Kirke, Sir David

Governor of Newfoundland, 1638-1651

Kirke, born around 1597 in Dieppe was early recognized as a successful military figure. In 1627, his father and some London merchants had formed a company whose mandate was to encourage trade and plantation along the St. Lawrence River. France and England went to war in that same year and the company sponsored a campaign, led by David Kirke and his brothers, to expel the French from Canada. Because of this expedition Kirke was knighted in 1633, despite the fact that his efforts were in vain: in 1632 Charles I returned to France all her lost possessions when his brother-in-law Louis XIII paid his wife's dowry; moreover, France now looked upon the Kirke brothers as traitors, as they had been born in France.

This expedition was also important insofar as it introduced Kirke to Newfoundland. Having had to stop over at Newfoundland, possibly at Lord Baltimore's colony at Ferryland, Kirke was impressed by the island's fishery, and in 1637 he asked the king for a land grant. He and others were granted co-proprietorship of the entire island after Lord Baltimore was accused of abandoning his colony at Ferryland. There were, however, a few stipulations designed to reduce the chances of conflict with the migratory fishermen: there was to be no settlement within six miles of the shore; fishing rooms were not to be occupied before the arrival of the summer fishing crews; a five per cent levy was to be collected on all fish products taken by foreigners.

Arriving in Ferryland in 1638 with his family and 100 hundred settlers, Kirke seized the property and mansion of Lord Baltimore, then occupied by William Hill. From the outset there were problems. Fishing merchants from the West Country wanted to control the Grand Banks by preventing permanent settlement on the island. The planters and migratory fishermen agreed that Kirke was reserving the best fishing rooms for himself and his friends. In addition, he was accused of opening taverns, which were disruptive to the settlers' work. Intervention was delayed by the outbreak of civil war back in England. When this unrest subsided, Kirke was accused of keeping taxes collected in the name of the government.

Kirke was brought back to England in 1651 to answer to the charge, and several commissioners were appointed to seize his estate. The charge brought against Kirke was never proved, and his wife returned to Newfoundland to oversee his business and reclaim his property. Again charges were brought against him, this time by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, for having seized Ferryland in 1638, and Kirke was jailed in England. It is not clear what became of him after this. It is commonly held that he died in prison in January 1654.

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