EATON, ARTHUR WENTWORTH HAMILTON, Protestant Episcopal clergyman, educator, scholar, aesthete, and littérateur; b. 10 Dec. 1849 in Kentville, N.S., eldest child of William Eaton, a teacher, and Anna Augusta Willoughby Hamilton; d. unmarried 11 July 1937 in Boston, Mass.
Arthur Wentworth Eaton (he added Hamilton later in life) was descended from New England Planters on his father’s side and American loyalists on his mother’s. In his early twenties he emigrated to the “Boston states,” where he would spend most of his career as a gentleman scholar writing about the experience of pre-loyalist and loyalist settlers in Nova Scotia. He was among the first of the modern American continentalists to press the large geopolitical question of why Nova Scotians did not willingly join their fellow New Englanders in the American rebellion, and his perspicacity was praised by no less an authority than historian John Bartlet Brebner*, who claimed Eaton as one of his inspirations.
Little is known of Eaton’s life before he left Nova Scotia in the autumn of 1873. According to his own testimony, he “received his early classical and general training in the grammar schools of Kentville, from his father at home, and for a short time in the College [Acadia] and Academy [Horton] at Wolfville.” His father was a staunch Baptist, but his mother was an Anglican and Eaton attended St James’ Church in Kentville. Although his personal inclination might have taken him to the Church of England’s University of King’s College in nearby Windsor, the influence of his father directed him instead to the Newton Theological Institution, a Baptist seminary near Boston. Following his graduation in 1876, he was ordained and briefly served a church in Maine. In terms of his later career, his Baptist affiliation was an embarrassing aberration, knowledge of which he would try to suppress. He then spent three years in what he described as “literary work” before joining his younger brother Francis (Frank) Herbert at Harvard University in Cambridge, where he entered the senior class. After obtaining a ba in 1880, he embarked upon and then withdrew – “for want of time,” he said – from the doctoral program there. He subsequently entered the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the American version of the denomination to which his mother had belonged. One cannot help wondering whether filial devotion to her underlay his vocation. Following his ordination as deacon in 1884, the year after his mother died, and priest in 1885, Eaton’s pastoral work was limited to a few charges, briefly held, in New York City and Massachusetts. His subsequent ministerial activities comprised guest and supply preaching and hospital visiting. Throughout his career as a churchman he remained a liberal evangelical.
After some months in Europe on the grand tour, Eaton in 1888 joined the English faculty at the Cutler School of New York, a preparatory school for what were later to be called the Ivy League universities, and he would eventually become head of the department. Among the fruits of his professional labours there were Letter-writing: its ethics and etiquette, with remarks on the proper use of monograms, crests and seals (New York, 1890), College requirements in English entrance examinations (Boston, 1892), and an edition of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the lock (New York, 1901). Eaton also turned his hand to rhymed verse, social satire – his Tales of a garrison town (New York and St Paul, Minn., 1892), co-authored with Craven Langstroth Betts, was set in contemporary Halifax – and the history of religion. His earliest poetical efforts had begun when Eaton was an undergraduate at Harvard and over the years his poems found their way into such publications as the Youth’s Companion (Boston). All four of his original volumes of poetry (1889–1907) were published while he taught at Cutler.
In 1904 Eaton took his ba and ma degrees at Dalhousie University in Halifax, the former ad eundem, the latter by thesis (“The New York loyalists in Nova Scotia”). Three years later he gave up academic life for good. He settled in Boston, the city where his heart lay, and devoted himself to historical research and writing. His rooms – in his later years on Pinckney Street, near the top of Beacon Hill – were a favoured resort of other expatriate Nova Scotia intellectuals, such as author and translator Benjamin Rand, Eaton’s cousin and closest friend. In 1913 Eaton was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), but he resigned the following year because the society declined to publish in its Transactions the paper he had presented at the annual meeting in Montreal in May 1914. Since membership in the Royal Society required residence in Canada, Eaton had moved back to Nova Scotia, establishing himself briefly in Truro; he was then compiling a massive history of Colchester County, of which Truro was the shire-town.
