HantsGenWeb - History

Hants County, Nova Scotia GenWeb Project

A section view of Bartlett's engraving of Windsor, Nova Scotia circa 1843.
A section view of Bartlett's engraving of Windsor, Nova Scotia circa 1843.


County Boundaries in Nova Scotia

The story behind the Hants County's Name

Ultimately getting its name from the County of South Hampton in England, popularly called Hampshire, and abbreviated to Hants, Hants County was established in 1781 out of part of what had been Kings County. The words of the minutes of the Council of Nova Scotia for June 17, 1781 make it clear that the distance from Horton (the County town of Kings County) and the inconvenience of crossing the Avon River to transact county business were factors which led to a separate county being formed.

Four and a half years later its boundaries were more precisely defined and set forth by the Governor and Council in 1785. The boundary lines of Hants were duly surveyed and confirmed by the Lieutenant Governor 1828.

Subsequently in 1861, Hants County was divided into two Districts called East Hants and West Hants.

1870 Hants County Historical Sketch

McAlpine's Maritime Provinces Directory for 1870-71: Hants County Directory: Historical Sketch*
McAlpine, David., Publisher. Halifax, Nova Scotia, November 1, 1870. Pages 489-490.

1870 Hants County Historical Sketch.*
*Benjamin Smith, Esq.

The county of Hants occupies the central part of Nova Scotia proper, contains 1073 square miles, and is divided into seven townships - namely, Windsor, which is the shire town, Falmouth, Newport, Douglas, Rawdon, Kempt, and Uniacke.

The Mic-mac tribe of Indians were the first inhabitants of the county, as also of the province. Some sections of the county were claimed by particular families of the tribe as their peculiar hunting-grounds. The Paul family has from time immemorial claimed the district on the west side of the Shubenacadie River, where a reservation of land has been made on their behalf by the Government, and a number of families are now settled and engaged in agricultural pursuits, and where they have erected a chapel, in which they perform their religious services. Several rivers in the county are still called by the names they received from the Mic-macs, as the Shubenacadie, the Kennetcook, and the Cogmagun.

The Acadian French were the first European settlers in the county, and although it may be difficult to ascertain the precise date of their settlement here, it was most probably about the year 1640, as in the year 1634, Charles Etienne La Tour received from the King of France a land grant of that part of Nova Scotia then called Minas, and which no doubt included the counties of Kings and Hants; and it is stated in a proclamation issued by Governor Lawrence in 1758, inviting persons in the New England colonies to settle in Nova Scotia, that "one hundred thousand acres of land had been cultivated, and had borne wheat, rye, barley, oats, hemp, flax, &c., for the last century without failure." From the quantity of marsh land they had reclaimed from the tide-water, and cultivated, with other improvements, there can be no reasonable doubt that they had been settled here more than a century before their removal.

Near every marsh of any considerable extent in the county, their cellars, wells, and fruit-trees still mark the localities where their villages once stood. Their principal village or settlement appears to have been Windsor, the large tracts and superior quality of the marsh land having attracted greater numbers to that place than to other parts of the county. They had a chapel in Windsor, near the site of which the Indians, until within a late period, resorted to bury their dead, as also to the site of another chapel, on the west side of the Shubenacadie River, on a farm now owned by Mr Daniel Snyde, and which still retains the name of the Mass-house Farm.

The greater number of the Acadian French were removed from the county in 1755. The Rivers St Croix, Herbert, and Petite still bear the names given by the French settlers.

Shortly after the settlement of Halifax in 1749, a blockhouse and other fortifications were erected at Windsor, on what is now called Fort Hill. This fortification was deemed necessary to protect the early English settlers of the adjacent lands from sudden attacks from the Indians and many of the Acadian French, who had associated with them, and who were still encouraged by the hope that while Canada was held by the French, efforts would be made by their countrymen in that quarter, and also by the French Government, to recapture Nova Scotia, and re-establish them in the possession of their lands. But when they received information of the taking of Quebec by General Wolfe in 1759, and that the whole of Canada had fallen into the hands of the English, their hopes were entirely frustrated; and the French, who had for some years lived in retired and secluded places with the Indians, soon after retired from the country, and the Indians, being no longer instigated by the French in annoying the English, soon became quiet and peaceful towards them.

Several of the French and Indian encampments at this period may still be pointed out near the head of the tide on the Kennetcook River, to which the French drove many of their cattle, and had them slaughtered for their subsistence. Those encampments long retained the name of the French Barracks.

