MEDFORD: A MEADOW AND A FORD (December 18/95)

A meadow and a ford, the ford a crossing on Bass Creek, the surrounding land an expanse of meadow wrested from the wilderness by the early settlers.

In 1855 the residents of Bass Creek decided that the meadows and ford should be combined to change the name of their community to Medford. Besides, Bass Creek was a common and unimaginative place-name and in the early 19th century there were more than a dozen or so Bass Creeks, Bass Rivers and Salmon Rivers in the province. Something more dignified and fitting was called for.

This explanation for the origin of Medford’s name was given in a history of the community compiled by the Women’s Institute and published in this paper in 1951. The explanation is suspect, however. Watson Kirkconnell’s study of place-names in Kings County, published as a booklet in 1971, suggests that Medford isn’t of Nova Scotian coinage; it was a place-name familiar to the New England Planters, Kirkconnell said. There are eight Medfords in the U.S., Kirkconnell noted, and the name probably came from Massachusetts.

Kirkconnell most likely is correct, but I prefer the Women’s Institute explanation for Medford’s origin. One of the first areas where land grants were given to the Planters, Medford may have been settled as early as 1770 or 1780, and the origin of its name really doesn’t matter. What is more interesting is how Medford has changed over the years, changes that can be linked to the demise of sailing ships as vehicles of commerce and the decline of the Minas Basin fishery.

The early settlers of Medford carried surnames that will be familiar to anyone who has studied Annapolis Valley history after the expulsion of the Acadians. There were Eatons, Harringtons, Huntlys, Bigelows, Cox’s, Parkers and Weavers among the first Planter and Loyalist settlers in Medford. The Institute history tells us that Jason Huntly, Ebenezer Eaton and a “Mr. Harrington” were the first to receive land grants in Medford. Their grants appeared to comprise most of what today is greater Medford.

Like many of the early settlements along the Minas Basin, Medford’s principal occupation was fishing along with some shipbuilding. The building of ships may have become a major industry early in the community’s existence. “Shipbuilding was carried on quite extensively and a number of ships large and small were built here in 1800 and later,” the Institute history says.

As was typical of the Planters and Loyalists wherever they settled in Nova Scotia, education and religion were priorities in early Medford. Land was granted to post-Acadian settlers as early as 1760 and by approximately 1775 Medford had its first school.

Because of its proximity to the sea, (and obviously because it was the era of sail) marine navigation was taught in the first school and a number graduates became sea captains. The Institute history mentions that early Medford captains were David Loomer and Abraham Coffin. Other sea captains turned out by the Medford school were James Lombard, Frank Barkhouse, Edgar Bigelow, James Burns, Lyman Parker and Clement Barkhouse; most were descendants of Medford’s early settlers.

You won’t find Medford indexed in Eaton’s History of Kings County and I was unable to find evidence that a wharf existed there. But according to the Institute history, the now sleepy community of summer homes briefly held a place of prominence along the Minas Basin. Eventually overshadowed by Kingsport and Canning in shipbuilding, Medford was forgotten by would-be developers with the arrival of the railroad.

However, Medford was one of the first communities to have telephone lines erected – which say the Women’s Institute was still owned by the residents in 1951.

FOLK TALES PERSIST OF ACADIAN TREASURE (August 14/95)

“How often have I sat and listened as a boy to my relatives and friends telling of (Acadian) money found in different places in Kings and Annapolis Counties,” A. L. Morse wrote in a letter penned in 1935.

This is how Mr. Morse introduced his topic, Acadian treasure, in a letter to the Berwick Register. Mr. Morse went on to give an account of how his ancestors unearthed a pot containing coins or gold secreted by the Acadians during the Expulsion. As you will note when you see excerpts from this letter below, the Acadian treasure was found by Mr. Morse’s great-grandfather. In other words, the account he gives is supposed to be true.

Nova Scotia is rich in tales of buried treasure, by pirates, by visitors from foreign shores, by religious and semi-religious groups and, of course, by the Acadians. During the turmoil of the Expulsion say some of the local folk tales, the Acadians, expecting to return, buried prized possessions. Many of these possessions, which in some cases were small fortunes in coins, supposedly still lie buried in various parts of Kings and Hants County near Acadian homesteads. Another common folk tale tells of these secret hoards being discovered and bringing instant wealth. Mr. Morse’s tale of his great-grandfather’s find is in this vein.

Stories of Acadian treasure can be found in various areas of the Valley. I reviewed an unpublished history of Sheffield Mills in this column a while back, for example, and the writer mentioned an “Acadian treasure mound.” References to Acadian treasure are not uncommon in the stories and community histories that have been published over the years. It’s a given that if there was once an Acadian settlement in an area, there’s also a legend about buried treasure. Even though the Acadians were for the most part simple farm folk with few earthly possessions – and certainly no hoards of gold and jewels – people like to believe that they hid great treasures at the time of the Expulsion.

The possibility does exist, however, that a few Acadians were wealthy and it’s also possible that this wealth was hidden and never recovered. The fortune discovered by Mr. Morse’s great-grandfather may have been the savings of several Acadian families who pooled and hid the few coins they possessed.

How much of a fortune in Acadian coins did Mr. Morse’s ancestor discover? We are never told but Morse gives us plenty of details on the actual discovery. His great-grandfather is plowing one day, using a team of oxen that once belonged to the Acadians, and the plow struck something solid which at first was thought to be root. “It proved to be the bail of a huge iron pot which caught the point of the plow …. and brought the team up very suddenly,” Morse wrote.

Morse’s great-grandfather quickly discovered that he had found something of great value. According to Morse his ancestor sat on the pot to hide its contents and sent home the neighbor’s boy who was working with him. “My ancestors, young married people, as soon as possible unearthed the pot,” Morse continued, “the contents of which enabled them to erect a fine house.”

Morse added that when his great-grandparents died, which would most likely be late in the 18th or early in the 19th century, they left property valued at $12,000. This was a considerable sum for the time and gives credence to Mr. Morse’s tale about the discovery of Acadian treasure