CENTREVILLE HISTORY IN THE WORKS (February 5/08)

It’s no surprise to me that many of the family names Mack Frail gleaned from an old Centreville store ledger are Irish. While researching, I discovered that Irish families often settled together in various outlying Kings County communities and Centreville was no exception.

Mack Frail is writing a history of Centreville, a task he’s been working on for several years. He recently compiled a list of families that shopped at a Centreville general store in the late 19th century. The list was compiled from a ledger Ron and Bernice Ward found when they took over the general store in 1983. The store has been open in Centreville for well over a century. Frail tells me this is only one of several of the store ledgers that exist, and he hopes to include their records in his Centreville history.

While copying the ledger accounts, Frail found that some 397 families were shopping at the general store. The first entry in the ledger is dated January 2, 1878, the final entry June 16, 1879. At the time the store was operated by Reuben Thorpe. While entries consists solely of items purchased and their prices, one of those dry, boring account books in other words, Frail says it “is wonderful document and for me a step back in the past.” The ledger shows, for example, that the barter system was alive and well at the time in Kings County. As Frail says, “a great deal of the transactions (at the store) were by barter, that is, when no cash exchanged hands.” The ledger indicates that “cord wood” was often exchanged for groceries, for example.

Frail tells me he has a lot of work ahead of him before the history will be finished. Folklore says there is an Acadian connection with the village, for example, and chronicling this phase of the village’s history may be difficult. Centreville could owe its origin to the fact that the Acadian roads met in the area. It’s possible also that these roads originally were Mi’kmaq trails, but that may be difficult to determine.

Pinning down records of the old Centreville lands grants has been difficult, Frail says. “I have always heard of the Bowles land grant, for example,” he said in effect, “but I haven’t located any documentation concerning it.” One Thadius Bowles operated what may have been the first mill in Centreville. A barn that’s some 150 years old and was part of the Bowles’ mill is still standing on Frail’s property.

Frail will also have to delve into Centreville’s Irish connection. Centreville has a Catholic cemetery with many old Irish headstones. I have no record of the Irish names on the tombstones, but Reuben Thorpe’s accounts ledger suggests some of them could be Haggertys, Magees, Murphys, Colemans, Sullivans or Mahaneys, to list a few of the Irish families that shopped at the store a century ago.

Little is known about the Acadians and the Irish in and around Centreville, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Frail comes up with regarding them. While Centreville undoubtedly grew rapidly after the railway arrived in 1890, the most interesting eras in Centreville’s history – and in any community’s history, in fact – should be the Acadian and post Acadian period immediately after the Planters arrived.

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