Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cronin Family Pit Saw

This summer, I was assembling an exhibit in honour of the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the Loyalists in Annapolis County. Among the first things that you do when pulling an exhibit together is to take a look at what artifacts you have which correspond with the exhibit theme. In the case of Loyalists in Annapolis County, the Annapolis Heritage Society did not have many representative pieces in the collection. This was not a great surprise to me as I have a good idea of what artifacts are in the AHS collection. Our main problem in collecting Loyalist artifacts is that this group arrived 225 years ago. Many of their belongings have either been preserved as family heirlooms, bought by collectors, lost or are too expensive for the Society to purchase. This makes it difficult to get the artifacts needed to tell their story. Unfortunately, a lack of artifacts also makes assembling an interesting and relevant exhibit very difficult.

We are lucky that in Annapolis Royal that we have many collectors who have an interest in history and I have been able to call upon them to fill out exhibits in the past. This was also the case for our Loyalist exhibit. I called upon Jim How, a former Superintendant at Fort Anne NHS and a native Annapolitan, who has been collecting antiques throughout his life. Jim generously agreed to loan various appropriate pieces to AHS so that we could complete our exhibit.

More than any of the pieces I borrowed, one artifact stood out in my mind. This was a large pit saw which had been owned by the local Croneen (Cronin) family. In 1784 Dennis Croneen, a native of Dublin, Ireland, arrived in Annapolis County as a Loyalist. Settling on the Granville shore, he worked as a farmer until his death in 1796. I was able to track down Dennis Croneen's will at the Annapolis Royal Courthouse. In this document, he mentions two saws, one of which is the pit saw now owned by Jim How.

The saw itself is about 2.1 meters (7 feet) long with wooden handles on either end. It was used to cut logs into boards. A log was mounted on a frame with a person on top, the sawyer, and another person, the pit man, in the pit below. The sawyer guided the cut, and the pit man was responsible for pushing the saw on the backstroke. The pit man had a horrible job as all of the sawdust would have fallen on him. For framing houses and barns as well as cutting boards for roofs, flooring and walls, this was an indispensable tool. It is easy to imagine the frantic labour of Loyalist settlers on the Granville shore as they worked to build houses for their families and barns for their animals. Some of the houses actually built using this saw still stand in the Karsdale area.

The saw is on display at the O'Dell House Museum through the end of 2008.

All for now,

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