Last week’s column on Kentville’s Gallows Hill prompted several people to call and one reader gave me a different name for the man hanged there between 1840 and 1850. I’ve also found an earlier date for the hanging, but like most of the folklore floating around about Gallows Hill, there’s no proof that it’s accurate.
One reader told me that according to Burpee R. Bishop, a Kentville historian (and town grocer and patent medicine purveyor around 1900) the hanging took place in 1826; another reader said that it was a man named Powell, not Bell, who was hanged on the hill.
No pun intended, but the name Powell rang a bell. I vaguely remembered seeing a reference to a Powell being connected with the Gallows Hill hanging, so I dug into some catchall files where I’ve been stuffing miscellaneous historical information. I found a second letter from Ernest Eaton containing a reference to the hill. In this letter Eaton quotes Burpee Bishop who gave Powell as the man executed on the hill.
Eaton infers that this information may not be accurate. However, he does offer some background on who the authorities were in Kings County around the time of the hanging. Eaton writes that a descendant of Handley Chipman, one of the first Planter grantees here, was sheriff of Kings County at the time. This was William Chipman; Eaton added that William’s son Charles served under him as a county deputy.
Ernest Eaton quotes Burpee Bishop on William Chipman being sheriff and as I intimated, he was quoting and not stating this was a fact. In his Kings County history, A. W. H. Eaton writes that William Chipman was the county’s representative in the federal government “on the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.” According to A. W. H. Eaton, the only Chipman that was a Kings County sheriff was George; he was in office from 1809 until he died in 1838. If old A. W. H. is right, and undoubtedly he is, this would make Burbee Bishop’s claim that one Sheriff William Chipman supervised the hanging as incorrect and the 1826 date questionable.
Folklore has it that Gallows Hill was once known as Joe Bell Hill, named it is said after the man who was hanged there. Kentville historian Louis Comeau has a document of the Kentville Hospital Association from the 1920s that lists a property either at the top or bottom of Gallows Hill that was called “Joe Bell’s cottage.” I mention this since it could mean that Joe Bell Hill was so called simply because one Joe Bell had resided there.
Both Bell and Powell (take your choice) are said to have been of the black race but this is folklore only and there’s no proof it is correct. In an earlier column on Gallows Hill (April 1996) I noted that Eaton’s Kings County history mentions a black family who lived close to Gallows Hill.
There was an error in last week’s column. I wrote that the hanging of Bell took place along what is know as Blair Street. Sorry folks, that should be Blair Avenue. As for the Blair Avenue site for the gallows, possibly this is incorrect. Another piece of folklore floating around gives the very top of the hill, on the right side of Cornwallis Street, before it is joined by Exhibition Street, as the site of the gallows.
So there you have it, almost all of the Gallows Hill folklore I’ve collected and been told about. P.S. The skeleton of the man hanged on Gallows Hill is said to have ended up in the office of a Yarmouth doctor.