BUILDING DYKE A “RUINOUS ADVENTURE” (October 18/02)

“To be sold at public auction, by the sheriff of the county of Kings county or his deputy, on Wednesday the fifth day of October next,” begins a Sheriff’s sale notice in an August 1825 edition of a Valley newspaper.

I believe it was history buff Leon Barron who gave me a copy of this old Sheriff’s sale notice, which was published in an early Wolfville paper, the Acadian Recorder. The notice advised the public that the land of one John Eaton would be up for auction, said land being described in detail. The land consisted of pasture, upland and woodland, and for the most part was bounded by the Habitant River and Canard Street. Also included was dykeland, over 20 acres that was near the Canard River, all of which was in the Cornwallis township.

The Sheriff’s sale notice was of interest to me because it named some of the old dykes and the nearly forgotten name of a creek that is a Canard River tributary. Also given, by way of identifying the land for sale, were some of the earlier landowners along the Canard River.

In other words, there was quite a bit of history in the legal notice – a lot more than I realised at the time – so I put it in a file under general historical information. The name of the gentleman who was in financial trouble was noted and I assumed he was a descendant of some of the earliest settlers along the Canard River.

I filed away the photocopy of the newspaper notice several years ago, and except for noticing it occasionally while flipping through the file, never gave it another thought. However, it was to come to my attention again when I read a book on the century farms of Nova Scotia.

In 1967, as a centennial project, the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia published county by county profiles of century farms. I read the book recently and saw that in most cases the history of each farm was written by the current owner. On some farms, the same family had been occupying them since they were built. Kings County, in particular, has a number of farms that have been in the same family for well over a century.

In Upper Canard is the century farm once owned by Ernest L. Eaton. A noted historical researcher, Ernest most likely penned the farm’s history; he wrote that the farm had been in the Eaton family for five generations since being purchased by an ancestor, John Eaton. At one point, Ernest said, the ownership of the property “became temporarily obscure in the general insolvency connected with the building of the Wellington Dyke.”

Something clicked. I remembered the Sheriff’s sale clipping, that the Wellington Dyke had been completed in 1825, the year the Eaton property went up for auction, and wondered if there was a connection.

There are two books on the building of the Wellington Dyke; one is a nicely printed, polished work by Marjorie Whitelaw, published in 1997. Advertiser columnist Brent Fox authored an earlier, down to the nitty-gritty book on the Wellington Dyke, which is out of print but can still be found at the Kings Historical Society museum in Kentville.

Whitelaw and Fox record that landowners in the area affected by the building of the great dyke mortgaged their farms to finance the project. The result was a spate of foreclosures and Sheriff sales late in 1825. For some farmers, Whitelaw wrote, it was a “ruinous adventure.”

One of the casualties of the Wellington Dyke was Ernest Eaton’s ancestor, John. There was a happy ending, however. In the century farm write-up, Ernest tells us that John’s son, Ward, bought the farm “under a Chancery Deed” and it remained with the Eaton family until 1966.

COGSWELLS AND BIGELOWS – LETTERS FROM READERS (October 11/02)

I’ve mentioned Kentville magistrate Edmund J. Cogswell numerous times in this column, quoting from an essay he wrote on Kentville as it was through the 19th century. I’m indebted to Rev. Malcolm Cogswell, Quebec, who wrote recently with biographical information on Edmund John Cogswell and with a correction on his age.

“My cousin’s wife… sent me your recent article, Is There A Missing New Minas History?,” Mr. Cogswell writes. “I can shed no light on the history but I can give you a little information on Edmund John Cogswell. He was the son of Gideon and Lucilla S. (Perkins) Cogswell and according to information found in The Cogswells of North America (1884) by E. O. Jamieson, he was born 25 May 1838. He was a barrister at Law in Kentville. He received the degree LL.B from (Dalhousie) and the same degree from Harvard University. Jamieson indicates he is much indebted to (Edmund) Cogswell for facts which he gathered and communicated.

“The entry (copied in Descendants of John Cogswell, 1998, compiled by Donald J. Cogswell) contains nothing more – no indication of marriage or children, while Edmond John Cogswell’s two brothers and two sisters all have their (spouses) listed, and three have their children listed. To me that suggests Edmund John Cogswell was unmarried.

