A new play about original Black settlers of “Brinley Town” N.S.

Rowann Barton left plays freed slave

A new play called Letters to Brinley Town, a fictionalized account of the original Black settlers in the Digby, N.S., area, was staged at Digby Regional High School this week.

Writer and director Margaret Gray said she was inspired to write the play after reading a book on slave narratives.

Gray said Brinley Town was the name given to an area just outside Digby that was designated for Black loyalists to settle when they came to the province. A map from 1805 showed the town was laid out in a grid pattern and encompassed quite a large area, she said.

Letters to Brinley Town follow a young girl who’s been assigned a heritage project.

She discovers her family through a series of letters that have been collected over 200 years, letters that were mailed to Brinley Town,” Gray said.

As the girl discovered how the settlers left the South and made it to freedom in Brinley Town to join other family members, she got deeply involved in their stories and sought to find out more.

Gray said she used fictitious characters based on the history of the area.

The letters are also fictitious, she said, but were inspired by the book Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938.

The story resonates with first-time actor Rowann Barton, who played Georgia, a freed slave and Black loyalist living in Brinley Town.

Barton lives in the Black community of Jordantown, located near what was once Brinley Town and is now known as Acaciaville.

“I just feel like it’s part of my history,” said Barton. “It’s, like, what my ancestors went through and the trouble that they went through to get to where they were to be free and how resilient [they were] and how they persevered to be free.”

Barton hopes the audience learned something from the play and that it will stimulate conversations about the Black community’s past and what its people had to endure.

Barton and Gray acknowledged there is some language in the play that the audience might consider inappropriate by today’s standards.

“We discussed it with all the actors and the people that are from the Black community in the play … we’ve gone over the script and we’ve talked about the authenticity of the language and what should we do,” Gray said.

“And every person from the community is adamant that they want it represented so people can see and hear the struggles and the abuses and the things that weren’t so nice that took place.”