Digital Archaeology in Nova Scotia

Methods and Applications from Nova Scotia


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Mapping Movement - Willard's Cobequid Expedition

Abijah Willard was a Massachusetts born New England military officer residing in Lancaster until his brief run-in with some minute men in April of 1775. Willard’s family had deep connections to the British military and to Massachusetts. An ancestor of Abijah was prevalent in King Philip’s War, Major Simon Willard. Major Simon Willard moved to Lancaster in 1634 founding the plantation of Concord. Abijah had 3 brothers, one of them, Nathum, was present at the Siege of Louisbourg (1745) with Abijah and their father Samuel Willard. Abijah was already a military officer with some prestige at Louisbourg, holding the rank of Captain or Captain Lieutenant under his father. Willard’s family seems to have been deeply entwined in the military world since their departure to North America, which Abijah did not fall out of line with.

Willard was a career military officer in New England, which brought him orders on April 24th, 1755 that he is to sail to Fort Lawrence at Chignecto. On May 1st, 1755 the New England troops were set to sail to Chignecto from Boston, but the departure truly manifested itself as a process rather than event. The fleet dropped anchor at Deer Island waiting to depart from Boston Harbour for two weeks, at which time the Commodore of the fleet gave a false signal to set sail and at least Willard’s vessel sailed North following the coast from Deer Island to Pudding Point. It was not until the 22nd of May that the fleet Willard was leaving was finally beginning to set sail to Fort Lawrence with brief stops at Monhegan Island and Annapolis Royal before landing at Chignecto on June 3rd, 1755. Just this short passage before the military operations at Chignecto and Cobequid in 1755 unfolded is packet with information that can be used to help humanize and situate the individuals involved, in their world and landscape. During this period, religion is present with preaching mentioned on every Sunday leading up to the operations, sickness is present among Willard’s soldiers with one dying, mischief among soldiers following a discussion for them to “be Content with [their] wagers (wages)”, the weather dictates travel, and much more than can be discussed at present.

By June 17th, 1755, Fort Beausejour and Fort Gaspereau had been surrendered allowing the officers and troops to begin to relax. During this lull in military operations, Willard records the comical fault of a soldier who accidentally shot his loaded gun off in his tent during a church service and it shot through 16 tents, causing a scare that “the Enemy [had] Shot att the Sentery”. This comical situation outlines a lot about the differences in social class between the officers and the troops, as well as a difference of perspective in the importance of religion. The fact that the enlisted troops were not participating in some sort of religious service on Sunday may well be a glimpse of the prominently unrecorded areligious individuals in the past.

On August 5th, 1755, Willard is given his orders to depart for Cobequid to meet Captain Thomas Lewis, who had left with a “detachment of a hundred and 50 men[,] 22 men of the Rangers”. There may be remnants of an intra-camp social division between New England and British troops in Willard saying to Col. Monckton that he “should not be Commandeed by a Capt Lewtenat” to which Monckton agrees. The next day, Willard departs at 9am from Fort Lawrence to Cobequid with two Acadian pilots, two drummers, 3 Sergeants, 3 Corporals, and 100 Privates.

From this point Willard becomes particular to details of his travel on the landscape through a near purely quantitative lens taking note of distances marched, irregular detail departure and arrival times, and some contextual detail that helps position him through his travels. Willard’s writing abruptly changes after he reads his orders “in ^ye woods with much Trouble by Reason of the flies”. After this moment Willard adds more detail about the French inhabitants of the area, signifying either a sympathy for the Acadians due to his “surprising…orders which was to burn all the houses on the on the Road to the Bay of verts”, or possibly just addition of detail to better record his orders to completion. I tend to give primacy to the first of those two options, as Willard begins to add humanizing detail about the people he meets on his travels.

In the case of “Francis Boyes”, possibly of Bacouel living with his wife and children, who Willard describes as “very Kinde” upon offering twenty “good fatt sheep for the troops” in response to a demand for eight. This family “who Liveed Exceding well…[on] a fine Farm” are said to live on a “River that ^Runs[,] East to the Bay of Verts[, and] Empties into Tatmagoush Harbour”. If the previous grammatic interpretation of Willard’s entry on August 14th, 1755 is correct, this area probably lays upon the branch of the French River which connects to Little Lake and Johnston Lake highlighted in green in the map below, as this river branch runs directly into the Tatamagouche Harbour. Furthermore, Johnston Lake is connected by river valley to an area called Guyon[‘s] Lake Stillwater, that drain by way of Guyon[‘s] Brook into the Chiganois River and then into the Cobequid Bay.

Mapping has long been an effective technique employed by archaeologists, producing meticulously plotted dot density maps depicting the location of artifacts uncovered through excavation or topographical site layouts that can be used to record spatial patterns in human environments. The Journal of Abijah Willard (1755) provides archaeologists with an embedded map of Willard’s movements that upon reading can be used to help record spatial patterns in the human environment of this crucial period in the colonial history of Nova Scotia. Whether using the information presented in the text to recreate battle tactics on the ground during the Siege of Beausejour from June 3rd – 17th, 1755 or tracing Willard’s path as he travelled across throughout Cobequid from August 6th – 26th.

Image1 Above: A map produced from The Journal of Abijah Willard (1755). Points created using the entries during June 1st to August 26th, 1755 to display the path taken during this period, some days have many points and other points may be overlaid with a point of a later date. In green is the section of the French River that is supposed to have homed “Francis Boyes.”

Miles and times are mentioned frequently throughout the journal and can be used to delineate Willard’s movements as him, other troops, and two captive pilots move through Cobequid interacting with the inhabitants. We can use Willard’s recorded distances and descriptions in combination with GIS-software and geospatial data to plot movements from Fort Lawrence throughout Cobequid on the surface of the Earth. The above map has been created to illustrate this purpose by comparing Willard’s descriptions with geospatial data the map presents a visual sense of the path and progression of this expedition.

Aside from the advantages of using modern mapping techniques to recreate the events of the journal, there are many details about the material culture of the mid-18th century in the areas from Fort Lawrence and Beausejour throughout Cobequid. In the form of food, clothing, building materials, transports, and many other pieces of material culture are sporadically sprinkled throughout Willard’s journal. These sorts of details can be repurposed in many circumstances to help associate a culture and/or function to a feature during archaeological excavations.

The Journal of Abijah Willard (1755) is one part of the much larger imperial tensions between European powers during their colonization of the Americas spanning from the 16th century in South and Central America, and in our area of study – the 17th through 18th centuries. By critically examining these sorts glimpses into the moving parts of the respective empires, such as The Journal of Abijah Willard (1755), archaeologists and historians alike can gain valuable insight into the human component on the ground during imperial expansion, which manifests itself not so differently from the world we live in today in terms of inter-group communications.

Wesley Weatherbee

Written on March 19, 2019

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DigitalArchNS by Wesley Weatherbee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.