The Poor House, or County Home as some call it, in Bridgetown, Annapolis Valley, was the only poor house in the province that segregated paupers by colour. The rest of the houses did not allow the sexes to mix but did not care about the African-Nova Scotians and the First Nations mixing in with the white people.
There was a fair amount of African-Nova Scotian people in the area of Annapolis Royal and Bridgetown because of the arrival of the Loyalists in 1783. Many of the Loyalist were permitted to bring their African slaves with them while many other Africans were fugitive slaves who ran away from their rebel masters and were referred to as “Free Negroes”. Others were members of the regiment of the Black Pioneers. Thomas Peters was one of the Black Pioneers and leaders of Brinley Town, the black settlement outside of the new town Digby in 1784.
The African Nova Scotians who did not go in the exodus to Sierra Leone in 1792, who stayed here, struggled for equal rights, for respect, for work, for equal pay. Their descendants struggled and continue to struggle to this day, for the same thing; respect and work.
The poor house on Church Road outside of Bridgetown buried their poor in unmarked graves and segregation was not a problem when burying the paupers. Like most poor houses, the Bridgetown Poor House did not record it’s dead until approximately 100 years ago. Recently, I was given a list of the known African Nova Scotians who are buried in the pottersfield of the Bridgetown poor house. The following list is just the ones we know of; the children break your heart.
d. 18 October 1912
40 years of age
d. 4 February 1908
94 years of age
d. 19 October 1910
86 years of age
d. 20 October
88 years of age
d. 28 November 1910
34 years of age
d. 22 Jan 1911
6 weeks old, at Ward 11
d. 28 May 1913
2 years of age
d. 11 September 1913
d. 24 February 1914
63 years of age
d. 28 April 1914
83 years of age
d. 4 Aug. 1914
3 years of age
d. 2 Dec. 1914
2 months of age
d. 13 Dec. 1914
85 years of age
Ruby Evelyn E. Jackson
d. 28 May 1915
1 month, 27 days of age
d. 27 Dec. 1915
2 weeks, 1 day of age
d. 20 Jan 1917
60 years old of age
d. 26 April 1919
90 years of age
d. 2 June 1919
73 years of age
d. 7 August 1920
94 years of age
d. 20 August 1921
80 years of age
d. 23 November 1921
86 years of Age
d. 30 November 1922
77 years, 6 mos, 27 days
d. 16 Dec. 1922
1 year of age
d. 11 March 1925
42 years of age
d. 25 Dec. 1926
88 years of age
Jennie B. Owens
d. 31 December 1927
24 years of age
d. 15 August. 1928
56 years of age
d. 12 March 1930
d. 17 Aug. 1930
1 yr. 6 mos. 15 days
d. 12 Aug 1932
aged 80 years
d. 10 Jan 1934 at Ward 11
3 mos. 28 days
Ethel Elizabeth Simms
d. 23 March 1934
d. 18 Sept. 1934
d. 28 July 1935
James Henry Owens
d. 12 Nov. 1936
d. 15 July 1938 Ward 11
aged 44 years
d. 21 May 1940 Ward 11
4 mos. 29 days
d. 5 May, 1941 in Inglewood
59 years of age
John Henry Jackson
d. 9 December 1941 in Bridgetown
aged 69 yr 2 mos
Lillian Golden May Bell
d. 9 Nov 1944 in Boston
73 years of age
Buried at the county home
d. 8 Sept 1950
65 years of age
*The well known African-Nova Scotia poet, Maxine Tynes, whom I had the great privilege of meeting in the late 1980s, wrote a poem about Lucy Mitchell.
**Likely a descendant of the amazing Rose Fortune.
The discussion about the local poor houses in Clark’s Harbour was great! Information swapped, pictures, stories…..now I am going to do it in Digby and in Lockeport.
Discussion about the Digby Marshalltown Almshouse will be held at the Isiah W. Wilson Library at 84 Warwick Street on Tuesday, February 19 at 6 pm.
Discussion about the poor houses in the Lockeport area will be held Thursday, February 21st at the Lillian Benham Library, 35 North Street at 7pm.
I am looking forward to seeing everyone there who is interested in this fascinating subject!!
I’ll be doing some speaking engagements about Poor Houses in Nova Scotia in February 2019. The Western County Libraries have very kindly invited me to speak at a few of their libraries.
Want to talk about Poor Houses, Maud and Lewis Everett??