“I note one discrepancy: The footnote you found indicated that he died in 1900 at age 75. However, the date of birth given by Jamieson (which I believe he got from Edmond John) is May 25 1838, so by 1900 he would have been only 62.”

Halifax physician Frederick Matthews writes to mention the raiding expeditions of Colonel Benjamin Church into Kings County in 1704. Dr. Matthews suggests that Benjamin’s expedition has perhaps been ignored by historians.

“Your recent article on the Acadian dykes made me think of a recent talk, given in the form of a seminar at the Bigelow reunion… by the local dyke-marshland historian James E. Borden.

“An interesting historical aspect of the Acadian dykes (that) has been forgotten was mentioned by Rev. Eaton in his history of Kings County. (This was) the important early history of the work by the New Englander, Col. Benjamin Church (1639-1717).”

Matthew writes that Church was authorised to conduct raids on the Acadians in this region. “Church’s expedition reached Les Mines (Grand Pre) where he summoned the inhabitants to surrender. Church then burnt the town, broke the dykes and cut the crops. On June 22 he captured Piziquid (Windsor) and on June 23 Cobequid.”

Matthews added that Church through his mother has a connection with the Bigelows of this area.

In his Kings County history, Eaton devotes over a page to the Church raids and frankly, speaks unkindly of them. Church, Eaton said, had the “deserved reputation of being a harsh and unpitying man,” a reputation he lived up to on his raid in the Minas area of Kings County.

When he raided Kings County, Eaton said that Church followed instructions from his superiors to “burn and destroy the homes of the French, cut their dykes, injure their crops, and take what spoils he could,” Church “made huge openings in several of the dykes, so that destructive salt tides swept over the marshes, and then did whatever damage he could to the Minas farmers’ possession.”

Perhaps Church’s senseless depredations may explain why historians ignore him when writing about the Acadians.

THE DARKER SIDE OF PLANTER LIFE (October 4/02)

“Although the greater part of these settlers were respectable people, yet there were many idlers among them, whose chief inducement to visit Nova Scotia was the provision they were entitled to receive, as a bounty for their emigration.”

In 1829, Thomas C. Haliburton wrote this observation of the settlers who took up the prime agricultural land of the Acadians after the latter’s expulsion. The Planters, as they came to be called, are rightly portrayed as sober, religious and hard working people who uprooted themselves in New England and risked everything to settle here. However, as Haliburton points out in his two-volume “Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia,” there was an element that wasn’t quite so glorious and sober.

Haliburton further observed that “when the most industrious could not obtain the necessities of life without the greatest exertion, it is not surprising that persons of this class availed themselves of the first opportunity of quitting the country, as soon as the government rations were withheld.”

But even when “persons of this class” returned to New England, a dark element remained that is rarely mentioned in history books. The Planters lived in an age of “strict puritanism,” when laws placed restrictions of every kind on people. Failure to attend church, working around home on Sundays were offences; there were laws against swearing, blasphemy, lewdness, disturbances of the peace and immoral behaviour. Within a year of the Planters arriving in Nova Scotia, the provincial government passed a Lord’s Day Act, which among other things, forbade tradesmen and Innkeepers from operating on Sundays.

However, despite indication that all the settlers were law-abiding, bible-carrying people, this wasn’t the case. In 1764, only a few years after arriving in Nova Scotia, the settlers built the first jail in Horton Township. As early as 1761 so many complaints about debt-dodging came from the settlements that the government was forced to appoint Magistrates from among prominent settlers in each county.

Occasionally when I’ve written about the seamier side of settler’s life I’ve had readers take me to task. However, history isn’t all about heroics. The Planters were people who lived close to the soil and there was a rough, coarse element that could not be contained by religious and social restrictions.

This being said, I’d like to quote from the excellent thesis on the Planters by James S. Martell. It would be a mistake, Martell said, to picture all the settlers in the pre-Loyalist period as respectable, law-abiding people. “The records of the Court of Quarter-Sessions tell a darker story. Cases of assault, seduction, illegitimate children, theft, usury, forgery libel, profane swearing and disturbances of the peace were common,

“So was Sabbath breaking and there many amusing charges against persons who went fishing or swimming on the Lord’s Day. Some person even went so far as to grind grain at their mill on Sunday. Murder was not unknown. But assault and illegitimate children were the most prevalent cases before the courts.”

