Issue # 34, February 2007
History takes form as a series of events. And these events are shaped
by people. In this issue, Virginia Harries, Colin MacKinnon and
Marion Wells bring to life some fascinating folks from Tantramar's
history. Cecil Grant gives us a first-hand look at one aspect of the
former tannery business in Sackville, preparing leather hides for the
making of moccasins. And the Peter Etters (no, that's not a typo -
the plural form is correct!) were talented artisans who occupied a
house most of us have driven by, often admired, but know virtually
nothing about, especially the work it fostered. Colin and Marion open
a fascinating door for us which I hope you will find as interesting
and absorbing as I did. I can assure you that when you next drive by
Aulac on the Trans-Canada highway and you see the Etter House, that
short moment on the Aulac ridge will never be the same! And if Leslie
finds space for it, the newsletter should end with a full package of
events planned for Heritage Day on 17 February. I hope to see you
there. And if you know of other interesting folks from this region's
history that you can tell us about, please let me know . . . there's a
future issue of The White Fence waiting to hear all about them! But
in the meantime, enjoy Cecil's and the Etters' fascinating stories
and lives in this region.
Editor's Note: Virginia Harries came across the following article and passed it on to Al Smith. The article is a transcription of an interview (circa. 1980?) with Mr. Cecil Grant who worked at the Standard Manufacturing Company on Main Street in Middle Sackville (see White Fence issues 18 & 25 for information on the Standard Mfg. Co.).
Years ago I worked in the A. E. Wry Standard Manufacturing Company, which was situated on the corner of Walker Road along the road through Middle Sackville. In this establishment were a number of different businesses such as a (horse) collar marking shop, a shoe store etc. I was mostly involved in the tannery and the making of moccasins.
Hides were shipped in by rail to supply the business, which employed nearly one hundred people. The process of tanning began by first getting rid of the hair. The hides were hung from racks and dipped into lime pits. Each hide was put into a lime pit for so long and then moved to another of weaker concentration. At the end of their time in the pits the hides were put on a beam in the shape of a half moon and they would use a blade about two feet long, sharp on one side only. The blade would be pulled over the hide taking the hair off as slick as you please. The sharp side was used for fleshing and the dull side for taking the hair. Afterwards the hides were put on a great big wheel to remove the lime. They would run the wheel through fresh water to drive the lime out because leather isn't any good with lime in it.
The moccasin leather was put in a pit and changed over from day to day in a mixture of Gambier and salt. The leather for shoes went though six different pits of Hemlock bark solution. The bark was ground up and then steeped just like tea and what was left over was burned in the engine room along with the coal. As the hides were moved from one pit to another there would be a gradual change in temperature. If you moved it too fast the leather would tan but it would crack so it had to be started at a low temperature and moved slowly.
I remember one time a fellow brought in this hide to Moody Wilson, who was the foreman then, and it was all wired up tight. After it was weighed the fellow left, taking his money, so much a pound. Well sir, Moody cut the wire and unwrapped the hide and there was a good-sized rock. The fellow made sure he got all the hide was worth, that's for sure.
Someone brought a seal pelt in there once and they were awfully fat. Anything that's fat will not tan, so Moody had it tacked out on the floor upstairs and I asked him how he was going to get rid of the fat. He said he would use ordinary flour, sprinkle it around, scrape the hide and so on until it was clear. He told me that if he wanted, he could get that hide so dry you would have to use oil on it.
Sometimes we would get Caribou in, and they were a nice skin. At the tannery they would use some kind of a liquor as people would just want it tanned; they didn't want the hair off it. Anyway, the tanning process was only the first step in making a pair of moccasins. With practice one could cut out a pair pretty quickly. The moccasins were all sewn with a lock stitch for more strength. Before the leather for shoes was handled, tallow and oil were beat into it.
It's a little hard to explain but that's the general idea of tanning.
- Mr. Cecil Grant
Mr. Grant was born April 28, 1890 in Little Shemogue. He came to Sackville as a youngster and from there moved to Middle Sackville. He worked at everything from picking strawberries to being a shipper with J.L. Black & Sons.
Peter Etter II
Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith of Westmorland Point
by Colin MacKinnon and Marion Wells
We doubt that few people drive past Aulac along the Trans-Canada
heading towards Sackville without seeing the prominent stone house
set high on the ridge overlooking the Tantramar Marsh.
Figure 1. The "stone house" built in 1832 by Peter Etter III. The square second floor, on the right of photo, is a later addition. (Etter Ridge Road, Aulac, New Brunswick). (C. MacKinnon photo).
