HISTORY OF THE DAVISON SURNAME (December 24/99)

Perhaps it was a wrong conclusion, but I have always assumed that if you looked far enough back, you would find common ancestors for the old Annapolis Valley surnames that are slightly different in spelling – Newcomb/Newcombe, Forsyth/Forsythe, Colwell/Coldwell, Davison/Davidson, for example.

The Wolfville historical writer, James Doyle Davison, confirms my conclusion about Davison/Davidson. In a recent letter he discussed the Davison/Davidson surname, indicating that the former was the original spelling. This is an interesting letter and I believe history buffs will find it informative. Mr. Davison wrote as follows:

“Though the five Davison families arrived here in 1760 as Davisons, one man of the Long Island (North Grand Pre) branch began about 1850 to spell his name Davidson. Now our area ‘phone book lists more Davidsons than Davisons. About 1850 the DeWolf family became the DeWolfes.

“Let’s go back to historical records. Arthur Henry Davison, of Iowa, began in the 1880s to compile the Davison story, which was a major source of my genealogy of the five men who came from Connecticut as “Planters” in 1760. He was convinced that his family line, from the Scottish lowlands, the Border Country, had no connection with the Davidson highland clan. He differed strongly with the many Americans who changed their Davison name to Davidson and Davisson.

“Our early records give the Davison spelling. The index of Horton Township Records, 1761-1895, lists 19 families of Davisons, no Davidsons. Douglas E. Eagles, History of Horton Township, shows a 1770 list of property owners, including two Davisons, no Davidsons. The Horton Deeds and Grants of May 29, 1761, shows only Andrew Davison.

“A 1780 index has only one Davison, no Davidson. The late John V. Duncanson’s Falmouth – A New England Township of Nova Scotia, 1965, lists 54 Davisons, no Davidsons in the index. In his Genealogical History of Long Island …. Douglas E. Eagles listed 89 Davisons, not one Davidson. Wolfville’s history, Mud Creek, refers to a 1770 Horton census that includes Andrew Davison in a household of eight, and Cyprian Davison with a family of four.

“Dr. Ronald S. Longley’s history, Acadia University, 1838-1938, tells of the construction of the first college, with Edmund and Lewis Davison, of Greenwich, planning and building the structure with four Ionic pillars. They and others of the family are buried in the Old Burying Grounds in Wolfville. The index of What Mean These Stones? which relates the story of those buried there, lists 30 Davisons, no Davidsons.

“It is of interest to note that Arthur W. H. Eaton’s History of Kings County uses the Davidson spelling. He has Harold Sidney Davidson a son of Arthur Stanley Davidson, who was the Davison brother who first began the Acadian, the paper published by the ‘Davison Brothers.’

“The writer of this bit of history, a descendant of one of the five families that first came to Falmouth, remains by the original Davison spelling.”

James Doyle Davison is the author of numerous historical books and church histories. Among his books are Alice of Grand Pre, Eliza of Pleasant Valley, What Mean These Stones? and Handley Chipman, Kings County Planter. Mr. Davison was editor of the Wolfville history, Mud Creek.

GREAT RESPONSE TO CALL FOR INFORMATION (December 17/99)

In a column last month I asked if anyone had information on several topics, among them local Irish settlements, the Six Rod Road, Captain Joe Faulkner of Port Williams, Pickett’s Wharf and the Pine Woods. At least a dozen readers called in response to my request for assistance. Thanks to these readers the file I’ve been building on local historical topics has been fleshed out considerably. Some of the reader responses follow.

On the Irish settlements, Hazel Foote of Woodville mentioned that there was a large Irish settlement at Black Rock. Hazel said that some of the Irish families that settled in Black Rock were Sarsfields and Dohertys. Some of my great grand-father’s close relatives from Cork also settled in Black Rock.

Gerry Gerrits, Coldbrook, told me there was a small Irish settlement in Atlanta on the Lyons Branch road. George Moody, Berwick, told me about the Irish settlement near North Kingston that existed between 1880 and 1920. Moody said the settlement may have been called Clermont or Irishtown. The Irish living in this settlement may have been descendants of servants employed by Bishop Charles Inglis at his estate in Aylesford, which he called Clermont. Bishop Inglis was born in Ireland, which may explain his use of Irish servants.

