(In a column published last August, the authorship of Eaton’s history was discussed briefly. This follow-up is based on material I’ve discovered since.)
In a letter published in the Berwick Register in 1903, J. Calder Gordon wrote that in a Boston library he had discovered a “valuable manuscript” that was a history of Kings County, Nova Scotia. “Considerable work has been done (on this manuscript) by the late William Pitt Breckin… He had intended publishing it with the aid promised him by the leading people of the county.”
Expanding on what Breckin had accomplished, Gordon noted that the history contained “details of the founding and founders families of the county.” Gordon then advised the public that he was “gathering additional material to complete this valuable work” and would like the co-operation of those “interested in this banner county of Nova Scotia.” The completion of Breckin’s history could only be done from Boston, Gordon said, “as all the colonial records of the founding of the county are here.”
Looking back, it is obvious that Gordon’s plan to complete Breckin’s history never went anywhere. But based on Gordon’s letter, it appears that Breckin could be considered as a co-author of the county history that Eaton published. There’s more evidence to this effect in places other than the Gordon letter. In an obituary published in Boston at the time of his death in 1899, it was noted that Brechin had “published… the History of Kings County, NS, and its early New England families.” In a profile of Brechin, published earlier in a medical journal, it was noted that Brechin was a contributor “to the Western Chronicle of Kentville, Kings County, N.S., his articles being historical and genealogical sketches of Kings County.”
Did Brechin actually publish a history of Kings County, as was inferred in his obituary? Was J. Calder Gordon correct in stating that Dr. Brechin had done considerable work on researching and writing a history of Kings County? His contemporaries believe that he did. However, there’s no hard evidence that Brechin published a county history, as was suggested in his obituary; if he did, it must have been of limited circulation and few if any copies of it exist today.
In his Facebook site, Phil Vogler recently wrote that “many do not know that the bulk of the research for the book ‘History of Kings County’ by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton was done by William Pitt Brechin.” According to the sources quoted above by Brechin’s contemporaries, Vogler’s remark is right on. Finally, if you read the preface Eaton wrote to his work, you’ll find he credits Brechin with a considerable amount of research that he was only too happy to use.
So, who actually researched and who wrote the county history that was published under Eaton’s name? How much of a historical writer was Dr. Breckin? While it may be unfair, or whatever else it may be, to ask this question, how much of Breckin’s research and writing was incorporated in Eaton’s county history?
Dr. Brechin was born in Kings County, in Cornwallis. He was educated in Upper Canard and at Acadia College, from which he graduated in 1869. In one write-up about Brechin (after he graduated from Harvard in 1872 and began to practice in Boston) it was noted that he was a historical writer and was keenly interested in the history of his home county.