Most call it the "old stone house" and some know it as the "Etter House". But what of its builder and family before him? The first stop in tracing old Chignecto names is "The Chignecto Isthmus" written by Howard Trueman in 1902. Trueman devoted a couple of pages to the Etter name and noted that the first person of that name to come to the Border Region was Peter Etter who was a jeweller and silversmith with a shop near Fort Cumberland. He also noted that the Etters were large marsh owners and that the Etter aboiteau, across the Aulac River, took its name from Peter Etter, the leading promoter of the project. But what he did not tell us was that there were four generations of the name "Peter Etter"!
The first Etter to come to Westmorland Point was Peter II. His father, Peter Etter I, was a Loyalist during the American Revolution. On 14 July, 1776, Peter Etter Sr. and his son, Peter II, made an appeal for losses before Commissioner Pemberton in Halifax. A summary of the elder Peter's plight follows:
"Says he is a Swiss by birth, settled in America in the year 1737, first at Philadelphia, then went and settled at Braintree, Mass., 10 miles from Boston, in business when troubles broke out. He took ye Kings Part and tried to advise his neighbours to do the same, for four months was obliged to quit his house.
In Jan., 1775 all his family moved to Boston and he continued to live there, came away with the Troops on Evacuation. Had three Sons in the Army, left his Stocking Frames with Tools Etc. At his House in Braintree, could not take them away, left his stock.
Was in possession of 7 1/2 acres, with house and buildings at
Braintree bought of Daniel March for £100 some years before ye war.
Built a house and barn, cost him £160 Sterling, Valued at £250
Peter Etter II must have been comfortably settled at Westmorland Point when on 10 May, 1790, he purchased a large one thousand acre estate for £556 from his brother-in-law Mark Patton Jr. and his wife Abigail. These large parcels of land consisted of all of the original land grants issued to "Duff & Houston", being Lots 2 and 3, Letter "B" Division, Cumberland Township and included a large portion of the ridge where the "stone house" now stands.
Peter Etter II was not a man to be taken lightly as can be witnessed by a report to the collector of customs on 18 August, 1792. A ship had been seized and Etter and associates were determined to save it or remove the valuables. The report states:
"Dowling the late master and Peter Etter the late owner had again forcibly taken possession of her (ship Nancy) and turned him on shore (i.e. beached the ship - ed.). They had brought carriages alongside the vessel as appeared by the track of wheels and stripped her of all her sails, pump gear, great part of her rigging, all the provisions and cabin stores and sent them on shore leaving the vessel a wreck. On the acting collector and his depondent boarding the prize they were grossly insulted and abused and in particular the latter. Dowling holding his fist to his face (i.e. the depondent’s - ed.) and Etter the butt end of a horse whip over his face and threatening to whip him and challenged him to a fight with pistols and Dowling being armed with a musket swore he would defend her to the last drop of blood" (Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 1792).
Peter II continued to operate as a jeweller, watch maker and
silversmith when he moved to Westmorland.
But what of his jewellery, watches and silver works? MacDonald
(1990), describing the material culture of New Brunswick’s first
English-Speaking settlers, suggested that a clock body made for the
Yorkshire settler William Chapman may have been built by Peter Etter
II. The definitive work on silversmiths of the Atlantic Provinces by
MacKay (1973) mentions a collection of spoons by Benjamin Etter in
the Nova Scotia Museum but this reference does not even have an
example of the Hallmark used by Peter Etter II. Sadly, Peter II was
not long able to enjoy life in his new home as he is believed to have
died in the Bay of Fundy on his way back from Boston in 1793 (some
suggest in a shipwreck near Brier Island in Nova Scotia).
Fortunately for historians, the surviving inventory of his estate was
filed on 28 August 1798 by Samuel Gay, Hezchiah King and Stephen
Milledge. This inventory is very detailed and contains five pages
outlining absolutely everything owned by Peter II. The total
assessment was slightly over £858, of which £350 was the homestead.
This list provides us not only with insight into the household
belongings of a comfortably-situated rural gentleman of the time but
also outlines some of the tools of his trade. I have summarised his
watch making, jewellery and silversmith tools (Table 1).
in this list, and essential for a silversmith, is an important set of
four spoon moulds (see Figure 3). As befits a silversmith, Peter
Etter II also equipped his household with a fine and valuable
assortment of silverware (Table 2). One wonders how many of these
pieces were made by his own hands or perhaps by his brother Benjamin.
The spoon moulds were probably of various sizes, such as "Teaspoons"
and "Tablespoons" as inventoried in his silver collection.
Figure 4. Silver "officers" epaulette believed to be the example listed
in the 1798 estate inventory of Peter Etter II (C. MacKinnon photo).