But despite what I quoted here, crime wasn’t rampant and most offences were of a minor nature. That this was the case is indicated by the fact that the government didn’t find it necessary appoint Sheriffs for the Minas Basin region until 1781.

A QUIZ ON LOCAL HISTORY (September 27/02)

Fort Edward still stands in Hants County as a reminder that after the expulsion of the Acadians, the New England Planter settlements on the Minas Basin were constantly threatened by the French and Micmacs and later by rebels during the American Revolution.

But how well do you know your early history? Was Fort Edward the only military blockhouse in what is now Kings and Hants County or were there other “forts” scattered through this area? Rather than answer this question, I’ve prepared a short quiz to test your knowledge of local history and of the communities that comprise Kings and Hants County.

  1. Let’s start with military forts. True or false: Besides Fort Edward, the British established several forts or blockhouses within the boundaries what today is Kings County – at Grand Pre and near Kentville, for example – during the expulsion period.
  2. Canada Creek on the Bay of Fundy. It’s highly unlikely Canada is a surname or that the area is named after a real person named Canada. Local folklore has it that the original name was Canady or Kanady Creek, a mispronouncing of the surname Kennedy, and somehow over the course of years it evolved into Canada Creek. Is this true or false.
  3. True or false: From time to time there were attempts to establish Irish settlements in Kings County but none were successful.
  4. True or False: During the American Revolution rebels threatened this area of Kings County and actually sailed up the Cornwallis River with the intent of robbing the merchants and citizens of Kentville.

Answers

  1. Its seems unlikely that the British had forts in Grand Pre and near Kentville during the expulsion but they did. During the expulsion and post expulsion period the military set up forts in what today is Kings County at Grand Pre and possibly in the area near Chipman Corner. Eaton in his Kings County history writes that the blockhouse at Annapolis Royal was taken down and “transported to Minas.” The fort was called “Vieux Logis” and was one of three built in the townships of Horton, Cornwallis and Falmouth.
    Exactly where in Minas each fort was built isn’t 100 percent certain but Grand Pre was one site. Eaton writes that the fort at Grand Pre – “on the hill, south of Horton Landing, so as to command the river” – was called Fort Montague. A second fort in this area was built either near Starr’s Point or at Chipman Corner. This last most likely was Fort Hughes which James S. Martell mentions in his Planter study as being built in Cornwallis township in 1778.
  1. This is false. Canada Creek was not a corruption of Kennedy, nor was there a Canady or Kanady. Canada Creek is named after Major William Canada, one of the first Cornwallis grantees.
  2. True. From time to time attempts were made to establish settlements of Irish immigrants in Kings County. There were pockets of Irish settlers, near Hillaton, for example, spilloffs perhaps of earlier attempts by Alexander McNutt, who in 1761 attempted wholesale colonisation of Nova Scotia with Ulster families.
  3. True, but robbing Kentville merchants may not have been the aim of between 30 and 40 American rebels who in June, 1778, sailed up the Cornwallis in a whaleboat and plundered farms along the way. Martell writes that the rebels plundered the home of William Best and carried off valuables to the amount of 1000 pound and upwards.

DYKELAND HAVOC – THE STORM OF 1759 (September 20/02)

In 1761, just over a year after they had taken up land vacated by the deported Acadians, the New England settlers in Kings County petitioned the government. The petition asked the government to keep an Acadian labour force in the province. The Acadians had been of great assistance not only as farm labourers but “particularly in the making and repairing of Dykes.” Without their assistance, the petition said, “many of us cannot continue our improvements, nor plowe our lands nor finish the dykeing still required to secure our lands from salt water.”

What was left unsaid in the petition, and the main reason for it being drawn up in the first place, was the condition of the dykes around the Minas Basin. Over five years had passed from the time of the expulsion and arrival of New England settlers; in that period the dykes, being untended, had rapidly deteriorated and salt water was threatening prime agricultural land.

Late in 1759 the unattended dykes of the Acadians had received a near disastrous blow. On November 3 a great storm swept over the region raising sea levels in the Minas Basin almost two meters higher than usual. A combination of gale winds and high tides brought huge waves crashing down upon dykes along the Kings and Hants County shore, flooding many acres of land the Acadians had farmed.