On the Six Rod Road, Mildred Elliott, Canning, tells me that the deed to their property mentions it when describing boundaries. Mrs. Elliott believes that Rabbit Square, a road northwest of Canning was once part of the Six Rod Road. The Elliott house stands on an Acadian foundation and it is possible that nearby lies an Acadian cemetery.

There were two callers who offered information on Pickett’s Wharf. Lydia Phinney grew up in Canning and remembers seeing vessels coming into the wharf some 70 years ago. Lydia recalls that the Captain of one vessel had his young daughter with him and she attended school in Canning for several months. Mac Eaton, Canard, remembers that there was a picket fence on the road down to Pickett’s Wharf (hence the name?). Mac’s father hauled potatoes to ships at the wharf which were “dumped in bulk into the hold.”

On the Pine Woods, Marie Bishop of New Minas believes it may have been located on Camp Aldershot towards Steam Mill. Marie said it was an area where freed slaves settled; she recalls a reference to Camp Aldershot that referred to it as the Pine Woods. Eaton’s Kings County history refers to the Pine Woods as originally a Micmac encampment and later a black settlement north of Kentville along Cornwallis Street.

Several people called with information on the former Cornwallis River pilot, Captain Joe Faulkner, who was lost at sea. S. M. Bancroft of Black River was a school companion of Captain Faulkner’s son, Ralph. Mr. Bancroft told me that Captain Faulkner retired in Port Williams in 1936 or 1937, that he owned 20 acres in the village and his house still stands. When he became a pilot on the Cornwallis River, a position he held for several years, Captain Faulkner had a special boat built that Bancroft described as “unusual.”

When he returned to the sea during World War 2, Faulkner was captain of a freighter that disappeared on a run to South America; Faulkner’s ship is believed to have been sunk by a German U-boat.

Edna Duncanson remembers Captain Faulkner as a “wonderful man,” while Bancroft describes him as “admirable and a real character.” Keith Mahar, New Minas, called to give me the address of a Faulkner descendant.

My thanks to readers who responded to the request for assistance; your calls are appreciated.

GIBRALTAR KEY – THE LOCAL CONNECTION (December 10/99)

Part Two

For over two centuries Gibraltar was an important outpost of British defense since its “acquisition” in 1704. The British looked upon Gibraltar as the key area in guarding its trade routes and sea lanes; this may explain the use of a key in Gibraltar’s coat of arms but a passage in the 1944 Canadian Geographic Journal article also offers an insight:

“Not only was Gibraltar christened the ‘Key to the Spanish Dominions’ …. but the Key has been for centuries part of the official Coat of Arms. The ceremony of handing over the keys at the changing of the guard has been carried out by the various (British) regiments since the days of the Great Siege (by the Spanish in 1779-83).”

The choice of the key as a symbol “was a happy one” said the author of the article on the tunnellers in the Canadian Geographic Journal. The author noted that the Gibraltar Key presented to the tunnellers was also Canadian in origin as well as being designed by a Canadian. “Owing to the fact that the presentation of the souvenir fobs was entirely of an unofficial nature the cost of their production was borne by James Y. Murdock, Esq., President of Noranda Mines. The keys were minted in Canada.”

As mentioned in last week’s introductory column, the famous Gibraltar Key has a local connection. As noted in quotes from the Canadian Geographic article and the history of the Royal Canadian Engineers, the designer of the Key was Sapper R. J. Cunningham. Most people know him today as Robert J. Cunningham, a retired engineer and author. Mr. Cunningham has been a Wolfville resident for the past 10 years.

Mr. Cunningham was one of the “hardrock miners” recruited from Quebec and Ontario when the No. 1 and No. 2 Canadian Tunnelling Companies were formed and sent overseas. After his spell with the tunnellers, Cunningham spent five years overseas with various Canadian regiments, retiring from the service at war’s end as a commissioned officer. A draftsman and surveyor during the war, Cunningham then began a career as an engineer, tunnel supervisor and chief draftsman.

When he retired 20 years ago, Cunningham started a second career as a freelance writer. To date he has had six books published and has recently finished two more books that are being considered by publishers. Currently Mr. Cunningham is writing a book about humor.

One of Cunningham’s loves is the bagpipes. While now inactive, he piped for many years and was the founder of one of the leading pipe bands in the Maritimes, the Dartmouth Boys Pipe Band.

