E. L. EATON: HISTORICAL DETECTIVE AT WORK (April 18/06)

The more I delve into local history, the more I realise how much we’re indebted to people like Kings County historical researcher Ernest L. Eaton (1896-1984)

Mr. Eaton followed in the footsteps of his illustrious distant cousin, historian Arthur W. H. Eaton, in that he had more than a passing interest in history. A Canard native, he was a professor of Agronomy and was a senior horticulturist with the federal Department of Agriculture. One of his hobbies was history and he was a recognised authority on the Canard dykes and Acadian and Planter lore. He was a published historical writer, his articles appearing numerous occasions in the Nova Scotia Historical Review and other works.

Eaton was one of those history detectives whose sleuthing through old records unearthed details of Planter life that had been lost. Witness, for example, his work on locating the original Planter grants in Kings County. What Eaton did in effect was recreate the original grants maps, maps that according to folklore had mysteriously disappeared. Here’s the background from Eaton’s paper published 1981 in the Nova Scotia Historical Review; in the paper (The Survey Plan of Cornwallis Township) he explains how through painstaking research, he was able to redraw the lost maps:

When the Planters arrived to take up Acadian land, Kings County was divided into several townships. One was Cornwallis township which has the Cornwallis River as its southern boundary and contained about one hundred thousand acres of dykes and upland. The townships were surveyed and precise maps drawn up. “Unfortunately,” Eaton wrote, “the original map or plan for Cornwallis Township has disappeared. There is a tradition that it was lost in a house fire.”

With no maps to look at, how was Eaton able determine precisely where the original grantees held land? – which while unstated, was apparently the objective of his research.

This was where Eaton’s persistence as a researcher came in. Perusing old documents with an eagle eye, he observed that records of early land transfers among Planters grantees contained the grantees name and referred to numbered lots in numbered divisions. “It is naturally assumed,” Eaton said, “that these numbers refer to a missing master plan or map, without which it is very difficult to be precise in individual locations.”

Digging deeper into deed records, Eaton found that land divisions were numbered from one to 15, and the lots from one to 10. Discovery of a rare book entitled Cornwallis Land Survey 1761 and perusal of the original 1765 land assessment roll for Cornwallis Township led to the next step. Using the land survey book and assessment rolls, Eaton went to a drafting board and was able to create a rough map of the original land grants and their grantees.

This is a simplified explanation and there was much more to it than this. For example, Eaton based his final placement on the fact that dyke lots faced tidal estuaries – they had three straight sides and a fourth irregular shoreline side facing the Canard River estuary. Once he asked himself where on a present day map of the same scale could a corresponding shoreline be found, Eaton was able to pinpoint exactly where each grantee held land. “Thus was recovered the long lost plan of the Cornwallis Township farm lots,” Eaton concluded.

You can read the complete, fascinating story of Eaton’s detective work at the Kings County Museum where Historical Reviews are on file. His paper, along with maps, is also published on the Eaton family website at http://www.nseaton.org/Eaton  .

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