While the storm left flooded marshes and broken dykes in every township on the Minas Basin, some of the greatest damage from the storm occurred in what today is Kings and Hants County. In the summer of 1760 Nova Scotia’s Governor toured the area to assess the damage to the dykes. Lawrence died before he could report his findings but acting Governor Belcher sent an account of his visit to the Lords of Trade in Great Britain:

“The great object of his (Lawrence’s) attention were the Dykes, of which the breach made in that of the River Canard in the Township of Cornwallis, as it was the greatest, was his first care.”

We learn from Belcher’s account that Acadians being detained in the province were already being considered as a labour force. “For this purpose,” Belcher wrote, “the inhabitants with the Cattle and Carriages, together with those hired from Horton at their own expense, were joined with some of the provincial troops and french (sic) inhabitants, who were best acquainted with works of this kind, to make a collection of necessary materials to repair the breach.”

The great storm of 1759 appears to have set back Planter settlements along the Minas shore for at least a year. Provisions had been provided the Planters free of charge for the first year but Great Britain apparently balked at financing repair of the storm-damaged dykes. In his paper on the Planter settlements, James S. Martell quotes from a missive the Lords of Trade sent to Belcher in 1761 stating that they had “determined to grant nothing in particular towards the repairs to the dykes.”

Apparently the Lords of Trade felt that despite the damage caused by the storm, there was sufficient land left untouched by flooding to provide for the settlers. “We know that there is land enough improved which has suffered but little from this Calamity,” the Lords of Trade wrote. “In the Townships of Horton and Cornwallis, which are acknowledged both by you and Mr. Lawrence to have been principally injured, there appears to have been already enclosed from the Abstract which you have transmitted, and to which we are referred, 2700 acres of marsh land and 1500 Tons of Hay to have been raised in one year.”

This was the final word. With no more aid coming, the settlers dug into their own pockets to finance dyke repairs.

CORNWALLIS RIVER BRIDGES (September 13/02)

For several years I’ve been collecting and filing away references of a historical nature and any interesting information that I can find on the Cornwallis River. One day I hope to write a comprehensive history of the Cornwallis, beginning with the Mi’kmaq period and concluding in this century. There’s no commercial motive for writing this since I don’t think a history of the river would ever sell. It’s just something that hasn’t been done and I believe should be done. Once the history is completed – in a year or two – it will be available on my website, along with some free printed copies.

To date, most of the information I’ve collected on the Cornwallis River concerns the Acadians and Planters. Like the Canard, Gaspereau and Habitant (Canning) Rivers, the existence of the Cornwallis spurred settlement and moulded the social and agrarian character of this region; perhaps less so than the Canard, Habitant and Gaspereau did in the Acadian and Planter periods, but the Cornwallis is no less important than these rivers.

Anyway, I mention my collecting of Cornwallis River history again for two reasons. Once again, I appeal for assistance to readers who may have interesting tidbits of information of a historical nature on the Cornwallis that they will part with or let me copy. Even what seems to you like the most trivial mention could be helpful in rounding out a profile of the river.

Now to the second reason for mentioning the Cornwallis River file: Lately I’ve been putting together everything I could find on early bridges on the Cornwallis. The plan is to have separate chapters in the history on bridges, on mills, on early settlements, and so on. The Cornwallis bridges is a topic that fascinates me, simply because they may have started with the Acadians. However, in researching the bridges, I’ve learned that what you read in community histories should be questioned unless a source is given. Not everything you read about our history, especially in local history books and as someone will surely point out, in columns of this nature, is guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate.

As I said, my bridge research lead me to this conclusion. I believe that the Acadians built the first bridges over the Cornwallis having found references to them in research material used for a college thesis. However, in his history of Kings County, Arthur W. H. Eaton said on page 177 that the “first bridge across the Cornwallis was built at Port Williams (Terry’s Creek) at least as early as 1780.” Eaton goes on to note that an act was passed in 1818 for rebuilding and repairing this bridge, “but whether it was the first bridge or a second that was finally carried out by the tide, piers and all, we do not know.”

