Caplin Bay - Emergence of a Sustained Fishing Industry
In the first half of the eighteenth century, very little was recorded of settlement in Caplin Bay, although it is likely that there were, at least, an ongoing migratory fishery operations carried out here in that time-frame. However, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, various surnames related to a sustained sedentary fishing started to surface at Caplin Bay. One such early Caplin Bay settler was Thomas Nash, purportedly from Callan, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. While we know for certain that the he lived at Caplin Bay, there are varying stories told of his arrival, the extent of his property and reason for his departure. One story says Thomas arrived about 1765, hid out over the winter and built a boat. The story goes on to tell that he was discovered in the spring, but instead of being punished, he was rewarded for his enterprise and later received a grant for all of the shoreline in Caplin Bay, headland to headland. Another version, says the grant was secured in 1773 and it extended from the Quay (south end of The Beach? ) to Deep Cove – about 3/4 kilometre of shoreline. However, the description of the old Nash plantation, which was leased, and then eventually bought by the Morry family in 1855, appears to have had a shoreline exposure of probably less than 1/3 of a kilometre. To date no evidence of a grant has been found under the Nash surname in any surviving documents. The vendor in the deed was given as Arthur W. O. Holdsworth, Esq’r. of Dartmouth, Devon, who was also the same vendor of the property that John Henry Morry purchased at Ferryland in 1844.
Based on entries in the Ferryland Court records, it appears that most of the Nash family likely left Caplin Bay about 1790. According to family folklore, the reason the Nashes left Caplin Bay was to pursue the more lucrative salmon fishery in St. Mary's Bay, where they eventually founded the settlement of Branch. While this reason may have been one of the factors for their departure, another event that occurred in the late 1780s may have been another contributing factor. In the book "Gentleman-Bishops and Faction Fighters" (Edited by Cyril J. Byrne) Thomas Nash is mentioned as a cousin of the rebellious priest, Father Patrick Power of Kilkenny. In 1788, Father Power was accused by his superior, Father (later Bishop) James Louis O' Donel, of inciting a religious riot at Ferryland. This religious riot was not sectarian, but was fought between factions of Roman Catholics from the rival Irish provinces of Munster and Leinster. Power's insistence that Father O'Donel, who was from Munster, would not allow any cleric from the province of Leinster officiate in Newfoundland, allegedly led to the confrontation. In a 1789 letter from Father Thomas Ewer, the "official" priest at Ferryland, he informs O'Donel that Father Power was "to winter in the house of his cousin Thomas Nash, an old planter in this place". The letter goes on to say that Father Power had run up great debt with merchants and others in the area. This dispute went back and forth for a couple of more years, with Father Power even physically threatening Father Ewer at Mass. Father Power was excommunicated twice, and all those who continued to support him were also threatened with excommunication by Father O'Donel. Finally in 1791, Father Power relented and went back to Ireland, leaving his debts to be paid by the Roman Catholic Church. It is likely his whole affair brought church sanctions upon the Nash family, who may have been deprived of the sacraments because of their support of Father Power.
One 1773 grant that was recorded in the Ferryland Surrogate Court records was for a piece of property at Caplin Bay described as being “from the Quay to the Ponds and 300 yards behind the same". The petitioner was Francis Tree, a New Englander, who likely used Caplin Bay as his Newfoundland port during the fishing season, but returned to Boston in the late autumn. In 1775, he was given permission to erect fishing premises on this piece of land in order to pursue an expanded fishery at Caplin Bay. However, a few years later in the midst of the American Revolution, Francis and his family left Boston and moved to Ferryland. It appears that Francis Tree, Sr. died about 1790, but his sons Francis Jr. and Philip did not carry on the fishery at Caplin Bay. The will of Philip Tree, probated in 1858, describes his holdings there as “a certain dwelling house and premises with all the land attached thereto, being about seven acres, .....lately occupied by John Power, also all that property .......leased to Thomas Ryan and also all that property leased to Michael Hearn”.
Just over a decade later in 1784, the court records show that Matthew Morry, from Dartmouth, Devon petitioned for a piece of land “to build a Fishing Room at the Head of Capling Bay”. The petition indicated he had cleared an area on the south-west side of the (Gut) Pond, claiming that it did not belong to any inhabitants. He was supported in his petition by Robert Carter, J.P. of Ferryland who vouched that the land in question had not been occupied during his presence at Ferryland (42 years), or within the recollection of any of the “ancient Inhabitants” of the area. This land was granted to Matthew Morry in September of 1784. Court records also show that in 1786, Matthew further improved this property by hiring a carpenter, John Brazell, to build a "shoreman's house" on the property. In 1790 Matthew Morry petitioned for another piece of land at the head of Caplin Bay, this time on the north-east side of the (Gut) Pond. He indicated that he needed the extra land to accommodate his growing fishing enterprise in that area. Again Matthew Morry’s request was granted, but with the caveat that he could occupy the land “so long as you shall employ the said space for the advantage of the Fishery”.
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© Kevin Reddigan (2002 - 2017)
Page Last Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - 02:34:23 PM EST