suffering, they were unfortunate in the choice of an agent to carry out their
policy of extirpation. Sir John Berry, who commanded the convoy to Newfoundland,
was ordered to execute the directions of the Council. On his
arrival he sent two capable persons to visit the several fishing resorts between
Cape Bonavista and Cape Race, in order to obtain the information desired
by the Council, and to convey to the people the orders for their removal.
But Sir John soon became convinced that, though the evils complained of
were genuine, the transgressors were not the planters but the fishermen,
and particularly the admirals in the several harbours. Stages, flakes and
store-houses were pulled down at the end of the season, not by the inhabitants,
but under direction of the masters of the ships. Remembering the evidence
given before the Council, he “stands in admiration how people could appear
before His Majesty with so many untruths against the inhabitants.” It
was to the admirals and ship commanders that he had to give peremptory
orders, not to the planters.
The planters, he stated, were prepared to obey the direction of the
Council, but they were too poor to remove without assistance; furthermore,
while they made at least a frugal living in Newfoundland, they would be
cast on the parish if taken home. Inviting attention to an account which
he submitted, showing the result of the operations of the merchants adventurers
and of the planters, he pointed out that of the total value of the catch
£163,000—nearly £47,000 or a little less than 30% was the product of the
planters' industry; and predicted, that if driven out the planters would go
to the French, who were already stretching out welcoming hands.
The merchant adventurers, who clamored for convoys, were now flouting
their protection and going off in companies of twos and threes.¹
Sir John Berry's unequivocal statement did something to shake the
confidence of the Council in the wisdom of their decision. To a representation
of some of the merchant adventurers that Sir John Berry was encouraging
the planters in their resistance, Mr. Secretary Williamson appended a note
that their design “was to exclude the poor from being sharers in anything.”²
This, doubtless, is as far as we could expect an august body like the
Privy Council to go in the direction of a complete summersault, at this early
stage. But the leaven was working. In the following April, Mr. Pepys
acquainted the Lords of Trade and Plantations that the convoys were about
to depart, and asked whether, with Sir John Berry's representations before
them, they would consider that their Lordship's instructions about removing
the planters were “now fit to be pursued.” The Council were not then ready
to make a retraction, and contented themselves with orders to the commander
in chief of the ships going to Newfoundland to collect information respecting
the trade with the French and New England, the number of planters, destruction
of woods and stages, the boat-keepers, number of ships &c.³
Sir John Berry's statement was confirmed by Captain Davies who
1 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1675-1676, p. 1772.
2 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1675-1676, p. 1776.
3 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1675-1676, p. 1783.
appeared before the Lords of Trade and Plantations in August of the same
year. The abuses, he declared, were wholly occasioned by the West Country
adventurers. The masters of ships at their departure pull down their stages
for firewood on board their ships, and leave their men in Newfoundland merely
to save the expense of carrying them back to England. If the planters were
withdrawn, the French would either take possession of the harbours and
fishing places or entice the planters to settle amongst them.¹
While this discussion was in progress, the Council were distressed by
a great outcry from those, whose property was being destroyed in Newfoundland
under its orders, and it was decided that the next ships would not be
allowed to depart in the spring following, until a reconsideration of the whole
question had taken place.
