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Inscription from a plaque laid at Castle Hill, Stone Island - September 1992
John and Agnes (Condon) Bolas


Early Exploration and the Evolution of our Place Name.

In the centuries following the discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot in 1497, adventurers from several European countries came to explore the shores of Newfoundland. In so doing, they named and mapped many of the bays, coves, islands and inlets along its rugged coastline. The bay, that eventually became known as Calvert, was originally recorded as R[io] das patas (goose or auk river) on early Portuguese maps. Even today, the largest island at the mouth of the bay is still known as Goose Island. However, in 1597, Master Charles Leigh, chief commander on a voyage out of England, recorded the name of the bay as Caplin Bay. Speculation is that the bay was probably given this name because of the abundance of capelin found there. The capelin is a small silver fish, about five to six inches in length, that completes its life cycle every year in June or early July, when it spawns and then dies upon Newfoundland's sandy beaches. The name Capelin Bay or Caplin Bay stayed with this bay until January 30, 1922. On that date, Caplin Bay was re-named Calvert in honor of Sir George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, leader of a failed attempt to start a permanent settlement at Ferryland in the 1620s. The settlement of Ferryland lies just around the headland, south of Calvert.

Attempts and Failures of Early Settlement.

Most early attempts at permanent settlement in Newfoundland met with failure or very limited success. Widely regarded as just a "fishing station", Newfoundland was a place to be exploited during the warmer five or six months of the year, but quickly left behind when the first signs of a equally long, but cold and unforgiving winter appeared. Although known and visited by the Portuguese in the 1500s, there is no record of attempted permanent settlement in the Caplin Bay area until the settlers of Sir George Calvert's colony arrived at Ferryland in the early 1620s. After that colony failed, a second attempt at permanent settlement at Ferryland was made by Sir David Kirke and his settlers who arrived there in 1638. Its success as well was limited and by the middle of the century, the Kirkes found themselves embroiled in a civil suit launched by the colony's former owners - the Calverts. Sir David Kirke lost this case and died in prison, however, his wife Sara Kirke and his sons continued to reside at Ferryland. Even after Lady Kirke's death in the 1680s, her sons ran successful enterprises at Ferryland and elsewhere on the eastern Avalon Peninsula.

There is also documented evidence that there was some degree of "permanent" settlement at Caplin Bay in the mid 1600s. In a deposition taken August 31, 1652, John Slaughter, "inhabitant of Caplin Bay", gave evidence in the Lord Baltimore II (Cecil Calvert) vs. Sir David Kirke civil case. It is obvious from the deposition that John Slaughter had lived in Ferryland ( or the adjacent area) while Lord Baltimore I (Sir George Calvert) was there in the 1620s and was still in the area after Sir David Kirke arrived in 1638. It is interesting to note that Slaughter must have been at Caplin Bay for quite a while since his surname survives him to this day. The large pond on the north side of the bay is still known as Slaughter's Pond. Further evidence of some form of settlement at Caplin Bay was still apparent a decade later. About 1663/1664, 16 year-old James Yonge, a surgeon aboard a ship from Plymouth, England visited Ferryland and sketched a map of "Feryland" and "Caplen Bay" within the pages of his journal. In his map, he shows what appears to be a dwelling and several fishing stages at the head of Caplin Bay.

In Sir John Berry's census of 1675 (Berry Manuscript: CO 1/35), he lists a planter named Christopher Pollard, his wife, three children and fifteen servant men at Caplin Bay. Another census taken in December of 1676 by John Wyborne (Captain John Wyborne: CO: 1/38) indicates that the Pollards were still at Caplin Bay and now had four children and 16 servants for a total of 22 people. There appears to be some confusion in the way this document is written. Some people have misunderstood the format as indicating that others from Ferryland had moved there, however when the totals are analyzed, only Pollard and his household are represented at Caplin Bay. The following year in September 1677, Sir William Poole - Captain - H.M.S. Leopard reported that Christopher Pollard and his wife, seven children and twenty servants were living at Caplin Bay (Poole Manuscript - CO: 1/41).

