur W. H. Eaton notes that as well as being one of the first shipbuilding areas, Hall’s Harbour was for a time one of the “notable trading centres” in this region.
Eaton was referring to the period when commerce, for the most part, depended on sailing ships and favourable tides. For a lengthy period, commercial goods reached Kings County through ports such as Hall’s Harbour, Kingsport and so on. As road improved and when the railroad reached Kings County, entry ports on the Fundy and Minas Basin shore disappeared, becoming the quaint tourist destinations we know today. In effect, thriving seaside villages and trading centres such as Hall’s Harbour went the way of sailing ships once overland commercial trafficking was viable.
It’s difficult to picture Hall’s Harbour as previously being one of the “notable trading centres” Eaton lauded. But there is plenty of evidence that it was. First, a quote from a clipping dated 1995 that I found recently in a trivia file: “Hall’s Harbour… served as a fishing station for the people of the Valley until about 1826 when it began to grow. Two new families settled there; and in 1820 the first store was opened by Sylvanus Whitney. Five years later the first vessel, the Dove, was built in Hall’s Harbour.”
While I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this quote, another source verifies that in the 19th century Hall’s Harbour was indeed a thriving centre. Hutchinson’s Directory, the 1864-65 edition, describes a Hall’s Harbour that has an amazing mix of merchandisers, tradesmen and mariners, suggesting that indeed that it was as prosperous and notable as Eaton claimed.
In 1864-65 Sylvanus Whitney was still operating the store he opened in 1820. There were shops other than Whitneys, Hutchinson’s Directory listing Henry Cox and C. & T. Ilsley as merchants. Hall’s Harbour was important enough to have a way office, the keeper being one Thomas R. Ilsley. The extra “L” must have been added to this surname at a later date since the five Illsleys listed as Hall’s Harbour residents are spelled with only two.
In the period covered by Hutchinson, Hall’s Harbour has 48 heads of households. Two are blacksmiths, John H. Boles and George Sandford. Two of Hall’s Harbour’s most famous surnames – Bucknam – are represented by John Bucknam, a marine and naval architect, and Judson A. Bucknam, shipwright. In total, Hall’s Harbour had 10 shipwrights, or carpenters involved in the manufacture and repair of ships, an indication of its importance as a port. One of the shipwrights was John Nevils, a name still associated with the port.
Hall’s Harbour also had three shoemakers and two coopers. There was a school – John Boles and Martin Porter are listed as teachers. Rev. Joseph Noble looked after the area’s religious requirements and five of the port’s residents are listed as sea captains, of which three have the surname of Parker.
Oddly, 15 residents of Hall’s Harbour are listed as farmers and only three as fishermen. This probably can be explained by the fact that in early times farmers had dual occupations, working the land and also harvesting from the sea.