IN 1762: TROUBLED TIMES IN KINGS COUNTY (September 26/06)

Some seven years after the Expulsion, James Stuart Martell writes in his work on pre-Loyalist settlement in the Minas Basin, “the Acadian problem in Nova Scotia once more became acute.”

Since the Expulsion of 1755 removed most of the Acadians from Nova Scotia, it seems unlikely that problems with them arose nearly a decade later. A few Acadians avoided the Expulsion by hiding in the countryside, but historians tell us they soon surrendered after nearly perishing in the wilderness. Historians also say some Acadians found their way back into the province immediately after the Expulsion, but apparently not in any number to cause concern.

However, in preparing his thesis in 1933, Martell conducted a thorough search of provincial archives records regarding the Acadians. He found that the number of Acadians remaining in 1762 alarmed the relatively young settlements of New Englanders. To put it bluntly, the Planters simply didn’t trust the remaining Acadians and there were suspicions they were up to no good. Fueling this suspicion was the arrival of a French fleet off the coast.

Martell concludes that the Acadians may have been considering an uprising. “The number of ‘neutral French’ had been steadily increasing since 1756,” he writes, and the provincial government said, “they were incessant in their endeavors to break up the Indian peace treaties.” In 1762, as a result of pressure from settlers, Acadians residing in the province were forbidden “from carrying guns and going at large in the country.” At the highest level of government the removal of “troublesome Acadians” was seriously being considered; a second expulsion, in other words.

Apparently fear of Acadian support for French military action was not unfounded. “The province was ill prepared for internal revolt,” Martell writes, and in Kings County especially, the “numbers and attitude of the Acadians must have been exceptionally menacing.” Due to this perceived menace, some 70 settlers in Horton Township had already departed and more were expected to leave.

In Kings County and elsewhere in the province the militia had been marshaled and a general roundup of Acadians began. In Kings County, Martell writes, “able bodied Acadians numbering 130, under a guard of 100 militiamen, were taken from Kings County for the safety and security of the settlers” and marched to Halifax. After the Acadians were removed it was discovered that they had been “concealing in secret places a considerable quantity of ammunition for small arms.”

But even with the Acadians removed the unrest in Kings County remained. With most men serving in the militia, a new menace arose. From Martell: “The Indians gave the Kings County settlers further cause for worry, threatening destruction to the townships when most of the men were away on military duty. The return of the militiamen, sent back from Halifax to protect the (threatened) settlements, saved the situation. The savages were easily dispersed in the absence of the Acadians who originally incited them.”

WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE KINGS COUNTY MUSEUM (September 19/06)

When Daphne Frazee wrote a book on her grandfather, Wolfville architect Charles Wright, an invaluable historical record on this builder was created for future generations. Without Frazee’s work, much of what is known about the man and his accomplishments could have been lost. As well as leaving a “legacy of many fine buildings,” Wright as a partner with entrepreneur R. A. Jodrey was involved with creating the first hydroelectric company in this area.

If you’d like to hear more about Charles Wright and his life as an important Valley builder and pioneer, you’ll have the opportunity at the upcoming monthly meeting of the Kings Historical Society. Ms. Frazee will be the guest speaker and her talk is based on the life of Charles Wright. Mark the date and time on your calendar – 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 26, at the Kings Courthouse Museum in Kentville.

Call them salt cellars, open salts, salt dips or whatever, salt dishes were the precursor of salt shakers and once were common on tables – until the salt shaker came along. You can view some of the salt cellars that were in use during the Victorian by catching the mini-exhibit, “Salt of the Earth,” now on at the Kings County Museum.

At the same time, you can learn something about how salt influenced and shaped world history from Roman times to the Napoleonic era and into the modern era. Salt was (and still is) so vital an ingredient in everyday life that it influenced our thoughts and our language. Think about some common sayings “salt of the earth,” and “not worth his salt,” for example.

