Much like archeologists seeking information about the prehistoric past, where fossils and artifacts are critical sources of information, we at the Tantramar Heritage Trust must rely on written “artifacts” to open the many doors to our colourful history. Dr. Jennifer Harris of Mount Allison’s history department has provided the Trust with such a particularly valuable jewel, recovered from the university’s deep archival mine. This gem (as described in the article on page 2) was delivered to Jennifer by Mr. Clyde Gabriel from Amherst and, on behalf of the Trust’s membership, we pass on our most sincere gratitude to Dr. Harris and Mr. Gabriel for making this rare and rich source of knowledge available to us in this issue of our newsletter. Their kindness opens a large door which has remained shut for too long: a historical look at the black residents of Westmorland. As February is Black History Month, it is especially appropriate for this issue of The White Fence to be carrying Jennifer’s interesting and detailed article.
In part, Jennifer’s fascinating story informs us of the importance of schooling and literacy in the nineteenth century for the descendants of the Martin family. Her article is appropriately followed with Pauline Atkinson’s first-hand account of schooling and teaching in Johnson’s Mills, Lower Rockport and West Sackville (Westcock) during wartime and the immediate post-war years and under some difficult conditions which teachers today (and the rest of us!) would consider far too demanding. However, such demands were clearly no impediment to Pauline at the time. (See Figure 3 in The White Fence No. 36 for a photo of the Johnson’s Mills school in Colin MacKinnon’s article Rockport Gold and Other Mysteries — see the small building above the Cole family farm.) Read her first-hand account and consider if you could have taken on such demanding responsibilities without the amenities (like a car!) we consider “normal” today. And on your behalf, I thank Dr. Charles (Charlie) Scobie for assembling this story with the many pictures which grace our pages. Thank you so very much Pauline and Charlie for a most interesting and revealing story!
And, dear members, I know that many of you have many similar interesting stories locked away in family histories and attics! Please “dig them out” because many of you have much to teach us of our history, like the Martins and Pauline Atkinson. We wait for your call (536-2541) or note (29B Queens Rd., Sackville) with anticipation.
Tracing the Black Past in Nineteenth-Century Westmorland
By Jennifer Harris, Mount Allison University
Recently, the Mount Allison Archives received the donation of a handwritten book documenting early and mid-twentieth century black life in Westmorland County, and recording details of the families who lived in the black neighbourhood of Green Hill, at Mount Whatley. The book was a gift of Clyde Gabriel of Amherst, a grandson of its keeper, Burton Martin (1877–1948), whose regional ties in turn can be traced to eighteenth century Westmorland. Mr. Gabriel’s donation presents a rare opportunity to consider what life was like for early black residents in this area.
Burton Martin was a direct descendent of Peter Martin (circa 1790–1851). Peter was in all probability connected to the Martins mentioned in Howard Trueman’s The Chignecto Isthmus and Its First Settlers (1902). As Trueman wrote, “Sennacherib Martyn was a captain in Winslow’s expedition to capture Fort Beausejour. He brought with him to Westmoreland Point, as slaves, a negro family, to whom he afterwards gave their freedom, and gave them also his name (now spelled Martin).” According to Peter, he was born in the United States, almost a decade after Sennacherib’s death (circa 1782), only arriving in British North America in 1798. Thus it would seem he was either informally adopted by those the captain held as slaves, or acquired the last name by proximity.
Certainly a Peter Martyn/Martin was the subject of several sales in the region. The Mount Allison Archives holds a copy of an 1804 bill of sale in which James Law agrees to “bargain and sell unto the said Titus Knapp a Negro boy about twelve years old named Peter, to have and hold said Negro boy to himself and his heirs forever.” While Peter’s last name is not mentioned here, another record speaks of Titus Knapp, resident of both Westmorland and Fort Cumberland, who owned at various points Sippio Milligan, Peter Martyn, Lucy Martin, Bacchas Newton and several others whose names are forgotten.
Then, in 1810 Knapp sold Peter Martin to James Isaac Hewson for $42. It is possible that Hewson then sold Martin and later repurchased him: as one resident noted, “When I lived with Dr. Smith I was familiar with the Fort… Cl. Gay lived and had a large establishment there. He had a large farm and he had a bunch of negro slaves. He traded in them. They were cheap. He sold one named Peter Martin to James Hewson for $40.” Regardless of whether the raconteur misremembered, the fact remains that Peter Martin was, from a very early age, subject to upheavals, familial ruptures, and adjustments to the expectations of new masters and mistresses, with little or no agency in the matter.
