Newfoundland and the American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783
The fisheries and society at Newfoundland always suffered when war broke
out in the North Atlantic. The fisheries and the trade depended on secure sea
lanes which, in time of war, were threatened by enemy warships and
Moreover, war diverted fishermen into the navy, though the numbers were never
close to those promised in peace time by the fishing merchants. As a result,
every time that war broke out, people chose or were forced to stay in
Newfoundland rather than return to England. The migratory fisheries
bye boat fishery,
bank fishery) decreased, and the sedentary
boat fishery increased. When the war ended, the situation reversed itself.
|British privateer in action.
During times of war, the fisheries and the trade were threatened
by enemy warships and privateers.
Drawing by Robert Charles Leslie. From Robert Charles Leslie,
Life Aboard a British Privateer
(London: Chapman and Hall, 1894) 102.
Much of this pattern manifested itself after 1775, when the American
Revolution began. However, by the time peace was restored in 1783,
significant and permanent changes had taken place. The resident population
at Newfoundland now exceeded the temporary and migratory populations. There
were new market opportunities in the Caribbean, where the Americans were now
excluded. Most importantly, perhaps, the migratory bye boat fishery found
itself seriously weakened after the war by the persistence of high wages,
and by the loss of
fishing rooms taken over by residents. This had alarming
implications for the long-term health of the bank fishery, which earned a
considerable amount of income by transporting the boat fisheries' hired
labour. The ancient ship fishery, of course, was virtually dead even before
the American Revolution. Finally, the emergence of the newly independent
United States caused regulatory and diplomatic adjustments which affected
Obviously, the American Revolution did not cause any of this
to happen, since many of these changes were already visible before 1775.
But the American Revolution accelerated the changes, making many of them
©2001, Olaf Janzen