Another exhibit worth catching at the Museum features the china collection of Bernard Hale and other collectors. Mr. Hale’s collection consists of miniature pictorial ceramics, dated between 1890 and 1930, which were souvenir pieces in their day. “Pictorial” in this case means the souvenirs contain views of various landmarks and local scenes from long ago. I looked the exhibit over recently and found pieces with the A L. Hardy photograph of Moors Falls, early Kentville streets and early views of Hall’s Harbour, Canning, the Gaspereau Valley, Cape Split and Blomidon.

Another exhibit opening soon will be dedicated to the memory of historian Leon Barron, a longtime volunteer at the Museum. This will be a permanent exhibit on the Museum grounds with artifacts unearthed during recent excavations at the Kentville railyards.

MORE ON EARLY DAYS IN BLOMIDON (September 12/06)

In 1897 Marshall Corkum started the first mill on Cape Blomidon, and at the time five families lived there. The mill was eventually purchased by Sir Frederick Borden, who opened a store at the mill site that was managed by his nephew.

In 1800s there was a shipyard at Mill Creek in the Blomidon area, operated for many years by the Rands and Woolavers. There was a store at Mill Creek as well, managed by Clyde Woolaver. The “shipyard boss” at Mill Creek was Harry Vaughan. Several small sailing vessels were built in this yard, among them the “Golden Light,” the “Hornet” and “The Linnet.”

Where am I getting these facts about the early days in Blomidon?

As readers will recall, in a June column I reviewed a history of Blomidon written in 1932 by the pupils of Whitewaters School. This is a valuable piece of rural lore and thanks to Philip Beeler, who was kind enough to provide me with a copy, it will be deposited at the Kings County Museum and preserved for future generations.

Some 50 years later this history was expanded and updated. Again thanks to Philip Beeler, I’ve been given the opportunity to review the updated version, which roughly covers a 50-years period following the 1932 essay; the update also included some history of early lumbering and shipbuilding in the Blomidon area in the 1800s, mentioned at the beginning of this column.

On the shipyard at Mill Creek, by the way, the late Leon Barron told me he wasn’t sure exactly where this was located. It was somewhere along the Blomidon shore, he said – and most likely where the creek spills out on the beach at Whitewaters – but Barron searched government documents constantly without finding out much about the shipyard or mill.

Barron was able to unearth all kinds of historical data on Sir Frederick Borden’s involvement with lumbering on Blomidon and Cape Split, however. He would have enjoyed reading the Blomidon update and the inclusion of early shipbuilding and lumbering lore in Blomidon.

To give credit where it is due, I should mention that the update was written by Roberta Greene. As well as the Blomidon history mentioned, Ms. Greene also included other informative historical tidbits about Blomidon. In the late 19th century, for example, Blomidon could boast of having its own hotel. The hotel was operated by Marshall Corkum and was called Marshall House.

Other tidbits

Now little used except perhaps by hunters and snowmobilers, a road connects Blomidon and Scot’s Bay. Most residents of these areas are aware of the road’s existence – it’s now more of a trail than a road – but few know how it came into being. Credit Sir Frederick Borden. Ms. Green writes that Sir Frederick had the road cut through after he purchased Corkum’s mill and timberland on Blomidon. According to Greene, the road was once used as a mail route between Scot’s Bay and Blomidon. “With the opening of this road,” Greene writes, “the mail was daily from Scot’s Bay driven by a man by the name of Rufus Jess.”

Historical trivia buffs keep this in mind

Greene says that a telephone line was strung along the road from Sir Frederick Borden’s mill on Blomidon to Scot’s Bay. Earlier, Sir Frederick had two telephones installed in Blomidon, which along with the phone line to Scot’s Bay, undoubtedly were the first in the area.

EARLY BRIDGES, FERRIES ON THE CORNWALLIS RIVER (September 5/06)

A. W. H. Eaton writes in his Kings County history that a bridge “across the Cornwallis River at Port Williams (Terry’s Creek) was built at least as early as 1780.” In another part of his history he sort of suggests that the bridge was actually built much later, in 1834.

