CEMETERY WITH A HISTORICAL CONNECTION (February 25/05)

There’s an interesting connection between Kentville’s Oak Grove Cemetery and the War of 1812, Ivan Smith noted in a recent e-mail. “Probably you know of this, but just in case (here are the details)” Smith wrote.

By coincidence, I’ve been planning a column on the historic cemetery and some of the older grave sites there. However, until Ivan Smith wrote I was unaware of any connection between Oak Grove, the War of 1812 and a Liverpool privateer. Oak Grove, as readers may be aware, is “the earliest burial ground of Kentville people,” (I’m quoting A. W. H. Eaton’s history of Kings County) and was established in 1817. The cemetery was given a special distinction when a legislative act was passed in 1845 that provided for its supervision and management. The original cemetery, about half an acre, was part of a land grant of 750 acres given to Benjamin Peck in 1764. Some of Peck’s grant comprised what is now part of downtown Kentville. When Peck died his land was divided between his sons, Benjamin Jr. and Cyrus.

Now to the connection between the cemetery, privateers and the War of 1812.

Ivan Smith tells me that during the War of 1812, one Capt. Barss Jr. commanded the small Liverpool privateer, the “Liverpool Packet.” It was “the most famous privateer ship of all” Smith said, “and within a year (Barss) was rich, and his ship was famous. He captured 33 American ships, mostly off Boston and Salem, bringing them safely to Liverpool.”

Barss’ luck ran out in the summer of 1812. In June of that year, he was forced to capitulate to a superior American ship. Captured off the waters of Maine, Barss and his crew were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Eventually Barss was released, apparently on the condition that he no longer captain a privateer and plunder American ships.

In 1817 Barss and his family moved to Kentville. There he purchased the farm of Benjamin Peck Jr. However, one of the conditions of the sale was that Peck would remain in possession of a small portion of his land. Why he did this is explained by A. W. H. Eaton his Kings County history.

“When Benjamin Peck, the younger, late of Horton, with his wife Mary, deeded his farm to Joseph Barss Jr., he reserved half an acre for a public burying place, in the grove of oaks on the north side of the county road ‘where his honored father and mother and several other persons were buried’, this public burying ground to be perfectly open and free to people of all denominations forever.”

Now you have the connection between Oak Grove Cemetery and the War of 1812 – and the Kentville connection with one of the most famous privateers in Nova Scotia’s history. My thanks to Ivan Smith for bringing this to my attention. If you’d like to read more about Oak Grove Cemetery, Peck and Barss turn to Eaton’s history of Kings County. There are also websites devoted to the career of Joseph Barss Jr.

Barss himself eventually came to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery. He died at an early age, 49, in 1824. His headstone and those of the Peck family can still be found in Oak Grove.

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