Survivors of Sir David Kirke's colony were still living in Ferryland as late as 1696, when the harbor was plundered by the French. The three sons of Sir David Kirke were captured and imprisoned by the French at Placentia. Two of them supposedly died at Placentia and the third died at St. John's a short time later, finally ending the Kirke colony in eastern Newfoundland. A French priest enumerated twelve servants, two residents and two boats at Caplin Bay when it was taken (The Diary of L'Abbé Jean Beaudoin). Who these two residents were or their fate is not known but an article from the internet entitled The Trial of the Bideford Witches by Frank J. Gent BA. MA. gives some insight into Christopher Pollard's origin and maybe, indirectly, the fate of some of his family members.

Mr. Gent wrote "Christopher Pollard was a son of Bideford who made his fortune in the Newfoundland trade, describing himself in his will as 'an inhabitant of Caplin Bay in the Newfoundland, gentleman.' In 1699 there were twenty eight ships and 146 boats from Bideford engaged in the Newfoundland trade, ranging in size from 220 tons with sixty-five men and twenty guns, to sixty tons, twenty men and no guns. Christopher Pollard was owner of one of the latter: he left to his son John his ship 'the Terrenovy Merchant of the burthen of eighty tons and all fittings' . His two other sons, Christopher and George, received only ten shillings each, while he bequeathed to 'my trusty and well-beloved wife Ann Pollard £100.' As for his four daughters, Ann Baker was already a widow, and received £50. He left the same amount to another daughter, 'Ellinor wife of John Lile in Newfoundland.' His daughters Mary and Joan were married to two mariners of Northam, William Bennett and George Handford, and they received ten pounds apiece." (Public Record Office, London. Will of Christopher Pollard - PRO PROB/11/413/folio 13.

The curious thing about this will is the small amounts that were left to his two sons Christopher Jr. and George. Were the Pollards the two residents who had been captured by the French at Caplin Bay? The ten shillings left them may have been just a token amount. Believing his sons were already dead or destined to spend the rest of their lives in a French prison, Christopher Sr. may have decided to leave the bulk of his estate to his known surviving family members. Little is recorded of settlement in the bay throughout the eighteenth century, although it is likely that there were ongoing fishery operations carried out at Caplin Bay throughout that century.

The Fishing Admirals and West Country Merchants.

The earliest permanent settlement of Caplin Bay appears to have occurred at the head of the bay. Here the bay ended in a large wide beach, which in addition to providing a natural surface for drying salted codfish, served as a breakwater for a sheltered saltwater pond. This pond is accessible from Caplin Bay though a narrow channel, known as "The Gut", which is wide and deep enough to provide small boats with access to safe anchorage inside the Gut Pond (also called Caplin Bay Pond in some earlier documents). At the head of this pond, a waterfall provided an abundance of fresh drinking water. Caplin Bay also had a variety of trees, growing down to the edge of the water, within easy reach, suitable for firewood and building material for fishing premises and other forms of shelter.

The beach at the head of Caplin Bay was a much sought after prize in the days of the fishing admirals. The captain of the first ship to arrive in the spring from England was appointed Admiral and given exclusive rights to the best fishing room in the bay, for the duration of that fishing season. Also as Admiral, he was given the right and power to administer law and order within the bay - as he saw fit. This arrangement meant that, from year to year, a person could hold a piece of property only until the end of the fishing season. In the mid 1780s, Matthew Morry of Dartmouth, Devonshire, England petitioned Newfoundland's governor, John Campbell, to set aside this centuries old tradition and to allow him continuous land ownership of some property he had previously cleared at the head of Caplin Bay. Although Morry had left a caretaker there over the winter to look after his fishing premises, he wasn't sure that his "squatter's rights" would be upheld when the admiral of fishing fleet arrived in the bay the following spring. Under this old regime, a merchant was always faced with the prospect of having to rebuild fishing premises in a different location year after year.

