“BURNT COUNTRY” – THE GREAT 1710 FIRE (November 8/10)

This is an anniversary year of sorts, one few people know about and few will celebrate. If historical writers can be taken at their word when documented evidence is scarce, it was 300 years ago, in 1710, that a fire destroyed much of the forests of eastern Kings and western Hants County. The great fire disrupted the economy of Acadian settlements and to an even greater extent, impacted on Planter settlements in Kings and Hants.

Several historical writers mention the 1710 fire, usually devoting little more than a line or two to the fact that it occurred. In his history of Windsor, for example, L. S. Loomer simply states that in 1710 a “forest fire destroyed the area between the Gaspereau and Pesegitk (Avon) river.” Gwendolyn Vaughan Shand, in Historic Hants County, devotes a single line to the fire as well, mentioning only that the “whole forest area between the Avon and the Gaspereau River in Kings County was leveled.”

A 1947 travel book by one T. Morris Longstreth (To Nova Scotia) also mentions a great fire that destroyed large areas of forest in this region. Longstreth gives no dates and it’s possible he was referring to a prehistoric fire. This fire was widespread, Longstreth says, affecting most of the province with the exception of a few pockets here and there.

But back to the 1710 fire. I’ve mentioned it several times in previous columns, hoping someone has documentation from a historical source. Such documentation has recently been found in an 1896 newspaper article in the Robie Lewis Reid collection at Dalhousie University. The article, discovered recently by Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury, describes the area the fire devastated and its effect on the Planters. Extensively quoted is a dispatch to Governor William Shirley from Charles Morris, the provincial surveyor general. This describes the terrible condition of the woodlands in Kings and Hants and the “disastrous consequences” of the 1710 fire.

Briefly, the Morris manuscript says wood, so all-important to the Planters “for fuel, shallop building, fencing, and the construction of houses, barns, etc.,” was scarce due to the fire “50 years earlier” and would have to be rationed. The “woods in Falmouth, having suffered at the same time as Horton (from the fire) the growth of timber is small” and unusable, Morris writes.

Such was the condition of the forest around the Planter settlements that the new settlers quickly passed resolutions limiting the harvesting of timber. As the following quote from the newspaper article indicates, the situation was so serious that the townships turned against each other:

“According to these resolutions the 70 emigrants from New England to Newport in 1760 were compelled to enact stringent resolutions to prevent the 107 emigrants to Falmouth from the same country from cutting wood and timber within their limits; and the Falmouth occupants, as a consequence, passed laws to restrict the cutting of firewood and timber on their own location by their own people.”

All this was done within 10 weeks after the Planters arrived, all because “the forest was leveled over the burnt land and nothing but second growth was visible in the burnt country.”

 

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