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vital records sources
go to Horatia Nelson Gesner's page

John was baptized 19 February 1800, probably at what is now Old St. Edward's Church, Clementsport, in the parish of Trinity Church, Digby. Clementsport is at the mouth of the Moose River where it flows into the Bay of Fundy, and the village carried on a small but active maritime trade. Several members of the Ditmars family, including John and his father, owned shares of ships in the early 1820s. Records show John was also a mariner at this time.
     In 1834 John's father deeded him part of his homestead property facing the harbor, but he had already built a comfortable house there. A supporting beam in the parlor fireplace has his initials and the date 1827. This was two years after he married, so he was settling in to start a family. His foray into seafaring probably didn't give him the funds to build a house like this that early in life, suggesting his father helped him. His wife was a daughter of a former provincial Minister of Parliament, Abraham Gesner. For the rest of his life he was a gentleman farmer. He was given a Justice of the Peace commission in 1835. When Horatia (Ditmars) Cunningham visited him in the 1850s, she mentions in letters that he gave her baby Arthur a hat, that he enjoyed playing with him and wanted to keep him for himself and that Arthur liked the piglets and goslings.
     Douwe Isaac Ditmars's will mentions John's orchard south of John's house, but there's no evidence of it today. This house still stands and was a home and B&B when I stayed there in 2023.

John's house in Clementsport, NS. Some digital tricks have been played on the house itself to approximate a more 19th century look, such as the larger chimney, but it otherwise retains much of its original appearance inside and out.

Iron beams in two of the first floor fireplaces surely indicate the date of the house coupled with his initials, the "J" in the old style, looking like an "I" with a little crossbar. It is easy to imagine that these beams were made at the Annapolis Iron Mining Co., which was created in 1825 on the other side of the little bridge from John's house. The company made "hollow ware and bar iron of very superior quality."

One of the distinctive newel posts in John's house.

Virginia Carpenter visited Clementsport twice around 1950 and took the top picture of John's house. Clementsport once had many more buildings to mark its existence, some of which can be seen in this view. A photo of the same area from across the river is below, date unknown. There were so many commercial buildings that just one end of the peak of the roof of John's house can be seen through the trees dead center of the photo. The end of "Ditmars Long House" can be seen at the right edge of the photo. The second photo above is how it looks in 2023. All but three buildings remain: John's house, his father's and brother's ("Long House") and a dilapidated remnant across the street by the water.

coll. Old St. Edward's Church museum

The same view (wider) in 2023, showing unobstructed the two Ditmars houses. While the preservation of the two houses is fortunate, Clementsport has lost all sense that it was ever a thriving village. As in many other areas, economic changes brought the loss of business and the associated buildings were no longer needed. Over the guardrail and down by the river was the iron works, where the fireplace beams in John's house undoutedly came from. This and a shipmaking business were prominent in Clementsport, but not even a ghost of this past is evident now except for a small, roadside memorial to the iron works.

As the story goes, passed on to me from my grandmother Virginia, there were complications when Horatia was born and a doctor was called for help. He arrived drunk and useless and was put to bed. Horatia, Sr., died soon after, and Horatia, Jr., had a wet nurse. For some reason her Gesner aunts in Belleisle were allowed to take her to their house, where she was raised. I don't know if her older sister Elizabeth went with her. This is odd because John remarried not long after this.
     John married Elizabeth Burns two years later and they had three sons. Horatia (Ditmars) Cunningham must not have talked much about this second family, and probably had little contact with them other than a few visits in the 1850s. She mentions the boys in passing in one of her letters, but didn't suggest any family relation. Her granddaughter Virginia knew John married again, but didn't know he had more children. What I've found is that son John Henry, Jr., had a head injury in his 20s that left him mentally disabled. He was in a psychiatric hospital, where he died no long after. Son Adelbert married and noved to Massachusetts. Son Isaac is known only from a few public records that show he grew to adulthood. John, Elizabeth and son John Henry are all known to be buried in St. Edward's churchyard in Clementsport, but weren't given gravemarkers. I haven't found any evidence of an estate probate for John. What happened to his property? I don't have remote access to deed records in Nova Scotia, which would probably answer a few questions.

children of John Henry Ditmars and Horatia Nelson Gesner:

i. Elizabeth b. 12 January 1826
ii. Horatia Jane b. 23 July 1832

children of John Henry Ditmars and Elizabeth Jane Burns:

iii. John Henry bap. 6 Dec 1835
iv. Isaac Fowler bap. 5 August 1838
v. Adalbert Douglas b. 10 February 1842 (married and moved to Massachusetts)

vital records sources: John's baptism is in the records of the Anglican church at Digby. His death date was found by a volunteer among the records at the Annapolis County Heritage Society library.


all text and photographs © 1998-2020 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted