EXCAVATING AN ACADIAN HOMESTEAD (June 3/08)

In his talk at the Wolfville Historical Society in May, one of the works Maynard Stevens quoted from was The French Period in Nova Scotia. A.D. 1500 – 1758 by John Erskine. Published in 1975, Erskine’s book, which he calls a historical, archeological and botanical survey, has several references to Acadian homesteads in New Minas and an overview of Acadian settlements along the three main streams in Kings County, the Cornwallis, Habitant (Canning) and Gaspereau River.

An interesting aspect of this work is Erskine’s means of locating Acadian sites. The presence of various plants and trees favored by the Acadians and “less dear to the New Englanders,” are indicators of possible Acadian homesteads and mill sites, Erskine writes. He mentions that homestead sites with these indicators can be found in New Minas and at a mill site between the village and Kentville. For anyone interested in checking them out, these botanical indicators are mentioned in the Blomidon Naturalists Society’s publication, A Natural History of Kings County.

But back to Erskine’s evidence that New Minas was once the site of Acadian homesteads. Erskine did some archeological surveys in New Minas, describing what he calls a typical Acadian homestead he excavated at an unnamed location. The dimensions of the house “seemed to be 25 x 12 feet,” with walls eight feet high and “probably of squared logs,” he writes. The house has a cellar that was about six feet deep with a floor of “rough stone paving.” Nearby is a root cellar some four feet wide at the bottom.

Erskine determined that one end of the homestead’s kitchen was paved with “long blocks of slate driven edgewise into the soil.” Here he found the remains of a hearth which was “walled with stone mortared with clay.” Above the hearth were the remains of the collapsed chimney, a “pile of much clay and occasional stones.”

Erskine notes that “not a nail was found in the whole site” making it probable the roof was of thatch. “The very thorough burning of the logs confirmed this,” he continued.

This reference to burned logs is intriguing. Is Erskine suggesting the New Minas homestead was burned down by New England soldiers, as were most Acadian homes in Kings County and in the area around Falmouth and Windsor during the expulsion?

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