Pioneer Days

The Register
Berwick, N.S., Wednesday Evening, January 29, 1930 (page 1).

(A paper read by the late John E. Woodworth before the Nova Scotia Historical
Society, Halifax, at the April meeting, 1917.)

My first introduction to the study of history, nearly sixty years ago, was by means of a black bound book, upon the back whereof was stamped in gold letters, the title "Pinnock’s Goldsmith’s England." In looking through this book, after the manner of youth, before devoting special attention to the lesson assigned, I lighted upon a sentence which excited interest, aroused indignation, and incidentally taught a useful lesson. The sentence was, "Nova Scotia was a place where men might be imprisoned, but not maintained; it was cold, barren and incapable of successful cultivation." After listening to my comments for a few moments, my father interposed with, "You must remember that the early visitors to Nova Scotia judged by what they saw. If you could see Halifax and the country around as they saw it, you might think that Goldsmith was not very far wrong."

It is a deplorable fact that some of the published works on the history of Nova Scotia in general, and of Kings County in particular contain much that is inaccurate. In some cases these inaccuracies can only be ascribed to carelessness on the part of the writer, but mainly they are the result of a wrong point of view on the part of the historian or of those who supplied him with information on the points in question. Often a reader may explain the appearance of a palpable inaccuracy by putting himself, as it were, in the place of the informant or, by the same process, discover inaccuracies not so palpable.

At the same time it must be kept in mind that the future reader will look upon these published works, with their inaccuracies, as authoritative. He will not have the means that the present generation has of discovering incorrect statements. No one wishes to injure the sale of a generally excellent and instructive work, or to detract from the reputation of its author by public criticism of its shortcomings. I think, however, that it should be the duty of members of the Society who have absolute knowledge of the incorrectness of statements in published works relating to the history of Nova Scotia, to place the facts on paper and forward the manuscript to be preserved in the archives of this Society, for the benefit of future students of the history of our Province.

The first great outstanding fact in the history of that section of the Province of Nova Scotia which is generally known by the incorrect appellation of the Annapolis Valley is of course, the expulsion of the Acadians. The rights and wrongs of that terrible event must ever remain a subject of discussion. Whether the expelled were the peaceful, home-loving people described by the poet or were characterized by the quarrelsome litigious traits recounted by the late Sir Adams Archibald; whether they were rich or poor, neutral of disloyal; whether their removal was the outcome of greed or of patriotism on the parts of Governors Lawrence and Shirley, are questions concerning which there will always be a difference of opinion. It is a fact, however, that the settlers from New England and their immediate descendants who possessed the lands from which the Acadians had been deported, fully believed in the justice and the necessity of the expulsion. Many a gruesome story of treachery and cruelty was rife in the Valley a hundred years ago, and some of these stories were repeated by sons and daughters of the original grantees, as the first settlers were called, for more than a hundred years after the expulsion. With the publication and general circulation of the poem Evangeline, such stories gradually became unfashionable.

That the Acadians were wealthy – as the term was understood in those days – was another general opinion held by their successors. That some of them hid their gold, and returned in after years to search for it – not always in vain – is a well founded tradition. A story is told of a barn that escaped destruction at the hands of Colonel Winslow’s New England soldiers. The New England grantee of the lot on which it stood affected some repairs and used it o store his hay and shelter his cattle. After some years, he was astonished one morning in climbing to his haymow, to find an excavation in the "big beam." Examination revealed that the cut had been chiseled out years before and deftly covered with a board hewed to match the beam. That a box of gold had been hidden there and had now been removed was, of course, the inevitable conclusion.

In the neighborhood in which my youthful days were spent, a peculiarly shaped, large cast-iron boiler, which lady among some old iron near a blacksmith shop, was a source of much curiosity. The blacksmith, a grandson of one of the original grantees of Cornwallis, told the story.

A few years after his grandfather had taken up his abode in Cornwallis, two men of gentlemanly bearing and winning ways had called at his house and solicited accommodation for a few days. They explained that their business would take them out early in the morning and might keep them out late at night and desired to be so accommodated that their egress and ingress would not disturb the family. Their request was granted. In taking their departure, after a stay of two or three weeks, they explained that they had been on a search for gold; that in the north-east corner of a cellar, which they had been able to locate – the house over which had been burned at the time of the expulsion – was buried a quantity of farming implements, among them a large boiler. In a direct line from the cellar toward Minas Basin, at the first point where, in 1755, the waters of Minas Basin would be seen, treasure had been buried. On account of the cutting away of the trees they had been unable to locate the point. The cellar with the buried implements, including this boiler, was promptly visited, but prolonged and diligent search in direction of the Basin failed to reveal the treasure. An impression grew that the original searchers had not been as unsuccessful as they had led their hosts to suppose.