For collectors of military badges and military artifacts, Cunningham is best known as the designer of the Gibraltar Key. Cunningham’s name is known across Canada to collectors of military artifacts; a badge collector from British Columbia told me about the Gibraltar Key and its local connection, for example.

As mentioned in the previous column only a few hundred of the award designed by Mr. Cunningham were produced and presented to the Canadian tunnellers of Gibraltar. “The Gibraltar Key is hard to come by,” the British Columbia collector told me; he has spent years attempting to track down copies of the Key and has only located one (which wasn’t for sale). Like many collectors, he’d probably give up half of his military badges to obtain one.

The Gibraltar Key is a uniquely Canadian military award that was originated for a unique Canadian military group, the Canadian Tunnellers. I’m delighted to be able to tell the story of the Gibraltar Key and its Valley connection to readers of this newspaper.

THE GIBRALTAR KEY (December 3/99)

Thrusting 1300 feet above the Spanish plain on the Bay of Algeciras, the Rock of Gibraltar has been an important defensive outpost since its acquisition by the British in 1704. Long before the British occupation Gibraltar was a “point of turmoil.” The Muslims captured Gibraltar in 711 and occupied it for almost 700 years; Spain annexed the Rock in 1501, holding it until the War of Spanish Succession when it fell to British and Dutch troops.

A secret arrangement with France during peace negotiations in 1711 gave the British sole possession of Gibraltar, a move that has been hotly contested by Spain ever since.

Gibraltar was important as an Allied outpost during World War 2, but our look at its military history stops here. Instead we will discuss a little known aspect of Canadian history – an Annapolis Valley connection with wartime Gibraltar and a medal called the Gibraltar Key.

During its occupation by various nations, Gibraltar was literally “dug into” to provide underground defensive stations. These excavations continued during World War 2 and this is where Canada came in. During the war 1914-18 Canadian miners played an important part in mining and countermining operations on the Western Front. When war broke out in 1939 this role was recalled, this led to formation of No. 1 and No. 2 Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Canadian Engineers. The formation of the Tunnelling Companies was approved by the Minister of Defence in 1940; recruited were hardrock miners from Ontario and Quebec.

The role of Canadian tunnellers in Gibraltar is covered in volume 2 of the history of the Royal Canadian Engineers. During their two years on the Rock, this history notes, the Canadians mined and removed about 140,000 tons of solid rock “as well as putting in 46,000 man hours on construction work.” The efforts of Canadian tunnellers on Gibraltar was outstanding and was noted. We now come to the point of this column and here I quote from the Engineers history:

“As a souvenir of their share in this considerable excavation, the Wartime Mining Association had silver watch fobs struck in Canada for distribution to the 324 men and officers of the Canadian tunnelling companies who had worked on the massive fortress. These took the form of a key, emblematic of Gibraltar, superimposed on which was a medallion depicting the Rock and a driller in action. The designer (of the key) was Sapper R. J. Cunningham, No. 2 Tunnelling Company. General McNaughton presented the keys at a special parade on 27 March, 1943.”

From the July 1944 issue of the Canadian Geographic Journal: “As a reward for their achievements it was suggested …. that the Canadian Tunnellers might be given some special mark of distinction. The first proposal was to grant them the privilege of wearing the Gibraltar Key in the form of a cloth badge on the right sleeve. It was not considered desirable, however, to establish the principle that Units serving detached might be given such special distinction and a silver watch fob was substituted for the cloth badge. The fob was designed by Sapper R. J. Cunningham of No. 2 Canadian Tunnelling Company.”

The Gibraltar Key presented to the tunnellers is one of the rarest of Canadian badges since only a relatively limited number were made. They are treasured by the veterans who hold them and obviously are much in demand by collectors who find that few are offered in the marketplace.

The story of the Gibraltar Key and its local connection will be continued next week.

The Gibraltar Key

The Gibraltar Key

ANYONE HELP WITH THESE HISTORICAL TIDBITS? (November 26/99)

It’s a file marked “Ideas for Columns” and in it, I’ve stuffed bits and pieces of information that I hope to use in future articles. Often the items are little more than teasers; a line or two, a phrase, a reminder to look into a topic, and so on.

