A town with a merchant that issued his own money, where its sole medical practitioner was often paid with butter, eggs and poultry, and a town where Baptists, Episcopalians and Methodists lacked separate churches and shared the same meeting house.
This was Kentville in 1842 as described in an old newspaper account. Said to be from an “old newspaper clipping, the property of Robert Ward,” and published in The Advertiser in 1971, the account has details on the town several decades before it incorporated and approximately 16 years after it adopted its present name in honour of the Duke of Kent.
Kentville in that period was a slumbering village with few streets and a pretentious name. One of the streets, Main Street, claims to be the old military road or French Road, which eventually led to Annapolis Royal; another main artery, Cornwallis Street, is believed to be of Acadian and Mi’kmaq origin.
The Kentville described in the newspaper account is the town before the railway arrived and turned it into a prosperous centre. Dr. William Bennett Webster (1798-1861) is its sole physician in the period described in the account. Webster would eventually lay out other streets in the town. Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton in his Kings County history calls him “the most enterprising and far-seeing man in the village.” The newspaper article tells us that Webster occasionally accepted farm produce for services rendered. At the time, various farms operated within what are now the town limits and there were hitching posts for horses.
Another prominent Kentville family, along with the Websters, are the Moores. The 1842 article mentions several prominent members of the Moore family, among them Daniel H. Moore, who was “for many years M.P. for Kings County.”
Another prominent Kentville citizen mentioned in the article is the Hon. James d. Harris, a “Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and afterwards a member of the Legislative Council. Harris, the article said, was a merchant and banker who “issued five pound notes, which gave him a large floating capital free of interest.” This “Kentville money” was later withdrawn from circulation since Harris failed “to establish agencies …. to redeem them.”
Another prominent citizen at the time was James Edward DeWolfe, “a native of Wolfville,” who is described as one of the town’s “successful and worthy merchants.” Another prominent citizen was the lawyer John C. Hall, who was “a representative in the Legislature.” Prominent also was Caleb H. Rand who according to the article, built the Kentville Hotel, organised the Halifax Coach Company and saw to it that the stagecoach extended its line to the town.
“Kentville 50 years ago had a mail to and from Halifax twice a week instead of twice a day as now,” the article’s unknown author boasted. “The postage was ninepence, six times as much as at present and a single letter must be on one sheet of paper only.”
There are many more interesting revelations about the town’s early days in the article; several of its early spiritual leaders are named, for example. As I mentioned above, several religions shared a common church or meeting house in the period described in the article, but eventually this would change. Apparently in 1842 only Roman Catholics and Presbyterians worshipped at their own churches.