October 4, 1922

Where Pirates Fought For Treasure And An Admiral Was Born


Old postcard courtesy of Murray Saunders (post dated Oct. 21 1908

(Blanche Gertrude Robbins in Toronto World)

Reminiscent of those days when the building of wooden ships and schooners stirred into activity the Bay of Fundy ports, is Hall’s Harbor, where the ring of the ship carpenter’s mallet echoed among the clefts of the bluff and the industry thrived with greater vigor than in any other Bay Shore port. More than forty years ago the ship-building boom died and the village of Hall’s Harbor no longer thrilled to the launching of vessels of any size.

Reminiscent of the days when pirates sought cover from their pursuers, sailing their cutter up into the quiet waters of the creek fed by the brook tumbling down the mountainside and swept by the tides of the Bay of Fundy – the beautiful, little sheet of water encircled by wooded hills now shelters only fishing craft and freight sloops.

Captain Hall, Pirate

The mention of the name of Hall’s Harbor recalls the bold adventures of the pirate who so ruthlessly pillaged the neighboring valleys, running the cutter, the Mary Jane, loaded with plunder, up into the seclusion and shelter of the creek.

Captain Samuel Hall – the pirate – born in King’s County, Nova Scotia, early left his birthplace and became a citizen of the New England States. Returning a few years later with a band of pirates, he plundered the valleys in the shadow of the majestic, amethyst-clefted Cape Blomidon, robbed the farmers, killed the cattle and mysteriously escaped with his spoils. Three voyages Captain Hall made up the Bay of Fundy, plundering without mercy, and twice he evaded capture. But the third voyage of the Mary Jane ended tragically for him and his band. As his schooner lay sheltered between the hills overhung with dense wood, the indignant pursuers tracked the robbers to the little creek ten miles from Cape Split, a vicinity destined to be name Hall’s Harbor.

Aided by the militia the farmers, who had suffered much through the pillaging of the pirate and his band, attacked the Mary Jane as she lay at anchor in the creek. They discovered Captain Hall, the leader, and the greater number of his men absent on a plundering cruise, ashore. Three of the Mary Jane’s crew had been left to guard the spoils of the robbers. Firing on the vessel, the militia wounded one and shattered the arm of one of the others.

Many a legend has been told beside the wide-mouthed fireplaces of Hall’s Harbor, involving the pirate and his cutter, the Mary Jane. ‘Tis said that a member of the crew – a mere lad – learned to love a maid belonging to an Indian encampment of the neighborhood. The pirates in each succeeding visit to the shores of the Bay of Fundy had found an able ally in the Indians, but the third voyage in the year 1813 saw the Indians more heavily bribed by the settlers, and the Red Men were responsible for giving the alarm and leading the way to the hiding place of the vessel. Tragedy ends the pretty legend, for the Indian maid, flying to the vessel to warn her lover where he had been left on guard, fell under the fire of the militia, while her lover also perished.

Ghosts Guard Treasure

Tradition tells us that in his mad flight for safety Captain Hall left hidden the most precious treasure plundered from the valley – a chest of gold. Although many a search for the chest of gold has been attempted, its hiding place has never been discovered and there are those among the searchers who tell how the Mary Jane still haunts the creek, and scarcely does the task of digging for the hidden chest begin, than oars are heard dipping in the water and the crew appear to frustrate all efforts at unravelling the mystery.

The story of the anchorage of the Mary Jane in the creek and the visits of the pirate to this picturesque harbor clung to the neighborhood and, when in 1830 the first settlers came to the banks of the creek to make their homes the name of the pirate was bequeathed to the settlement of Hall’s harbor. Among the first settlers was Silvanus Whitney, who opened the first trading store. The era of ship-building, which became so progressive an industry in this harbor had its beginning in 1835, when the first vessel was built. In the years following, many and varied craft were constructed in the yards.

The waters surging into the little creek that had sheltered the vessel of pirate’s plunder have washed the hull of many a brig and barque and at least one full-rigged ship was launched in the Bay of Fundy. Then with the advent of the iron ship, there was dealt a drastic blow to the building of wooden ships on the Bay Shore of Nova Scotia. Gradually the ring of the carpenter’s mallet echoing among the clefts of the overhanging bluff grew fainter and the industry died tragically. In the years following the abandonment of the ship-yards by the larger building concerns, several small craft were constructed on the blocks by John Neville – a man belonging to Hall’s Harbor – now ninety years of age, who has given the best of his life’s energy to the task of building ships.

During the late war, when there was a revival of wooden ship-building, Hall’s Harbor watched the masts of schooners rise above the ship-yards of neighboring ports for long years deserted. In their hearts they harbored the deep disappointment that industry could not be revived in their own abandoned ship yards because there was no fall of water to provide energy for the machinery necessary to the modern ship-yards. In the olden days manual labor supplied every energy in ship-building.