But, apart from stories of money or other hidden treasure reclaimed by French searchers, or found accidentally by English settlers – and many such stories were told – there seems good reason to believe that the Acadians were well supplied with this world’s goods. Dr. Eaton tells us that –

"Minas fields were fruitful and the Gaspereau had borne

To seaward many a vessel freighted deep with golden corn."

Other writers tell us in prose of the "portable property" to the value of 20,000 pounds, secured by Governor Lawrence. He was also charged in a memorial to the Lord’s of Trade, with having appropriated to his own use thousands of pounds worth of cattle taken from the Acadians and intended as food for His Majesty’s forces. It was a time of war and we know by experience, that a time of war is a time of high prices for articles of food such as the Acadians were able to supply.

This leads to the consideration of another theory which involves the only serious charge ever made in connection with the Expulsion, against our New England ancestors. It has been intimated, then whispered, and "may go near to be thought so shortly," that the expulsion was the prelude to a land grab, as it would be called today, and then it was instigated by the very people who afterward benefited by it, by taking up and settling on the vacated lands. There is not the slightest evidence of the truth of such a suggestion. The only argument advanced in support of it – apart from the fact that Colonel Winslow and the soldiers under him, who carried out the expulsion, were all from New England, is the fact that numbers of the incoming settlers were, or had been at some period of their lives, sea-fearing men. In some sections of Nova Scotia, there are men who are farmers in the summer and lumbermen in the winter. Similarly, many of the farmers and farm laborers of New England at that time, added to their income by a sea voyage or two during the autumn and winter. These were, doubtless, well acquainted with the Acadian farm lands. That knowledge might well account for the fact that they were the first to respond to the appeal of Chief Justice and Governor Belcher to come over and take possession of the vacated lands. The fact that they waited five years before making any move in that direction, is a pretty good proof that they did not inspire the forced removal of the former occupants. That they came not at their own expense but at that of the Province of Nova Scotia and that they were maintained for a time at that expense, is further proof to the same effect.

(Continued on page 6)

In Pioneer Days (page 6)

(Continued from page 1)

For some years after the incoming of the settlers from New England, the most important and responsible profession among them seems to have been that of a land surveyor. Grants had to be located, lots laid out, bounds established. In Horton East and in Cornwallis, a system of qualifying the land was adopted. This was an attempt to make the shares of equal value. If a lot was considered of greater value than the average of land in the township a less quantity was included. Thus, in some localities, ninety acres were counted as one hundred. In others more than a hundred acres would be required to satisfy an allotment of one hundred, and in one section of Cornwallis the land was considered of such an inferior quality that three hundred acres were set apart as the equivalent in value of one hundred acres granted. The officials appointed to qualify were known as lot layers.

In the laying out of grants in Horton Township, a rather serious mistake occurred. The Surveyor of grants bounded on the township line extending from Kentville westwardly, knowing the number of grants, the acreage of each, and the depth which they were to cover, easily estimated the number of chains required for the frontage of each lot. Then he proceeded to lay out and describe these lots, making no allowance for overrun. When he reached the last lot, he described its northern boundary as extending so many "chains to the township line." As a matter of fact the township line was some three or four miles beyond the limit required by the grant. That the debatable territory thus created afforded a fine cruising ground for lumbermen and, later caused the loss of much valuable time in the courts, can well be believed. Many years after, the townmen of Horton in Town Meeting assembled, sought to correct the error. After disposing of the poor for the incoming year and performing other routine duties of a town meeting of those days a committee was appointed to sell the "vacant lands" and to give quitclaim deeds thereof. Nobody would buy. Another committee was appointed to sell the lands and give warranty deeds. Still there were few, if any, sales. Whether the members of the committee did not care to warrant the title to the lands or the lumbermen did not see the necessity or advisability of purchasing land of which they already had the free use is not authoritatively stated. The learned judge before whom one of the cases arising out of this matter was tried remarked in his charge to the jury, that one of the parties to the suit had set up a title which, he must say, was a very poor title, while the title set up by the other party was no title at all. In this case certain logs had been cut on the debateable ground, and put in a boom by one firm of lumbermen. A rival firm, also claiming the land, had taken possession of and marked the logs. The first firm had then seized the logs under a writ of replevin. The jury, without considering the questions of title to the land, awarded possession of the logs to the firm of lumbermen by which they had been cut.

