This blog is the first of two which will explore the life and death of Mercy Babcock Hall. Pumpkin pie and the experiences, and the challenges inherent in Mercy’s life in early British Colonial Nova Scotia is where we begin.
Celebrating the bounty of summer’s effort is really about celebrating the finest seasonal food. Germane to this are recipes which transform simple staples into products of celebration. There is no better example than Pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving, is a pairing which reputes to go back to the first Thanksgiving celebration. It is generally accepted, that early settlers and First Nations peoples who shared the first Thanksgiving meal, enjoyed a savory pumpkin soup, probably cooked in a hollowed out pumpkin over an open fire. The single crusted custard pie we know today would take time to develop.
Pumpkin, a species of squash is native to North America. First Nations people’s taught early explorers and settlers to grow and use squash, it became an important part of the diet of early colonists, including those in Nova Scotia. The willingness of First Nations peoples to share their traditional knowledge was essential to newcomers, who without it would have starved .
Mercy Babcock was born 14 October 1750 in Exeter Rhode Island. Mercy and several of her siblings were born in the established community of Newport, before the family moved to Nova Scotia. Jonathon and Lydia Babcock and their young family were among a group from Rhode Island, who accepted the invitation Governor Lawrence extended to move and settle in British Colonial Nova Scotia.
The period between the fall of Fort Beausejour1 (1754) and the American Revolutionary War (1776) in Colonial Nova Scotia, saw disruption and insecurity beyond the level of widespread insecurity known at the time. The British seizure of Fort Beausejour led to the expulsion of Acadians from across Nova Scotia, some of whom found refuge, all be it temporarily, on the north side of the Missaguash river in French territory (now New Brunswick).
Tensions between English settlers at Halifax, First Nations peoples and their allies the Acadians, were not improved by the efforts to bring loyal British subjects to settle the land. Until the fall of Louisbourg, Quebec, and the signing of Peace and Friendship treaties2 with First Nations of the region, acts of violence, raids and retaliation were regular events between the new settlers and those who had the land seized from them, increasing insecurity and stress on everyone.
The first invitations extended by British Colonial Nova Scotia Governor Lawrence to potential settlers raised interest. It would take the offer of free land and military support, written assurances of grant size, conditions, previsions, transportation etc, as well as explicit ‘religious freedoms’ to cinch the deal.
The term religious freedom is misleading, what passed for religious freedom at the time was not as we know it today. Britain’s years of internal social / political struggle, and civil war, between Catholics and Protestant served to inform the Crown’s decisions in the Colony. Governor Lawrence’s assurance of religious freedom extended only to those adhering to protestant denominations, and explicitly excluded ‘Papists’. Despite the limits of the religious freedoms offered, it was exactly the kind of assurance welcomed by many New Englanders of the time.
The earliest settlers to the North America, included sizable groups of settlers explicitly seeking religious freedom, including Puritans, Quakers and others. However, the struggles around religious freedom would haunt the colonies. Discrimination driven by intolerance serving to restrict development and promote immigration to areas offering freedom to descent from the domination of the ‘Church of England’.
The first to take up the Governor’s invitation to settle in Nova Scotia were two groups of New Englanders, one from the Massachusetts colony and another from Rhode Island, who arrived beginning in 1760 to settle the area once farmed by Acadians near Grand Pre. The first Rhode Islanders settled grants on the Avon river, and founded communities of Falmouth and Newport. The larger group of Massachusettes settlers would found the nearby community of Horton, NS.
Mercy’s early life in Rhode Island despite its challenges was vastly different from the life she would live in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Houses, churches, schools and roads replaced by tents, log cabins, and foot paths through the dense forest. The instability, and isolation associated with early settlement in a hostile land profoundly effected people, children particularly. The effect of childhood trauma and stress we now understand leads to life long struggles for many people, as it did then.
The treaty of Paris of 1763 did bring an easing of tension between settlers and First Nations, but the period of relative calm was short lived and fraught with the challenges of living in an undeveloped land. Mercy’s family did not find living in Nova Scotia easy despite the freedom it provided. Jonathon Babcock appears to have suffered difficulty meeting the conditions of his grant. Two years after arriving in Nova Scotia, the Babcock’s who had not met the requirements of the land grant exchanged properties with another settler, hoping to be able to satisfy the less stringent requirements.
New Englander farmers who had little experience with intertidal salt marsh lands struggled with returning it to productive farm land. After the expulsions of Acadians, the dyke and sluice system which had made their farms productive fell in to disrepair, new comers found the going difficult, many chose to return to their former home.
