“Looking northward from Grand Pre, across the Grand Pree, lay three islands,” writes Douglas Eagles in his history of Horton Township. Eagles identifies these islands as Long Island, “renamed, about 1915 (as) North Grand Pre,” a small knoll to the east called Little Island, and further east “Bute or Boot Island.”

Charles Island, the name shown on a few early maps for the Long Island area isn’t mentioned in Eagle’s detailed description of the North Grand Pre landscape. Charles Island was the topic in one of my November columns. Readers may recall that Jamie Robertson wrote me about finding maps with Long Island identified as Charles Island. At the time I said that I looked at books by Eagles and the Grand Pre dyke study by J. Sherman Bleakney and no mention of Charles Island was found.

I also wrote in the November column that I stand to be corrected, so here I am correcting myself. Bleakney’s book contains over a hundred illustrations, photographs and old maps, some of the latter depicting the Grand Pre-Long Island area in the 1700s. The caption of one of the maps mentions Charles Island and here’s how it reads:

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Written in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, the song called Dolly Gray caught the public’s fancy years later during the Boer War; historians say the song became the Boer War anthem, meaning I assume that it generally expressed the feelings everyone had about the current war.

Actually, the song is the melancholy farewell of a soldier who feels it’s his duty to answer the call to arms and is leaving his sweetheart. As harmless as it is then, why did the singing of Dolly Gray on Wolfville streets agitate people – and lead to a group of female college students being censored?

That’s exactly what happened reports the Acadian in a February 1902 issue. The Acadian reported that there was much rowdyism in Wolfville at the time. According to the newspaper a group of young ladies attending the Acadia Seminary were fined five cents for loudly singing and whistling Dolly Gray. The Acadian noted that rowdyism of a like nature was also being displayed at the local rink and should be also be dealt with by fining the perpetrators.

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After he retired from Imperial Oil, Kings County native Douglas E. Eagles researched and compiled several historical papers. Since he had Kings County Planter ties – he was born in North Grand Pre and came from a Planter family – Eagles centered his researching on the Long Island area. One of his papers is a detailed genealogical history of North Grand Pre, or Long Island. As well as a church history and an Eagles genealogical study, Eagles also wrote a history of Horton Township.

Privately compiled in limited quantities and bound in paperback, the Horton Township, and Long Island papers were never offered for sale to the general public. Copies of them can be found in the Nova Scotia archives and in various museums around the province.

I mention here the Eagles papers (or books if you wish) since I just searched through them to see if mention is made of an earlier name for Long Island. In a recent email, Jamie Robertson refers to a 1733 map of this area which indicates that what we call Long Island north of Grand Pre was once named Charles Island. Robertson writes that this is a detail from a much larger map of North America.

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The research on place names in Kings County by Charles Bruce Fergusson and Arthur W. H. Eaton tells us Kentville was known to the Mi’kmaq as Penooek, or Pineo’s place after a settler. The original Mi’kmaq name, according to Silas Rand in his History of the Indians of Nova Scotia was Obsitquetchk, meaning a fording place.

Fergusson and Eaton both say that early on, after the Planters arrived, Kentville came to be known as Horton Corner. Mabel Nichols writes that Kentville was also called the Devil’s Half Acre but her book by that name is the only reference I can find in print that claims this.

What the Acadians called the area around Kentville isn’t known. The town assumed its grandiose name in 1826 after the Duke of Kent made a flying visit through the area. The Duke apparently made a pit stop at the Royal Oak Inn and this was enough to name the town after him.

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You may never have heard of the American writer J. Morris Longstreth (1886-1975) who has a Canadian and in particular, a Nova Scotia connection. Longstreth perhaps is best known as a travel writer but he dabbled in general and historical fiction as well, publishing over 40 books on these topics, He taught for a while in Ontario schools and some sources erroneously claim he was a Canadian from Kingston.