With the coming of spring, the subject was reopened. On February 21,
1677, an order in council was passed referring all the papers to the Lords of
Trade and Plantations with a request that they should report what they
conceived was yet further to be done. A full hearing took place before the
Lords of Trade and Plantations on March 3 and 4. Both sides agreed that
that many trees had been wantonly destroyed, that flakes and stages had
been pulled down, and that the fishermen had been debauched by strong
liquors, but each maintained that it was the other side that was to blame for
all the trespasses and crimes committed. A point on which there was disagreement
was as to designs of the French. The merchant adventurers endeavored
to assure the Council that there was nothing to be apprehended from the
French, who were fully occupied with their lawful concerns. The planters
and their friends insisted that it was only their presence that prevented the
French from overrunning the whole island, and that, unless fortifications were
erected at the principal places, there was grave danger that they would do
so at the first opportunity. An interesting fact mentioned by John Downing,
who had spent a large part of his life in Newfoundland, was that “all the
houses are near the water, and none farther off than a quarter of a mile.”²
Sir William Poole, who commanded the convoy in 1677, says that it is true
that the planters' houses and stages are scattered too much about the harbour,
that they (that is, the planters and fishermen) cannot avoid mixing one with
The planters succeeded with their plea. Lord Anglesey, Lord Privy
Seal, wrote a rather panicky note to Secretary Williamson urging him to
move for directions to be sent to Newfoundland by the first shipping for all
things to continue as they were until His Majesty had decided what was best
to be done. Several ships, he said, had set out already, and others were going
daily, who might disturb affairs there. He feared that if orders were not
sent to prevent mischief, they would run great hazard of losing the country
with its trade, and give it up to the French.³ After some further proceedings,
an order in council was passed on May 18, 1677, noting the opinion of the
Lords of Trade and Plantations that the planters should be continued in the
1 C. S. P. American & W. I. Colonial, 1675-1676, p. 1784.
2 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1677-1680, pp. 1786.
3 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1677-1680, p. 1787.
possession of their houses and stages according to the usage of last years until
His Majesty's further order, and directing that the captains of the convoys
then preparing for their voyage to Newfoundland should not only make
publication of His Majesty's pleasure, but must take care that nothing be
attempted contrary thereto.
The efforts to remove them from the colony having failed, the planters
gave their attention to securing a stable government. The reports of the
captains of the convoys show that lawlessness was not greatly abated, and
that it was to the adventurers and their own crews that the disorders were to
be attributed. Captain Charles Talbot in his report for 1679, gives a very
full account of the conditions of the island. The planters observe the rules
of the charter better than the adventurers, and require the protection of a
government. The country he describes as barren and cumbered with wood.
Newfoundland as it appears to him is a colony not of husbandmen but
In their desire for a stable government, the inhabitants were prepared to
accept great inconveniences. The chief argument employed by those opposed
to the appointment of a governor was that, owing to the wide dispersion of
the scanty population in the harbours between Cape Bonavista and Cape
Race, it was physically impossible for a governor residing at St. John's to
exercise an effective control over a large number of the people. The
inhabitants recognised the force of the argument, and in order to meet it,
offered to concentrate themselves in four harbours. It was the violence of
the Western adventurers, which led to their dispersion to twenty different
places; but they would be willing to gather together in St. John's, Trinity
Harbour, Ferryland and Trepassey, or indeed in any others that might be
considered more convenient. With St. John's fortified, the colony would be
safe from foreign aggression, and would be easily governed. The inhabitants
were also prepared to be satisfied with their present numbers, if they were
permitted to provide for their children.²
The inhabitants had by this time gained the entire sympathy of the
Lords of Trade and Plantations, and the charter was amended in several
particulars, to meet their interests. It was first determined to allow the
planters to dwell as near the shore as they chose, but as this was seen to
involve an encroachment on the rights of the fishermen, the regulation was
changed a few days later to a prohibition against keeping buildings, except
such as were required for the fishery, orchards or gardens, within a quarter
of a mile of the shore.³ The inhabitants were permitted to retain possession
of their stages, but must build no more until the adventurers were all arrived,
after which they might build stages, which they should possess. They were,
furthermore, given permission to hire servants in England and transport
them to Newfoundland.4
1 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1677-1680, p. 1788.
2 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1677-1680, p. 1792.
3 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1677-1680, p. 1793.
4 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1677-1680. p. 1791.
It was also resolved to send out a governor, whose power was to be
confined to punishing delinquencies of the planters and their servants. Seamen
and fishermen when found violating the law were to be secured and sent
on board the vessels, whose masters either punished them themselves, or
carried them to England. The fortification of St. Johns was to be undertaken
and the King advised to send out guns and ammunition. On the question
of the maintenance of the Governor, Mr. Downing, who represented the
inhabitants, was consulted, and he advised the laying of a tax upon the boats,
kept by each inhabitant. The Board approved, provided that the money
be raised voluntarily and not under the authority of the King in Council.