It is said that Peter Martin remained with James Isaac Hewson “until after emancipation of slaves,” in all probability meaning after August 1, 1834, when the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 outlawing slavery in the majority of British holdings took effect. At that point Peter would have been just past forty. Peter would have celebrated freedom not only on his own behalf, but on that of his eight children as well, all but one of whom had been born pre-Emancipation. Whether or not his children were born enslaved is unknown: the general convention was that children followed the state of the mother. In this case, their mother was Margaret (circa 1792–September 1880), a New Brunswick-born woman about whom little is known. Circumstantial evidence and oral history suggests she may have been owned by the family of Robert King, schoolteacher at Mount Whatley, but no documents have survived which would verify this. However, whether she and the children were free or not, various episodes in United States history demonstrate that as long as slavery existed free black men, women, and children were vulnerable to kidnapping and enslavement. Thus emancipation came as a relief to black individuals and families of every legal status.
By the mid-nineteenth century Peter and Margaret were entrenched in Westmorland, surrounded by children and grandchildren. The 1851 Census identifies Peter as African and a laborer, living with a white family on the one side, and as the head of the first of several black households on the other. In each instance, the black men are identified as laborers, perhaps for the nearby Trueman families. While Peter’s date of death is unrecorded, it seems likely that he died sometime between 1851 and 1861, as he is absent from the latter census.
If Peter’s life was one of upheavals, that of his son, Archibald (circa 1828–February 1910), appears to have been more stable. Archibald, also an unskilled labourer, was rooted in the Aulac community of Green Hill where he had been baptized, and where he would eventually be buried. There appeared to have been nothing to distinguish Green Hill from Mount Whatley, except the skin colour of its residents. (As an area, it started just past the Mount Whatley Loop Road, and continued west over what is now the Trans-Canada Highway, Route 2.) Black and white families attended the same church, and were buried in the same cemetery, as early as the second decade of the nineteenth-century (though strangely, black couples seemed to marry elsewhere). That said, residence in Green Hill may have been less a matter of choice than of necessity. As one elderly Westmorland resident noted, well into the mid-twentieth century, there was a gentleman’s agreement that one did not rent or sell land in Sackville proper to black men or women. This is not to say that Sackville did not have black residents: as of the 1824 Westmorland Census, there were 26 black adults and children in Sackville Parish, and 39 in Westmorland Parish (compared to Botsford: 1; Hillsborough 11; Moncton: 2; Salisbury: 1; Hopewell and Dorchester: 0). Later censuses, such as the 1861, are less reliable on this matter, as race was not consistently recorded. Nonetheless, the black population in Sackville & Westmorland Parishes appeared to be maintaining its numbers at that date. However, that was soon to change as some Sackvillians moved elsewhere in search of better financial and educational opportunities. Green Hill would soon become the geographical locus of black life in late nineteenth-century Westmorland and Sackville Parishes, its numbers rivaled only by Dorchester.
No doubt as a day laborer Archibald Martin was among those who lived in Green Hill and worked in Sackville on occasion. It did appear he owned his land, but seems unlikely he possessed livestock, as no black residents of Sackville did at the time. He probably did not earn much, but he was confident in his ability to support a wife and family, marrying a Miss Miller (circa 1825-February 1905). Years later William Albert Trueman would recall her: “Palmela Miller married Archibald Martin. With pride she would say “I’m Mrs. Archibald Martin, she that was Palmela Miller.” We called Mrs. Archibald Martin “Millie”. She was a religious woman. When called to lead in prayer at prayer meetings, she would do so very nicely. I have also heard her at family worship in her own home.”
Millie’s pride in her marriage was no doubt tied to the protection and respectability it afforded. Surviving records show a striking number of illegitimate and mulatto children born in local black families, no doubt a by-product of the sexual vulnerability of black women, especially those sent out to work in the homes of better-off families from as young as ten. Such labour practices highlight another unfortunate reality: the majority of black residents of nineteenth-century Westmorland County appear to have received little, if any, schooling. While in the nineteenth-century black children are recorded as students in Dorchester, preliminary research suggests schools for Sackville and Westmorland Parishes were uniformly white. Certainly Archibald Martin was illiterate, and while Millie claimed to have been able to read, she was not able to convince at least one census taker of her ability.
Still, Archibald and Millie’s son, Hanford (circa 1856–1901), somehow managed to achieve basic literacy. When he married Alice Louisa Cook on June 2, 1875, they no doubt agreed that their children would be educated. By 1901 all of Hanford and Alice’s offspring, including Burton Martin (with whom we began), were able to satisfy the census taker of their literacy, a skill of which they could be rightfully proud given that none of them — not even twelveyear old Martha Maud — had attended school in the last year. The family appeared proud of their accomplishments: the obituary of Burton’s brother noted that “he was educated in his birthplace” [Aulac], a coded way of attesting to his literacy.
