By the end of the 17th century, the resident population was still small in
number and, for the most part, dispersed and scattered within individual
harbours and along the coast. They were defenseless, and beset by
numerous difficulties including threatened expulsion by the British government.
During a series of plunderings, burnings and destruction by French forces in
the Anglo-French wars of the period 1696-1713, whatever progress
and gains made in creating settlement in Newfoundland were largely erased.
Settlements were quickly reoccupied and rebuilt after each wave of
destruction, but it took Conception Bay planters several decades to recover
from losses. Most settlements were repopulated by new planters from the
original English source areas.
Except in Conception Bay, St. John's and Trinity Bay, the resident population
grew very slowly in most regions until the 1780s. In 1750, the summer population
of Newfoundland (excluding Native peoples) was less than 10,000. Single male
servants comprised about 70 % of the total. Winter populations now averaged about
5,000 persons, of which about 50 % were servants. The other half were members of
planters' families. Although the inhabitant population increased fairly
rapidly in the 1760s due partly to the increased mercantile activity and
increases in Irish inhabitants, Newfoundland suffered greatly from food
shortages and declined in population during the period of the American
|St. John's, 1798.
By 1795 the permanent population St. John's was around 3,000.
Drawing by H.P. Breton. Courtesy of the National Archives
of Canada, C-5584.
It is very difficult if not impossible to determine with any precision
the total number of English and Irish who settled permanently and contributed
to the growth of a permanent population in Newfoundland and
Labrador. The process of settlement occurred over the lengthy period of more
than two centuries and was extremely complicated. It featured stages of
advance and retreat, removal, replacement, transmigration
both back home and to other colonies, and numerous other difficulties in
getting firmly rooted. In 1767, just three years after he had arrived in
Trinity in response to a petition from some 'seventy subscribers',
a missionary lamented that most of his original parishioners were dead, bankrupt
or gone from Newfoundland. A significant number of 17th and 18th century
planters spent only part of their working lives in Newfoundland
before moving away, either home or to other North American colonies. Some,
however, left progeny behind. While some estimates suggest that the present
population of the province descend from 20-40,000 immigrants
such figures are very speculative. The actual numbers may be indeed have
been much less.
©2000, Gordon Handcock