“I wanted to share with you a picture of a military badge I just collected,” wrote Vincent Merritt recently via e-mail. “I consider it a real nice piece of Nova Scotia’s early military history, dating before Confederation,” It is the oldest Canadian military related item in my collection.”
Merritt, who was born in Port Williams, shipped out of here at an early age to spend over 30 years in the Canadian Army. He began collecting military badges over 50 years ago while travelling around the world with the Engineers Corps. Early on he specialized in Nova Scotia military artefacts, such as hat and lapel badges, medals and books. And after five decades of collecting he figured his collection was about as complete as it could get.
Then came the find of a rare Nova Scotia badge in a coin and stamp store. This was a badge he had never seen before, the badge of a military unit he had never heard of either and it was a total surprise. “The official title of the unit is the Nova Scotia Volunteer Artillery and this is stamped on the badge,” Merritt said. “This was new to me so I tried researching it and found a one line reference saying it was a militia unit and that was it. My next move was to contact the curator at the Citadel in Halifax about the militia and I’m waiting to hear back.”
Merritt eventually found that “the circa of the badge is the 1840s,” which dated its origin as pre-Confederation. The size of the badge (about three inches by about two inches) makes it too large to be worn on headwear. “I don’t think it was worn on a hat but possibly on a cross belt or a leather pouch,” Merritt said, but he wasn’t sure.
Merritt asked why there was a milita artillery unit in Nova Scotia in the 1800s and this is a good question. The badge harkens back to a time in Nova Scotia history when most of the province depended almost entirely on local militia units to defend it.
Here in Kings County several militia units were formed immediately on arrival of the Planters. As early as 1758 the provincial government established an act requiring all males between 16 and 60 to bear arms and to muster regularly for training. By the early 1860s Cornwallis Township had three companies of militia and Horton Township two; all of them were farmers, the sons of farmers and their servants. At first, all militia units had to equip themselves with firearms and other military paraphernalia at their own expense but this would change later.
Some of the militia units organised around the province were required to form artillery outfits to assist in defending the coastline. One of the units was the Nova Scotia Volunteer Artillery and they wore the badge Merritt found. This outfit can trace its lineage back to about 1776 and one of its units is believed to have concentrated in Kings County on the shoreline of the Minas Basin. It isn’t likely but perhaps one of the militiamen guarding the Minas shore wore the very same badge Vincent Merritt discovered in a pawn shop.
Merritt also added another rare militia badge of Nova Scotia origin that he suspects can be traced back to the 1850s. Merritt refers to his latest find as a “silver wire Nova Scotia Militia badge” and he’s currently attempting to learn something about its history.
Cutline: A rare Nova Scotia volunteer militia badge that may have been worn by farmer soldiers in Kings County over 150 years ago.