An example is a note in the file referring to the so-called Six Rod Road. This is a mystery road, possibly of military origin, that may have run across the North Mountain and connected with a port on the Minas Basin. There’s little doubt that the Six Rod Road once existed since property deeds refer to it when describing property boundaries.

Leon Barron told me about a reference he saw to the Six Rod Road some time ago and this started my search. However, I have little information and research has come to a standstill. I appealed to readers in a previous column without results and I’m hoping that by mentioning the road again, someone with information about it will read this. In other words, help, help.

Readers who have tidbits of information on the old Pickett’s Wharf, which was located below Canning on the river channel, are asked to call or write. I have a short article on the wharf which appeared in the Kings Historical Society Vignettes, but additional information would be appreciated. There may have been a controversy in the early days of old wharf’s existence, perhaps involving the shipping of farm produce and a farmer’s strike.

I’d be delighted to hear from readers who may have information on other topics I’m building a file on. Some of these topics follow.

Just as many local place names have, as Watson Kirkconnell says, “come and gone like the wind,” so have Irish settlements in this area. Before, during and after the great potato blight in Ireland, groups of Irish people settled in Kings and Hants County. The old maps simply marked them as “Irish Settlements,” and there was one north of Kentville near Hillaton and possibly one along the New Ross Road also near Kentville.

An Irish settlement may have existed briefly on the boundary between Hants and Kings as well. These settlements disappeared almost as fast as they sprung up; in most cases, they consisted of no more than several families and there are few records of them other than the maps I mentioned.

If you have any references to these old Irish settlements, I’d like to hear from you. Early bridges on the Cornwallis River is another subject I’d like help with. One of the first bridges on the Cornwallis was placed at or near the present bridge in Kentville; however, there may have been earlier bridges upstream in Coldbrook or Cambridge or just below Kentville.

Anyone hear of a Captain Joe Faulkner? For a time Captain Faulkner was a pilot on the Cornwallis River, guiding ships docking at Port Williams. The information I have is that Faulkner returned to the sea at the start of World War Two and was lost when the CP freighter he was commanding went down.

“Freedom School,” built in 1855 near Kentville in the Pine Woods. What was the school, how did it get its name, and where are the Pine Woods?

These Nova Scotia coins were issued mid-way through the 19th century and were called the Thistle Series. The coins featured a sprig of mayflowers, our provincial flower, on the so-called reverse. Anyone have information on the coins?

Anyone out there an expert on old maps of Nova Scotia? Perhaps a reader has information on the Fletcher map, the Harris map, the 1834 McKay map or the McKinley map of 1829.

STRANGE FATE OF WATERVILLE SEA CAPTAIN (November 19/99)

It was always said of Richard Lee that the sea was in his blood. This may be a cliché in most circumstances but Lee was born in the seaside village of Harbourville, Kings County, and he came from a seafaring family; his father and grandfather before him were seafarers and Lee was no exception. He went to sea when he was a young man and before he reached 30 was captain of a sailing vessel.

Lee went on to be master of several vessels and one of them, the Pass of Balahama, may have played a strange role in his last voyage. This is the story of Richard Lee who sailed out of Boston as captain of the Timandra; the Timandra was never seen again and the fate of Lee, his wife and crew has never been discovered.

Lee made his first voyage as master of a ship in the late 1800s. His first command was the Scoda a barquentine built in Hantsport, which Lee took to England with a load of lumber. Lee commanded the Scoda until 1902 and on many of his voyages, he was accompanied by his wife, Eunice.

Just after the turn of the century steamships began to replace ships of sail. By 1903 Lee was in command of a steamship; his first steamship command was the Pass of Balahama, a craft that many suspect played a role in his later disappearance. The Balahama was one of a pair of sister steamships with home port in New York. Lee was in command of the Balahama until the outbreak of World War One. At this time the two ships were sold to a German shipping syndicate located in New York.

A number of Richard Lee’s relatives still reside today in the Waterville-Berwick area and most are familiar with the old sea captain’s career. One of the stories passed down to the current generation of Lee’s is that Richard was offered the command of the Pass of Balahama after it was sold to the German business group. Lee refused on the grounds that Canada was at war with Germany and it would be unpatriotic.

After the Pass of Balahama was sold Lee decided to retire. Lee and Eunice returned to the Annapolis Valley and purchased a home in Waterville. The house still stands today just off the number one highway. According to the family’s oral history, Lee and Eunice renovated their home, bought a horse and buggy and settled in to enjoy their retirement. It wasn’t to last, however. Lee couldn’t stay away from the sea.

