The Effects of War on Early Settlement
There was hardly a decade in the 17th century when Newfoundland
was safe from the effects of European war, whether directly in the
form of open conflict, or indirectly in the form of interruptions to
the Mediterranean market for saltfish.
Sir George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, cited the huge expense of fighting the
French privateer de la Rade as one of the reasons for abandoning of
the Colony of Avalon in 1629. The English Civil War of the 1640s did encourage
Newfoundland trade with the recently-founded colonies of New England, but the
struggle between the Royalists and Parliamentarians for control of the West
Country ports created uncertainty for the fishing trade and consequently for
the fledgling settlements of the English Shore. After the Parliamentary
victory in 1649, the Newfoundland proprietor Sir David Kirke suffered, as a
royalist, first under the Commonwealth and then under the Protectorate of
Oliver Cromwell, which soon followed. The Protectorate itself fell into a naval
war with the Dutch, which resulted in the loss of many of the ships engaged in
the Newfoundland fishery.
|Sir George Calvert, 1579/80-1632.
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), 518.
A second war with the Dutch resulted in an attack on Newfoundland in 1665.
The Dutch had a longstanding interest in the region, having run a sack or cargo
trade since the late 16th century. Admiral De Ruyter plundered St. John's, although
he decided not to follow his orders to burn the town because, he later claimed, of
its poverty. In 1673 the third Dutch War prompted a serious attack on Ferryland and
other settlements. Archaeological investigation at the site of the Colony of Avalon
indicates that the impressive waterfront property at the Pool Plantation was shelled
and burned, although houses may have been left standing.
The close of the century saw protracted war between Britain and France, wreaking economic
and social destruction in the northern colonies between 1688 and 1713. The French attacked
Ferryland in 1694, where Captain William Holman organized a successful defence,
building a fort uncovered in recent excavations. A force of French-Canadians and
Native warriors under de Brouillon and d'Iberville returned in the winter of 1696/97
to devastate most of the English Shore. The war destroyed the native planter gentry,
who were taken prisoner and held for ransom at Plaisance (Placentia). Although
settlement in most communities was briefly extinguished, planters petitioned for help
in returning to their own harbours and settlement was quickly restored. At the same
time they had suffered great losses and would suffer again, as open conflict with the
French flared in Newfoundland intermittently until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
The destruction of the English Shore at the turn of the 18th century makes Newfoundland's
early English settlements look impermanent: they were, after all, suddenly eclipsed.
Yet fisher folk from the British Isles occupied dozens of small communities between
1621 and 1696 and built a society whose linkages tied Newfoundland not only to England's
West Country and Ireland, but also to New England, the Chesapeake, the West Indies, the
Azores, Spain, Portugal, France and the Netherlands. It was, unfortunately, these very
linkages which made the island an obvious target in times of war.