The Old “Chicken-Cock” Church

One of Halifax’s oldest buildings has been located in the Old North End since 1755. The Little Dutch Church has sat at the corner of Brunswick Street and Gerrish Street for 258. However in 1896 it was very much in the news.

Little Dutch Church

I re-produce here an article that appeared in the 14 December 1896 edition of one of Halifax’s longest running newspapers The Acadian Recorder.

littledutchchurch

The Old “Chicken-Cock” Church

Renewed interest drawn t it by the remains found beneath it this week.

SKULLS OF ORIGINAL SETTLERS IN HALIFAX EXPOSED TO VIEW

Probably the skeletons of Leonard Lockman, Benj. Gerrish, and others.

In the spring of 1751, local history tells us, 958 Protestant German settlers – there had been one or two small contingents before that – arrived in Halifax, and in the following year 1,000 more. The latter were from Montbeliard, of the Confession of Augsburgh, and, on their arrival here, were placed under the spiritual charge of the Rev. J. B. Moreau, a “gentleman and a schoolmaster.” who came over with Cornwallis in 1749. These Germans had been induced to emigrate by promises from King George II, which, it is said, were never realized. Considerable difficulty appears to have been experienced by the government in providing a suitable situation for settling so large a number of persons. The want of sufficient provisions to maintain so many settlers through the winter, the lateness of the season, and the helplessness of a large portion of the Germans, who were unfit for labour, induced the government to place them in the neighbourhood of Halifax. These people had been collected together by a government agent, who persuaded them to sell everything they possessed, even to their bedding, before leaving their own country, and owing to want of provisions and other conveniences on the voyage to this country, many of them died soon after their arrival. In June, 1753, 1500 of these German settlers embarked for Malagash Harbour, west of Mahone Bay, where they afterwards built the town of Lunenburg. After the removal of the Germans from Halifax, there were but 15 German families left in the north suburbs. Not knowing any English, they formed themselves into a separate congregation for religious worship, and built themselves a small house upon the German burial ground on Brunswick street, in which they had prayers every Sunday. IN 1760 a steeple was built on this house, and the Rev. Dr. Breynton, Rector of St. Paul’s, preached there for the first time, and it was on that occasion dedicated by the name of St. George’s Church. The congregation followed the English Church rules of doctrine, and appointed their Elders and Vestry. This old building today the only monument remaining of the old German settlement, called Dutchtown.

Once or twice, within easy recollection the church has been repaired, and doubtless, in the past, beyond the time of “oldest inhabitant,” there were repairs, more or less, to the original structure, but the simple architectural design of the building has not been changed in any particular, and the frame is as sound as it was the day in the middle of the last century in which it was set up. Probably the most extensive repairs which have been called for in order to keep the old landmark in decent existence, are now being carried out. The raising of the side walk in the vicinity, following the march of civic improvement on Brunswick street, had made it necessary that the building should be raised from its old foundation at least one foot, a change of base which has, of course, brought about other alterations and renewals in its train. The work, as had been said, is now fairly well advanced and interestingly there has been developed one or two features in connection with the old church, which are in the light of a revelation to those of the present generation closely indentifed with it, who thought they knew all the historical facts touching its existence. In excavating for the purpose of placing new joists under the floor three brick vaults or sepulchres were discovered. Two of these are comparatively intact, but in the third a portion of the arch has caved in. Our reporter, with some difficulty, crawled under the building and had a view of those gloomy receptacles and of the remains which they have guarded for a century and more. So far as could be made out, there appears to be nothing left by bones, the coffins and the sepulchral raiment have entirely disappeared. Two of the vaults are side by side in the south-eastern end – the other is near the centre of the lot. The skeletons are those of adults – one indicating a very large person. The impression is that one of these vaults contains the

MORTAL REMAINS OF MAJOR LEONARD LOCKMAN,

who died in 1769. It is beyond doubt that this early settler was interred under the old church, and a monument to his memory, displaying his coat of arms, is still to be seen in the north wall of the building. He was one of the leading men among the Germans. His name is the first on the register of the settlers, who came over with Cornwallis. The street running between the old German lots – dutchtown, now Brunswick street – and Water street bears his name. The remains in the centre vault are probably those of the