In 1916 Lee was offered another command and he accepted. As captain of the Timandra he began to sail out of Boston, shipping coal to Buenos Aires. The sea lanes were patrolled at that time by German raiders and submarines and it was risky. After several successful voyages, however, Lee decided that the risks had been exaggerated and it would be safe for his wife to accompany him on the cruises.

Few of us believe in forerunners and psychic flashes but there is no better way to describe Eunice Lee’s prediction. She reluctantly agreed to join her husband on the Timandra. As she was leaving she looked at her home sadly and said to a relative, “I’ll never see this house again.”

After it was sold to the Germans, the Pass of Balahama had been converted to a raider. Captain Lee’s first steamship, renamed the Seeadler, was now cruising the sea lanes and preying on allied shipping off the coast of South America.

With his wife on board for the first time, Lee set sail again in the Timandra with a load of coal for Buenos Aires. The Timandra and a sister ship that accompanied it were never heard of again. “Gone without a trace,” Boston newspapers proclaimed. “German raider Seeadler suspected.”

The Timandra and its sister ship had sailed into waters patrolled by the Seeadler. It is speculation, but Lee’s ship may have been sunk by his old command, the Pass of Balahama.

READER RESPONSES TO RECENT COLUMNS (November 12/99)

As I’ve often said, one of the pleasures of writing this column is the responses received from readers. The historical columns usually generate the most calls, letters and comments. The Annapolis Valley has many dedicated history buffs and this is evident from the various historical groups where membership is high and there is great interest in the past.

Often readers will call to comment (and elaborate) on topics they have an interest in and which they have researched. In [a recent] column, for example, I mentioned the old Seavey’s liniment bottle a collector has. I said that the collector believes the bottle is at least 100 years old and was made in the Valley, perhaps by a manufacturer located along the Bay of Fundy either at Hall’s Harbour or Scot’s Bay.

George Moody of Berwick (not the former MLA) telephone to set the facts straight on this. Mr. Moody told me that around 1890 there was a liniment company in Margaretsville called the S. (for Seavey) Harris & Son Co. Mr. Moody said that in the 1920s Margaretsville was also the site of another bottling company called Mayflower Bottling.

In a September column, I wrote about and old ledger from a Gaspereau Valley store that was in business at least a century ago. I mentioned some of the old apple varieties that were listed in the ledger and one was the Spitz. I couldn’t find the Spitz mentioned in historical records on apple growing, which isn’t a surprise since the name wasn’t shown in full in the old ledger.

Roscoe Potter, Wolfville, called to tell me that Spitz is an abbreviation; the apple’s full name is Spitzenbergen, which seems to suggest it is of German or Norse origin. I appeal here to readers who may have information on this apple variety and would like to call.

Harold Gates, Canning, called with comments on recent columns and to tell me about some of the first headstones that were placed in the old Canard cemetery. Mr. Gates also told me about the S.S. Banam, which went down in 1939 after sailing from Port Williams. This is quite a story. Mr. Gates has written an account of this event, which I hope to use in this column soon.

While it wasn’t a column topic, the October article on autumn leaves published in the Tuesday Advertiser brought some interesting information. A reader suggested that I should have mentioned the important part the maple leaf plays in Canada’s military history; and I was chided gently for neglecting to mention the obvious, the prominent maple leaf on our national flag.

Frankly, I couldn’t see how I could work the maple leaf on our flag into the article but I certainly considered it. As for maple leaves in our military history, the reader was referring to Canada’s army badges of World War One. In every army badge from this conflict that I could find depicted, the maple leaf theme was dominant. In the next world war, however, the maple leaf virtually disappeared from military badges

Now for some railroad trivia.

Who was the first passenger on the Cornwallis Valley Railway which opened in 1889 and ran from Kingsport to Kentville – and was later swallowed up by the Dominion Atlantic Railway. A read telephoned to tell me it was a “Mrs. Loomer,” and that’s all I can tell you. I’ve lost the reader’s name thanks to sloppy filing. If the person who called reads this, please telephone again.

