The History of Calvert

Stone Island Plaque

Plaque laid at Castle Hill, Stone Island - September 1992
John and Agnes (Condon) Bolas

Early 16th-century map references

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. Research indicates that on an early 16th-century Portuguese map, the coastal inlet which became known as Caplin Bay (and eventually Calvert), was recorded as "R. das patas". Published references (unsourced) state that the abbreviation “R.” stands for “Rio” meaning river, and “das patas” means “goose or auk”. However, I believe that the “R.” may be for Ria, a Portuguese/Spanish word which seems to more closely describe many of the bays of Newfoundland. The word “ria”, in physical geography, refers to a coastal inlet formed when the ocean submerges, or floods, a river valley. Rias were created after the end of ice ages when sea levels rose to form inlets that often extended several kilometres inland. Based on Internet research, the words “das patas” (likely “das patos” in Portuguese) appears to mean “of ducks”. We can only speculate that the English translation of “das patos” as “goose” may have been used in a general sense to indicate the presence of several species of waterfowl predominant in the area. No references have ever been found to indicate that the location was ever anglicized to Bay of (the) Goose or Goose Bay but, to this day, the largest island at the mouth of Calvert Bay is still known as Goose Island.

Late 16th/ early 17th-century map references

It appears that the name on the 1504 Portuguese map was never adopted since almost a century later in 1597, Master Charles Leigh, a 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 (Mallotus villosus) found there. The capelin is a small silver fish usually, 15 – 18 centimetres (6 to 7 inches) in length, which completes its life cycle every year in June or early July, when it spawns and then dies upon Newfoundland's sandy beaches. John Mason’s map of Newfoundland (circa 1625) also quite clearly shows that the settlement just north of “Ferriland” was named “Caplin Bay”.

The Colony of Avalon – Early Colonization Attempts

The name Caplin Bay (aka Capelin Bay, Capling Bay, Capelyng Bay, Capeland Bay, etc.) stayed with this location until January 30, 1922, at which time it was renamed, Calvert. The name change was part of an effort by the Newfoundland government to reduce or eliminate the number of like-named settlements that were often confused in official documents. The new name of the settlement, Calvert, was chosen in honour of Sir George Calvert, (aka First Baron or Lord Baltimore), an English politician and colonizer. He was the 1620s leader of an attempt to establish a colony at Ferryland, which lies just around the south headland of Caplin Bay. Up until that time, Newfoundland had been widely regarded as just a "fishing station". It 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 an equally long, cold, and unforgiving winter appeared. Although preparation of the colony was ongoing for several years, it appears that Lord Baltimore only spent one winter at Ferryland in 1628/1629. After spending that long cold winter there, he had second thoughts and chose to abandon his Colony of Avalon in late 1629. He decided instead to concentrate his efforts at colonization farther south, in more temperate climes, on a piece of land which was then part of Virginia. Sir George died in 1632, but his sons, Cecil and Leonard, eventually had better success and established a colony which they named Maryland, the first colony to offer religious freedom to all of its settlers.

Nine years after the Ferryland colony was abandoned, another attempt at colonization was made by Sir David Kirke. He and his family arrived there in 1638 with some settlers and took over the properties of the Colony of Avalon. His efforts at Ferryland were fairly successful, but fraught with interference from English politicians and encumbered by a civil suit launched by the Calverts, who still claimed ownership of the colony they had abandoned. In the records of Lord Baltimore II (Cecil Calvert) vs. Sir David Kirke civil case, we find a reference to one of the earliest fishermen associated with Caplin Bay. In a deposition taken August 31, 1652, John Slaughter, "inhabitant of Caplin Bay", gave evidence in which he testified that he was not in Newfoundland while Lord Baltimore I (Sir George Calvert) was there in the 1620s, but he was in the area when Sir David Kirke arrived in 1638. It is interesting to note that John Slaughter must have been associated with Caplin Bay for quite a while since his surname survives him to this day. A large pond (Slaughter's Pond) and a shoreline outcrop (Slaughter’s Point) on the north side of Calvert still bears his surname.


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