Eaton’s early scholarly writing suggests a Broad-Church rationalism and interest in the scientific study of religion. The heart of the creeds: historical religion in the light of modern thought (New York and London, 1888), however, was destined to be his only publication of this sort. Thereafter, having little stomach for academic theology, he confined his religious writing to poetry, while his passing interest in historical theology became subsumed in his deeper commitment to the history of religion, social and community history, and historical geography. Eaton’s writing in these fields was grounded in lived experience; history began at home. His first substantial work was a continually expanding genealogical inquiry into his father’s family, which did not reach final form until its author was almost 80. Eaton was an assiduous and astute scholar, disinterested and non-partisan, who worked where possible only from primary sources. His was a unique perspective, that of the New England Planter–cum–New England loyalist descendant repatriated to New England; he was also remarkably prolific, turning out a steady stream of books, monographs, and articles on a bewilderingly wide range of historical and genealogical subjects.
In 1929 Eaton was semi-invalided by a paralytic stroke. His last major work was his collected poems, dedicated to his distant cousin the industrialist Cyrus Stephen Eaton* and published in 1930. He died seven years later, and his ashes were returned to his hometown in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis valley. His imposing monument in Oak Grove Cemetery at the eastern end of Kentville records his honorary dcl (University of King’s College, 1905) and notes that he was a “priest of the diocese of New York.”
Though in the “Boston states” Eaton understandably kept quiet about his maternal great-grandfather Henry Hamilton, who had been a Tory refugee, his own career, mostly spent in New England, gave him the intellectual distance and historical perspective necessary to write impartially and with profound insight about the origin and development of English Nova Scotia as the “new” New England. Eaton’s historical, though not his literary, work has stood the test of time, scarcely equalled much less exceeded.
Like his contemporary, New Brunswick’s William Odber Raymond*, with whom he corresponded and who was among the three fellows of the RSC who nominated him for membership, Eaton would come to be regarded as the definitive historian of the loyalist period in his native province. His magnum opus, The history of Kings County, Nova Scotia (1910), nearly 900 pages, towers above all other similar works. What biographer D. G. Bell says of Raymond – that he was “the last and best exemplar of the now-superseded genus of historian-amateur” – is hardly less true of Eaton, who was neither mere antiquarian nor quite professional historian. Eaton excelled at the middle ground, then still claimable, and his contribution to the historiography of colonial Nova Scotia remains unique and unsurpassed.
There is no comprehensive bibliography of Eaton’s published writings. In addition to books, the frontispiece to his History of Kings County, Nova Scotia … (Salem, Mass., 1910; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972) mentions “family historical monographs,” “poems in notable anthologies,” and “magazine and encyclopædia articles.” He prepared the article on Nova Scotia for the first and subsequent editions of Encyclopedia Americana, and he was a frequent contributor to the quarterly New England Hist. and Geneal. Reg. (Boston). He also wrote extensively for newspapers and periodicals. In addition to the works mentioned in the text, his books and monographs are the following: a compilation titled Genealogical sketch of the Nova Scotia Eatons (Halifax, 1885); Acadian legends and lyrics (London and New York, 1889); The Church of England in Nova Scotia and the tory clergy of the revolution (New York, 1891); “The Acadian province-by-the-sea,” New England Magazine (Boston), new ser., 7 (September 1892–February 1893): 157–73; Memorial sketch of William Eaton (New York, 1893); The Olivestob Hamiltons (New York, 1893); The Elmwood Eatons (Kentville, N.S., 1895); The Cochran–Inglis family of Halifax (Halifax, 1899); Families of Eaton–Sutherland, Layton–Hill (New York, 1899); Lt.