Sadly, nearly nothing of the possessions of Peter Etter II appears to have
come down to us or "known" to have survived; one exception is a
fragment of a silver epaulette as would have been worn by a British
Officer from the later half of the 1700's (Figure 4). This small,
delicately made, fragment is in all likelihood the "Silver Epaulet"
listed in the 1798 estate inventory of Peter Etter II and worn by him
while serving in the military (Table 2).
A delicate set of gold cufflinks with "PE" engraved in script (Figure 5), has been attributed to the "uncle" of James Black Etter, the grandson of Peter II. This appears to be in error as it would be James Black Etter's great-uncle Benjamin Etter of Halifax who was the jeweller. The cufflinks are in fact marked on the underside "TP" and were possibly made by Thomas Page (1801-1879), Amherst and Pugwash, Nova Scotia. It is quite possible that although Benjamin Etter did not make the cufflinks, he may have engraved the initials on the face. The senior author has a teaspoon made by Benjamin B. Etter (nephew of Peter II) that may have come out of the "Etter stone house" via an auction many years ago (Figure 6). However, again, we have no link back to Peter II the silversmith.
After Peter Etter II died in 1793, his son, Peter Etter III
(1787-1873) carried on as the leading patriarch of the family. It is
this Peter who built the fine stone house on the Etter Ridge Road in
1832 and was responsible, with Richard Lowerison, for the First Etter
Aboiteau, finished in 1840, across the Aulac River. The Second Etter
Aboiteau was commenced in 1862. The sluice box was 80 feet long and
had four runs of water (square pipes) with each section being 4 feet
square. This work came to a halt when the sluice was lost in "quick
sand". The builders attempted to save it but only a section was
salvaged; presumably the remainder is still under the Tantramar mud.
Upon this ruined aboiteau, a bed, seven feet deep, was prepared to
accept a new sluice and the work was finally completed in 1863. This
Second Etter Aboiteau was reported to have cost $27,500 (Lowerison,
1903). The significance of this second location was that it was
chosen by the Intercolonial Railway in the late 1860's as the
crossing place over the Aulac River.
An example of a surviving piece of china with "stone house" and Etter provenance is a lovely black transfer print "scenery" plate (Figure 7). This was part of a dinner set that is believed to have belonged to Captain Joseph Atkinson (d. 1904) and his wife Margaret Etter (1834 - 1914), the daughter of Peter Etter III. They lived in the old "stone house" around 1900. The plate is marked "B. M. & T" (Boulton, Machin & Tennant, "Swan Bank Pottery", Tunstall, Staffordshire, England) and dates to c. 1889-1899.
Lastly, a final piece of material culture associated with the Etters is an old, hand operated bellows as was used to get a fire started from embers in the fireplace or drive air into a small forge such as a silversmith might use (Figure 8). This bellows shows some age, being completely hand made with square nails used in its construction. Carved into the outside of the bellows is a small set of initials "TE" as well as a much larger "PEtter". From the style of the carving, it would appear that the earlier name was "TE" and the larger lettering has been altered. The "TE" changed to "PE" with poorly-executed "tter" added. All work appears "old" and there is no difference in the patina between the two initials. This piece is attributed to Peter Etter III and could even have belonged to Peter Etter II as his 1798 estate inventory lists "2 pair hand bellows" valued at 7 Shillings. The senior author would be very interested in hearing about surviving examples of works made by, or attributed to, Peter Etter II, Benjamin Etter or Benjamin B. Etter. I can be reached through the THT or please call at (506) 536-4283.
Cumberland County Probate Records (CCPR), Will of Mark Patton dated 13 June 1780, Estate File No. 1618, Amherst, Nova Scotia.
Lowerison, Robert A. 1903. The History of the Etter Aboideau, The Sackville Tribune, 3 December, 1903
MacDonald, M. A. 1990. Rebels & Royalists, New Ireland Press, Fredericton, New Brunswick, 137p.
MacKay, Donald C. 1973. Silversmiths and Related Craftsmen of the Atlantic Provinces, McCurdy Printing Co. Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, 133 pages
Neumann, George C. and Frank J. Kravic. 1975. Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, Rebel Publishing Co. Ltd., Texarcana, Texas, 286 pages.
Public Archives of Nova Scotia, The Deposition of Richard Batchellor, Surveyor and Searcher, PANB REX/CO/ Customs papers/1792
Trueman, Howard. 1902. The Chignecto Isthmus and its First Settlers, William Briggs, Toronto, 278p.
Stayner, C. StC., 1953. The Etter Family. Manuscript on genealogy and
history of Etter family. Tantramar Heritage Trust archives,