In the Port Williams history (The Port Remembers) the authors refer to Eaton’s 1780 date for the first bridge over the Cornwallis. “The date of this bridge is controversial,” they note, implying that Eaton may have been off a bit on his years.

Eaton may have meant that this was the first bridge to be built over the Cornwallis at Port Williams, and not the first on the entire length of the river. However, Eaton contradicts himself on the 1780 date and this may be why the authors of The Port Remembers questioned him. Writing on the ferry that operated on the Cornwallis at and near Port Williams, Eaton says on page 68 that “this ferry and the road to Wolfville were in use until 1834 when the bridge at Terry’s Creek… was constructed.”

So when was the first bridge at Port Williams built? Eaton implies that first there were ferries and then a bridge. Or does he mean that first there was a bridge, then ferries, and then a second bridge? Sometimes history books are confusing.

REBELLION IN KINGS AND HANTS COUNTY (September 6/02)

“Precisely how much sympathy was felt in (this region) with the Revolution in the New England colonies it is not easy to determine,” Arthur W. H. Eaton writes in his Kings County history.

Eaton continues with an observation that it would have been “perfectly natural if the people of the midland counties of Nova Scotia had sympathised with New England” in its rebellion against the British crown. However, Eaton said, “that such sympathy was outwardly shown” by the inhabitants of Annapolis, Kings and Hants “remains yet to be proved.”

Eaton may be right but at least one historical researcher disagrees. And while he may not conclusively prove there was sympathy for the American revolution, James S. Martell’s 1950s thesis on the Planters provides evidence that it existed in Kings and Hants County; in fact, pro-rebel leanings were so evident in some areas that higher ups in government openly expressed concern and took steps to cement allegiance to the British Crown.

During the American revolution, the “colony of Nova Scotia officially retained its allegiance to the Crown,” Martell writes. But while the majority of Nova Scotians “were passive in their loyalty,” it is a proven fact that “a small minority of tories and a small minority of rebels displayed an open activity.” Of the two regions where Martell found “wavering allegiance,” one was the area now comprising Kings and Hants County.

“It was inevitable that the New Englanders in Nova Scotia should feel a common interest with the American rebels, many of whom were their own kinfolk,” Martell notes in explaining why some Planters might be sympathetic. Both military and government officers felt it might be inevitable as well and the following excerpts I’ve selected from Martell’s paper indicate Kings/Hants was considered a possible trouble area.

On attempts to muster the militia in case American rebels invaded Nova Scotia, Martell writes that “it is not known whether (Lt. Governor) Michael Francklin was referring to some of this number or not (the number of potential militia available in Kings/Hants) when he wrote from Windsor (in 1775) that ‘a great number of the militia of the Bay of Fundy had no inclination to oppose their countrymen in case of an attack’.”

A few month after Francklin wrote his assessment of Fundy militia, all of its officers were required to take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Martell’s source is provincial archives records which he quotes several times when estimating the effect the American Revolution had on Planters in Kings/Hants. Nova Scotia’s then Governor, Francis Legge, also committed to writing his belief that settlers in Kings/Hants were pro-rebel. Writing of the inhabitants of this area, Legge declared that “by reason of their connection with the people of New England, little or no dependence can be placed there to make any resistance against them (the rebels).”

Governor Legge apparently felt that the only thing keeping the inhabitants of Kings/Hants loyal to the Crown was the presence in the province of large numbers of the King’s troops. In 1775, martial law was declared and Legge made it obligatory for every citizen in the province to take an oath of allegiance.

While the Planters of Kings/Hants eventually proved their loyalty to the Crown, Legge was suspicious of them to the end. Early in 1776, the Governor reported to the provincial council: “I am just informed from Annapolis and Kings County that the people in general refuse to be embodied… None but Troops in pay can be depended upon for defence in these alarming and critical times.”

IS THERE A MISSING NEW MINAS HISTORY? (August 30/02)

A footnote in an edited, indexed copy of his historical sketch of Kentville tells us he was a Judge of Probate and that he died in 1900 at age 75.

Other than this tidbit of information, I’ve been unable to find any other reference to Edmond J. Cogswell in local history books. The exception is Eaton’s Kings County history where Cogswell is briefly mentioned and an excerpt from his historical article is quoted. Otherwise, E. J. Cogswell is a man of mystery who left some tantalising hints that he researched and wrote a history on the early days of New Minas.