Less than fourteen years after the arrival in Nova Scotia of the immigrants from New England, the battle of Bunker Hill was fought and the war of the Revolution had begun. Whatever might have been the feeling of the residents of a section of the County of Cumberland, whose representative elect was not permitted to take his seat in the Legislature on account of alleged disloyalty on the part of his constituents, there can be no doubt that the residents of eastern Kings County were thoroughly loyal to Britain. Nor was theirs a blind, unthinkable loyalty. Old men of fifty years ago, who had grown up among men and women of the Revolutionary and pre-Revolutionary period, would describe the Revolution and the causes which led to it, the conduct and mistakes of Lord North and the attempts of Pitt and Fox to correct these mistakes, with an intelligence that would astonish those who have always thought of them as unlearned and ignorant men. The settlers in Nova Scotia would appear to have shared the feelings of their relatives and former neighbors in New England, in regard to the causes which led to the Revolution, but considered the Declaration of Independence a mistake.

(Continued next week)

The Register
Berwick, N.S., Wednesday Evening, February 5, 1930 (page 1).

(A paper read by the late John E. Woodworth before the Nova Scotia Historical
Society, Halifax, at the April meeting, 1917.)

(Continued from last week)

When the United States declared war against Great Britain in 1812, there was no question as to the loyalty of the people of the Annapolis Valley. Britain then, as now, was engaged in a "struggle of life and death" and then, as now, the young men of this country were ready to go to her assistance. The garrisons at Annapolis Royal and at Halifax were reinforced by young and middle aged recruits from Annapolis and from Kings, and many an interesting tale could they tell in after years of their experiences while doing garrison duty during the war of 1812.

But when the war was brought to a sudden end in the spring of 1814, through the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and his consignment to Elba, there was indignation and wrath on the part of these Nova Scotian soldiers and their friends. The United States had attacked Great Britain when her hands were tied, and now, when her hands are free, she lets them go unpunished. Stories of British transports taking on, at continental ports, corps after corps of veteran soldiers and setting sail westwardly across the Atlantic were heard with a feeling of joy which turned to something akin to sorrow when it was learned that the plea of the United States for peace had been favorably considered, that the war was at an end, and that the late foe was gloating over his alleged victory. The sentiment which Judge T.C. Haliburton puts into the mouth of his hero, "The British can lick all creation and we can lick the British," fairly represents the boasting of the United States one hundred years ago, a boast that is repeated today by some apparently intelligent citizens of the great republic. Had our forefathers understood the true inwardness of the Treaty of Ghent, their wrath would have speedily vanished. The conditions of this treaty show - under Divine Providence – statesmanship of the highest order. The United States had gone to war, ostensibly to compel Britain to abandon the Right of Search. The real object was to get possession of the American Colonies of Great Britain. The treaty made no reference to the Right of Search. It contained conditions however, that would prevent the United States making any attacks against Canada, no matter how seriously Britain might be involved with other nations. Such were the terms of peace dictated by Britain. We are proud of them today and our ancestors would have been proud of them a hundred years ago, had they but understood them as we do.

Among the privileges granted in 1760 to incoming settlers from New England was that of exemption from impressment into naval service of Britain. An aged and somewhat eccentric farmer and pioneer fruit-grower used to interest and amuse his neighbors and friends by narrating an experience in claiming this privilege. The dramatic manner of his narration cannot be reproduced but the matter was, substantially, this: It was about the year 1807. Of an adventurous disposition, he had left his father’s farm and taken a position on a fishing vessel bound to the banks of Newfoundland. While busily engaged with his shipmates one day in caring for the latest catch, a man-of-war hove in sight; a bot was lowered and the press-gang came on board. The skipper was ordered to range the men for inspection. The Cornwallis man was chosen and curtly told that he must hereafter serve His Majesty. He got his "dunnage" and descended with his captors to the boat. The skipper leaning over the side of the vessel asked "Is there anything I can do for you, Jimmie?" "Yes, sir, when you get to Halifax, go at once to the Governor of Nova Scotia and tell him that James Woodworth, son of John Woodworth, of Cornwallis, is impressed on board that man-of-war."" A few weeks offing near St. John’s, a boat came out and a naval officer came on board. After a few words with the commander, the men were ordered up for roll call. Presently the name"John Woodworth" was called. Jimmie was to the front at once. "My name, Sir, is James Woodworth, not John Woodworth," A glance passed between the officer and the commander. "Mr. Woodworth, you are relieved from further services in the navy. A man will be sent to bring your belongings, which will be placed in our boat in which you will be taken ashore. Tomorrow you will sail for Nova Scotia." Our friend always professed to believe that the miscalling of his name was intentional, with a view to be able to report that the man for whom they had been sent was not on board the man-of-war.

