William Kennedy: First family of the Stewiacke Valley

William Kennedy: First family of the Stewiacke Valley

Stories of the Stewiacke Valley is a collection of historical accounts and articles prepared and printed during Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial celebrations in 1980. On August 3, 1980, the arrival of William Kennedy, his wife, Janet and their seven children at Middle Stewiacke, the first family to settle in the Stewiacke Valley in 1980, was re-enacted on the shore of the Stewiacke River in Middle Stewiacke. The following article was published prior to the celebrations.

All participants in the re-enactment were descendents of William Kennedy. Left to right are: Shelley Kennedy, Colin Fisher, Vincent Higgins, Colleen Cox, Bruce Mowatt, Kimberley Brown, Lydia Redden, Darren Miller, Doug Kenrick.
By Ross Graves
Upper Stewiacke
On Sunday, August 3, 1980, the Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial Homecoming Week begins with a church service at Middle Stewiacke.

Before the service, a sort of prelude to it, there will be re-enacted the arrival of the first family to make their home in this valley two hundred years ago – William Kennedy, his wife Janet, and their seven children.

The family will be represented by nine people from different parts of the valley, with different surnames, who have this in common: all of them are descended from one or another of those seven children – as are many valley residents, perhaps one out of six.

After the church service a newly-erected cairn will be dedicated in memory of the first settlers in general and of William Kennedy in particular. It is his only memorial in the valley, for he has no gravestone; there is no way to tell even which cemetery he was buried in, the one in Middle Stewiacke or in Upper.

When William and Janet came to what is now Middle Stewiacke in 1780, their children were nearly grown up: they had a son 20, a daughter 18, sons 16 and 14, twin daughters 12, and a son 10 – a family large enough and old enough to cope with the adventures of settling in the wilderness. For a year they lived alone in this valley. In 1781 another settler, Samuel Teas, brought his family here and built his log house across the river from them. The next year, David Fisher and Simeon Whidden came with wives and young children and settled a little further up the river, and the year after that, 1783, Matthew Johnson and his bride followed the river several miles upstream to become the first settlers in what is now Upper Stewiacke; and then settler followed settler into the valley until the Kennedys had neighbours at several points along the river. The river was their chief means of travel then, before roads could be established; all the earliest grants of land fronted on it, and all the earliest settlers built their houses near it until the great freshet of 1792 flooded them out and taught them to build on higher ground.

William and Janet came here from Truro. Twenty years before as a young couple with a baby son, they had come to Truro along with the families who first settled that place, families who came to Truro from New Hampshire, to New Hampshire from northern Ireland and (a few generations back) to northern Ireland from Scotland. William Kennedy’s name appears on the original grant for Truro township. The lot which he drew for a house lot and built his dwelling on lay between the present Park and Elm Streets in downtown Truro. (Note in 2003 – the previous Nova Scotia Liquor Commission outlet partly occupies this site.) A hundred years ago, Tom Miller, Colchester County’s first historian, identified this site by naming its best known building then, the town’s Temperance Hall. T

heir daughter Elizabeth, who was born the fall of 1761, is considered the first child born in Truro after it was settled by the British. Two more sons were born while they were there, James and Robert. In 1768 William sold his house and land in Truro and moved to Pictou, which was then a very small, very new settlement: this was five years before the “Hector” came over with settlers from Scotland. William built, in 1769, the first sawmill in Pictou County, which was also the first frame building in Pictou. It stood at the mouth of what has since been called Saw Mill Brook, near the present P.E.I. ferry terminal at Caribou. During the eight years William and Janet lived in Pictou County the twins, Margaret and Jane, were born, and the youngest child, John. In 1776 William sold out in Pictou and brought the family back to Truro, and four years later, in 1780, they came to the Stewiacke Valley.

A large tract of land at the lower end of the valley had been set aside for a tribe of Micmacs who had camped there at certain times of the year as far back as anyone could remember. The trace on which William and his family settled lay on the east side of this Indian grant. The site of the original house they built there has long been forgotten. It was situated by the river somewhere on the farm now occupied by Ralph Campbell – or possibly on the Doug Taylor place which adjoins it – both farms are part of a 500 acre lot for which William received an official grant six years after he came to the valley. The second house was built on the upland, probably south of the resent buildings on the Campbell farm.

“He continued to reside on this farm,” says the Tom Miller book, “enduring the hardships of settling in the woods, until the infirmities of old age came upon him”. About 1796 he divided the property – giving the east portion (where Charles Crouse farmed) to Robert; the middle portion with homestead (where Ralph Campbell lived) to James; and the west portion (the Doug Taylor place) to John – and went to live with his daughter in South Branch.

William’s oldest son, also named William, did not live to receive his share of the property. In February, 1792, there was to be a wedding in the family. William Jr. who was shortly to be married himself to a daughter of a settler in the Musquodoboit valley, started for Musquodoboit to invite her and her family to the wedding. He followed the river up toward the head of the valley, intending to cross over there to Upper Musquodoboit, but when he got up about where the South Branch flows into the Stewiacke, he broke through the ice and was drowned. (Two years afterward his youngest brother married the same girl.) A year and a half later the oldest Kennedy daughter, Elizabeth, who had married and settled at the Branch, lost husband and son by drowning, under circumstances that were never fully understood. It was to this daughter’s home that William went from Middle Stewiacke. When she married the second time, in 1805, he went to live with his son James, who by then had sold the homestead and moved to Upper Stewiacke village where (or near where) Ralph Fisher now lives. William died there in October 1816, aged over 80; Janet died there also in 1813 or 1814.

Two hundred years ago then, there was one household in the entire Stewiacke Valley. Today there are some 460 households here, and the inhabitants of over one hundred of them can trace their family tree back to that pioneer valley family. The rest of this chapter illustrates this by means of a Family Tree. In order to keep this from becoming too long, the only children in a family who are listed are the ones needed to trace the record down to someone living in the valley today. A complete list of all the descendants of William and Janet, living and dead, would probably fill a book.

Note: This account is taken from Stories of the Stewiacke Valley, a collection published during the Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial celebrations in 1980.