The Treaty of Versailles, 1783

At the end of the War of the American Revolution, a network of treaties had to be negotiated between the four countries involved: the United States, France, Spain and Great Britain. Only one of these treaties had a direct bearing on Newfoundland - the Treaty of Versailles between Britain and France.

Being on the winning side, the French government had the upper hand in the negotiation of the treaty, but had to recognise that Britain remained a powerful military and economic rival. The French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, did not seek to reverse the gains Britain had made in North America during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). So far as Newfoundland was concerned, he wanted to negotiate an enhanced, improved version of what France had obtained in the Treaty of Paris (1763).

Vergennes proposed that the French Shore should be extended, and that French subjects should have the exclusive right to fish there - a seasonal monopoly. He also indicated that the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon were not satisfactory as a fishing base, and asked for a better location to be granted without any conditions attached.

The two sides eventually reached a deal. So far as the French Shore was concerned, the boundaries were changed to Cape St. John and Cape Ray, and a declaration appended to the treaty defined French rights there - using words which Vergennes thought prevented British fishers from using that coast.

Unable to suggest anywhere else which the French might find acceptable, Britain reluctantly agreed to return St. Pierre and Miquelon to France. There were no conditions stipulated in the actual treaty, but the declaration voiced the British concern that the islands should never become a military threat - in the words of the declaration, "an object of jealousy" - which France accepted.

This treaty, and the declarations attached, governed the French Shore issue until 1904, and form the basis of France's possession of St. Pierre and Miquelon.

Article 4. His Majesty the King of Great Britain is maintained in His right to the Island of Newfoundland, and to the adjacent Islands ... excepting the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which are ceded in full right, by the present Treaty, to His Most Christian Majesty [the King of France].
Article 5. His Majesty, the Most Christian King, in order to prevent the quarrels which have hitherto arisen ... consents to renounce the right of fishing, which belongs to him ... from Cape Bonavista to Cape St. John, situated on the eastern coast of Newfoundland ...; and His Majesty the King of Great Britain consents on His part, that the fishery assigned to the subjects of His Most Christian Majesty, beginning at the said Cape St. John , passing to the North, and descending by the western coast of the Island of Newfoundland, shall extend to the place called Cape Ray .... The French shall enjoy the fishery which is assigned to them by the present Article, as they had the right to enjoy that which was assigned to them by the Treaty of Utrecht.

Declaration of His Britannic Majesty

.... To this end, and in order that the fishermen of the two nations may not give cause for daily quarrels, His Britannic Majesty will take the most positive measures for preventing His subjects from interrupting in any manner by their competition, the fishery of the French, during the temporary exercise of it which is granted to them, upon the coasts of the island of Newfoundland; and He will, for this purpose, cause the fixed settlements which shall be formed there, to be removed. His Britannic Majesty will give orders, that the French fishermen be not incommoded, in cutting the wood necessary for the repair of their scaffolds, huts, and fishing vessels.

The Thirteenth Article of the Treaty of Utrecht, and the method of carrying on the fishery which has at all times been acknowledged, shall be the plan upon which the fishery shall be carried on there; it shall not be deviated from by either party; the French fishermen building only their scaffolds, confining themselves to the repair of their fishing vessels, and not wintering there; the subjects of His Britannic Majesty, on their part, not molesting, in any manner, the French fishermen, during their fishing, nor injuring their scaffolds during their absence.

The King of Great Britain, in ceding the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon to France, regards them as ceded for the purpose of serving as a real shelter to the French fishermen, and in full confidence that these possessions will not become an object of jealousy between the two nations; and the fishery between the said Islands, and that of Newfoundland, shall be limited to the middle of the channel.

Given at Versailles, 3 September, 1783

Counter Declaration of His Most Christian King

.... The King of Great Britain undoubtedly places too much confidence in the uprightness of His Majesty's intentions, not to rely upon His constant attention to prevent the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon from becoming an object of jealousy between the two nations.

As to the fishery on the coasts of Newfoundland ... His Majesty declares that He is fully satisfied on this head.

In regard to the fishery between the Island of Newfoundland, and those of St. Pierre and Miquelon, it is not to be carried on, by either party, but to the middle of the channel ....

Given at Versailles, 3 September, 1783


©1998, J.K. Hiller


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