Strangers visiting the Valley, as well as many of the natives thereof, often wax merry over the location of the older roads between the Valley and the top of the North Mountain. A supposedly humorous comment, formerly heard quite frequently, was – When the first settlers wanted to make a road up the mountain, they looked for the steepest place they could find and there built the road. From the Valley point of view there would seem to be good ground for the criticism. But that is the wrong point of view. The first roads between the Valley and the Bay of Fundy were not built up the mountain. They were built down the mountain; from the Bay to the Valley, not from the Valley to the Bay.

As sons of the early settlers grew to man’s estate they sought suitable locations on which to establish farms and to build up homes. One of the maxims brought from New England was "softwood land will not grow wheat." A farm that would not produce wheat would, in those days, be a most unprofitable investment. When they began to explore the lands that lay toward the sources of the rivers flowing into Minas Basin, they found comparatively little hardwood land. For miles along the Cornwallis River was a forest of magnificent pines, growing apparently out of almost solid sandstone. Forests of spruce and hemlock trees indicated soil which they did not want.

The North Mountain, however, was covered with forests of birch, beech and rock maple; just the sort of land desired. Besides, the sea abounded in fish and a few hours in a boat would supply the larder for many a day during the period of clearing the land and making of the hardwood forest a productive, wheat-growing farm. During the summer months, and often during a great part of the winter, the journey by water to former homes and friends along the shores of the Basin or the banks of the rivers flowing thereto would be greatly preferred to a much shorter journey by land through the then pathless forest. Under these conditions, it is not to be wondered at that long before there were any settlements in the central part of the Valley, or any roads whatever north of the Cornwallis River and west of where Kentville now stands, there was a home at the mouth of almost every creek along the shore of the Bay. The best farming land, as the pioneers judged it, began about a mile from the shore – beyond the belt of spruce which bordered the coast – and extended to the top of the mountain. The home at the mouth of the creek would, therefore, be considered but temporary and roads were soon made, usually, for obvious reasons along the west bank of that creek, toward the top of the mountain. These roads would naturally follow the line of least resistance to the top of the mountain. When it became necessary to descend the mountain into the Valley there was but small choice of routes. The source of th3e creek that flowed gently down the gradual slope of the mountain toward the Bay was also the source of a stream, that flowing in the opposite direction, plunged with violence down the steep southern slope of the mountain toward the Valley, constantly tending to increase the steepness of that slope, down which the traveller must go if he would be spared a long and difficult detour which the search for a more gradual descent would involve. So long as the horse, or more often the oxen, could negotiate the descent a better route than the one at hand was not sought. A tree was felled and attached, with branches uncut, to the axle of the cart, or a beam of the sled. This acted as a brake, and the descent was quickly and safely made. From the roads thus first traced grew the steep descents, which, looked upon from below, afforded amusement to the next generation.

But the next generation had its own problems in road making and the manner in which they were solved was, in many cases, quite as ridiculous as was the system of building roads down the steeper slopes of the North Mountain.

(Continued on page 6)

In Pioneer Days (page 6)

(Continued from page 1)

