In last week’s column, I wrote about the infamous John Gorham, leader of a mixed band of New Englanders, half-breeds and Mohawks that in the 18th century fought against the Mi’kmaq in the wilds of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Apparently, Gorham and his band roamed through the Annapolis Valley on several occasions. In fact, a clash between Gorham’s Rangers and the French and their Mi’kmaq allies in a hollow on the western outskirts of Kentville may have been the source of a massacre legend.
The hollow where the clash is said to have taken place has several names. In local folklore, it’s known variously as Moccasin Hollow, Bloody Hollow, Bloody Gully, Bloody Run and Golden Hollow. A noted Kings County historian, the late Ernest Eaton, dubbed the event that gave the hollows it macabre titles the “Legend of Bloody Hollow.” The event has also been called the “Moccasin Hollow Massacre.” Various historians, among them Edmund Cogswell, in an 1895 newspaper paper article, Murdock in his history of Nova Scotia, A. W. H. Eaton in his Kings County history, 1910, Leslie Eugene Dennison, in a 1932 newspaper article, and Mabel Nichols in her Kentville history, 1986, refer to the clash that took place in the hollow.
In his Kings County history, A. W. H. Eaton writes that in 1752 a company of British soldiers, possibly under the command of Colonel John Gorham and Major Erasmus James Phillips were ambushed “by a party of French and Indians” in Moccasin Hollow “and were cruelly slain.”
In investigating the “massacre,” Ernest Eaton pointed out a couple of errors in A. W. H. Eaton’s account. First, the 1752 date is wrong and the clash took place in 1747. It’s likely that it wasn’t British soldiers but Gorham Rangers under Gorham and Phillips that were ambushed. Ernest Eaton also says that contrary to what A. W. H. Eaton wrote, it’s probable that the French and Indians got the worst of the clash. Given the frontier reputation of Gorham and Phillips, Ernest Eaton said, it is more likely that they turned the tables on the would-be ambushers and surprised them instead.
“The Indian’s fear of the spot suggests they may have got the worst of the encounter, ” Eaton wrote in a paper on the clash, which is available at the Kings County Museum. He also points out that the clash at the most was of a minor nature, despite what some local historians have written. It’s also possible, Ernest Eaton said, that people may have confused the Moccasin Hollow clash with the Noble massacre at Grand Pre. Some of the folklore about the Grand Pre incident and the Moccasin Hollow clash are identical.
Anyway, it appears that Gorham’s infamous Rangers and Gorham himself were involved in the Moccasin Hollow incident; and like it or not, Capt. John Gorham has a minuscule role in Kentville’s history.