On several occasions, I’ve quoted from Cogswell’s historical sketch of Kentville. This is a detailed and interesting view of Kentville’s early days. Historian W. C. Milner must have felt that Cogswell’s work was important since he quoted excerpts from it in his book on Acadian and Planter times around the Minas Basin.

Besides the historical sketch of Kentville, Cogswell obviously wrote a similar sketch of New Minas. This is apparent from reading Eaton’s Kings County history; in the history, Eaton prints what Cogswell wrote about the early settlement of New Minas. And while Eaton doesn’t suggest there was more, it’s difficult to believe that a scholar, researcher and history buff of Cogswell’s stature would be satisfied with only writing a few hundred words about an important Acadian settlement in Kings County.

For the benefit of readers who have no access to the Eaton’s Kings County history, here’s what Cogswell wrote about New Minas.

“Minas, with its dykes, consisted of the village along the banks of the upland, with the Grand Pre lying in front, and with Long Island and Boot Island bounding it on the north. As new lands for settlement were wanted, some of the inhabitants went up the Cornwallis River and found a place that seemed curiously familiar. There was a piece of marsh somewhat resembling the Grand Pre, with Oak Island lying outside it. On the edge was a similar chance for settlement to that furnished by the upland that bordered the Grand Pre. They therefore put in short dykes at each end of Oak Island, reclaimed a considerable piece of marsh, built themselves some houses, and called their settlement New Minas.

“In later times French cellars have been numerous here, and we know from the vitrified debris that has been found that at the expulsion the houses above them were burned. The centre of the hamlet was what afterwards became known as the Foster farm. The French burying ground is said to have been on a little knoll near the railway track. To the south and east of the Griffin house a chapel was built, part of the foundation of which can still be seen in the bushes. It would seem as if there was a burying ground here too, and tradition says that not far off was a mill. After the removal of the Acadians the English built their village further south on the military road, but although they left the old site they retained the name New Minas.”

After reading the above, I was left with the feeling that Eaton only quoted a fraction of what Cogswell had written about New Minas. In his Kentville sketch, Cogswell shows that he was a diligent researcher and as a Judge of Probate, probably had access to manuscripts pertaining to the Acadians and Planters.

Would such a scholar as Cogswell be satisfied with writing the brief sketch that Eaton quotes? I don’t think so. Somewhere – and most likely in the dusty files of a New England institute where Eaton did much of his research – there is a history of New Minas up to the end of the 19th century.

OLD ROADS AND THE ACADIAN INFLUENCE (August 23/02)

If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of some of our roads, and if there’s an Acadian connection, take a look at the Cornwallis River crossing in New Minas.

The road leading to the bridge is an extension of Middle Dyke Road, and is in effect an extension of an Acadian trail that led to and from settlements along the Canard River and farther north. Middle Dyke Road crosses Church Street at Chipman Corner and runs north, crossing the Canard River at a point where the Acadians built one of the early dykes – the middle dyke – in the area. Church Street is another Acadian Road, and, in fact, is one of many major roads in this area of Acadian origin.

The Acadian may have been expelled in 1755 but their influence on this region, through their aboiteaux, dykes, place-names and especially their roads, is obvious. In many cases, our network of highways, especially the roads that connect western valley communities, follow trails first laid out by the Acadians.

I mentioned that Middle Dyke Road crossed Church Street. Arthur W. H. Eaton in his Kings County history confirms that Church Street was an important Acadian Road. Eaton mentions various roads of Acadian origin and apparently there was quite a network, including a well-used trail that ran up over the North Mountain to the Bay of Fundy, leading Eaton said either to Hall’s Harbour or to Baxter’s Harbour. Many of the Acadian roads led to and from the areas where dykes and aboiteaux were built, at Steam Mill and Upper dyke, for example.

Recently I’ve been making notes of references to early roads in this area that I’ve found in local histories and essays. This is an exercise to satisfy my curiosity more than anything else, but readers interested in the Acadian and our early history will appreciate what I’ve found. Some of the following quotes appeared in this column before but they tie in so nicely with a general overview of early roads that I’ve mentioned them again.