Eaton didn’t claim that the 1780 bridge was the first to be built on the river and I believe it wasn’t. Also, he wasn’t sure of the year this bridge was constructed since he leaves some leeway in writing that it “was at least as early as 1780.”

Some historians believe that rather than Planters, the Acadians were first to place a bridge across the Cornwallis River. The impression given is that this bridge was built at the Port Williams location; but spanning the tricky Cornwallis may not have been possible for the mainly agrarian, dyke building Acadians. Where the present bridge now spans the river in Kentville is the more likely site for the Acadians to have built. At least two locally published history books claim that the Acadians had a “bridge” across the Cornwallis at the Kentville ford. Undoubtedly this at best was a crude footbridge.

Before permanent bridges were built, ferries were used to cross the Cornwallis River. Again, A. W. H. Eaton credits the Planters with another first, the first ferry on the Cornwallis. And once again it appears that several historians, or historical researchers if you wish, believe the Acadians operated ferries on the Cornwallis River. Among them is Douglas Eagles, who in 1975 published a history of Horton township in which he notes that a “ferry across the Cornwallis dated from the times of the Acadians.”

One Acadian ferry may have operated approximately where Port Williams is located, or at least along the river just below the village. But why there? Douglas Eagles explains that a ferry in this area would have provided Acadian settlements in Canard and Habitant with easy access to settlements around Wolfville and Gaspereau. The ferry, Eagles says, “shortened the trip for those going (by land) from Canard to Wolfville by 18 miles.” The wisdom of operating a ferry in the same area of the Cornwallis River was noted by the Planters and one was maintained until a bridge was built at Port Williams.

Now, we know the Acadians ferried the Cornwallis – and there’s plenty of historical evidence that post Acadian settlers did as well. So how do we explain that a ferry is said to have operated on the river after the expulsion, when the Acadians were long gone, and years before the Planters arrived? That such a ferry existed appears to be indicated in the Port Williams history, The Port Remembers.

In 1759, says this history, a committee representing potential New England settlers arrived in Kings County to assess land vacated by the Acadians. One of the committee members, Samuel Starr, looked this area over carefully. Here’s how his exploring is described in The Port Remembers: “According to his (Starr’s) personal reminiscences, he went to a high point on the South Mountain, climbed a tall tree and looked over the Valley. He next ferried across the Cornwallis River at Boudreau’s Bank and crossed over to the Look Off on the North Mountain.”

Now, maybe there was no ferry on the Cornwallis at this time and the editors of The Port Remembers used “ferried” in the sense of Starr crossing the river in a canoe or small boat. Yet they did write that Starr ferried across the river and I assume we’re supposed to take this literally.

PLAQUE SHOULD MARK MI’KMAQ, ACADIAN ROAD (August 29/06)

A friend who knows about such things tells me it’s still possible to use the old Kentville ford on the Cornwallis River. Even today, he said, you could take a horse and wagon across the river at the ford on low tide. Assuming, of course, the unlikely possibility that someone would come along with a horse and wagon and didn’t want to use the bridge.

That old fording place is located just by the bridge that connects Kentville’s business district with its northern edge via Cornwallis Street. The ford being where it is, by the way, explains why Cornwallis Street exists.

Originally, Cornwallis Street must have been a Mi’kmaq trail to fishing and shellfish grounds on the Bay of Fundy, and to the Minas Basin after splitting off easterly outside Kentville. Since it is the only good ford for many miles along the river the Cornwallis Street we’re familiar with must have been a main thoroughfare for the Mi’kmaq; after crossing the ford at Kentville, for example, the Mi’kmaq could turn easterly to summer grounds along the Gaspereau River or south to wintering grounds around Gaspereau Lake. This probably explains the origin of some of the roads running east parallel to and on both sides of the Cornwallis River and those running towards the South Mountain from the Cornwallis Valley.

In other words, many roads in Kings County and elsewhere in the Valley follow trails established aeons ago by the Mi’kmaq. Naturally many were used by the Acadians and by the New England settlers that followed them.

