Among the passengers on the ship Murdoch that arrived in Halifax Harbour in 1751 was a young officer by the name of Joseph Pernette. The Murdoch was one of several ships bringing German, French, and Swiss immigrants. Known as “Foreign Protestants,” these Lutherans and Calvinists were recruited for Governor Cornwallis in the early 1750s to provide a balance to the Roman Catholic Acadian population. Pernette was born in Alsace and had served in both German and French regiments before coming to Nova Scotia. He was immediately commissioned, first in Proctor’s and later in Gorham’s Company of Rangers.
When the Foreign Protestants were transferred to the newly laid-out town of Lunenburg in 1753, Pernette received a town lot on the waterfront. The following year he married Frederica Augusta, the daughter of Johann Erad, his neighbour in town. He quickly became a prominent citizen of Lunenburg, serving as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Lunenburg County from 1761 to 1770.
After the Deportation of the Acadians, Governor Lawrence created new townships to accommodate immigrants from New England whom he brought in to replace them. The township of New Dublin was laid out on the west side of the LaHave River, where in 1765, Pernette obtained an enormous grant of land, 20,000 acres for himself and 200-acre lots for each of twelve associates. The grant extended from the falls above the head of tide to the narrows at the estuary, and he was expected to bring in settlers to populate the area. He left Lunenburg and established his homestead at what is now West LaHave, where his house overlooked a brook dropping down to the river.
Pernette cleared land for his farm, cutting trees and hauling away large rocks from the drumlin soil. He built a sawmill at the mouth of the brook and a gristmill on a waterfall a little higher up. He brought a shipwright from England and constructed the first ship on the LaHave to export his lumber. He cleared a road to Lunenburg from the east side of the river, accessed by a ferry later operated by his son John, giving the settlement the name West LaHave Ferry. The population grew as he brought in more settlers to work on his farm and other operations.
Pernette was the leading member of the West LaHave community. He was appointed Justice of the Peace, performing marriages when there was no permanent clergyman, and dealing with local disputes. He headed the New Dublin Company of Militia and retained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel into his seventies. He continued to encourage settlers to come to work the land along the river
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the West LaHave settlement consisted of 72 people. Threats from raiding privateers, supported by sympathetic former New Englanders in the area, forced Joseph to lead his family on a long overland trek to Windsor, where they remained until the danger was past.
Joseph and Frederica Augusta had a large family. Their son John took over the management of the farm when Joseph retired to Halifax towards the end of his life. Their daughter Catherine and her husband Garrett Miller lived a fine house that Pernette built and gave to them at their marriage. Other family members scattered, but John’s descendants continued to run the farm until the early 21st century.
Pernette was a true pioneer; his endeavours laid the groundwork for development that took place on the LaHave River during the 19th century. His farm was the first of many on the west side, and the grist mill processed his and his neighbours’ grain. His sawmill set the example for the area’s lumber and sawmilling industries. His was the first ferry, and the ship that he built was the forerunner of the hundreds that would be launched on the LaHave River. Joseph Pernette died in Halifax in 1807.