Matthew Morry was supported in his petition by a plea from Robert Carter, long-time Ferryland resident and Justice of the Peace there. His plea makes a curious statement, in reference to proof of Morry's claim that the land he sought had never before been used before in living memory. Carter wrote (it) "appears by the ancient inhabitants testimony never to have been occupieth before by any Fishing Ships, Boatmen, or Inhabitants since their remembrance nor hath it been occupied since mine, now 42 years." This statements gives the impression that there may have been settlers at Caplin Bay for a considerable period of time before 1784. One of the inhabitants he was probably referring to was Thomas Nash, a native of Callan, Co. Kilkenny, who is believed to have come to Newfoundland about 1765. He is mentioned as a cousin of the rebellious priest, Father Patrick Power of Kilkenny, whom Nash harbored at Caplin Bay, after Power had a disagreement with his superior Father (later Bishop) James Louis O' Donel. In 1788, Father Power was accused by his superior of inciting a religious riot at Ferryland. This religious riot was not sectarian but was fought between rival provincial factions of Roman Catholics from the Irish provinces of Munster and Leinster. Power's insistence that Father O' Donel, a Munsterman, would not allow any cleric from the province of Leinster to officiate in Newfoundland, allegedly led to the confrontation. Thomas Nash is said to have moved to Branch, St. Mary's Bay in the 1790s to pursue what he viewed to be a more lucrative salmon fishery.

Five years passed before finally, in the fall of 1790, Matthew Morry received a reply from a surrogate of Newfoundland, Jacob Waller. In his reply he gave Morry the right, not to own the land outright, but to "possess the same, so long as you shall employ the said space for the advantage of the fishery"; in essence a conditional Crown Land grant. This decision probably marked a turning point for year round settlement and employment at Caplin Bay. Being content that the work of improving his fishing room would not be labor in vain, and without fear of losing it the following spring, we can speculate that in all likelihood Matthew Morry would have hired additional men, year round, to expand his fishing business.

The New Permanent Settlers.

The earliest evidence of a new era of resident families at Caplin Bay is documented in September of 1794 by Aaron Thomas, an Able Seaman, on the H.M.S. Boston, a British man-of-war that had anchored in Caplin Bay, while waiting for satisfactory winds (The Newfoundland Journal of Aaron Thomas - 1794;edited by Jean M. Murrary - 1968). Thomas tells of how he came upon "a House in the Woods, kept by an Irishman of the name of Poor, a man of about 40, who had marry'd a young wife, very fair and beatifull. They had four children, were tolerably well-to-do in the world and seemed a happy Couple". His writings go on to note that the family had geese, cows, horses, ducks, goats and chickens, although at this point it appears they they had not gotten around to constructing fences and farm buildings and were letting their livestock roam at large. In the document "A Register of the Families, inhabitants in the district of Ferryland, 1800", this family is identified as Michael Power, his wife Alice, and by this time, six children - James - 13, John - 11, Joseph - 7, Elenor - 4 1/2, and infant twins Alice and Catherine. From another part of the same document entitled "A list of names of all Masters, Servants, and Dieters residing in the District of Ferryland for the Winter of 1799 & Spring of 1800", we find that Michael Power, while working for Matthew Morry & Co., is also listed as a master with eighteen men or boys in his employ.

The document "A Register of the Families, inhabitants in the district of Ferryland, 1800" shows that Caplin Bay had five resident families for a total resident population of twenty-two people. The Power family was probably the first family to settle there, along with Thomas Hearn, his wife Mary and three children; John Badcock, his wife Mary and three children; Matthew Ryan and his wife Ann and Edmund Welsh and his wife Catharine. We can speculate that the Badcock family moved to Brigus South and became the family we know today as Battcock. The Welsh (Walsh) family, although an early Caplin Bay surname, did not descend from Edmund and Catharine Welsh, of which no other reference is found, but from another Walsh family who arrived later. It should be noted that there were several individuals who, as single or widowed men, did not fit the criteria of a family. They are noted in later documents as residents of Caplin Bay, in particular, David Houlahan and Philip McDaniel. It is also interesting to note that the Morry family had not taken up residence there at this time but returned yearly to Dartmouth, England, after the fishing season was over.