Desire for freedom and independence, the need for it, can be difficult to balance with the need for support and cooperation. Early settlers had to depend upon others, support and cooperate with each other. It appears Jonathon Babcock struggled with this aspect of settler life. Historical records show, Jonathon Babcock’s independence brought him in to conflict with his neighbours, when after relocating to his second property he plowed up the road way which passed over his land. His decision made him unpopular in the community and likely made other aspects of life difficult for the family.
During the period from 1761 to 1776, the Babcock family would grow to 10, Mercy the oldest and Amos born in 1764, the youngest. Some reports suggest Mercy might have suffered a brain injury at birth but I have come to suspect this untrue, despite the reports of her diminished mental capacity which are included in the evidence given at Amos’ trial for her murder.
In 1772, Mercy married Abner Hall she was 22 years old and Abner 23 years old. Abner also a Rhode Island settler, would have 8 children in 13 years with Mercy. After the birth of her 8th child, Abner rejected his wife and the two separated.
It is almost guaranteed that Mercy ate and prepared pumpkin for her family but it also just as likely she would not have ever eaten pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie, appears to have first developed in Europe after squash was introduced there, eventually it would make its way in to the diet of Colonists, after triangular trade began bringing spices to the colonies.
The My Mother’s Cookbook recipe for Pumpkin pie is one used by Edna Jane O’Donnell Babcock. Edna married, William Babcock who was Mercy’s 3x great nephew, a descendant of Caleb Babcock who witnessed his father’s murder of his Aunt.
My Thanksgiving dinner will include this pie, inspired and appreciated for its taste and its history…its roots in the history of our country and in the early promise of the relationship between settlers and First Nations Peoples. A relationship we have abused and broken and which we need to mend…
My Mother’s Cookbooks Pumpkin Pie
1 cup of cooked sieved pumpkin (NOT Pumpkin Pie filling)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature, separated
1 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove
1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.;
2) Line a 9 inch pie plate with pastry (see recipe below);
3) Combine all ingredients, except the egg whites in a large bowl or blender. Process until mix is consistent;
4) Beat egg whites until stiff;
5) Fold egg whites in to pumpkin mixture, being careful not to deflate;
6) Fill the crust with the pumpkin mixture;
7) Place pie on a rimmed sheet pan and place in oven, cook 10 minutes;
8) Lower temperature to 375 degrees F.
My Mother’s Cookbooks single crust(generous) pastry
1/2 cup cold shortening
1/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold water
1) Assemble dry ingredients and fat, using a pastry blender cut the fat into the flour mixture.
2) Add only sufficient water to bring the dough together.
3) Let rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before rolling out.
About Mercy and the research…
I am a firm believer that no life should be defined by the act violence which ended it. Researching historical documents and reports/analysis written in the period following an event does not answer all questions. This is certainly the case with Mercy Babcock Hall, the truth of Mercy’s life and death is poorly understood and largely lost. Lost first to a system which documented only ‘important’ people and events; second to an underdeveloped justice system which might well had have it’s own agenda and finally to the willingness of those who have researched and written about the events since, to see only the injustices faced by Amos Babcock, and the provocation provided him by Evangelist Joseph Peck.
In the final part of this series the events, more of the people and circumstances of Mercy’s life, will help us understand the tragedy which unfolded on the night of 13 February 1805 in Shediac Bridge, NB. Events which left Mercy dead from numerous stab wounds and led to her brother Amos’ execution for her murder.
Corn, Oatmeal, Buckwheat Porridge… will be released Saturday 16th October 2021.
References and Resources:
- Fort Beausejour National Historic Site – https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/nb/beausejour
- Peace and Friendship Treaties – https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/peace-and-frie ndship-treaties
- Seven years War https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/seven-years-war?gclid=Cj0KCQjwnoqLBhD4ARIsAL5JedJtkjsEiTnOQGirjGys0Bg3_MXg5J9zxKSejDsZeafpUlV_Bkeds_AaAkgfEALw_wcB
- Mi’kmaq territory – http://mikmawplacenames.ca/cultural-landscapes/
- New England Planters – https://pier21.ca/research/immigration-history/the-forgotten-immigrants-the-journey-of-the-new-england-planters-to-nova-scotia-1759-1768#footnote-2
- Rhode Island Immigration to Nova Scotia; Huling, Ray Greene; Narragansette Historical Society April 1889. –https://archive.org/details/rhodeislandemigr00huli/page/n5/mode/2up
Acknowledgement: I acknowledge that the land on which I live and write about is the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.