WRITING THE HISTORY OF KINGS COUNTY (November 20/07)

In a couple of years, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton’s Kings County history will have been in print for a century. Since 1910, when Eaton’s history appeared, numerous history books have been written about Kings County communities; none have approached the scope of Eaton’s work. His is the most detailed record ever compiled of early days in the county, well deserving of a phrase I often use, the bible of Kings County historians.

We owe a debt to A. W. H. for sitting down, taking pen in hand, and writing this history. Compiling it alone was a tremendous task. Imagine the great mounds of historical records A. W. H. sifted through, read and rewrote before deciding what was relevant and what to set aside. I know I’m using a cliché, but the amount of effort required to collect and write the history is best described as mind boggling.

In the preface to his work, Eaton said the physical act of writing took three years. He started collecting material for his work 20 years before the writing and editing took place. Perhaps he never intended to write the history in the first place; but as his collection of manuscripts grew, it probably dawned on him that a comprehensive history of Kings County was not only possible and in his words, imperative.

While Eaton wrote the Kings County history in Boston, he was born here and spent his early, formative years in the county. He studied for the ministry in Boston. Later, in 1904, some six years before the history was published, he earned a masters degree at Dalhousie University.

Eaton was born in 1849, possibly in Kentville since his father was a prominent citizen of the town. The Kings County history was published when Eaton was in his 61st year and was compiled and written while he was in the ministry. He died in 1937 and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Kentville. His prominent tombstone, reading he was a Doctor of Civil Law and a Priest of the Diocese of New York, overlooks the highway at the east end of the town.

Postscript: I’m repeating myself but in an age when records were stored as handwritten documents in widely scattered locations, Eaton must have collected, copied, sorted and edited an enormous number of historical papers before he could even think about writing his history. For some of his history, he referred to the research of several historians, most of whom he credited in his work, a few that he did not. However, this takes nothing away from a great historical work that today many of us take for granted.

I was unable to determine how many copies of the original edition were released, but it’s definitely a collector’s item. Copies of the original edition are now being offered on the “web,” (at AbeBooks, for example) from $225 to $370. Used copies of the Mika reprint, published 1972, are currently selling for $30 to $40.

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