Expanded Settlement in the Early 1800s.

The population of Caplin Bay grew steadily over the next three and a half decades with the influx of additional Irish and English into the area. According to a census taken in 1836, there were 193 people living there. Unfortunately, there are very few surviving records of that era, but from secondary sources such as the Voter's Lists of the 1840s and 1850s, we can see that residents of Caplin Bay were no longer transient, but stable settled families. Many of the new families were now being formed by first generation Newfoundlanders, the so called "bush born", the sons and daughters of the immigrant settlers. There were still newcomers from the "Old Country", but those had fallen to a trickle when compared with the early years of the century.

The resident population, previously concentrated near the main beach, had now spread out around the bay, from Stone Island on the north-eastern headland, to Deep Cove midway along the south side of Caplin Bay. About 1840, at Stone Island, the families of William Wade, Robert Swain and Edward Keough were joined by two others, Joseph Sullivan of Co. Wexford who married Swain's eldest daughter and James Meaney, a first-generation Newfoundlander, born at Ferryland. The next cluster of settlers was farther west inside the bay, about a mile away. The families of John Rossiter initially, and then Matthew Morry, son of Matthew, the Devonshire merchant, along with Patrick Evoy and his step-father James Walsh, Richard Reddigan and Patrick Condon occupied the "middle" of the north side of Caplin Bay. By this time as well, the native born sons of Matthew and Ann Ryan, the pre 1800 settlers, had married and occupied land that strung out west to meet the land of the Gatherall family, whose land extended almost to the beach at the head of the bay.

The earliest settlers, the Power family, held most of "The Beach" area along with the families of Thomas Rossiter, John Stephenson and James Johnston. John O'Brien was living at Riverhead, the head of the Gut Pond known as Bawnmore. Just to the west of "The Beach", in the areas known as "The Cross" and the "Old Woman's Pond", there was a large concentration of families. Records show Michael Hearn was living there and had been joined by the families of Patrick Foley, Richard Gorman, Michael Howley, John Kielly and Michael Madden. Just a little further east, along the High Road towards Ferryland, were John and Thomas Boland, Matthew Phelan (later Whelan), Hugh Byrne and Patrick Clancy's families. The shoreline on the south side was occupied by Patrick and William Sheehey (later Sheehan) who claimed land known as Nashes, obviously the site of the abandoned plantation of Thomas Nash. In this same area, today known as "The Point", were the families of Terrence (O')Toole and Edward (O')Keefe, and farther up "The Hill" towards Ferryland were the properties of Edward Macnamara and David Houlahan. By the close of the 1850s, the settlers on the "South Side" were joined by Barrys, Gregorys, Haydens, Healeys, and Mahers.

A New Identity - Newfoundlander.

In Newfoundland, throughout the 1700s and early 1800s, the prime fishing grounds and land had been claimed by non-resident merchant families, based mainly in West Country England. However as the native born population grew, they sought to change this situation; their main objective was to have laws enacted that would ensure that they were treated the same, and regarded as equals, alongside their previous masters. This feeling was so strong that in St. John's in the 1840s, a "Native Society" was formed to counteract what was viewed as preferential treatment and patronage appointments given to "Old Country" born residents. Although the Society did not last long, its formation signaled a change in attitudes and a greater desire for independence and ownership by "Newfoundlanders".

This desire for independence led to an eventual willingness, for men who had known only the fishery, to explore other walks of life and employment. While the summer economy was still based almost entirely on the cod fishery, in the winter men began to seek jobs in other industries to try to offset their perpetual debt to merchants. Records show that in the later decades of the nineteenth century, Caplin Bay men were involved in mining, and when the pulp and paper industry opened up, many of them sought employment as woodsmen during the winter in central Newfoundland. These decades were also a time of out migration, particularly into western Canada and the "Boston" states. Raised as sailors and seamen, with many having carpentry skills acquired from boat building, they usually fared well in their new homelands. Many stayed, never to return to Caplin Bay, making there homes around the seaport towns and cities of New England. Even with this out flux of its younger generation, the population of Caplin Bay had grown to 294 by 1901.

