The date of the earliest European exploration of South West Nova Scotia remains controversial but early in the seventeenth century the coastline had been surveyed by the great French explorers, De Monts and Champlain, who were responsible for naming Cape Forchu (the Forked Cape) in 1604. However, few Acadians, as they came to be known, chose to settle initially in this part of the French colony of Acadia.
The proclamation of the Township of Yarmouth in 1759 and the availability of generous grants to individuals saw the arrival at Chebogue in 1761 of the first New England Planters (who planted colonies), and permanent settlement in the area. The Planters brought with them a tradition of responsible local government and their Congregationalist religion in whose affairs local members played an important role.
Some of the the Acadians deported to the American colonies in 1755, began to return to Nova Scotia about 1766. Having lost their rich agricultural land in the heartland, many started over in the neighbouring townships of Clare and Argyle. A few families settled gradually in the township of Yarmouth in the fishing communities of Pinkney's Point and Little River Harbour and in the town itself where work was plentiful.
The arrival of the United Empire Loyalists who had sided with Britain during the American War of Independence began in 1785. The Loyalists settled first in Argyle Township and rapidly spread throughout what is today the county. Many of the indentured servants who accompanied them later established themselves in the black community of Greenville.
In 1836 the County of Yarmouth, comprised of the Townships of Yarmouth and Argyle, was set off from Shelburne County. The 1838 census returns showed the county had a population of 6500 living in 930 houses. We owned 930 vessels capable of carrying 17,000 tons of cargo.
The economy of the county has traditionally been tied to the sea. In the eighteenth century the economy was based on fishing and Yarmouth became one of the leading fisheries townships. County men continued to fish in coastal waters or on the rich cod- fishing banks in their own schooners or with the Gloucester fleet. But in the course of the nineteenth century, the related industries of shipbuilding and shipping developed hand-in-hand and brought unprecedented prosperity. The success of wooden shipbuilding was made possible in part by the availability of local lumber and a skilled workforce. County ships could be found transporting their own fish, lumber and shingles to the Caribbean, returning with rum, sugar, molasses, and raw cotton. They sailed to Europe, to South America and the Orient, with cargoes of lumber, coal, and salt fish, loading and unloading all nature of goods en route, bringing home tea, spices, china, textiles and citrus fruit.
The prosperity of the time is reflected in the handsome nineteenth-century residences of merchants, ship-owners and sea captains scattered throughout the town and the county, in the number and scale of the churches, and in the commercial blocks of Main St. Their architecture represents the best the Victorian era had to offer.
The County's distinguished maritime tradition is also reflected in the exhibits of the Yarmouth County Museum. A collection of ship portraits of national significance depicts the nature and extent of her fleet. The curios and other imported luxury objects on display are witnesses to the distant ports of call made by vessels with a Yarmouth registry.
Those wishing to read further about the history of the County of Yarmouth should be aware of the following primary sources of information:
Rev. J. R. Campbell, History of the County of Yarmouth, N.S (1871)
George S. Brown, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia: a Sequel to Campbell's History (1888)
J. Murray Lawson, Yarmouth Past and Present: a Book of Reminiscences (1903)
These books have long been out of print but have been reprinted and are available from The Masthead Bookshop at the Yarmouth County Museum, 22 Collins St., Yarmouth and at The Cell Bookshop in the Argyle Township Courthouse and Gaol in Tusket, NS., which will mail copies. The website is www.argylecourthouse.com.
Also recommended: Yarmouth County (1998) by the late, distinguished photojournalist from Yarmouth, Bob Brooks. Available from the shops above.