ABEL AND HIS TIMES

 

When Abel Beals came to Nova Scotia he left behind a rather comfortable life style.  His home town of Hingham had been settled for almost 140 years and was therefore well developed.  All the necessities of life and for that matter, luxuries, were available to him.  If they could not be found at home they could be obtained in Boston only a few miles away by road or by water. 

But conditions in Nova Scotia in 1776 were vastly different and a complete contrast to what he had been accustomed to back home.  Most of the land was wilderness.  The only cleared land was the small farms which the Planters had taken over in 1760 from the Acadians who had been expelled from the country five years earlier.  By 1779 Abel was settled on his land just south of Lawrencetown and had become a pioneer in every sense of the term.  Now almost all of the necessities of life were available to him only through his own labor and ingenuity.  Anything he could not provide for himself and his family had to be obtained from Annapolis or more likely from his homeland. 

How did Abel react to his new surroundings? What were his feelings about his new homeland?

A major event took place in Annapolis County in 1782/83 which resulted in profound and lasting changes.  The end of the War of Independence brought a great wave of Loyalist refugees to the area.  Before this happened the population of the county was about 1500 and there were only 18 families totaling about 120 people living in the "town" of Annapolis.  Late in October, 1782 nine transports arrived bringing 500 Loyalists.  In October, 1783, 1000 arrived from New York.  A month later 1,500 more arrived.  One can only vaguely imagine the hardships endured during those two winters.  By 1787 most of these people had moved either to the several other towns in the county or to farms.  Only 45 families lived in the town of Annapolis after the emigrants had been dispersed. 

There were strained relations between the Loyalists and pre-Loyalists.  The newcomers made it clear that they were a people apart, who at great sacrifice had demonstrated their loyalty to the British crown.  They were all too ready to find evidence of rebel leanings among the older settlers and adopted an exclusive and "holier than thou" attitude.  Abel was no doubt considered one of "the older settlers".  How did he react to all of this?

Loyalists considered the Planters as land grabbers because they were in possession of the more tillable lands formerly occupied by the Acadians, and they had to be content with grants less desirable and accessible.  The Loyalists were superior socially, were better educated and more aggressive particularly where politics was concerned.  In Annapolis County, Loyalists candidates always ran against pre-Loyalists in elections to the Assembly in Halifax.  Both sides left no stone unturned to demean their opponent and get elected. 

Roads, or the lack of them, were no doubt a problem for Abel.  When he first arrived in the Lawrencetown area the only "road" was probably no more than a path used by Indians and Acadians traveling between Annapolis and Grand Pre.  The Annapolis River was therefore the "highway" of choice in those early days.  With the arrival of the Loyalists and resulting increase in population the means of travel took on greater importance.  During the next 25 years there was a great deal of road building .  Abel was very much a part of this because he was often employed as Commissioner for laying out and constructing roads.  In the early stages many of these roads were barely passable particularly through the mud in spring time.  Tree stumps prevented the use of wagons and there were no bridges over most rivers and streams.  Passage during the winter time was much easier because the obstructions were covered with snow. 

By 1799 a road had been cut one-half of the distance between Nictaux and Liverpool.  That year a grant of 50 pounds was allocated for its improvement and extension.  In 1802 another grant was provided for the building of a road from Lawrencetown to Lunenburg which joined the Nictaux to Liverpool road at Albany.  Part of this still remains as the Trout Lake Road.  At one time a stage coach ran from Lawrencetown to Liverpool. 

As early as the summer of 1786 letters were being carried from Halifax to Annapolis.  Without roads this was done partly on foot and partly on horseback.  Thirty-five years later, in 1821, the "Great-west Road" through the valley was still not fit for the coach which ran from Halifax as far as Kentville.  A two seated wagon and four horses were used to transport travelers and mail between Kentville and Digby.  It was a two day trip both ways with an overnight stop at Hick's Ferry (Bridgetown).  The driver had a great tin horn to summon passengers, but its main use was to alert people along the route that the mailman had a letter for some rural resident within sound of the horn.  By 1828 there had been enough improvement in the roads to allow the stage coach to go all the way to Annapolis.  The fare from Halifax was 2 pounds and 10 shillings.  Do you suppose Abel ever availed himself of any of these services?

In 1793, between Halifax and Annapolis, a distance of 133 miles, there were 33 "Houses of Entertainment".  The oldest of these "inns" in Annapolis County were Hick's Tavern at Hick's Ferry (Bridgetown) and Dodges Tavern at Bowlby's Crossing (Wilmot).  In 1801 an amount of 100 pounds was made available by the government to settle families on the main road.  A grant of 25 pounds per family was given for establishing overnight shelter for passing travelers.  The bounty was raised to 30 pounds in 1807. 

The 1812/14 war between the United States and Britain was a time of prosperity for Nova Scotia.  The province was a source of supply for many products required in the war effort.  Pirateering flourished and a large number of vessels were brought into Halifax and Saint John where the prized cargoes were auctioned off.  However, with the end of the war the bubble burst and a severe economic depression set in.  Then calamity struck wave after wave. 

In the spring of 1815 hoards of mice swarmed over the fields and stripped them of all vegetation.  Then they dug up the ground and ate the roots.  Farmers dug trenches and filled them with water.  Thousands drowned but there were thousands more right behind who scrambled over the bodies and into the next crop.  By fall those remaining died or kept on until they reached the ocean. 

The following summer brought further disaster.  On June 4, 1816 a snow storm left a foot of snow on the ground.  It had hardly melted when another foot fell on June 17th.  On July 4th the ice on brooks and ponds was 1/4 inch thick.  There were two weeks of summer in September but winter returned in October and November.  By contrast December was sunny and the warmest month for the year.  But the winter was unusually severe.  Bedford Basin was frozen over and teams crossed over the ice until late April.  The "year of the frost" was caused by a volcano eruption in Indonesia. 

By this time things were getting pretty serious.  Due to the mice plague one year and the lack of summer the following year, food became scarce and many people suffered.  There was a lack of seed as well because it had been destroyed by the mice.  But this was not the end.  On May 22, 1817 there were three severe earthquakes over a period of 15 minutes.  Digby and Annapolis were the most seriously affected. 

What effect did these natural but unusual occurances have on Abel? We can only imagine but certainly by this point he must have been sympathizing with the biblical Job and lamenting to himself "what did I ever do to deserve this". 

What kind of education did Abel's children and grand children receive? His own children probably received very little except from their parents around the kitchen table.  A law requiring the establishment of schools in every community was not passed until 1826.  Even then not all children attended school because their parents could not pay for its support or were not willing to do so.  Schools were not supported by compulsory assessment until 1864.  There was a high school in Annapolis as early as 1781 and Grammar Schools were established in 1811.  In Lawrencetown there were at least four private schools before the passage of the Free School Act in 1865.  One was at these schools was at the corner of Trout Lake Road and Route 201.  Edward Whitman's family and his descendants were educated there and perhaps some of Abel's children and grandchildren were also. 



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Copyright © 2005 by Donald W. Beals, author.