Western Counties Regional Library
“A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses in Nova Scotia” – Author Reading
Learn about the poor houses of Nova Scotia. The poor house formerly located in Marshalltown was
near Maud and Everett Lewis’ home and where Everett worked as a night watchman.
Clark’s Harbour – Feb 7 / 6:30pm
Digby Library – Feb 19 / 6pm
Lockeport Library – Feb 21 / 6pm
Clare Library – Feb 28 / 6pm
I hope to see you there and learn some community stories!
Hi All! Good News! My publisher emailed me the other day and told me that A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses is not only a Best Seller, but that they want to do a Second Edition of the book. They want to include more stories of people who were in the poor houses.
Some of you have sent me stories and photos already and I thank you very much for those. I will be changing family names as requested. If you have a story you wish to see included in the 2nd Edition, please contact me on here and we shall discuss it.
Thank you in Advance!!
~Brenda J. Thompson
A personalized signed copy of A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses in Nova Scotia would make a great Christmas gift. Drop by and see us at Bainton’s in Annapolis Royal!
Greetings All! I am truly sorry for not writing on here sooner. My summer job as a barista was taking up a lot of my energy and then I started researching and writing on my newest book about Rose Fortune.
The first draft of Rose is done, my summer job is over and I finally have a bit of time. Over the summer while I was working as a barista, I was sought out by a number of people who had read my book A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses in Nova Scotia. Many had stories to tell me of family members in poor houses, living close to a poor house or working in a poor house.
One story in particular intrigued me. It was a story of a woman who worked at the poor house in Dayspring, Lunenburg County many years ago. The buildings were no longer being used as a poor house and were being used as something else. The woman told me that one night she was locking up and her husband came in to help her shut off all the lights in one particular building. The woman went up to the attic to check that everything was locked and lights were off; she noted the clothing hooks that still had the names of the children who had lived up here and who had put their clothing on these hooks. She shut off the lights and went downstairs.
Her husband was waiting for her in their car and, as they started to drive away, she looked in the rear view mirror and noticed the lights were on up in the attic. “Funny” she said to herself “I know I turned those out.” She had her husband drive back up to the building and she unlocked the door, went back up to the attic, turned off the lights and went back downstairs, locked up the doors and got into the car. As they drove away, she looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the attic lights were on again. She and her husband looked at each other: “I’m not going back up there again” she told her husband. “I think the children want to stay up late and play” he replied. “Let’s go with that” she said. And they drove away.
The lights often went on and off up in the attic the woman told me. I left working there a while later but I often wondered if it really was the children wanting to stay up late and play in the attic. The buildings were demolished a few years later and a new building put in its place.
I shall be giving a talk on Poor Houses in Nova Scotia, and most particularly the Annapolis County Poor House in Bridgetown, on Thursday, August 23 at 7 pm at the James House Museum in Bridgetown. The address is 12 Queen Street, Bridgetown. Let’s talk Local History!
I haven’t been writing on here much lately as I have been so busy working at my summer job. In between, I have been speaking about my book A Wholesome Horror: Poor Houses in Nova Scotia at various locations. I thought it was time, however, to step off the mainland of Nova Scotia and write about one of the poor houses in Cape Breton.
The North Sydney Poor House has been the most difficult one on which to find information. There is simply very little written about it. I have requested information from local history groups and they do not seem to be able to locate much either, much to our mutual disappointment.
Dr. Page, who was the Inspector of Charities at the time, wrote in 1898 that the North Sydney Poor House had had only two inmates for several years.
The poor house was a small cottage located in the town of North Sydney and generally took care of impoverished elderly people of the area.
In 1899 the new Inspector of Charities, Dr. Sinclair wrote “It is an ordinary dwelling…and is comfortable and apparently satisfactory to its’ occupants….I hear no complaints.” Who would complain when the alternative was homelessness?
In an academic paper written by Suzanne Morton in Atlantis, Volume 20, No. 1, entitled “Old Women and Their Place in Nova Scotia 1881-1931” she writes:
“…by 1907…North Sydney’s Poor House was a simple cottage that in the same year housed a single old woman.”
By 1914, Dr. Hattie was the provincial Inspector of Humane Institutions and wrote that there were two inmates in this poor house and wrote of the ‘general neglect’ this house was suffering. This was the last report written on this poor house. It is surmised that the North Sydney Poor House was closed some time prior to the beginning of the First World War.
I do not have a photo of this poor house. Do you? Do you know of someone who has a photo of the poor house? Would you like to expand upon our history of poor houses in Nova Scotia by sharing it? Please contact me at email@example.com.