A prime example of a Mi’kmaq trail that later became a major artery is Highway #1. As it winds east and west through Kings County, this highway takes a natural course that must have been a convenient trail for the Mi’kmaq. As mentioned, when you pick up the trail that became Highway #1 after crossing the ford at Kentville, you can easily reach what were once vital fishing, hunting and food gathering areas for the Mi’kmaq.

Heading west on what was to become Highway #1 took the Mi’kmaq along the Cornwallis River and down the Valley where there was an abundance of wild foods, game and suitable camping grounds. Apparently this Mi’kmaq trail connected with the Annapolis River watershed, an area natives favoured.

It’s also apparent that the Acadians utilised this trail after moving up here from the Annapolis area and sought to improve on it. In his Grand Pre history Herbin writes that a road existed that connected Acadian settlements on Minas Basin with those at Annapolis Royal. Herbin says the road was of Acadian origin but undoubtedly they were utilising a Mi’kmaq trail established long before the French arrived.

Later the New Englanders used and improved on this trail. For a time it was solely a military road, then a post road the stagecoaches used and eventually it became Highway #1. As noted, the original trail in Kings County took a natural course that the Mi’kmaq found to be best. That is, it stayed close to the Cornwallis River, avoiding swamps, areas prone to flooding, and other natural obstacles.

This highway is a heritage from the Mi’kmaq and Acadians and should be recognised as such. One day perhaps there will a plaque somewhere along the course of Highway #1 marking it as a heritage road.

A SAND BANK AND A GRAND OLD HOTEL (August 22/06)

Various historical references mention a prominent physical feature that determined a town would rise where Kentville now stands. That feature was a large “sandy bank;” most likely a glacial deposit called a boarsback; the bank narrowed the Cornwallis River and made a fording place – one of only a few such on the river – that was first used by the Mi’kmaq and later the Acadians. When the New England Planters settled in, the ford was a natural area for a store since several main trails led to it.

Recently a copy of the photograph of the old Aberdeen Hotel was donated to the Kings County Museum by Harold Gates of Canning. In the photograph, behind the hotel and to its left, one can see a huge sand bank. This must be the bank referred to by several historians and essayists, among them Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton. In his Kings County history, Eaton quoting another writer says that Kentville “owes its existence to the enormous sand bank (removed about 25 years ago) which here narrowed and made a convenient place for a ford at low tide and later for a bridge.”

Now you know that in effect, geological forces created a natural place for a town to spring up. But you’re probably wondering what the connection is between that monstrous sandy bank, supposedly some 40 feet high, and the old Aberdeen Hotel.

The Aberdeen Hotel was built in 1895 by Daniel McLeod. According to a paper on Kentville written in 1895 by Judge of Probate Edmund J. Cogswell, it was in 1895 when efforts were made to cart Kentville’s monster sand bank away. Some sources say it was an eyesore in the town, which was booming thanks to the railroad.

However, it appears that when McLeod chose a site for his hotel, he decided that the logical place was immediately north of the railway station – on the piece of ground occupied by that pesky sand bank. McLeod leased the site for 50 years (from the Cornwallis Valley Railway according to Mabel Nichols in The Devil’s Half Acre) and the bank was removed. The railway may have done the removing. In his book on Kentville, Louis Comeau says sand from the bank was used as fill in the railyards of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway.

Getting back to the photograph of the Aberdeen Hotel, this must have been taken around the time it opened since as I mentioned, remnants of the sand bank can still be seen. As I also mentioned, the photograph came from Harold Gates. Mr. Gates’ wife was a descendant of Daniel McLeod, who was her grandfather.

In the photograph, flags are flying on the Aberdeen Hotel, possibly to mark its grand opening. In the foreground of the photograph, seated in a horse drawn wagon called a barouche, are Lord and Lady Aberdeen. Holding the reins is John McLeod (Daniel’s brother perhaps) who later managed the hotel. Also seated in the carriage is said to be Col. Wentworth Eaton Roscoe, a Kentville barrister who later was Mayor of Kentville.