Burton Martin’s book is not a standard diary or scrapbook. Indeed, it seems to have served a variety of purposes. Martin recorded the births and deaths of family members and neighbours, the dates of family visits, and financial transactions. H. F. Carter paid $20.00 one July 3rd; on June 7th 7lbs of butter was churned. And yet alongside such domestic details are events of world importance: Martin appears to have used his book to compensate for the broader education he did not receive. One example of this is a handwritten list of important and seemingly unrelated events:
Halifax Explosion December 6 1917
Spain ceded Gibraltar to England 1713
Australia used as convict colony 1788 to 1840
first rail road cars in England pulled by horses
Canada’s debt Dec 1942 $1.892.400.00.
The list continues: the spelling is perfect, suggesting Martin copied details from newspapers. It also seems likely some notes — especially about family matters — were recopied from earlier books or documents, as a comment about a 1929 trip to Truro suggests. All in all, the book appears to be not only as form of record keeping but also a document to be consulted, preserved, and passed on. It thus is fitting that after Burton Martin’s death his book was maintained and added to, probably by his daughter, Minnie.
At a basic level, the book reveals day-to-day life in Westmorland, and sheds light on the routine work a labourer might perform, from hauling wood to digging graves — which might account for Martin’s seeming preoccupation with death. But it also provides insight into daily domestic details and the reality of poverty: in February of 1945, at almost sixty-eight years of age, Martin and his common-law wife were working daily. On February 16th, 1945, Martin was able to record he had $25.00 in the bank. A month later he indicated that he had purchased a battery radio. This was an event of some importance in a family where getting new socks was deemed noteworthy. Given how rare it is that personal records of hardscrabble families survive, Martin’s book promises to be incredibly interesting to regional historians studying working class families.
And yet, if the records of regional working class families are scarce in archival repositories, the records of Black New Brunswick families are almost entirely absent. Mount Allison is not unusual in having a dearth of such materials. For this reason, Burton Martin’s book is additionally compelling. It is not simply that it documents a presence and a community that has been forgotten; it also adds to our understanding of a historic black community with its intricate web of family ties, suggesting the support and sustenance such relations enabled. But perhaps most compellingly, it attests to a desire of a marginalized family that was absent from the record books to be remembered, and to rememberthose who came before.
Jennifer Harris would like to thank Clyde Gabriel, CultureWorks (Mount Allison University), the Cumberland African Nova Scotia Society, Genie Coates, and Rhianna Edwards of the Mount Allison University Archives. She welcomes any leads on black history in Westmorland, and can be reached at 506.364.2170 or
How Times Have Changed! — Reminiscences of a Teacher
By Pauline Atkinson (née Brenton)
I grew up and went to elementary school in Cape Tormentine where my father was a section foreman with the railway. In 1942, I graduated from Port Elgin High School at the age of 17. I had been accepted to enter Normal School in Fredericton to study Education. I was looking forward to this when the Superintendant of Schools came and asked if I would consider teaching on a Local Licence. Male teachers had gone to war so teachers had to be found to take their place. Thirty dollars a month sounded like a lot to a teenager, so I accepted the challenge. I would make $30.00 a month and pay $4.00 a week for board.
Johnson’s Mills was my first school. I did not know where it was, but off I went. I boarded with the Houghtons and their daughter Frances, a tall girl with red hair. There was no running water, no phones, no electricity and no inside bathrooms. Each night Mrs. Houghton would heat bricks in the oven of the Fawcett stove, then wrap them in old socks and use them as bed warmers; no electric blankets in those days! Each morning a jug of hot water was placed outside my door and I learned to make do with a sponge bath. I had a two mile walk to school and we did not have snow-days so at times it took a long while to walk the distance. The teacher had to go, even though the parents did not send their children.
The school had no blackboard, but the boards of one of the inside walls were painted black, and they were used instead. About 15 to 20 pupils attended, and they were spread over Grades 1 through 8 — a real one room school house! In my first year I taught one pupil who was older than myself (she was 18 years old, and I was 17). The school house is no longer there; it was bought by Aubrey Steeves for use as a cottage and moved off the site.
The secretary of the School Board collected taxes from the local families to pay the teacher. I got paid twice that year, at Christmas and in June. My mother sent me stamps so I could write home, and before Christmas she sent me a box of different kinds of candy, nuts and fruit so that I could treat the pupils. At Christmas I got enough to pay my board for the term, and to buy my ticket on the train to go home for the holiday. The mailman had a very small car and he ran me (with my suitcase) to Dorchester, where I got the train to Cape Tormentine.
It was during war time so we had ration books. It was the teacher’s job to give out these books; so on a Saturday I had to be at the school house from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. to give out the books. The people came from Rockport and Johnson’s Mills. Some of them were uneducated so I had to write their names after their X. It was a long day, but there was no such thing as overtime.