In going over the records of the Billtown Poor House, I noticed a number of names of people who spent a long time in the poor house. Sarah Huntley, however, caught my eye and broke my heart.
Her story started with her marriage.
She and her husband first show up in the 1871 Kings County Census as being in the Billtown Poor House. Sarah’s husband, Daniel, is age 57 and his occupation is listed as Ships Carpenter. Chances were they were from nearby Scots Bay as there were a great deal of Huntleys there and there was a shipping industry there. My own ancestors of the Jess line were from Scots Bay.
So what happened to put them in the poor house? A Ships Carpenter was a decent paying job still in demand in 1871. Perhaps Daniel Huntley had an accident or an illness that meant he could no longer work. As the local poor house was the only form of a social safety net, and as Daniel was the sole financial support for the family, they would have had to resort to the poor house.
Sarah Huntley is listed as Daniel’s wife. Her age is only 32; 25 years younger than her husband. The next person listed as a family member in the poor house with them is William Huntley, aged 22. This leads us to conclude that Sarah Huntley is a second wife. What happened to Daniel’s first wife?
Then there is Annie Huntley, aged 20 and then Daniel Percy Huntley (who went by the name Percy), aged 3, Gills Huntley, who was 2 years old, and Maud Huntley, 1 year old. We can probably safely assume that Percy, Gills and Maud were the children of Sarah and Daniel’s marriage.
The next line we see in the records is Maud Huntley; born October 3, 1865 died February 12, 1867. So little Maud did not actually make it into the poor house as she died before they went into the house but Daniel and Sarah listed her as one of their children. We do not know what Maud died of or why she was listed as being in the poor house when she had clearly died years before, however, her short life was acknowledged in the 1871 census.
In the 1881 Kings County census we see that three members of the family are still in the Billtown Poor House:
Daniel Huntley – aged 66, Sarah Huntley (Lamont) (now we have her unmarried name which is valuable for genealogists) aged 42, and Percy, aged 13. What happened to William and Annie, children of Daniel’s first marriage? Can we assume that they left the poor house during those years with either a marriage and/or a job? Neither of them show up again on the poor house records in Billtown.
Gills, son of Sarah and Daniel, is also missing. What happened to 2 year old Gills? He would have been 12 by now. He could have died while in the poor house or he could have been adopted out to another family. Children in poor houses were often adopted when a family who was in a better financial situation and wanted a child went looking in a poor house. Everett Lewis, husband of famed folk artist Maud Lewis, spent part of his youth in a poor house and his one year old brother was adopted out from there. Parents may have had a ‘choice’ but would have also recognized that their baby had a better chance of living a decent life if they allowed their child to be adopted by this financially stable couple. Gills could have also been ‘apprenticed’ out to learn a trade with a local craftsman. Why wasn’t Percy also apprenticed out then?
In 1891 we see Sarah Huntley is still in the Billtown Poor House with her husband, Daniel, and her son, Percy who is now 23 and listed as a ‘student’. Where was he a student at age 23? Acadia University is a fair distance away in terms of transportation in those days. Was there a post secondary school close by to Billtown Poor House?
In the 1901 census, Sarah is still in the Billtown Poor House but is now listed as “widowed”. She is 62 years old. What happened to her husband Daniel? He would have been 86 or 87 so we could assume that he had died of old age or diseases associated with old age prior to this census. Sarah, however, is still with her remaining child, Percy, who is now 34 years old.
In the 1911 census, Sarah and Percy Huntley are still in the Billtown Poor House together. Percy is listed as “labourer”.
By 1917, however, Percy Huntley has died at the age of 49. His cause of death is not listed. He is buried in the Billtown Poor House Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Sarah Huntley is now in the Billtown Poor house without any family members.
Eight years later, in 1925, Sarah Huntley dies. She is 94 years old. She is buried in the Lakeville Cemetery in Kings County in an unmarked grave.
It is sad that Sarah lived most of her life in a poor house. Was she happy there? Did she accept her situation and lived with whatever happiness she could find? Or was she deeply unhappy, regretting that she had married a man whose situation put her in a poor house for most of her life? Did she have friends in the poor house?
I have thought a lot about Sarah Lamont Huntley. What was her life like before she went into the poor house? What was her life like in the poor house? We do not know as she did not leave any personal records behind. But the census tell us that Sarah was the longest staying resident of the Billtown Poor House. What a thing to be remembered by.