In its time the Aberdeen was one of the finest and possibly largest hotel in the Annapolis Valley. Undoubtedly along with Kentville’s Aberdeen Street, the hotel was named in honour of Lord Aberdeen. Hence the Lord’s visit to Kentville as Canada’s Governor General with the occasion being celebrated with a photograph, which probably was taken by A. L. Hardy.

Later, after the hotel had been purchased by the railway, its name was changed to the Cornwallis Inn. The hotel was torn down circa 1931 to make way for a new Cornwallis Inn on the opposite side of Kentville.

OLD SCHOOL REGISTERS SOUGHT BY SOCIETY (August 15/06)

“They’re a vital part of Kings County history,” Linda Hart says, “and we’re trying to acquire as many of them as possible.”

Hart is referring to Kings County school registers, and there are literally hundreds of them out there the Kings Historical Society has yet to collect. The genealogy department of the Society is attempting to create a database of all existing school registers and so far has collected and recorded some 126,000 entries.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Hart says that out of 106 school district in the county, only 67 have been collected and recorded as of June this year. Some of the registers date back to the 1880s and are obviously invaluable for genealogical study.

Unfortunately, some registers have disappeared and may never be found. While most counties in Nova Scotia sent their school registers to the Public Archives and were later returned, Hart says, this wasn’t the case with Kings County. “The Kings County school registers were never sent to the Archives. They were left in the hands of the school board. Many registers stayed with school trustees, teachers or other private individuals.”

As a result, there are a lot of school registers sitting in attics and basements, and many that were thrown out. Some have been lost forever, Hart Says, noting that there are five school districts for which no records have been found. “What a loss,” she says.

However, there are still school registers out there somewhere and the genealogy department is appealing for anyone who knows of their whereabouts to contact them. Hart says the department only wants to borrow the registers long enough to copy them. “We do not want to keep them. The originals will be returned, with a photocopy.”

If you have registers you’d like to add to the Society’s database, you can reach Linda Hart at the Kings County Museum, 902-678-6237.

More On Gallows Hill (other articles)

Some e-mail correspondence from former Kentville resident and author Don Ripley sheds further light on Gallows Hill. Ripley writes that Bell wasn’t the name of the man who was hanged on the hill for murder. “The name Bell is more likely after the blacksmith shop of Joe Bell, which was located at the corner of Cornwallis (Street) and meadow road (Brooklyn Street) for years. I don’t believe the hanged man was Bell. We called Gallows Hill the Joe Bell Hill after the blacksmith shop. It later became a commercial building of sorts.

Ripley adds that the lot across the street from the blacksmith shop – “where the ambulance stand is now” – was a provincial property and may have been the site of the old jail. “The hanging almost certainly took place there.”

Apartments and Reids Grocery were located in this building, which was later demolished and replaced by the Goodyear Tire store.

Folklore has it that at one time a communal watering trough for horses was located on this site, fed apparently by a brook that once ran out of the hollow (Mosquito Hollow) to the right of Cornwallis Street and into the Cornwallis River. A long-time Kentville resident was told about the watering trough by his grandmother, whose memory of it would place the trough as existing close to 100 years ago.

BURPEE BISHOP – OUTSTANDING HISTORIAN, KENTVILLE CITIZEN (August 1/06)

In 1918, Burpee Robertson Bishop and William Edward Boggs collaborated to compile the genealogy of Planter grantee John Bishop. When it was completed, the work (The Genealogy of the Bishop Family of Horton) listed the descendants of John Bishop from the time he settled in Horton in 1760.

Inspired undoubtedly by the genealogies published by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton in his Kings County history, it was a seminal work of some importance. The Bishop-Boggs compilation was the foundation for the 1990 four-volume update of the Bishop genealogy, and the editors of Tangled Roots acknowledged this in dedicating the work to them. The 1918 compilation established the reputation of Burpee Bishop as a historical author, and it’s as a historian that he’s mainly remembered today.