WOODS BROWS AND SNIG HORSES (November 5/99)

In 1996, Edwin C. Mason of West Gore, Hants County, decided to write an account of his early involvement in the apple barrel industry. “I was surprised to discover that there is very little knowledge retained regarding that wonderful period in the Annapolis Valley,” Mr. Mason said, and he decided to correct this oversight.

Early in his tale, Mr. Mason tells us he is blessed with an excellent memory, which he amply demonstrates by starting his story with recollections of a winter he spent in a 1920s lumber camp when he was 10 years old. At the camp the trees that eventually would become apple barrel hoops and staves are felled, trimmed and readied for shipment to the barrel mill.

In describing the lumbering process and the long winter in the camp, Mr. Mason gives us glimpses of a period in the Annapolis Valley now mostly forgotten. He talks of woods brows, snig horses, chain dogs, all once common woods expressions but a foreign language to most of us today.

“When the snigger and his horse dragged the logs from the choppers they were taken to this brow,” Mason writes, explaining that a brow was a framework of logs about two feet high. “The man snigging the logs from the woods would… roll his logs up the inclined skids onto the brow.”

“The snigger and his horse had a set of chain dogs,” is another sentence that will mystify most readers. Everything is explained in due course and the lumbering process becomes clear. Readers will even understand when Mason writes that when a lumberjack “got to the brow (he) used a peevie to pry out the dogs.” Even the colourful explanation that a worker “hung the wiffletree chain and the dogs on the horse hame and headed back to the chopper,” will be clearly understood.

While he wintered in the lumbercamp with his mother and sister, Mason still had to attend school. The camp was located on the slopes of the North Mountain near Berwick and a school was within walking distance. “Walking the great distance (to the school) through the woods twice a day was an enjoyable adventure,’ Mason recalled.

Mason’s mother cooked all the meals for the lumberjacks during the winter in the logging camp operated by her brother, Manson Redden. The fare was simple but wholesome. “I remember there were lots of big stews with dumplings and vegetables. There would be turnip, potato and carrots. There were baked beans in pork fat and molasses. Home cured ham and thick bacon. Also Lunenburg pork puddings and lots of sliced fried potatoes. For a change (mother) would make great pans of Johnny cake or cornmeal bread.”

After describing his winter in the logging camp, Mason takes us to the mill yard in Berwick, owned by Manning Sawlor. There the timber hewn from the forest is piled high and is ready for the next step in barrel making. Mason describes the steam mill and takes us to the cooperage where barrels are assembled. Here we learn that a good cooper, working from six in the morning until dark, can produce 100 barrels a day. Coopers worked by the piece in 1920, receiving 1.5 cents for each finished barrel.

SPY COINS AND DITTY BOXES (October 29/99)

“Take a look at this,” the collector said, handing me a large penny. “See anything unusual about it?”

“That’s an 1856 Napolean 111 large penny,” the collector said when I shook my head and handed the coin back. “There were a lot of them minted, up until 1891 I think. They’re fairly common when it comes to collecting but this one is different.”

The collector palmed the penny and pressed down on it with his thumb. The top of the penny slid aside to reveal a tiny compartment. “It’s a spy coin,” the collector said. “French espionage agents carried them to pass messages back and forth. Write a note on a slip of paper, place it in the penny, and pass it to someone in a saloon. Who would know what had just happened?”

I was in the collector’s Kings County residence – he prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons – when he showed me the spy coin. I looked at it again; the coin was so finely machined I couldn’t tell that it came apart. Amazing! And this did this with 19th-century technology.

The collector put the coin away and handed me a small pine box that fit easily in the palm of my hand; the box was designed to look like a miniature book and there was some sort of pattern etched on its cover.

“This is dated 1910 or thereabouts and it was carved out a single block of wood. It has a sliding cover,” the collector said, demonstrating that the cover did indeed slide open. “Can you guess what it was used for?”

When I said that I was stumped again, the collector explained that it was a spruce gum box from the South Shore. Spruce gum was a backcountry treat a few generations ago – ask your grandparents – and when people collected it in the woods, they saved it in boxes that would easily fit into coat or trousers pocket. The boxes were made by hand and were finely crafted. The better-made boxes are rare today and are sought after by collectors.

I was handed another small wood box; this one was oval-shaped with a fitted cover that had some sort of design carved in it. “This is black ash and it was made entirely by hand,” the collector said. “It’s a ditty box.”

