Nova Scotia Archives

Colonel John Gorham’s Account Book


The account book used by Col. John Gorham of Barnstable, Massachusetts, to record his financial activities in Nova Scotia during the years 1747-1750 was acquired by the Nova Scotia Archives in May 2013. The volume, bound in wrinkled parchment and in very good condition for its age, has been described as possibly the most significant original document from Nova Scotia's early colonial era to surface in the last twenty-five years. We knew immediately that we wanted to share it digitally with our Internet audience!

At first glance, the account book is merely 178 pages of badly handwritten lists, complete with ink stains and dirt smudges   notations giving locations and dates, names and wages, merchandise and provisions (plenty of rum and molasses), payments for services, and the cost of everything (in British Pounds Sterling). To understand who Gorham was, what he was doing in Nova Scotia, and what his account book tells us about the history of the province 265 years ago, take a few minutes to read the background introduction provided by John Reid, Professor of History at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, and a specialist in the history of northeastern North America during the colonial era.

Explore the account book itself... the wonders of digital photography ensure that each image is crisp, clear and vibrant, revealing page after page of information entered in brown iron-gall ink on heavy cream-coloured rag (linen) paper. Use the magnification tool to zoom in and look at the grid of individual weave marks visible on each page, left as part of the paper-making process.

Use the magnification tool also to decipher the mysteries of cursive handwriting, and try Exploring the Account Book for some clues to decoding old language, handwriting and spelling.

Lastly, read the caption line at the top of each digitized page for a very brief description of the handwritten entry below; and use the Search Box to collectively search all the caption lines for place-names, a few specific surnames, and frequently-repeated common words.

We thank our colleagues in Acadian Affairs for providing the translation services that will make this resource accessible to Nova Scotia's Acadian population, whose ancestors featured prominently in Gorham's long-ago activities. We also thank the Board of Trustees, Public Archives of Nova Scotia, for assistance in acquiring Colonel Gorham's Account Book. Their support has ensured that one of the earliest archival records of military enlistment, provisioning and activity in colonial Nova Scotia will remain permanently in the province, and available via this website for Nova Scotians everywhere to explore.


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