It was on the muddy road from Halifax to Lunenburg, next to Lovett Lake, that 76 individuals who had given their support to the British between 1812 and 1816 were starting their new life of freedom in Nova Scotia. The current community of Beechville would be called many things over its 170 years since those first settlers arrived. The community would go through many changes with some of it left covered in moss and untouched for over a hundred years.
It was the local story of Burnt Hill that captivated archaeologists who were exploring the area and trying to understand the rock foundations in Beechville. It wasn’t until the team started unearthing a certain site that they understood why it was called Burnt Hill. At the site, they found a home built on a stone foundation that seemed to have burned down very suddenly. This site was a time capsule of early Black refugees with over 9,000 artifacts that are now saved at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. Among these items, it was a particular stone, a roofing slate, that would challenge historians and archaeologists. This roofing slate was not used on the homes in Beechville and seemed to outline a numeral journal for the settler who saved it. This left the experts wondering where did the stone originate from, what records were they keeping and why were they keeping them. For whatever reason this stone was kept, it was lost to the family in the fire.
During the Monthly meeting of the Nova Scotia Archaeology Society on February 25, 2020, Robert Shears presented his research on Beechville called Community, Archaeology & Black Refugees: Beechville, NS as a Case Study. During his presentation, he talked about the locations of remains of possible structures within the original land plots settled by First Generation Black Refugees coming to Nova Scotia. Unlike Burnt Hill, these archaeological features in Beechville seem to remain untouched by development or the curious in over a hundred years. It’s this area of the community that will help to better understand the community and help solve the questions around the mysterious Beechville stone.
The goal of archaeological research in Beechville is to understand how and why human behaviour has changed over time. Archaeologists search for patterns in the evolution of significant cultural events such as the development of commerce, the emergence of community, or the abandonment of homes for clues of why these events occurred. Each time an archaeologist or historian explores the rich historical community of Beechville, they are left with more questions than answers.
Originally published in the March 2020 edition of the Parkview Newspaper, for BLT today