In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Friday, October 22, 2010

a burial ground in the back orchard

Myrtle Goulden Demings, who lives directly across the western channel in Carleton Village, grew up in this house and has so many interesting memories about the island. She could write a book! Her parents bought this property around 1910 and her family lived here until the 1950s. Myrtle married a young soldier who was stationed at Fort McNutt, George Gribble. After the war, George became the assistant lightkeeper at Cape Roseway, and Myrtle and George and their infant daughter Bernice lived at the lighthouse.

Myrtle told me that there are some old graves here, where we now live. Her father always told the children not to play in the southeastern corner of the back orchard, because people were buried there. But even back when Myrtle was a child, there were no obvious markings for any graves, she told me. They had been worn away long before that, I guess.
It helps to date the graves that they are inside the boundary of the stone wall. Moses Pitcher was granted this land in 1785, and when he sold it to George Ross in 1787, for nineteen pounds and eight shillings and four pence, it was sold with improvements and the buildings erected thereon. In those days anyone who was granted land was expected to make improvements within a specified amount of time, or else they could lose their grant. One of the main improvements would have been clearing stones, and one way you cleared stones was to build walls out of them. (Another way was just to throw them into piles off to the side of a field for the time being. We have some of those, too.)

It was not uncommon in the Shelburne area to bury the dead on the land where they died. Cemeteries were few and far between in those days. And people were not so squeamish about death. It was more an integrated part of life back then than it is today.

So this small burial ground -- maybe containing one or two people -- is likely to date from sometime after Moses Pitcher made improvements to his fifty acres. After George Ross bought the property in 1787 this place was called Ross's Landing. Ross may have used it as a staging and storage place for supplies that were brought onto the island, and maybe as a fish-drying place. Ross was a Shelburne merchant and one of the few who stayed in business after the town went downhill. Just before his death in 1816 he sold this property to Dorcas Thomson, the wife of his business partner.

Neither George Ross nor Dorcas Thomson would have lived on McNutt's. Their business was conducted from town. But Andrew Lightbody did live here, from the late 1780s probably until his death in 1816. An 1823 deed says that Andrew Lightbody was "in possession" of the property before Thomas and Mary Barrow owned it.

Andrew may have been a disbanded soldier of the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot, a Scot like Ross. It may have been Andrew and his wife Mary and young daughter Margaret who settled here in 1787 or thereabouts, to oversee the Ross concerns on the island and to continue to clear and improve this property as tenant farmers.

The building of the lighthouse began in 1788, a few months after Ross bought this property. The lighthouse was completed in late 1790. Andrew could well have been the man who made sure that supplies reached the lighthouse site from Ross's Landing. He received a substantial payment of over fifteen pounds on January 7, 1790 from its builders for having taken care of the lighthouse "to this day."

Andrew died in 1816, and sometime soon afterward Thomas and Mary Barrow became the property owners. They lived here as farmers until the early 1830s when Jonathan and Martha Perry came to live and raise their brood of children.
Until I'm able to do more research I can only guess that someone from the Lightbody or Barrow households is buried in that corner of the back orchard. I'm certain there will be another chapter to this story as I find out more. But for now, I'm so grateful to Myrtle for sharing this amazing piece of knowledge, which I never could have known about otherwise.


Janet said...

Hi Anne: More wonderful snippets of history for us! Thank you so much for sharing. There are many forgotten small burying grouinds attached to early settlement land grants and houses. Wonderful to dig up the info on them. Have you talked to anyone who can dowse graves?
Terry Deveau of NSExplore could probably get you in touch with one or two people who have had success with this.

Piecefulafternoon said...

What wonderful stories the people have to tell you. And how wonderful that you are writing them all down. Are you doing oral histories when you get a chance?

Anne Yarbrough said...

Janet, I will ask Terry about this. An intriguing idea. Joann, yes, there are several other people I hope to have conversations with. There are wonderful stories out there, I'm sure.

Mickey (Michel) Johnson said...

i love history and i have to admit gravesites. there is something sacred about them...knowing that you are standing exactly where others stood before you with their tears possibly falling to the grass below. somehow it helps me to feel a connectedness to the people of the past...knowing that even though our lives may be many generations apart, their is something prevailing in the life of a person and their mark is forever etched at this spot.. i can't wait to read more...

Bonnie said...

We lived in Birchtown for a few years in a house right on the water. We were told that where we had made a garden was where people had been buried. Our garden plot had been a grave sight, a family plot no doubt. We were unable to find out anything more about it.

Celestequest said...

Thanks for this wonderful entry, Anne. We, too, have the graves of babies on our property and so many people wary of talking about it or view the subject with distaste. Poor babies. We want to preserve the memory of their burials and the hardships their parents went through to settle here and you are right about death now being a taboo. It needn't be. Also, Mickey, beautifully said. The sites are sacred ones and too often built over.

Terry J. Deveau said...

Yes, I do know how to put you in touch with people who dowse graves. This is me "networking" and not an "endorsement." ;-)