But teaching school in Ontario isn’t his only Canadian connection. Several of his books had Canadian settings, one of them a semi-fictional novel on hockey. About 80 years ago Longstreth’s travel writing caught the attention of a Canadian publisher, Ryerson Press. Ryerson commissioned Longstreth to write a travel book about Nova Scotia and it was published in 1935 after he spent most of the summer here.

For the most part this is just one more travel book but apparently, Longstreth was familiar with Nova Scotia history; as revealed by his sojourn here and his observations on the Acadians and the expulsion, he knew a lot about our past. In his book, for example, he made the interesting, accurate observation that the Acadians were “an alien element in a conquered country;” in part, this explained the expulsion.

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This is an “interesting account of an institution that at one time existed at Centreville, Kings County,” reads the lead line of an article published in an early Kentville newspaper, the Western Chronicle. The article ran around 1890 without an author’s name; the “institution” referred to was the Town Meeting, a practice that came with the Planters when they arrived in Kings County.

In effect, the Town Meeting was an informal type of community government people used to handle local affairs. The late Acadia University professor, Dr. R.S. Longley, called the Town Meeting the most prized institution of the Planters. In the History of Kings County Eaton says that the Town Meeting was a “time honoured institution in New England” and it was a tradition carried on here after the Planters arrived.

The Town Meeting, an “inception… brought down here by the old New England settlers in 1760,” is described in the newspaper article as a “very curious arrangement by which the township (of Cornwallis and Horton) were governed.” Originally the Town Meeting, in the words of the unknown writer, “did the whole business of the township what the municipal council now does.” Again quoting the newspaper article, “the Town Meeting originally held all the power which was afterwards greatly absorbed by the court of sessions and only lost its power when the municipal system came in.”

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RACISM IN 1763 (September 19/16)

In the History of Kings County Arthur W. H. Eaton skims lightly over an incident involving “some of the new settlers in Horton and Cornwallis” and an “Indian named Batholemew Nocout.”

As Eaton put it, Nocout, a Mi’kmaq, got into some difficulty with the settlers and “received at their hands severe if not dangerous injuries.” Eaton describes the incident in the current events chapter of the history, noting that Isaac Deschamps, at the order of Lieutenant Governor Belcher, spent four days investigating the incident. At the conclusion of the investigation, orders were issued to the Attorney General to prosecute the settlers who had beaten Nocout.

That prosecution never happened. As Eaton put it – and he was copying from Murdoch’s history of Nova Scotia – the settlers involved in the beating admitted their fault “and the trouble was satisfactorily settled without recourse to the law.” In other words, the settlers who attacked Nocout admitted they were in the wrong and apparently that was good enough for the courts of the day. The settlers were never prosecuted.

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PLANTER PROBLEMS – DROUGHT IN 1761 (September 5/16)

Meteorologists are calling this summer’s dry weather the worst drought in more than a decade – and they’re hinting that with global warming, more dry spells like this are on the way. However, if you look at the historical records, you’ll find this is nothing new; there have been many dry summers here since farming began on the Annapolis Valley floor centuries ago.

In fact, Valley farmers have coped with many intensive droughts since the Planter’s arrived, circa 1760. Of course, there were droughts in the Valley before the Planters came. While there are few or no records to confirm this, drought conditions likely hit the Acadians hard as well.

The first drought, one of the worst to strike the Planters since it came when they were barely settled, occurred in 1761. This is well chronicled – in the provincial archives and in various papers and books dealing with the early Planter period – and we know exactly how it was coped with and the effect it had.

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In a “memorial” dated August 20, 1778, John Burbidge petitioned the Nova Scotia government on “behalf of himself and many of the principal inhabitants of Kings County” for military protection and compensation following a raid by American privateers up the Cornwallis River.

In the petition, Burbidge “honourably (showed) that on the night between 9 and 10 August at Cornwallis in said county, some whaleboats came up the Cornwallis River with between 30-40 armed men (and) invaded and plundered the home of Wm. Best Esquire.” The raid, notes the provincial archives, took place near what eventually was to be the town of Kentville.