The principal part of the township of Windsor was granted to gentlemen either connected with the Government or belonging to the army, but few of whom ever resided on the lands conveyed to them, which operated unfavorably to the improvement of the township in its early settlement; but many of those grants have since been sold and subdivided, by which a very favorable change has been affected.

The advantageous conditions of Governor Lawrence's proclamation issued in 1758, and widely circulated in the New England colonies, induced a large number from those colonies - principally from Massachusetts and Rhode Island - to remove with their families for the purpose of forming settlements in this county in 1759 and 1760. They obtained grants of lands in the townships of Falmouth and Newport, the grant of the township of Falmouth being dated July 1759, and that of Newport in 1761. The township of Newport was granted to seventy proprietors, nearly all of whom had come from the colony of Rhode Island. The grant was laid off in farm lots, containing both marsh and upland, wood lots and town lots, each proprietor being allowed at least one lot of each description, with a right in a large quantity of land, both marsh and upland, that had not been included in the first division. There were also glebe and school lots laid off at the same time. The greater number of the present inhabitants of the township are descended from these early proprietors.

Douglas is the most extensive township in the county, and has for some years been divided into three districts for the support of the poor. The settlements of Kennetcook, Gore, Nine Mile River, and Five Mile River, were included in a grant passed in 1784 to Lieutenant-Colonel John Small, for the purpose of settling the 2d Battalion of the 84th Regiment, disbanded after the close of the American Revolutionary war.

Noel is situated on an inlet from Cobequid Bay, and is surrounded by a large quantity of marsh land, which has been settled by the Acadian French. The principal part of what is now called Noel Village was granted to and settled by two families from the North of Ireland, by the name of O'Brien and Densmore, the first locating on the west side of Noel Bay, and the second on the east side. The descendants of these families still occupy the place, and the greater number of the inhabitants of the district bear their name.

The township of Rawdon was granted in 1784 to a number of loyalists, who had removed to this county from the Southern States at the close of the American Revolutionary war.

The township of Kempt was not settled at so early a period as the adjoining township of Newport. The fist settler in that township, after the removal of the Acadian French, was a Mr William Parker, who located himself upon the Petite River, near where the village of Walton now stands. A considerable proportion of the present inhabitants of the township are Mr Parker's descendants.

The township of Uniacke was so called as a mark of respect for the late Hon. Richard John Uniacke, who about the year 1820 induced the Government to form that part of the county into a separate township, in order to enable the inhabitants to transact their local business without being obliged to proceed to other townships for that purpose, in none of which this tract had been included by any specific boundaries.

Few counties in Nova Scotia exceed Hants in its agricultural capabilities. A large portion of Windsor, Newport, and Falmouth townships consist of dyked marsh of a very superior quality.

The whole county lies upon a bed of gypsum, which crops out in numerous places, and which is exported in large quantities to the United States. The following figures exhibit the amount exported in the year ended December 31, 1869: - Windsor, 81,276 tons; Cheverie, 9348 tons; Walton, 4760 tons; Maitland, 1180 tons; Hantsport, 3860 tons - total, 100,424 tons.

The principal gold districts in Hants county are at Renfrew and Uniacke, though gold has been discovered at Ellershause, Stillwater, Ponhook, River Herbert, and other places. The mines at Renfrew produced in the year ended September 30, 1867, 9401 ounces of gold, the product of 7770 tons of quartz. For the same year, Uniacke produced 947 ounces of gold from 1212 tons of quartz. 

Manganese, slates, freestone, pipeclay, grindstone, limestone, moulding sand, &c., are also found in Hants county.

Shipbuilding is extensively carried on in this county. In this respect it is second only to Yarmouth county. There were launched in the county and sent to sea during the year ended December 31, 1864, thirty-one vessels, registering 11,922 tons. From 1860 to 1865, the total tonnage in the registrar's office in creased from 29,058 to 63,640. And these figures, it may be observed, do not exhibit the total tonnage built in the county, as the ships built at Maitland are mostly registered in Halifax. Ezra Churchill, Esq., Hantsport, is probably the largest shipbuilder in Nova Scotia.

The population of Hants county at the present time is about 20,000; of Windsor, about 3000. Windsor is 45 miles from Halifax.

* For the information in this sketch, I am entirely indebted to my venerable friend Benjamin Smith, Esq., of Douglas, who very kindly placed in my hands a historical essay on Hants county, written in 1865. I would hereby gratefully acknowledge my obligations to him.

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 Hants County, Nova Scotia GenWeb Project