Jollytown: An African Nova Scotia community
One thing that cannot be found in local history books is the story of an African Nova Scotian community, known as Jollytown, that once existed in North River, Colchester County. It is unclear when or how the small community came to be.
In 2018, shortly after I began my position as archivist of the Colchester Historeum, one of our members approached me regarding a gravestone in the Aenon Baptist cemetery in North River. It was a concrete headstone with no name and simply marked with the date: “July 22 1949.”
He said the belief among some locals was that the headstone marks a mass grave of African Nova Scotians from an old settlement in the area once known as “Jollytown.”
As the story goes, these remains were originally buried in the old Methodist Church cemetery, just up the road. However, the graves were disturbed in 1949 when Highway 311 was rerouted. The construction workers gathered up the unearthed graves and they were reburied in the Baptist cemetery, as the Methodist Church no longer stood and the new Route 311 would cut right through the old cemetery.
The person who approached me wanted to have a proper headstone erected to replace the concrete one along with a commemorative plaque. I thought this was a peculiar story and was especially intrigued, considering that I grew up near the Aenon Baptist cemetery in North River. I immediately searched our archival holdings and came up with nothing. Not a trace of Jollytown.
While scouring our research files, I found a typewritten document titled: “A Brief History of North River, Colchester County, Nova Scotia Prepared by Marjorie (Lynds) Gogan To Commemorate The Centennial of Colchester County 18791979.” On the last page, in a section about religion in the community, I found the reference I was looking for.
Another church mentioned in an article in the Truro Daily News, Aug. 27, 1963, was the Methodist Church located just above the bridge near the Aenon Baptist Church. During the time of the rebuilding of the Route 311, the graves of former members of this congregation were inadvertently disrupted by modern digging equipment. Some of those buried there were members of a black family, the family of Jerry Jones who was a war hero in the First World War. The disinterred bones were placed in a common grave in the Aenon Baptist Cemetery.
There it was! Although there was still no mention of Jollytown, I had a name to go by, and a reference to not only the event of disrupting the graves but also to the location of the Methodist Church.
I decided to follow the lead about the family of Jerry Jones in search of Jollytown. I had been told that present-day Jollytown Road is actually not the Jollytown Road — Upper Brookside Road was originally called Jollytown. I consulted with a geological survey map produced by Faribault during the late 1800s, early 1900s to discover that indeed Upper Brookside was formerly known as Jollytown. Out of curiosity, I glimpsed at the A.F. Church map that is hanging on the wall in the archives and I couldn’t believe it. There, on the present-day Upper Brookside Road in North River were two homesteads plotted with African Nova Scotian names next to them — S. Jones and D. Tyns (Tynes).
Since the map was drawn circa 1874, we went searching for these names in census records and discovered that at least four families that appear on the 1871 census for Upper Onslow (which would include Jollytown) are listed as “African” — two TYNES families, a TAYLOR family and a JONES family, and two African Nova Scotians listed as “servants” living with other families. Not only that, but the majority of the family members listed on the census identified as “Methodist.”
Knowing an approximate date that the families were living in Jollytown, we were able to track down additional
records of the families, including assessment rolls and tax collector’s rolls, listing the Estate of Samuel Jones and Edward Taylor. In 1892, Samuel Jones’s taxable property was valued at $240.
These discoveries provided evidence that the story I had been told about the family of Jerry Jones being buried in the old Methodist Cemetery was likely true. We began to reach out to community members, including Lynn Jones, great-granddaughter of Samuel Jones, to gather as much information as possible. This resulted in several field trips to the location of the Jones homestead and the site was catalogued in the Maritime Archaeological Resource Inventory by an archaeologist at the Nova Scotia Museum, who accompanied us on one of the field trips.
After our field trip, we were left with some questions: how many people were buried in the grave at the Baptist cemetery? Were they all members of the Jones family? Does the cemetery have a record of this grave that might provide more answers? And what happened to the Jones and Tynes homesteads?
At some point, the families moved to Truro, but they clearly owned the property. So why, how and when did the property change hands?
How did the families come to acquire the land in the first place? And how much property did they own?
This is significant given that, historically, many African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaw people were given licences of occupation for land rather than complete ownership — this being the result of institutional racism. Also, what exactly happened in 1949 when the graves were unearthed?
Two newspaper clippings from July 1949 provide some insight, but also suggest that politics played a large role. They also appear suspicious, stating that the construction crew had permission from Jeremiah Jones to doze the gravesite. This was never confirmed as Jeremiah Jones disappeared, never to be seen again, not long after the events that occurred in July of ‘49.
This is just one example of why it is important to keep historical documents in archives. Although few things had been written about the community of Jollytown, various records provided fragments of information to allow us to piece together some of the facts. It is my hope, as archivist, that I can assist researchers in piecing together lesser-known histories, particularly those who have gone undocumented due to systemic racism.
Systemic or institutional Racism: “the formalization of a set of institutional, historical, cultural and interpersonal practices within a society that more often than not puts one social or ethnic group in a better position to succeed, and at the same time disadvantages other groups in a consistent and constant manner that disparities develop between the groups over a period of time.” — Lawrence, Keith; Keleher, Terry (2004). “Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities” (PDF). Poverty Outcomes: 24.