The American Revolutionary War was raging at the time of the raid and privateers had been give carte blanche to take British ships whenever and wherever possible. Nearly 800 vessels were commissioned as privateers by the American Congress and the waters off Nova Scotia and settlements along the coast, which were largely undefended, were prime targets.

In the raid up the Cornwallis River, the privateers that plundered the home of William Best took “everything valuable of easy carriage (everything of value that could be picked up and carried to the whaleboats). They took cash and other effects to the amount of 1000 pounds and upwards,” Burbidge stated in his petition.”

Describing the raid in a 1933 Dalhousie University thesis (Pre-Loyalist Settlements Around Minas Basis) James Stuart Martell briefly described the raid, stating that before any assistance could arrive, the pirates had “escaped to their two brigantines, which were lying the Bay.”

As early as 1777, Martell writes, fearing attacks from American privateers the settlers in Cornwallis and Horton townships had petitioned the government to ask for military protection. The petition went unanswered, Martel says and “after this audacious visit from the pirates, panic spread among the inhabitants of Kings County.” Once again they petitioned the government, stating bluntly that unless some protection was given, they would be “induced to remove with their families from their settlements.”

Again quoting Martell, the direct result of the pirate raid up the Cornwallis River was the establishment of Fort Hughes in Cornwallis township. New barracks were built that would hold 56 men. Martell doesn’t indicate if British regulars or the local militia manned the fort, but by early November, about three months after the raid, Fort Hughes was operational.

Throughout the remaining years of the American Revolution, privateers constantly threatened the Minas Basin settlers. American privateers were reported in Minas Basin late in 1778. The following spring several armed American whaleboats were spotted in Minas Basin but there were no more raids up the Cornwallis River.


He played a significant role in preserving the early history of the province, contributed some to compiling the history of Kings County, and has rightly been hailed as Nova Scotia’s national historian; yet you probably never have heard of Beamish Murdoch and the major role he played in writing about the early history of Nova Scotia.

Murdoch was a pioneer in the field of historical research and historical writing. As well as an author, he was a lawyer and political figure in Nova Scotia. Born in Halifax in 1800, Murdoch was one generation removed from the Ireland. He was admitted to the bar of Nova Scotia in 1822 and served as MLA for Halifax township from 1826 to 1830.

While he was a noted lawyer and political figure, it is his role as a historian that he deserves to be remembered. Murdoch is the author of the History of Nova Scotia, or Acadie, which he began to write when he retired in 1860. He wrote his three volume history in instalments, publishing them between 1865 and 1867.

Writing the three-volume history was only possible after the founding of the provincial archives, the Record Commission of Nova Scotia, in 1857. The archives first commissioner, T. B. Akins, had collected historical papers and documents of all kinds from various parts of Canada, from America and from Europe. Within seven years of the archives being formed Akins had amassed some 211 volumes and nearly 40 boxes of documents. Most of the public and historical records extant on Nova Scotia at the time – including many rare documents related to the English regime and the deportation of the Acadians – were collected and catalogued by Akins.

Murdock would make good use of this vast amount of material in writing the history, and was the first historian to do so. You can find Murdoch’s history at Acadia University. Also, an American University has posted his entire history on line – Google Murdoch’s history of Nova Scotia – but be warned: Unless you’re really an avid history buff it’s dry, sleep inducing reading.

Now to the Kings County connection with Murdoch the historian: Much of what Arthur W. H. Eaton writes about in his Kings County history came from research completed by other historical writers. One of them was Murdoch of whom Eaton only mentions twice as a source while praising the likes of William Pitt Brechin and Benjamin Rand. Yet without accessing Murdoch’s historical writing – his three volume history and other historical essays – Eaton couldn’t have written a truly comprehensive history of Kings County. This is the impression I get after reading relevant sections of Murdoch’s history. Eaton neglected to acknowledge his debt to Murdoch and also to Kentville historian, Edmond J. Cogswell. Eaton quotes Cogswell freely (from various newspaper articles published in the 1890s) but doesn’t name him, referring to him only as a “recent writer.”