In the two decades I’ve been writing this column I’ve found many references to the historical detective work of Burpee Bishop. Ernest Eaton and other local writers quoted him often, and his status as a historian appears to be on a level with Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton. Other than a few newspaper articles and the 1918 compilation, however, I’ve been unable to find other published writing by Bishop. Kentville historian Louis Comeau has two copies of undated articles by Bishop, one an early history of Kentville, that were published in a Kings County newspaper, possibly The Advertiser.

Burpee Robertson Bishop (1868 – 1957) was born in Highbury. When he was 10, his father George Calvin Bishop moved to Kentville and opened a grocery business. In 1888 Burpee and his brother Trueman (1860-1923) took over the business. MacAlpine’s Business Directory shows that Burpee and Trueman were still running the grocery store in 1904 but it may have been operated until Burpee retired. Burpee remained a Kentville resident all of his life and was one of the town’s most prominent citizens. Kentville historian Louis Comeau has identified his residence as once standing on River Street, the site now occupied by the Royal Canadian Legion building.

While widely recognised as a historian, Burpee was accomplished in other fields. His obituary reads that he has been “a merchant and a manufacturer, has acted as town clerk, leader of the Kentville Citizens’ Band and town assessor.” For many years, his obituary read, Bishop was active with the Kentville Board of Trade and was a charter member and held all offices on the Board; he was a Baptist Church choir member for 70 years and served on the town’s hospital board. As Kentville’s assessor he pioneered the numbering of the town’s streets.

I’ve been unable to find any record of Bishop’s education. However, he was a dabbler in the arcane field of patent medicine and may have had training as a druggist. Several sources note that Burpee was a “manufacturer,” a reference to his possibly having concocted and having marketed several types of patent medicine.

Burpee definitely was a purveyor of patent medicine and the evidence is in Louis Comeau’s collection of old bottles. Comeau has three patent medicine bottles under Burpee’s name, the labels reading as follows: “B. R. Bishop’s Liniment, Kentville N.S.,” “Ferguson’s Liniment, B. R. Bishop, Kentville,” and “B. R. Bishop’s Cough Syrup;” Burpee also marketed a cleansing product labelled “Bishop’s Household Ammonia.”

Burpee Bishop is buried in Kentville’s Oak Grove Cemetery. Copies of the Bishop genealogy he compiled with William Boggs, some 174 pages in all, can be found in the Kings County Museum, Kentville.

MORE FOLKLORE, FACTS ON GALLOWS HILL (July 25/06)

Last week’s column on Kentville’s Gallows Hill prompted several people to call and one reader gave me a different name for the man hanged there between 1840 and 1850. I’ve also found an earlier date for the hanging, but like most of the folklore floating around about Gallows Hill, there’s no proof that it’s accurate.

One reader told me that according to Burpee R. Bishop, a Kentville historian (and town grocer and patent medicine purveyor around 1900) the hanging took place in 1826; another reader said that it was a man named Powell, not Bell, who was hanged on the hill.

No pun intended, but the name Powell rang a bell. I vaguely remembered seeing a reference to a Powell being connected with the Gallows Hill hanging, so I dug into some catchall files where I’ve been stuffing miscellaneous historical information. I found a second letter from Ernest Eaton containing a reference to the hill. In this letter Eaton quotes Burpee Bishop who gave Powell as the man executed on the hill.

Eaton infers that this information may not be accurate. However, he does offer some background on who the authorities were in Kings County around the time of the hanging. Eaton writes that a descendant of Handley Chipman, one of the first Planter grantees here, was sheriff of Kings County at the time. This was William Chipman; Eaton added that William’s son Charles served under him as a county deputy.

Ernest Eaton quotes Burpee Bishop on William Chipman being sheriff and as I intimated, he was quoting and not stating this was a fact. In his Kings County history, A. W. H. Eaton writes that William Chipman was the county’s representative in the federal government “on the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.” According to A. W. H. Eaton, the only Chipman that was a Kings County sheriff was George; he was in office from 1809 until he died in 1838. If old A. W. H. is right, and undoubtedly he is, this would make Burbee Bishop’s claim that one Sheriff William Chipman supervised the hanging as incorrect and the 1826 date questionable.

Folklore has it that Gallows Hill was once known as Joe Bell Hill, named it is said after the man who was hanged there. Kentville historian Louis Comeau has a document of the Kentville Hospital Association from the 1920s that lists a property either at the top or bottom of Gallows Hill that was called “Joe Bell’s cottage.” I mention this since it could mean that Joe Bell Hill was so called simply because one Joe Bell had resided there.

Both Bell and Powell (take your choice) are said to have been of the black race but this is folklore only and there’s no proof it is correct. In an earlier column on Gallows Hill (April 1996) I noted that Eaton’s Kings County history mentions a black family who lived close to Gallows Hill.

There was an error in last week’s column. I wrote that the hanging of Bell took place along what is know as Blair Street. Sorry folks, that should be Blair Avenue. As for the Blair Avenue site for the gallows, possibly this is incorrect. Another piece of folklore floating around gives the very top of the hill, on the right side of Cornwallis Street, before it is joined by Exhibition Street, as the site of the gallows.

So there you have it, almost all of the Gallows Hill folklore I’ve collected and been told about. P.S. The skeleton of the man hanged on Gallows Hill is said to have ended up in the office of a Yarmouth doctor.

GALLOWS HILL – REMEMBERED ONLY IN FOLKLORE (July 18/06)

“Kentville is not the only place to possess this grisly memorial of a more brutal past,” Ernest Eaton wrote in a letter to me in 1982.

Eaton was referring to Gallows Hill, a prominent rise on the town’s northern edge where folklore has it a public execution took place. The historian added that other places in the Maritimes have their gallows hill as well. What he left unsaid was that while these grisly memorials exist, few if any are historically acknowledged and remain preserved only as folklore.

Kentville’s Gallows Hill is a prime example. Most area residents know where the hill is located and are familiar with the folklore about it. However, as if it was a blot on the town, historians have never acknowledged the hill’s connection with a hanging; you may find some brief reference to the hill, a line here and there perhaps, and that’s it. Otherwise, the history of Gallows Hill exist only in the stories passed on from one generation to the other.

Some [8] years ago I wrote about Gallows Hill in this column. The column consisted of odd bits and pieces of information I had collected and contained no hard – that is, provable – facts. What I had collected was confusing and contradictory. I have two names for the man hanged on Gallows Hill, for example, and no way to determine which one is correct.

What I do know for sure – the “for sure” based on oral history – is that in the 19th century a murder took place in or near Kentville and the victim may have been a county constable. The killer was caught, tried, found guilty and executed, fingered according to folklore by a son who revealed where the victim’s body had been hidden.

An oral account of this affair exists in a Kentville family. This account was passed on by an eyewitness to the hanging, who was a young boy at the time. The boy was Rufus, the ancestor of the man who told me this tale.

As the story goes, Rufus was brought to Kentville by his father who came to witness the hanging. Rufus was supposed to remain in the wagon with his siblings while his father went to the site of the gallows. Instead, Rufus followed his father and watched the execution from a hiding place in nearby grass.

Rufus is the great grandfather of the person who told me this story. Later, Rufus told his son about witnessing the hanging; he in turn told the story to his children and it became part of the family’s history. It may be the only existing account of how Gallows Hill got its name.

Based on the family story, the gallows was located at the top of the hill, along Blair Street, which connects with Exhibition Street and runs a short distance south across the hill. Also based on the family story, it’s possible to determine roughly when the execution took place. According to the relative who told me this story, Rufus was born in 1840 and no later than 1845. If accurate – other birth dates confirm that it’s fairly accurate – then the hanging likely took place after 1840 and no later than 1850.

According to the story passed on by Rufus, the man hanged on the hill – last name Bell – killed a friend in an argument and tried to hide the body. Rufus remembered seeing a man on horseback and in a military uniform at the gallows. Riding back and forth with sabre in hand, this man asked Bell if he had any last words before springing the gallows.