Historians seek information on tiny 1830’s settlement along East River Road
© JOHN BRANNEN - THE NEWS
Historian John Ashton, left, and Rev. Dr. Glen Matheson are looking for any information on a tiny settlement that dates back to the 1830's called New Babylon. Matheson holds the map that shows New Babylon straddling the East River Road between New Glasgow and Albion Mines (current day Stellarton). This is the only definitive piece of evidence that the tiny, seven home settlement existed as its origins and demise remain unknown.
NEW BABYLON – It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time the East River Road was a barely passable trail and there were none of the buildings of commerce and industry, just wilderness.
But back in 1834 there was at least some semblance of civilization. The area around present day Subway, KFC and the new AC Accounting office was known as New Babylon.
While little is known of the tiny settlement that had at least seven structures, it’s become a new historical project for Pictou County historian John Ashton, who discovered the place name on a map of the area dated to 1834.
“I discovered the name while researching historical information for the town of New Glasgow’s Pioneer Cemetery Interpretive Panel,” Ashton said. “Instead, I found there was a community named New Babylon.”
The map, the so-called Great Map of Pictou County is available through the digital map collection of PARL. It’s here where Ashton got a closer look at New Babylon.
“The detail of the upper towns is astonishing, especially New Glasgow which was basically only 25 years old,” he noted. “The Stellarton area which was then known as Albion Mines had only been developed only eight or nine years previous.”
According to the map, a cluster of seven homes made up the community of New Babylon.
Since the map was and still is the single piece of evidence that this tiny settlement existed, Ashton enlisted the help of Rev. Dr. Glen Matheson to inquire if he had come by the name in his historical research or church records. Unfortunately he did not, but suggested going through the First Presbyterian archives in New Glasgow.
The name ‘Babylon’, an ancient city famous for one of the seven wonders of the world, is tinged with Biblical and old testament lore. This turned Ashton and Matheson to Pictou County’s most famous preachers, Rev. Dr. James McGregor.
“I started researching the possibilities that the McGregor influenced the development of the community of New Babylon,” said Ashton.
After pouring over several books relating to McGregor’s 44-year tenure in Pictou County and The Bee, a Pictou County newspaper dating 1835-1838, nothing has surfaced yet.
Matheson noted that Babylon was where the Israelites were taken as captives and slaves from their homeland. The homesickness and tribulations shook their faith.
“The name New Babylon could be what would be considered then, the modern day Israelites,” said Matheson. “Scottish settlers feeling captive in their homeland fleeing to a new land, enduring hard times and trying to keep the faith.”
Since MacGregor's memoirs clearly state that the good farm land didn’t exist in the location where New Babylon may have existed, there is also the possibility that New Babylon may have represented an African-Nova Scotian settlement.
Because there is so little known, both admit that until more information is found, all they can do is speculate about New Babylon’s founding and its demise. Ashton noted that in his experience with rural areas that have been amalgamated or come under the influence of a larger settlement often lose their place names. This may have been the fate of New Babylon, as New Glasgow grew larger.
“This 1834 map is very exciting for an historical researcher, especially this time period in Pictou County,” said Ashton. “Many of the Ship Hector passengers and other Scottish immigrants were just now passing away. Many of their homesteads locations are shown. Several places and areas that I have been studying in books and archival materials are presented and one can pinpoint the location for further onsite exploration.”
For now, New Babylon remains shrouded in mystery, long lost in the march of progress and time on the East River Road.
If anyone has information on this old community within New Glasgow please email John Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn