HISTORICAL NUGGETS FROM A FAVOURITE BOOK (January 22/19)

One of my most cherished books is W. C. Milner’s collection of historical articles on people and communities around the Minas Basin. As I’ve mentioned before, Milner was the provincial archivist who moved to Wolfville around 1930 when he retired. In Wolfville he wrote a series of articles for the town paper (The Acadian) which was bound and published in book form.

As well as being rare, Milner’s book was cheaply bound on flimsy paper, so I only take it out of its protective cover to read once or twice a year. One of those occasions was during the recent holidays and I found some interesting historical nuggets worth sharing. Did you know, for example that laws in place during the Planter period allowed husbands and wives to be punished together publicly for minor infractions, such as being noisy in public. Quoting from Milner: “Scolding women were subjected to the dunking pool. Sometimes she and her husband were subjected to it, tied back to back.” This, you might say, is an early example of equal opportunities for women.

There’s a Wickwire Dyke in Wolfville, built or expanded circa 1806, and it has a special distinction. Milner writes that it was the first dyke built in Kings County and possibly the first around the Minas Basin that wasn’t Acadian in origin. The dyke is named from Zebediah Wickwire, a grandson of a Planter grantee to Horton township. With its so called Wickwire Hill, Kentville also has a historical connection with the descendants of Zebediah, but Milner neglects to mention this. The Wickwires were once a prominent Kentville family.

In its heyday, Cornwallis Township was the most productive shipbuilding area in Kings County, turning out hundreds of sailing ships. Horton Township was less productive, mainly because little of it has the necessary stretches of shoreline. However, Milner offers a list of many ships that were built in Horton Township in the 19th century. According to Milner, even little old Kentville got into the shipbuilding act, turning out the 392-ton Clermnet on the Cornwallis River in 1855.

Was it sarcasm, envy, or witty exaggeration when Milner reports that after the Planters arrived, the Chipmans became the most prominent family in Nova Scotia? You decide. Here’s what Milner wrote:

“When Handley Chipman removed from Newport, R. I., to Cornwallis in 1761, it might have been well if the Government had granted a whole province or at least two or three counties to so prolific a family. There seemed to be enough of them to fill all public offices and places of trust and then to overflow into the pulpits. Those who did not care to bother with J.P.’s or Supreme Court Judgeships, or members of the Assembly or representatives at Ottawa, or provincial administrations could spread themselves over the land as cultivators of soil.”

Then there’s one last dig at Handley Chipman: “Not satisfied with offices of J.P. and Judge of the Superior Court of Common Pleas, he employed his surplus energies on comments of the day and moral reflections. This did no harm as his family have spared future generations from reading them.”

To close off, here’s what Mr. Milner wrote about the delivery of mail in the 18th and the early 19th century: “In 1786 the road from Halifax to Windsor was traversed fortnightly, part of the way by a mail courier on foot and partly on horse back. Ten years later the road had been improved so it took a horse. Twenty years later (1816) a coach line was established twice a week. The time from Halifax to Kentville was 44 hours by a courier on horseback.”

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