The Colonization of Conception Bay, Newfoundland for England

It is well-known that many vessels from European countries fished in the waters off the coast of Newfoundland during the Early or Chaotic Period. The difference is that they were migratory. Fisherman would stay during the fishing season but return to their homeland. Later, some fishermen wintered on the island to keep their equipment safe but it was never year-round.   Any prior attempt at colonization up to 1610 had failed due to the harsh winter conditions on the island, the unfriendliness of the Beothuk, or the harsh Atlantic Ocean and pirates.

Around 1610 in England, word was that French colonies were advancing down the St. Lawrence River. John Guy was born in Bristol, England in 1567 the son of a tradesman. He lobbied for approval from King James I of England to establish a colony in Newfoundland. He already had a prominent role in the London and Bristol Company, as well as Bristol’s Society of Merchant Venturers. It is in his later role he and his brother Phillip, brother-in-law William Colston, and 39 British colonists set sail from Bristol, England and landed at Cupper’s Cover (now known as Cupids) in August of 1610. Their mission was to set up a colony for the express purpose of colonizing, fortifying, and propagating the settlement for England.   John Guy was given direct orders from the King James I that the settlers of Cupper’s Cove were not to interfere with the operations of the migratory fishery in any way.

John Guy’s crew members were all male and made up of masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, and other apprentices to build fortifications and dwellings to prepare for the coming winter. He also brought with him livestock, grain, and gallons of beer. During the winter, they prepared for the next fishing season and would be the first on those grounds (even though Cupper’s Cove was not considered a prime fishing ground). By May of 1611, the colony at Cupper’s Cove consisted of a dwelling house, a storehouse, a second dwelling house, a work house, and a forge. Within the settlement, were two saw pits and a wooden defense works that held three cannons that were mounted on the top.

The first winter at Cupper’s Cove was mild and Guy’s report back to England was optimistic. He included that fact that the livestock they brought from England have thrived and added to their numbers. Along with dwellings and support structures, Guy reports building six fishing vessels and a twelve-tonne bark [ship], the Endeavour.

Guy was the governor of the new settlement (probably the first government in Newfoundland). To defend the settlement against attacks from the pirate Peter Easton and others, a wall of local cut poles sixteen feet long were set up all around the perimeter of the settlement. The fortress was completed by the summer of 1612.

In the autumn of 1611, Guy made a trip back to England returning with more livestock and female settlers. In the Spring of 1612, he went to England again and returned to Cupper’s Cove with more livestock, settlers and a clergyman, Reverend Erasmus Stourton.

During the winter of 1610 to 1611, four of the original colonists had died. During the winter of 1612 to 1613 sixty-two people were known to be at the settlement despite the fact that eight people had died from scurvy.   Guy retuned to England in 1613 and never returned to Newfoundland due to quarrels over property promised to him by the Company and because of the increasingly challenging weather conditions.

The idea of settlement had spread and some of the British colonists in Cupper’s Cove started two “sister” colonies. The first known as, “The Plantation of Bristol’s Hope” (located where modern day Harbour Grace is now) and the second being Carbonear.   The modern day Bristol’s Hope is not the same place as “The Plantation of Bristol’s Hope” because it was known as Musket’s Cove and Mosquito up until about the 1630’s. As common with most countries, land boundaries and names change over the decades.