-Col. Otho Hamilton of Olivestob: lieutenant-governor of Placentia, lieutenant-colonel in the army, major of the 40th Regiment of Foot, member of the Nova Scotia Council from 1731 to 1744 (Halifax, 1899); a collection of Funny epitaphs (Boston, 1900); an edition of Elizabeth Lichtenstein* Johnston’s Recollections of a Georgia loyalist (New York and London, 1901); Acadian ballads and De Soto’s last dream (New York, 1905); Poems of the Christian year (New York, 1905); The lotus of the Nile and other poems (New York, 1907); “The settling of Colchester County, Nova Scotia, by New England Puritans and Ulster Scotsmen,” RSC, Trans., 3rd ser., 6 (1912): sect.ii: 221–65; the series “Eminent Nova Scotians of New England birth,” New England Hist. and Geneal. Reg., 67–68 (1913–14); [“Chapters in the history of Halifax, Nova Scotia; Rhode Island settlers in Hants County, Nova Scotia; Alexander McNutt the colonizer”] (n.p., n.d., text available at archive.org/details/1913t19chaptersinhistor00eatouoft; this volume contains copies of 15 articles previously published by Eaton in Americana, 8–13 (1913–19)); the series “Old Boston families …,” New England Hist. and Geneal. Reg., 67–71 (1913–17); introduction to H. W. Longfellow, Evangeline ([Kentville], 1914); The famous Mather Byles: the noted Boston tory preacher poet, and wit, 1707–1788 (Boston, 1914); The Eaton family of Nova Scotia, 1760–1929 (Cambridge, Mass., 1929); and Acadian ballads and lyrics in many moods: collected poems of Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton (Toronto and Boston, 1930).
In later life Eaton diffused his papers among NSA, the Houghton Library at the Harvard College Library (Cambridge), and the New England Hist. Geneal. Soc. (Boston). NSA, MG 1, vols.277–311 include letters received between 1882 and 1935, two vols. of letters from the priest–poet Robert Winkworth Norwood, with whom Eaton carried on an intense platonic friendship, and the manuscript of Eaton’s unpublished “History of Colchester County.” The Houghton material (MS Am 873-874) includes six vols. of diaries and letters received between 1883 and 1914. The New England Hist. Geneal. Soc., ms coll. (SG EAT 1), is described in J. B. Carney, “Notes on the manuscript collection,” NEHGS Nexus (Boston), 3, no.1 (February 1986): 30. The Canadian coll. in the Houghton Library also holds Eaton’s “Some fugitive writings,” which includes clippings from newspapers and periodicals, biographical material, and the manuscript of “The Egyptian lotus (in an artificial pond),” which was published in An American anthology, 1787–1900 …, ed. E. C. Stedman (Boston and New York, 1900), 578–79. Eaton, anticipating that a life would be written, bequeathed the balance of his papers to Elizabeth Burbidge Eaton.
Ed Coleman, “Remembering Arthur W. H. Eaton (1849–1937),” Advertiser (Kentville), 30 April 2004. F. P. Sibley, “Love of people keeps Dr Eaton ever young,” Boston Sunday Globe, 25 May 1930: A59. “Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton, m.a., d.c.l.,” Journal of Education (Halifax), April 1934: 352–54 (includes text of hitherto unpublished poem “Gardens of Acadie,” written in memory of Robert Norwood). Churchman (New York), 1885–1937. Cutler Fortnightly (New York), 1889–1907. Harvard Alumni Bull. (Cambridge), 1898–1938. The Oxford companion to Canadian literature, ed. Eugene Benson and William Toye (2nd ed., Toronto, 1997). Henry Roper, “A ‘high Anglican pagan’ and his pupil: Charles G. D. Roberts, Robert Norwood and the development of a Nova Scotian literary tradition, 1885–1932,” Dalhousie Rev., 75 (1995): 51–73. J. B. Wasson, “Poet and priest,” Canadian Magazine, 29 (May–October 1907): 352–57. Who’s who in New York (city and state): a biographical dictionary of contemporaries (New York), 1904–11.