History of the Colony of Avalon

Migratory Fishery

Permanent Settlement at Avalon

Kirke's Plantation

Dutch Raid of 1673

Winter of 1696
Special Documents:

Historical documents

Ferryland names

David Kirke and the Pool Plantation

The Kirke family, particularly Sir David Kirke, his wife, Lady Sara Kirke, and their three sons, are much underrated players on the stage of Canadian history.

David Kirke Sir David Kirke, 1597-1654.
Unknown artist. Likely a fanciful 20th Century sketch.

Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Newfoundland Collection MF-231, Photo 411), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland. Image modified by Wendy Churchill, 1999.
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In 1628 Sir David and his brothers combined to capture both Nova Scotia and Québec from the French, the latter surrendered by Champlain himself.

Samuel de Champlain.
In 1608, the French explorer Champlain founded the colony of Québec. Sir David Kirke and his brothers Louis and Thomas captured the area in 1629 on behalf of England.
From Henry Kirke, The first English conquest of Canada: with some account of the earlier settlements in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, 2nd edition (London: S. Low, Marston & Co., 1908) facing 29.
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Samuel de Champlain

Under the terms of the ensuing treaty these territories were returned to France, and in 1637 a syndicate headed by Sir David was granted the entire island of Newfoundland in recompense for their efforts on behalf of the crown. At the same time Sir David was granted a coat of arms, which survives today as the coat of arms of the province.

Newfoundland Coat of Arms Newfoundland Coat of Arms granted to Sir David Kirke in 1638.
The 17th-century issue of this coat of arms was forgotten over time. After being rediscovered, it was adopted by Newfoundland as its official coat of arms in the 1920s.
Courtesy of the College of Arms (Miscellaneous Grants 4.7), London, England. From Peter Neary and Patrick O'Flaherty, Part of the Main: An Illustrated History of Newfoundland and Labrador (St. John's, Newfoundland: Breakwater Books, ©1983) 31. Image modified by Wendy Churchill, 1999.
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Sir David was soon to take advantage of this grant. In 1638 he arrived at Avalon, dispossessed the Calverts' representative and established residence in the mansion house. Since Kirke was governor of all of Newfoundland and chose to establish himself at Ferryland, it is not altogether improbable to see Ferryland as Newfoundland's first capital. Sometime not long after the Kirkes' arrival, the name Avalon disappeared and the settlement began to be referred to as the Pool Plantation, perhaps in a conscious effort to obliterate the memory of Calvert's venture. The Calverts did not forget Avalon, however, and legal action between the two families continued intermittently for more than four decades.

Sir David Kirke was an unrepentant Royalist, and after the Civil War he was called to England to account for his activities in Newfoundland. While he was there, Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, took the opportunity to press his suit over the proprietorship of Avalon.

Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore.
Cecil Calvert (1606-1675) was George Calvert's son and heir. In 1632, Cecil became the second Baron of Baltimore and the first Lord of Proprietary of both Avalon and Maryland.
From Justin Winsor, ed., Narrative and Critical History of America: English Explorations and Settlements in North America 1497-1689, Vol. III (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1884) 546.
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Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore

Kirke lost this round of litigation and died in prison. Sara Kirke and her sons paid no heed to this judgement, however, and continued to reside at Ferryland and conduct business as usual from the Pool Plantation.

Lady Kirke must have been a remarkable individual. After the death of Sir David she managed affairs at the Pool Plantation and became one of the most successful fish merchants on the English shore.

Sara Kirke's 1660 Letter Letter from Lady Sara Kirke to King Charles II, 1660.
Courtesy of the Colony of Avalon Foundation, Ferryland, Newfoundland. Image modified by Wendy Churchill, 1999.
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Indeed, according to census figures from the 1660s and 1670s, Lady Kirke owned more stages, boats and train (cod liver oil) vats and employed more servants (fishermen and fish processors) than any other planter on the English shore, including her sons. If Lady Kirke was not the first Newfoundland proprietor to make the fishery profitable, she was almost certainly British North America's first woman entrepreneur.

Lady Kirke died sometime in the early 1680s and, according to local legend, lies buried somewhere on the Ferryland Downs, just east of her Pool Plantation. Her sons survived her and ran successful enterprises at Ferryland and elsewhere on the eastern Avalon until 1696, when a French raid destroyed most of the English settlements. The three Kirke brothers were captured and imprisoned at Placentia, probably with the thought that they could be ransomed. Two died at Placentia and the third died at St. John's a short time later, thus ending the Kirke period in eastern Newfoundland.

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© 1999, Colony of Avalon Foundation.

Revised March 2002.

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