A New Century and Another New Identity - Canadian.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, although it meant more mouths to feed, a big family was looked up as a great blessing in Newfoundland. With the introduction of the cod trap, in the second half of the nineteenth century, many Newfoundland fishermen turned to this relatively new invention, in place of the centuries old "hook and line" method of catching cod. However, bigger crews and larger boats (skiffs) were required to handle cod traps and all their associated attachments. In addition, larger catches of cod fish required more "shore work" and the chore of caring for the drying of the salted cod fell to the females, old men, and younger boys of the family. At a time when boys started fishing at ten years old and younger, having your trap crew from within your own family saved greatly on the cost of hired labor, kept the profits in the same households, and allowed a family, or group of families, to become independent businessmen. In addition to vigorously pursuing the inshore fishery, a number of families were also involved in other aspects of the industry. Until 1910, American fishing schooners came regularly to Caplin Bay for bait and ice, and from 1900 to the mid 1950s, Canadian schooners and Newfoundland schooners, mainly from the Fortune Bay area, came each summer for the same purpose.

The early decades of the twentieth century saw slow but steady progress in Caplin Bay/Calvert. By 1935 the population had climbed to 416, a new church had been built and the settlement received electricity for the first time in 1929. However, fishing technology changed very little over the first six decades of the twentieth century. Like most of Newfoundland, the inshore fishery at Calvert was still based largely on of the use of the cod trap and hook and line. Salted, sun dried cod, destined for overseas markets, was the main commodity produced from the inshore fishery. Even the fact that Newfoundland entered into Confederation with Canada in 1949, as its tenth province, had very little affect on century old methods of processing codfish. However, in the 1960s the market for fresh frozen fish started to change the way that fish was processed for domestic and international markets. About 1974 a small feeder fish plant opened in Calvert and fishermen now could practically sell their fish right out of their boats, without having to go through the many additional hours of hard work necessary to produce salted, sun cured fish. According to the plant operators, in 1977 at Calvert, their plant employed thirteen cod trap crews and five inshore boats with a total of forty-one fishermen who landed 1.3 million kg. (2.9 million lb.) of cod, ground-fish and salmon; the salmon was being shipped fresh to Montreal and Toronto in May. In 1981 the plant was a seasonal operation which sold its fish to other larger Southern Shore operations.

End of an Era - The Cod Moratorium.

The 1990s brought a monumental change in the a way of life that had been the norm for at least the past two centuries. On July 2, 1992, after years of concern over declining cod stocks, a two-year moratorium on the northern cod fishery was announced by the Canadian government. In 1994, it was extended through a five-year fish aid program called The Atlantic Ground-fish Strategy. Calvert, like most other Newfoundland settlements that were almost entirely dependent on the cod fishery for its economic survival, had to look for other resources to fill the void left by the collapse of the cod fishery. This new resource came in the way of the crab fishery. The growth of the crab fishery at Calvert has sustained the economy, and at the present time, alternate fisheries based on other species are being actively explored. The population has remained fairly constant since the 1960s, even with many Calvert residents leaving to pursue other walks of life. Today, the sons and daughters of generations of fishermen are represented in many different professions throughout Newfoundland and other parts of Canada, the U.S.A and other countries.

What the future holds in store, no one really knows, but residents of Calvert like their forebearers are resilient and resourceful. Almost ten years have passed and the cod moratorium is still in effect, cod stocks have been very slow to recover. Like all Newfoundlanders, residents of Calvert hope to see the day when the codfish stocks rise to a level sufficient to sustain a viable fishery. Certainly they can take heart when they look back to where they have come from over the past two hundred years. When viewed in the context of the hardships that the founding settlers had to endure - today's problems, though worrisome, seem rather trivial.

Information Links:
For more detailed historical information, explore the links listed below.

Colony of Avalon
The archaeological site of the 17th century property of Sir George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore.

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This page was last updated: Sunday 10th January, 2010