ED COLEMAN: ‘Firm’ date on Gallows Hill hanging

Ed Coleman
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In the past six or seven years, I’ve written three columns on the history of Kentville’s Gallows Hill and how it obtained its name.  For the most part, the columns are based on folklore, on stories passed down from family to family and on a few “facts” that couldn’t be verified.

It’s fairly certain, a “given” you could say, a gallows was constructed on the hill and a public execution took place.  The hanging that gave the hill its name took place early in the 19th century.  Every bit of folklore I’ve collected on the hill points to this period of time; folklore also says the man hanged there committed murder, but there are conflicting stories on who was hanged and who was killed.

If folklore can be believed, Gallows Hill was once called Joe Bell Hill, named, it is said,, after a man of that name who either lived in the vicinity or was hanged there. However, the late historian, Ernest Eaton, believes a man named Powell was hanged on Gallows Hill.  In a letter Eaton wrote to me, he quoted a Kentville historian, Burpee Bishop, who found  Powell was the name of the man executed on Gallows Hill. The year the hanging took place, according to Burpee Bishop, was 1826. 

It isn’t known how Bishop determined this, but another source indicates he has the right year.  Robie Lewis Reid, born in Steam Mill in 1866 and who became a noted lawyer and writer in British Columbia, kept a series of scrapbooks now at Dalhousie University.  For the most part, the scrapbooks contain clippings of historical interest from local newspapers. Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury recently obtained photocopies of the clippings pertaining to Kings County.  A letter found there indicates Burpee Bishop was right about 1826 being the year the execution took place on Gallows Hill and about Powell being the name of the man executed.  Printed in the Western Chronicle on August 9, 1884, the letter writer (Henry Starr) says he “noticed an article speaking of William Woodworth... that he was in Kentville 58 years ago when ‘Old Black Powell’ was hanged as we used to call him.  I well remember the time myself although but seven years of age at the time.”

In the letter, Henry Starr places the gallows where folklore says it was.  

“I remember where the gallows stood on the hill – on the Cornwallis side of the river and bridge at Kentville,” he wrote.  

The Cornwallis River is the boundary between Cornwallis (north of the river) and Horton Townships, so the “Cornwallis side” Starr refers to is across the river where Gallows Hill looms over North Kentville.

Readers interested in my earlier columns on Gallows Hill can find them on my website: http://www3.ns.sympatico.ca/ecoleman .  The columns can be found July 18 and July 25 in the posting for the year 2006.


Organizations: Dalhousie University, Kings County Museum

Geographic location: Gallows Hill, Kentville, Cornwallis Steam Mill British Columbia Cornwallis River North Kentville

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Recent comments

  • maureen farrell
    July 12, 2014 - 15:13

    Mr. Coleman, Enjoy all of your columns – “long distance” from Ohio via the Web. I was recently searching the 1921 census for Kentville on Ancestry.com (pp.23-24)and came across some entries which give the street name Joe Bell St. My first instinct was that this was an error since I was looking for Alice & Mary Farrell, who a relative had told me lived in the old family home at 80 Belcher St. until about 1945. Searching the web for info on “Joe Bell” I came across your columns on Joe Bell Hill and Gallows Hill. There are about 13 households listed on Joe Bell St. by the enumerator W. L. Palmeter (who I assume was a local man). Surnames indexed by Ancestry for Joe Bell St. include: on p. 24 lines 1-14 McDonald, Cynock, Pall, Redden, Fidding, Powell, Rev. Donahue, Mrs. McCormick, Farrell & on p.23 lines 16-50 Thomas, Robert, Pelton, Harris, Smith, Leitch, Frederick, Snook & Scofield. Obviously Ancestry.com’s indexers were not locals as they list Oakdene as Oak Dead St. Nor were they consistent listing Joe Ball St. on one page and Joe Bell St. on the next page. Some of the Cambell and Belcher St. residences are indexed as the municipality of “Cote St. Michel” ? I did not search the whole Kentville census, but did not notice the Dry Hollow Rd. you have been looking for. I did find 2 references to Dry Hollow Rd.. in Google Books online version of Statutes of Nova Scotia, 1903, chapter 140 p. 295. http://books.google.com (maybe you have already seen this?) They appear in an Act to enable public trustees to sell the Kings Co. Exhibition Grounds The most specific refers to “Charles Jones south-east corner at the old Dry Hollow Road”. You might need an “old” surveyor and a copy of Jones’ deed but it might at least locate one spot on the road.