Nova Scotia Archives

Colonel John Gorham’s Account Book

Exploring the Account Book ~ Language, Handwriting and Spelling

The Gorham account book is 265 years old   don't expect reading it to be easy! Once you 'get the hang of it', however, you'll be drawn into a world that is now very far-off in time, and inaccessible to most of us except through products like this online presentation.

The language, handwriting and spelling in these digitized records can be challenging. To provide some assistance, we've included brief caption lines at the top of each digitized page. The captions offer some context for date and geographic location of the entry, possibly a personal name or two from the handwritten list, and sometimes a mention of the transactions being recorded. The caption lines do not correct spelling or explain meaning; instead, they are available to assist with the mysteries of handwriting.

When you look at the digitized originals, you'll quickly discover that the language is strange, quirky, very formal, and expressed in ways that make it difficult to follow the sequence and meaning of the sentences, or to follow and understand the simplest of transactions.

As for individual words and phrases, have a good dictionary nearby – or Google them! A few examples:

    'ye' or 'ye' = old form of the word 'the'
    'galley' = a large ship propelled by oars or sails or both; or a long boat / row boat propelled by oars
    'whaleboat' = a long, narrow, easily manouevred boat with a pointed bow and stern
    'victualling' = provisioning (think 'vittles')

Handwriting then is like handwriting now — some is easy to read... and some isn't! One quirk in the handwriting and printed documents that you'll encounter immediately is the strange-looking 'long s' — — that looks a little like an ƒ, and is used alone in the middle of words or in combination with a second, normal-looking 'short s'. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines the 'long s' as: 'a lower-case form of the letter s, written or printed ; not in general use after the early nineteenth century.'

Spelling did not become standardized until even later the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; so don't be alarmed you'll see every variant spelling imaginable for almost any given word in the digitized pages displayed here. (For example, 'Menis' and 'Minis' = Minas, the area around modern-day Grand Pré and Horton Landing; 'Seckernecter' is probably Chignecto, the area round Amherst; and 'Pizzaquid' = Pisaquid, now Windsor). Be forewarned that surname spellings are notoriously difficult to regularize.