I quoted from James Stuart Martell’s thesis [in a recent article] and his reference to roads the Acadians had established. Martell found that by 1755 the Acadians had established well-used roads, or actually trails, from settlements here leading east to an Acadian stronghold in the Falmouth/Windsor area and west to the Annapolis Basin. Kentville’s West Main Street may have been part of the Acadian road leading west. In his mini-history of Kentville, Edmund J. Cogswell mentions an “old French road” running west out of Kentville, noting that there was an “old military road” running in the same direction and perhaps parallel to the Acadian trail.

That some of Kentville streets are of Acadian origin is indicated by Mabel Nichols in her Kentville history, The Devil’s Half Acre. Nichols writes that “the two main streets, Main (or old military road) and Cornwallis, were roads made by the Acadian French.” In his Kings County history, Eaton writes of an Acadian road that ran from the settlements along the Canard River “towards Kentville, across the ‘Gallows Hill’ and down the Dry Hollow, a little west of the present road.” Dry Hollow may be what locals call “Mosquito Hollow.”

Eaton has a brief but fascinating account of an Acadian “turnpike” in at least two places in this area. “It has been stated,” Eaton wrote, “that the Acadians never made turnpikes, but they must have constructed some, for between Kentville and the Moore place, and also at the Aylesford Bog a turnpike, or as some might call it, a breastwork, can plainly be seen.” In places, Eaton said, the turnpike was 15 feet high, 20 wide and was ditched.

MORE ON THE BATTLE OF MOCCASIN HOLLOW (August 16/02)

After the column on the so-called massacre in Moccasin Hollow appeared I got a telephone call from Mabel Veinot of Cambridge. Mabel tells me she and husband Bill had owned the tract of land in Kentville’s west end, about 300 acres in all, that Moccasin Hollow runs through. The Veinots purchased the land in the early 1940s and Mabel gave me a general description of the area which today has subdivisions bordering on it.

It appears that Moccasin Hollow may lie in the original 600-acre grant given to Caleb Harrington in 1764 (Memories of Coldbrook compiled by Marie Bishop). The Veinot’s purchased the land from George Woodworth, who in turn had bought the land from the Harringtons. The Hollow runs parallel to No. 1 highway and can be reached by driving down two subdivision roads, Mitchell Avenue and Bonavista. The mouth of the Hollow opens immediately west of Kentville’s town limits and the roadbed of the old Dominion Atlantic Railway runs through part of it.

I believe the source of the folk tales circulated about a possible massacre and great battle in Moccasin Hollow can be traced to Edmund J. Cogswell, a Kentville Judge of Probate who in 1895 wrote a mini-history of the town. This was published in the Christmas issue of the Western Chronicle and while it was written from memory, it undoubtedly was taken as gospel since it came from the pen of a town dignitary and officer of the court.

However, Cogswell obviously based his account on oral history that was passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation. For its interest value, here is what Cogswell wrote about Moccasin Hollow. Note that all he’s doing is passing on what amounts to gossip that has little historical value.

“I should not end I suppose without speaking of the Battle of Moccasin Hollow. this battle was fought on the old French road (and not the old military road as is commonly supposed) on John Harrington’s land near the railroad, so that the piece can be seen from the car windows. An old Aunt now long deceased who lived in the vicinity in her youth, and was more than 80 years old when she died, told me that when she was young the story was that as a result of this battle, three hundred Frenchmen were buried in a trench there.

“I have tried to get the history of this battle, but have not been able to make myself very sure of the details. I think there was no doubt about the battle. The tradition is that after Colonel Keble’s (Noble’s?) Massachusetts troops were so terribly massacred by Ramroy’s band under Villiere in the winter of 1747 at Grand Pre, that the remnant of his army was retreating towards Port Royal, now Annapolis; and that they were waylaid and attacked by a band of French and Indians at Moccasin Hollow, and that the English soldiers, who were not probably in a very pacific frame of mind defended themselves so valiantly that most of the enemy were slain.

“Moccasin Hollow was afterwards known by the rather unromantic appellation of the ‘war hole’ and it was observed that the boys of the neighbourhood never sought for cows or stray cattle there after night fall. the idea appearing to be that some of the old Frenchmen might occasionally become weary of their accommodations in the trench and be wandering around there clad in the airy habiliments of one of the characters in the old Primmer.”