The settlers along the shore of the Bay of Fundy soon awoke to the fact that their mountain land was better fitted to the growth of hardwood trees than it was for that of wheat or general farming. Then some of them became the pioneers of settlements in the then forest regions of West Cornwallis, "Under the Mountain." This was during the early years of the nineteenth century. The only road then running the length of the Valley was the "Old French Road," the route of which was south of the Cornwallis and Annapolis Rivers along the foot of the South Mountain range. The roads from the Bay of Fundy already described generally connected with this road by paths through the forests, which paths usually converged toward the settlements along the shore of Minas Basin. These paths soon became roads, but, like the roads over the mountain, they followed the lines of least resistance. This was an advantage to the traveller, and, while the country was a forest, no disadvantage to anyone. But, as the forest gradually developed into farms, a demand arose for highways regularly laid out a properly defined. There were occasional difficulties as to the right to use the paths. If a path lay through a farm, had the owner of that farm a right to fence across that path? If he plowed and planted the field through which the path ran, had a traveller the right to drive his team through the crops growing within the confines of that path? One of these paths is now the principal highway through the principal village in Western Kings and disputes as to its proper width are perennial. In most cases, however, a road was located on the vicinity of the path and properly laid out and dedicated. These roads are generally marvels of directness. To avoid "cutting up" the farms, which was an objection to following the more level but less direct routes of the paths, they were generally laid out on the boundary line between two grants or lots and, if that boundary line lay up or down the face of a steep hill, the road, if at all possible, was made to follow it, even if a variation of fifty or a hundred yards would avoid the hill altogether. These instances of the straightforwardness characteristic of our ancestors are especially in evidence in the clayey district which lies along the foot of the North Mountain. On the mountain the principal highway, running in the direction of the mountain range, is known as the Base Line Road. It was constructed along the base line of the two tiers of lots into which the territory between the Bay of Fundy and the brow of the mountain was divided. This road, as may be supposed, is remarkably straight. At one place, between Canady Creek and Harborville, an outcropping of the trap rock of which the mountain is composed jutted across the line. The road climbed the face of that rock and descended on the other side. For years the public traveled up and down over the rock. Eventually, a daring surveyor of highways for the district, in directing the performance of Statute Labor, made a level road around the rock, curving sharply some few feet from a straight line. This was long before the days of Municipal Councils. The Member of the Grand Jury at whose instance the Surveyor of Highways had been appointed, could never forgive him for the survey and never forgave himself for recommending the appointment.

Apart, however, from these idiosyncrasies on the part of former roadmakers, there is much of historical interest to be learned along the highways of the country. Inquiries into the causes which led to the construction of a highway will often bring to light facts of importance which had almost been forgotten. There is a point in West Cornwallis upon which five highways converge. There is no village at that point. One solitary farm house stands there. What induced the building of so many roads to that point as a centre?

The answer usually is: "There used to be a church there." That, considering the characteristics of the early settlers, would seem to be a satisfactory explanation. Further enquiry however, might show that the roads converging to that point existed before the church was built; and still further investigation might lead to the discovery that the place was once the site of a mill; that the mill was owned by a man who was a member of the legislature of Nova Scotia at a time when grants of money from the provincial treasury for expenditure upon specific highways were made directly by the legislature, and that the roads in question connect the site of the mill with the best grain growing districts of one hundred years ago.

A matter which concerns the history of the Annapolis Valley at a very early stage of its existence is of interest though perhaps not properly within the scope of the work of this society. It is a fact not often noticed that the southern slope of the North Mountain, facing the Valley, is composed of a series of crescents, the points of which jut into the Valley. Opposite one of the most clearly defined of the crescent points lies the great Caribou Bog. Opposite each of the others, however, there is, in the Valley, either a bog or a plain that appears to have developed from a bog. The origin of the Caribou Bog is ascribed by geologists to the supposed fact that it marks the meeting place of the tides, which, when the North Mountain was an island, flowed from Annapolis Basin on the west and from Minas Basin on the east toward what is now the central part of the Valley. This theory, taken in connection with the existence of the crescents and their attended bogs and plains, furnishes an excellent opportunity for interesting discussions regarding the primeval conditions of this part of the province of Nova Scotia, but affords little ground for historical investigation.

That the North Mountain contains iron ore of the purest quality is a fact that has afforded rosy anticipations to many past and present proprietors of mountain land. In one of the farmhouses at the foot of the mountain was formerly preserved an excellent razor made from North Mountain iron. The first owner of the farm, when clearing land, now more than a hundred years ago, picked up a barrel of ore and sent it for a test, to an iron manufactory in New England. He received in return, this razor with the assurance that it had been made from the iron ore which he had sent.

Another pioneer who owned a farm adjoining that of the man just mentioned, had a mild mania for the preservation of items of interest. Whenever he heard of the death of a neighbor or of a great man in Europe, or in America; of the purchase of a farm, or the winning of a battle by Napoleon Bonaparte on land or Lord Nelson at sea; of the laying of a keel or the launching of a ship; of any event, at home or abroad, that was worth remembering, he would make a note of it, dating it with special care. Years after his death one of his sons was asked if he still had his father’s manuscripts. "Oh, no, there were two chests full. We wanted the chests and we burned the papers."

This and similar acts of vandalism – for this news gatherer was not alone in his habit – greatly increased the difficulty of correctly ascertaining conditions as they existed in pioneer days. This Society has done a great work in the preservation of historical data but much remains to be done. The events of today will be history tomorrow and every lover of his country, every true patriot, should align himself with us in the endeavor to preserve, for the benefit of future generations the records of past and present events of interest and public note.