Nothing, however, was done in this direction, presumably from the
failure of the inhabitants to satisfy the condition on which a governor was to
be appointed. For a number of years hereafter, nothing was heard from either
planters or adventurers, with the exception of a petition of the familiar sort
presented by Downing in 1682. Indeed, apart from a momentary flutter of
interest aroused by the outbreak of war with France, when the Council considered
the question of harassing the enemy by attacking Placentia, and
putting St. Johns and other harbours in a state of defence, Newfoundland
remained entirely unregarded until 1696.
This was a memorable year. Two circumstances combined to make it
so. The French, who had been trifling with the question of overrunning
the undefended English settlements, were galvanized into activity by the
appearance of D'Iberville, a famous Canadian coureur de bois, who was fresh
from his devastating foray against the forts in Hudson's Bay. D'Iberville
laid out a plan for a combined land and sea attack, which resulted in the
destruction of all the English settlements, except those at Carbonear and
Bonavista. Consternation followed by vigorous measures was the effect of
the news as it reached England.
The second, and scarcely less important circumstance affecting the affairs
of Newfoundland was the reconstruction of the administrative body, which
controlled the colonies. Until 1696, the colonies had been administered by
a committee of the Privy Council, known as the Lords of Trade and Plantations.
Its members had as a rule little experience in the matters with which
they had to deal, and as a result of the dissatisfaction expressed by the
merchants at the inefficient handling of their business, a permanent board was
established under the title of the Board of Trade. It contained, in addition
to certain high functionaries of state, a number of men experienced in
trade and commerce.¹
The new board was scarcely installed when news began to arrive of the
disasters caused by the French raids. In order to obtain the best information
and advice, the board wrote to the mayors of Exeter, Bristol, Plymouth
and other western towns, desiring to know the proposals of the merchants
interested. in Newfoundland as to the measures for recovering and securing
the trade there, and asking them. to appoint an agent to present their views
to the board.
1 Guide to Materials for American History in Public Records Office, C. M. Andrews, p. 1795.
The representatives were all agreed on one point: there must be a fleet
of sufficient size to regain the harbours which had been lost, and a convoy for
the fishing vessels. On the best mode of securing the island after it was retaken,
opinions differed. Barnstaple, Bideford and Poole were of opinion
that a couple of cruizers patrolling the coast would be the most effective
measure. The merchants of the first two towns were of opinion that a gov-
ernor would be not only of no utility, but would hamper the trade. Those of
Poole, and of Exeter, on the contrary, were impressed with the advantage
the French gained by the discipline imposed by a governor, and advised that
a governor should be placed in St. Johns to remain there while the war lasted.
The Board, in January 1697, made a strong representation to the King.
They pointed out the great importance of the Newfoundland trade, in the
employment it gave to net-makers, and in the large volume of commerce
arising therefrom. Planters were necessary to preserve the boats, stages,
&c. and to protect the ports in time of war; but their number should be
limited to one thousand, lest by the increase of their numbers they should
engross the fishery to themselves.¹ The chief harbours should be protected
by a military force, but, as some thought that a general governor would be
too great an encouragement to the planters, they were of opinion that each
captain should command separately in each place, and have no power over
the fishermen and planters, except in case of actual invasion.
The proposals of the Board having been accepted, and adequate military
and naval forces despatched to Newfoundland, the Board then turned its
attention to the government of the island itself. Until this time, the regulations
of 1634 with subsequent accretions and modifications had been the only
rules of law under which the fisheries about the shores of Newfoundland had
been carried on. The Board determined to replace these various regulations
by a statutory enactment, which would embody the results of the experience
of the past 60 years.
They had before them the views of the merchant adventurers of the
western towns, but as they knew that there had been in the past radical
divergences between those views and the wishes of those who desired to have
the island settled, the Board resolved to obtain information from sources
which would be impartial as well as competent.
The first report of a general character received was from Colonel John
Gibson, who commanded the land forces of Newfoundland.² The squadron
which took out the troops sailed under the command of Commodore John
Norris, with whom Gibson was violently at odds. As Norris' reports on
conditions in Newfoundland which were called for later by the Board, differed
widely in their conclusions from those of Norris, the quarrel between them is
Gibson strongly advocated a settled government in Newfoundland.
By government he meant not only the military but the civil and church
government, for the one could not stand without the other two. He would
1 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1696-1697, p. 1797.
2 C. S. P. Am. & W. I. Colonial, 1696-1697, p. 1798.