REV. BERNARD MICHAEL HOUSEAL,

who died in 1799. Mr. Houseal was the minister of the church in the latter part of the last century. He was a native of the Duchy of Wurtenburg, was educated at one of the German universities, and was a pious minister of religion. He had been chosen by the learned consistory of Stuttgart for the ministry of the Lutheran church and embarked for America in 1752. After being several years in the ministry he took charge of a congregation of Germans in New York and came to Halifax with the Loyalists in 1783. In the vault alongside of Major Lockman there are no doubt,

THE REMAINS OF JOSEPH GERRISH,

Who was for many years naval store keeper at Halifax, and a member of His Majesty’s council. He died at Halifax in 1774. He built a residence in the north suburbs, south of the dockyard, between Lockman and Water streets. The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Gerrish Gray, who was, for a long time, minister of St. George’s was called after Mr. Gerrish, and the street running east and west, on which the old church now bounds, on the south, bears his name.

This church, as has been said, was built “upon the German buyring ground.” The digging into the earth but a few feet under the floor, has painfully demonstrated the truthfulness of this historical fact. There are now, awaiting a second interment, two large tubsfull of skills, and, speaking anatomically, of all description of bones. These have been gathered up by the laborers as they progressed in their work of excavation – and all from but a foot or two below the surface. In one spot, embracing a very limited area, there were no less than six skulls lying in close proximity to each other. The supposition is that these represent the bodies of a number who died just previous to, and on, the arrival of the vessel in the spring of 1751 – for it is related of the emigrants brought by this vessel that many of them were very old – some above 80 years – and that there were thirty of them who could not stir off the beach. Within a few days of their landing quite a number succumed, and, likely enough, not divided in life, they were buries together in the corner of the burial ground over which the little church was erected a few years later.

A century and a half nearly elapsed since these poor people, induced by false promises, to embark for the new world, came here, only to rest their bones in its soil the moment they touched its shores. And now the onward march of material progress has reached the little spot sacred to their memory.

As our reporter, closing his somewhat hurried researches beneath the church, ascended and entered the assembly room of the building, the ghastly show of disjointed skeletons attracted his attention, and the sight was calculated to cause a momentarily feeling of profound awe.

This little church, which is so intimately connected with the early days of our city, and which is now, so far as Halifax is concerned, one of the few landmarks connecting this fast ebbing century with the past, has peculiar claims upon the patriotism of our citizens. Directly there are but few now who can be called upon to lend a helping hand to keep it from crumbling under the effacing hand of time. A ramble through the burial ground will soon disclose the fact that the families whose dead, the record shows, rest beneath its sod, have almost all disappeared, and their places know them no more. There are those, however, among us, who venerate old customs and old institutions, and who take a pride in perpetuating the material evidences of the years that have gone. To these an appeal is made for a few dollars to put the little church on a solid foundation and to improve its external appearance, Certain are we that the appeal will not be made in vain; and to give the matter a more practical turn we desire to say that anybody disposed to contribute a dollar or more for the patriotic object, may send it to the RECORDER office, and the building fund will be made the richer at once.

This is a particularly long story outlining the history of those whose bones were discovered underneath the Little Dutch Church.

In 1999 the bones underneath the church were excavated again and modern science was used to examine them. Here is a very well written examination of the work that was conducted at that  time on the bones by Paul Williams of Queens University entitled “Raising the Dead: The use of osteo-archaeology to establish identity at the Little Dutch Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

To learn more about the German settlers who built the church I highly recommend you read Winthrop Bell’s authoritative masterpiece of a history The Foreign Protestants and the settlement of Nova Scotia which outlines in great detail the story of these wretched souls who left Europe to settle in Nova Scotia between 1750 and 1752.

Also worth checking out is this A brief history of the little Dutch church, 1754 written in 1899, shortly after the discovered of the bones.

Finally a comment on the sick settlers who’s scattered bones and skulls made up the pile. Research done by a group of historians and anthropolgists over the last 15 years has determined that these bones likely belonged to emigrants who arrived on the Ship Ann in 1750 and one or two of the other ships containing Foreign Protestants. The Ann’s passengers were quarantined on George’s Island for a short period before being allowed to land because of sickness.

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One thought on “The Old “Chicken-Cock” Church

  1. Pingback: Friday, June 14 on The Morning News | Globalnews.ca

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