1774 TOUR OF PROVINCE OLD NEWS TO SOME (February 6/12)

It was printed almost 70 years ago on inexpensive stock and with its cover frayed and its flimsy pages yellowed by the years, the 1944 report of the Public Archives looked at first glance to be one of those boring government papers.

However, a comment by the gentleman who kindly dropped it off at my house quickly changed that “boring” booklet into an exciting document.  “You might be interested in this account by two English farmers who toured the province in 1774,” Roger Meister said in effect.

That’s exactly what it was.  In 1774 two British farmers, apparently looking to buy farms, toured much of the province, describing in detail what they saw – the land, the people, the early Planter way of life here in the Annapolis Valley.  “Journey through Nova Scotia containing a particular account of the country and its inhabitants,” is the title John Robinson and Thomas Rispin used on the introductory page of their account.

While I’ve read a lot of Nova Scotia history, I must admit the Robinson, Rispin account was new to me.   When I mentioned the account to Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury, however, I soon found out that it was old news for professional historians.  “Google Robinson, Rispin,” Stokesbury said, which I did and I found numerous references to their account on the web.

If you’re interested in what early Planter life was like here in Kings County, you can check out the various entries about the account that are on the web.  Or you can continue reading this column.  Not everyone has access to a computer; and for many of us the Robinson, Rispin account isn’t old news.  For those people without computers here are some of the more interesting highlights of the account.

On Kings County, the general Horton township area:  “Along the side of this river is an extensive marsh called the Gramperre (but by the French the Plain of Minas) all diked in which contains two thousand six hundred acres; here are also other marshes undiked with great quantities of upland …. which seems of a reddish colour and is chiefly sown with rye, Indian corn, pumpkins, potatoes and other roots.”

Robinson and Rispin ventured on into Cornwallis Township, again noting the “large marshes, which are diked in.”  In this township, the English gentlemen write, “they keep good stocks both of beasts and sheep, but not many horses.”  One Mr. Burbridge of Cornwallis “has built a malt kiln, with an intention to set up a common brewhouse so that they expect to have good ale in Nova Scotia.”

On the people of Horton and Cornwallis townships those British chaps have a few unkind words along with high praise.  “They are as bad managers in this town as any we came amongst,” they comment on people of Horton Township.   Yet they later describe the New England settlers of Horton and Cornwallis generously:  “The New Englanders are a stout, tall, well-made people, extremely fluent of speech, and are remarkably courteous to strangers.  Indeed, the inhabitants, in general, poor as well as rich, possess much complacence and good manners.”

On dress we find from the British gentlemen that the men of that time period “wear their hair queu’d and their clothing, except on Sundays, is generally home-made, with checked shirts; and in winter they wear linsey-woolsey shirts, also breeches, stockings and shoes.”

During summer, on every day of the week except Sunday, the men go barefoot.  Except on Sunday, “the women in general wear woolseys both for petticoats and aprons; and instead of stays, they wear a loose jacket ….  The women in summer, in imitation of the men, usually go without stockings or shoes, and many without caps.  They take much pains with their hair, which they tie in their necks and fix it to the crowns of their heads.”

Then there’s a final contrary dig at the general character of the New England settlers:  “Nothing can be said in favour of the inhabitants, as to their management in farming.  They neither discover judgment or industry.  Such of the New Englanders, into whose manners and characters we particularly inspected, appeared to us to be a lazy, indolent people.”

Not a kind assessment.  Robinson and Rispin apparently can’t make up their minds about the character of the Planter people.

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