LETTER FROM THE PAST – A TREASURE OF SORTS (February 2/21)

There was a time in Kings County (in the mid-19th century) when potatoes sold for one dollar a bushel. In a letter from Sacramento City, California, written over 100 years ago, Kings County native Henry Starr mentions this bit of trivia.

However, the real purpose in writing the editor of Kentville’s Western Chronicle wasn’t to talk about potato prices. As Starr rambles on in the letter, we find he wants to reminisce about old friends and inquire about their well-being. In doing so, he establishes a tentative, disputed date for the hanging in Kentville that gave Gallows Hill its name.

Starr lived in Kings County for at least 20 years before emigrating – “I left Nova Scotia in 1839 and came to the States when in my twentieth year.” He hailed from a prominent family, the Planter Starrs who received major land grants in Cornwallis and Horton townships when the Acadians were expelled. “I was born on Starr’s Point, Cornwallis,” he wrote, “in the old Starr house that was built one hundred and twenty-five years ago.”

Henry Starr’s letter dated August 9th, 1884, refers to several of the leading families in the county and Kentville, all of them Planter descendants. Mentioned are the prominent newspaper family, the Woodworths (one of them is the editor of the Western Chronicle at the time Starr writes to the paper), the Cox family, the Rand family, the Newcomb(e)s, and the famous shipbuilding family, the Bigelows.

Starr’s reminiscing may determine that 1826 is the year when the hanging took place on Gallows Hill, the hanging that gave the area its name. As suggested, this must be looked upon as a tentative date since we rely on Starr’s childhood memories. Referring to one William Woodworth as an old friend of twenty years ago, Starr writes that this gentleman “was in Kentville fifty-eight years ago when ‘old… Powell, as we used to call him, was hanged. I well remember the time myself although but seven years old at that time. I remember where the gallows stood on the hill – on the Cornwallis (Township) side of the river and bridge at Kentville.”

According to Starr’s letter, Nova Scotians from Kings County, who emigrated to the States, were making their mark in political circles. “There are many Nova Scotians in San Francisco and some few in the city. They all are as far as I know good Republicans. There were no less than ten delegates from San Francisco to the Republican State Convention in this city two years ago who were Nova Scotians, one from Canning and one from Aylesford.”

Starr also mentions families prominent in the early history of Kentville, the Moores and Harrises, for example. Then there are the gossipy references to cousins, aunts, uncles, and weddings, all of which make this letter from the past a treasure of sorts and a valuable starting point for anyone into family genealogy. As mentioned, Starr’s letter was printed in the Western Chronicle, one of the leading newspapers in Kings County in the mid-19th century and in some ways the grandfather of the Journal-Advertiser. At one time two major weekly newspapers were published in Kentville, the Western Chronicle and The Advertiser – one was pro Tory, the other blatantly supported the Liberals. The two papers were amalgamated circa 1930 and the Western Chronicle ceased to exist.

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