Many and interesting have been the experiences of John Neville, ship-builder, as he has swung the mallet in the construction of craft launched in Hall’s Harbor, and as he served in the ship-yards of other Nova Scotia ports. The launching of the vessels, ever possessed of a thrill to the witnesses in general, held a peculiar thrill for Mr. Neville, for he claims that his position during the eventful hour was usually under the vessel, helping to knock out the blocks as she took to the ways.

Vividly, Mr. Neville recalls the year of 1861, when following the Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War, five Yankee deserters, making their escape on a vessel sailing up the Bay of Fundy, put into a Bay Shore port and found employment in the ship-yard where Mr. Neville, himself, was wielding the ship’s mallet.

The old abandoned ship-yard of Hall’s Harbor with its stumps of blocks still visible, its litter of driftwood, and the beaching place for the fishermen’s dories, is the favorite haunt of the ship-builder, John Neville, hale and hearty, keen witted, with memory as a bell and mind that reasons space with the times, makes almost incredible the fact that he has celebrated his ninetieth birthday. Freely he reminisces of the palmy days of Hall’s Harbor – the days of her ship building boom and the shipping of timber from her port.

During those first years of settlement along the ranges of the North Mountain overlooking the Bay of Fundy, in their effort to clear the land, settlers ruthlessly felled the timber and great stretches were burned that the land might the more quickly be prepared for farming and home-building. The early Bay Shore settlers believed there was a glorious future before them. In their dreams they saw the Bay Shore – the stretch of ninety miles from Digby Gut to Cape Blomidon – thickly settled, and the timber had little value in their eyes.

The dream of large settlements building up the Bay Shore was never realized. The building of the railroad through the Province of Nova Scotia and the iron ships supplanting the wooden ships shattered the dreams of the early settlers who cleared the land of its dense and rich growth of timber.

Mr. Neville recalls the days when vessels in numbers put into port at Hall’s Harbor to load with the product of the wooded hills and gullies. Wonder cargoes of hard wood – beech and maple and birch – were shipped in liberal quantities. The Bay Shore is now reaping the second growth of timber, but unfortunately this growth taking the place of the hardwood so highly valued and culled in the past from the Bay of Fundy shores, is generally spruce.

The ship-building port has shrunk to a village, and the 150 inhabitants with their comfortable homes – many of them built in the early history of the harbor – harmonizing with the setting of bay and creek, wooded hills and gulch – are dependent to some degree upon the fishing industry. Engaging in trawling, hand line fishing and the seining of the weirs, the fishermen zealously reap the spoils of the Bay. Fertile farms on the hillsides provide excellent living for the Harbor men who do not engage in fishing.

Turkish Admiral’s Home

Hall’s Harbor has bred and nurtured many sterling characters in men and women who have been lured from the village and have contributed influence in the public welfare of other Provinces and in the United States. The name of Ramsford Buckman, a grandson of John Buckman, an early ship-builder – is spoken with pride and homage in all the homes of Hall’s Harbor. Many a family traces a direct relationship to Ramsford Buckman – the boy born on the banks of the creek, who became the Admiral of the Turkish Navy. Men who have lived their lifetime in Hall’s Harbor proudly tell how they went to school with "Ramsey" Buckman – the lad who as a youngster was "smart and quick witted." They point to the house in which was born the boy destined to a great career – remote to the peacefulness of uneventful life in the little Bay of Fundy port. Converted into a carriage house is this historic home, the remnants of the old-time patterned wall paper still clinging to the walls of the room where Ramsford Buckman was born. The room itself now harbors a mowing machine.

When a lad of ten, Ramsford Buckman went away from Hall’s Harbor to live with his grandfather in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. The Harbor people followed his career as he worked gradually up to the position of captain. He sailed chiefly the Great Lakes and received his papers as a marine officer in the Unite States. Recognizing his ability a firm of ship-builders in Philadelphia, commissioned him to command a man-of-war on his voyage to Constantinople, here it was destined to serve the Turkish navy. The rare gifts of Ramsford Buckman as a naval officer made their appeal to Turkish authorities and he was appointed Admiral of the Turkish navy. Soon after the outbreak of war, Ramsford Buckman left Turkey and returned to British soil. Death ending his career in the early years of the late war while he tarried in London, England. But the little sea port of the Bay of Fundy that gave Ramsford Buckman birth nearly sixty years ago will never forget the boy who added lustre to the village name.

Attracted by its picturesque setting, the densely wooded gulch, a wonder background for the historic creek sheltering fishing craft; the circling hills with their hospitable homes; the bay, blue and sparkling, the tides washing the pebbled beach overhung by the bluff, many of the Annapolis Valley settlers have been lured to build summer homes and bungalows in Hall’s Harbor. Happy and contented, the men-folk fish and farm and listen to the stories of the older settlers of those days when the masts of ships and schooners rose above the beach and craft – fullrigged – launched out into the harbor to sail to faraway ports. Although poignant regret stirs in their hearts as they loiter about the abandoned ship-yards, their love and loyalty for the harbor where their fathers made their first homes, abides with them and they cling to the village and the farming hillsides circling the creek which once lured the Mary Jane and her bold pirate captain.


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