EATON TALKS ABOUT COUNTY HISTORY IN 1888 (April 25/11)

“There ought to be a general ransacking of the garrets of this County – of Horton, Cornwallis and Aylesford (townships) – for objects of interests …. old books, manuscripts, letters, seals, household furniture, farming implements, bits of wood from old houses, all should be gathered in.”

On an August evening in 1888, Rev. Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton made this appeal at a meeting in Kentville. Many of the prominent citizens of Kings County had gathered together at the time to organize a Kings County historical society and Eaton was the guest speaker.

This was over two decades before Eaton published his greatest work, the history of Kings County. He apparently had already started collecting historical papers, possibly with a county history in mind, and the intent of his talk that August evening in 1888 may have been to stimulate interest in compiling one.

Eaton said, for example, that “of county histories (in Nova Scotia) we have as yet few and none I believe of the highest value. Of this, certainly one of the most interesting counties in the province (Kings), we have no printed history.”

Eaton then referred to a partial work on Kings County that had already been compiled by one Jonathan Hamilton, which “possess much value” but by the author’s admission “needs careful revision.” The original compilation by Hamilton probably sits in a museum or university vault somewhere in New England but Eaton must have incorporated this early research in his county history.

Eaton then refers to his efforts to collect county history: “My own work this summer in gathering facts and through the courtesy of the editors of our local newspapers, presenting them to the public, and so preserving them for future reference, has been the outcome of a profoundly felt interest in the county where I was born and reared.”

Readers must admit this is an interesting insight. Due to a “profoundly felt interest” Eaton was diligently working on compiling a history of Kings County and urging others to take an interest in such a work. As we can see, Eaton worked on this compilation for over two decades before the history was published. But when he spoke before that gathering in Kentville in 1888 he had collected “only a few of the facts that are available for the future histories of the county.”

Actually, when he spoke in Kentville in 1888 about organizing a historical society and preserving county records, Eaton had already been working on genealogical records for at least a decade. “During the past 10 years I have given a great deal of time,” he said, “to genealogical records.” Much of what he had compiled up to that time undoubtedly found its way into his county history.

I’ve taken this report on Eaton’s talk from a newspaper account, The Western Chronicle. The heading on the account read: “Address at the Organization of the Kings County Historical Society in Kentville.” This implies that a historical society was formed. If it was, and I assume it was, I’ve never seen mention of it anywhere in Kings County records. Perhaps it was a short lived organization.

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