“I’ve never heard of them,” I said and the collector enlightened me.

Like spruce gum boxes, the ditty box was used to collect things; our great-grandparents placed them around the house, usually in kitchens and bedrooms, where they were used as catch-alls. Great-granny stored needles, thread, buttons, and so on in her ditty box, while great-grampy probably used his as a holder for anything that might take out of his pockets at the end of a working day.

Ditty boxes, especially all-wood, handcrafted specimens from the late 19th century are collectables. The better, more valuable ditty boxes often have designs carved into them with covers so precisely fitted you’d swear our great-grandpappys had laser technology.

“Micmac baskets are collectables,” said the collector, showing me one over a century old. “This was discovered in a basement in Wolfville,” he said, pointing out the designs on the basket made from porcupine quills.

“There’s a lot of history in your collection,” I said.

“Especially in this,” the collector said. He handed me a small bottle marked Seavey’s East India Liniment. A testimonial dated the bottle to the year 1888. The bottle may have been made right here in Kings County. According to the collector, there was once a bottle manufacturer operating on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, either at Hall’s Harbour or Scot’s Bay.

CAROLINE SHIPWRECK REVISITED (October 22/99)

Calling him a super sleuth may be an overstatement on my part,  but there’s little doubt that Kentville railroad/marine  buff Leon Barron has a knack for research.  For several years, for example, Barron has been digging into Acadia University’s archives for references to sailing ships, wharves, lighthouses and the marine history of Kings County.  Some of the information he amassed through tedious reading will help with a current pet project, a scale model duplication of the Kingsport wharf and a history of this port.

When I devoted a couple of columns (column 1, column 2) to the 1831 Caroline tragedy last July and August, to give another example of Barron’s penchant for research, he suggested it might be worthwhile to contact the Digby Historical Society.  The schooner Caroline sailed from Digby before foundering in the Bay of Fundy and washing ashore near Baxter’s Harbor.  I didn’t act on his suggestion but typically Barron followed up and discovered additional information on the Caroline.  Barron also uncovered a long poem on the disaster which was published in the History and Geography of Digby County.

This book tells us that before finally coming to rest on a Bay of Fundy beach near Baxter’s Harbor, the Caroline was temporarily stranded on “Isleaux Haute.”  How this is known is not revealed in the history/geography.  John Bigelow, the gentleman responsible for the plaque that marks the site where the Caroline washed ashore and where the frozen bodies were buried, didn’t refer to Isle Haute in his inscription.  Bigelow makes no mention of messages being left by the crew and passengers, and since he was known to be a thorough researcher, we must assume that none was found.  Therefore the Isle Haute reference is a mystery.

There is also another mystery, a discrepancy in the crew and passenger list as given in the history/geography and the inscription on the Caroline plaque.  The history/geography and the plaque number the crew and passengers at 14 with no survivors, but they differ on whom was aboard.

I suppose that over a century and  a half later the details on the Caroline shipwreck really don’t matter.  The Caroline ran into a terrible winter storm on the Bay of Fundy and all aboard perished.  The local connection is that the Caroline drifted ashore in Kings County with five frozen bodies on board, which were buried near the beach.  A plaque, courtesy of the late John Bigelow, marks the site.

Aside from the plaque and a brief report in this newspaper several years ago, little local publicity has been given the Caroline tragedy.  Besides the plaque, the main source of information for future historians who may be interested in shipwrecks and local lore will be this column.  For this reason I must point out what is given in the Digby County history/geography and the plaque.

As mentioned, there is a difference in the names on the plaque and the names given in the history/geography.  The plaque gives the crew as James Bryant, John Hayes, Henry Carty and John Calligan.  The Digby book shows the crew as James Bryant, John Hayes.  George Eldridge, Richard Day and John O’Callaghan.

On the plaque the passengers list is David Cossaboom, Solomon Marshall, Mr. Eldridge, Mr. Carter, James Harris, Henry Kennedy, Patrick Connolly, his wife and two children.  The Digby book gives Thomas Harris, Elijah Carty, Solomon Marshall, David Cosseboom, Ebenezer Washburn, Mrs. John O’Callaghan and three children.

A final point.  While John Bigelow doesn’t mention it, the poem in the Digby book has details on the Caroline’s plight  that suggest a passenger  or one of the crew left a written message.