The community had to do fund-raising for the war effort by holding a Box Social. Mrs. Houghton beautifully decorated a couple of boxes, one for herself and one for me. Everyone seemed to want to buy the teacher’s box! It was the duty of the teacher to help the auctioneer, Emery Ward. At one point, instead of taking the box, he took me and lifted me high in the air and said, “What am I offered?” One old guy said, “25 cents”, and I was sold!
I learned how to drive a horse and buggy that year. One time, Mr. Houghton was away so I had to go to Dorchester with Frances for groceries. On the way “Old Silver” was not going fast enough so Frances stood up and whipped her. The horse jumped and threw Frances out of the buggy; her feet and legs got tangled in the traces, and she was dragged along the road. Silver stopped and I managed to get Frances back in the buggy but her head was hurt and she was suffering from concussion. I took the reins and continued the rest of the way to Dorchester to get the groceries, but I was worried about going back. The grocer told me to hold on to the reins and say “Gee” to go right and “Haw” to go left, and hold tight to go straight. We got home, but Mrs. H. needed the cows brought home. Frances was not able to go so I had a choice — to stay home with Frances or go for the cows. Even though I was scared of cows, I preferred to go for them. I don’t need to tell you that I walked so far behind the cows, they were home and in the barn partly milked before I arrived!
The Houghtons had another daughter who lived in Dorchester and on occasion Frances and I would walk from Johnson’s Mills to Dorchester, stay overnight, and walk back the next day. They did have a phone, and one of our favourite forms of entertainment was quietly lifting the phone and listening in on the party lines. No TV or DVDs in those days! On Sundays we walked to church — south from Johnson’s Mills along the shore, then east crossing the width of the peninsula, then finally down south from there to the United Church in Upper Rockport. The return journey was broken at 3:30 p.m. when Mrs. Reid, who lived on the cross road, invited us in for supper. The early hour ensured that we had time to walk back to Johnson’s Mills before dark.
In the summer of 1943 I went to Fredericton for 6 weeks to study. I received a Wartime Emergency Licence which enabled me to teach until the war ended. I then went to Rockport for two years (1943–1945). I boarded at what is now the Wilbur Cove House for one year, and then up the road at Harry Ward’s place for the second year, so I didn’t have far to walk. Teachers had to attend funerals and sing in the choir. When the organist, Mrs.Stephen Ward, approached me about this, I protested that I was no singer. My objections were overruled, and Mrs. Ward showed me how to keep my hymnbook up in front of my face so that no one would see that I was not singing. So I took my place up front, along with the other four members of the choiróall from the same family. I also attended my first auction sale in Rockport.
School hours were still 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and students had to walk to school. School buses had not been invented. There were no Professional Development days and, if I was sick, time had to be made up on Saturdays. I made $400.00 a year in Rockport. The school house still stands, although the building now has a tree growing up through it!
The next year (1945) the County Finance Board took over paying teachers. I was appointed to West Sackville School where I received a pay cheque each month amounting to $55.00. “West Sackville” was the area better known as Westcock. The school house stood on the corner of Wood Point Road and Old Hospital Loop Road. The building still stands, and is now used as blueberry storage facility. The second year I was there, Wood Point had no teacher so the pupils came to West Sackville (walking). That is where the term “Full House” originated.
In January 1947 the roof of the school house burned. The Sackville Fire Department responded. The pupils and I had gotten the desks and books out. Fortunately only the roof burned. School was closed for a month but I had to go every day to check the school and mark the register. How times have changed! I went back to my lodgings for lunch when I lived close to the school. I don’t remember any great problems leaving children on their own.
The war was now over so I decided to do something else. In 1967, the Premier of New Brunswick, Louis J. Robichaud, made it possible for those who held a Wartime Emergency Licence to make it permanent. You could do it through correspondence or the Quick way. I chose the latter and from October until January, I studied hard. The subjects were: Language, Literature, School Law, Methods and Mathematics. I wrote the exams in January 1968 and, in April 1968, I received my Teacher’s Licence. I finally achieved my goal — I had a First Class Licence and could teach permanently if I wished.
Upon receiving my licence I had 5 years pension held back from me and my experience was cut in half. The men who served their country were rewarded with double service whereas those of us who took their place in the classroom had their service cut in half. However, I had my licence and in September 1968 returned to teaching until 1984. When I retired I requested and had my five year pension which was held back reinstated.
I always wanted to be a teacher. I feel those five years without a permanent licence helped to make me a good teacher. My licence was a goal I strived for. It didn’t make me a better teacher — just gave me a certificate I am proud of, and a better pay cheque.
Can you help?
In the course of research for Pauline Atkinson’s article, Jeff Ward provided this photo, taken around 1905, upon which is noted “Slacks Cove Lower Rockport NB” — although Jeff isn’t aware of a school there at that time. Can you tell us more? Do you know any of the children in this photo? Call us at 536-2541 if you do!