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Defenses of Avalon

Planter's House

Planter's Well





Planter's House

At some time during the 17th century the settlement at Ferryland began to spread beyond the original four-acre town site. One such house, located east of the original settlement on the Ferryland Downs, was excavated during the mid-1990s.

Planter's house Location of the planter's house, late 17th century.
©1998, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project.
Larger Version (36 kb)

The visible remains consist of the foundation and cobble hearth of a large 5.3 metres (17.5 feet) fireplace that occupied the entire eastern gable end of the structure. Masses of burned posts, beams and board indicate beyond any doubt that the house had been destroyed by fire. Coins from William III's reign found beneath the burned building suggest that it was a victim of the French attack in 1696.

Aside from these remains, little trace of the building itself remains. No footing, foundation or posts set in the ground were left to provide clues as to the shape and dimensions of the structure. However, a rectangular area measuring 5.3 metres (17.5 feet) (the same as the fireplace) by about 11.6 metres (38 feet) was remarkably devoid of the large rocks that characterize the rest of the area. It appears that the rocks had been removed to level the interior of the house, which must have been about the same dimensions as the cleared area.

Remains of the hearth in the planter's house.
©1998, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project.
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Hearth of planter's house

The dimensions are sizeable for a Newfoundland house of the 17th century, and we suspect that the house was a story and a half or two stories. It probably contained a hall and upon his visit there as a 16-year-old surgeon to the fishery in 1663, shows a house in the parlor with chambers for sleeping above.

One of the two known 17th-century maps of Ferryland, that drawn by James Yonge, based approximate location of the one excavated. It has a chimney in the gable end as did "our" house, but closer inspection of Yonge's maps reveals that all his houses had chimneys in the gable end. The most interesting feature of Yonge's map are the words "Lady Kirke's" immediately next to the house, clearly meant to indicate the dwelling's owner.

Unfortunately, no artifacts found in association with the house can be positively associated with Lady Kirke, and as a group the objects do not come close to the quality of artifacts in the house within the settlement that did produce Kirke materials. Some tin-glazed ceramics, a pair of silver cufflinks and fragments from a coat with silver-embroidered buttonholes might support the Lady Kirke hypothesis.

Tin-glazed ceramic pot Tin-glazed ceramic pot.
Tin-glazed pot, commonly known as an ointment pot. Artifacts like this one may possibly lend support to the theory that Lady Kirke lived in the planter's house.

Reproduced by permission of the Archaeology Unit, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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Since the house was occupied for only a short time, perhaps high-status objects simply did not accumulate. Perhaps by the last quarter of the century, a reversal in Lady Kirke's fortunes had occurred, and luxury items were beyond her means. Most likely, perhaps, is that James Yonge simply located the house in the wrong place. There is reason to suspect that the map was drawn some time after his visit, and it omits the large waterfront warehouse and other buildings known to have existed in 1663. Indeed, the house in question may not have been built until after Yonge's visit.

Finally, one thing is clear from the preceding information. Regardless of what James Yonge saw, remembered or forgot about Ferryland, he was clearly impressed by one of Ferryland's unforgettable characters, Lady Sara Kirke.

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© 1999, Colony of Avalon Foundation.

Revised March 2002.





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