The Nineteenth Century – first of the new Irish settlers
The earliest evidence of a new era of resident families at Caplin Bay was documented in September of 1794 by Aaron Thomas, possibly a steward or purser on the H.M.S. Boston, an English man-of-war that had anchored in Caplin Bay while waiting for satisfactory winds. On page 155 of the book 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 poultry and livestock roam at large.
In 1799/1800, a three part document (signed by Robert Carter) was compiled which gives a “snapshot” of who was living and working in the settlements from LaManche to Renews. There were only five families (total population of 22) deemed to be actual residents of Caplin Bay. They were the Power, Hearn, Ryan, Welsh, and Badcock families. In the section of the document labelled A Register of the Families, inhabitants in the district of Ferryland, 1800", we learn that the members of the 1794 Poor family were Michael Power, his wife Alice, and children - James - 13, John - 11, Joseph - 7, Elenor - 4 1/2, and by this time, infant twins Alice and Catherine. From the second 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. during the fishery "off season", was himself listed as a master with eighteen men/boys in his employ. In the third part of the document, dubbed The Number of Fishing Vessels, Shallops, Skiffs, fisherman &Ca. employed this season 1800 in the fishery in each of the Harbours &Ca. in the District of Ferryland, Michael is listed as a boat-master for the same company during the fishing season.
The other families at Caplin Bay were identified as 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 Catherine. Research indicates that this Welsh family was not that of the eventual permanent resident, James Walsh. The presence of the Badcock/ Battcock family at Caplin Bay may have been a one-time event, since in all other references they are exclusively associated with Brigus South. It should be noted that there were several individuals who, as single or widowed men, did not fit the criteria of a family. Two such men, later noted as residents of Caplin Bay, were David Houlahan and Philip McDaniel.
Merchant Fishing Families at Caplin Bay
In 1800, as can be seen from the document mentioned above, the main employer at Caplin Bay was Matthew Morry & Co. This company was based in Dartmouth, Devon, and while the owner was likely spending the fishing season in Newfoundland, he was still returning to Dartmouth each autumn. However, within the next decade or so, it appears that Matthew Morry and his son Matthew Jr. both settled on the south side of Caplin Bay. Based on family research, Matthew Morry Sr.’s first wife, Mary, died at Dartmouth in 1796, and he eventually remarried, likely in the first decade of the 1800s. His second wife was the twice widowed Anne (Carter) Hill Sweetland, daughter of the late Robert Carter of Ferryland. In addition, research shows that Matthew Morry Jr. married one of Anne’s nieces, Anne Saunders about 1811 and his sister, Priscilla Morry married Anne’s son, William Sweetland, at Dartmouth, Devon in 1810.
The intermarriages between members of these two families eventually spawned another fishing enterprise at Caplin Bay generally referred to as Sweetland &Co., which was also head-quartered on the south side. This company was operated by William Sweetland and his younger brother, Benjamin. By the 1830s, the combined shoreline properties of these two companies appears to have stretched from the south end of The Beach to the eastern boundary of Nash’s Plantation (beyond The Point), plus the Morrys still held the two earlier pieces of property bordering on The Gut Pond. To run these enterprises, large numbers of Irish and English men and boys were recruited each year to meet their labour needs. While many were migrant workers, others eventually chose to stay at Caplin Bay becoming the ancestors of today’s resident families.
We know from documented research that the peak years of Irish migration were in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, but for the most part, it had tapered off by the early 1840s. In the first four decades of the 1800s, there are few detailed records of who was arriving at Caplin Bay. However, the Ferryland Court records mention a number of Caplin Bay residents, most of them of Irish origin, which gives us some insight into who had settled there in the intervening years. In the late 1830s, several years after Representative Government was established, the Journals of the House of Assembly mention the names of Caplin Bay men who were contracted for road building work. This work resulted from an 1835 survey carried out by Benjamin Sweetland (of Caplin Bay) to determine the best route for a new road from St. John’s to Trepassey.
In the second half of the 1830s, a number of events occurred which likely changed the structure of the fishing industry at Caplin Bay. In 1836, Sweetland &Co. ceased their fishing operations when Benjamin and William accepted government positions as magistrates/coroners/ etc. at Trinity and Bonavista respectively. Also in June of that year, Matthew Morry, the patriarch of the Morry family, passed away at the age of 85. His son, Matthew (II) and his grandson, John Morry (son of John), carried on with the family business, but John passed away two years later at the age of 38. As time went by, it appears that the company as a single identity gradually gave way to several independent family operations. About 1843, one of Matthew’s (II) sons, Matthew (III) moved to the north side of Caplin Bay (Athlone) and set up operations there. A year later another son of Matthew (II), John Henry Morry, purchased the old Holdsworth estate at Ferryland establishing a business which operated there for about 140 years.
Caplin Bay - Government Documents
In 1832 Representative Government was established in Newfoundland, and for each session held, the proceedings were recorded and later printed in the Journals of the House of Assembly. These Journals contain various information including petitions, crown land grant lists, road reports, education reports, census statistics, and other special reports and lists. From a careful study of these documents can be gleaned some settlers' names, community profiles, population numbers, agriculture and fishery activities, etc. In the 1836 Newfoundland Census (statistical), the resident population of Caplin Bay was recorded as being 193 people, living in 39 dwellings. The census also states that 87 people were servants, 26 of whom were heads of families. So it appears that two-thirds of the main bread-winners were employees, likely employed by the two fishing enterprises mentioned above. Twenty-one years later in 1857, Caplin Bay’s population was still only 236, and the number of dwelling houses was nearly the same, just increasing from 39 to 41. Although not recorded for each settlement in the 1857 Census, the total number of servants enumerated district-wide in that year had steeply declined to 141 servants from 1989 servants enumerated in the 1836 Census. Based on these statistics (if accurate), it appears that the fishing industry at Caplin Bay (and other settlements of Ferryland District) had slowly evolved from a merchant-owned enterprises to individual fisherman-owned ventures.
Throughout the late 1830s and onward into the 1850s, the Journals of the Newfoundland House of Assembly featured an appendix section referred to as Road Reports. In these reports, expenditures were recorded identifying amounts paid to various individuals who were contracted to carry-out road work in the various districts. Amongst those mentioned were a number of men from Caplin Bay, which provides us with at least a partial overview of what family surnames were present there at that time. On September 19, 1846, a great gale (hurricane) swept up the US seaboard and ravaged eastern Newfoundland. Although we don't know the extent of the damage and losses sustained in the Caplin Bay area, the Journal of the House of Assembly provides us with a list of losses and the value of minimal compensation paid to affected individuals in Ferryland District - (North). We can surmise that the damage at the southern end of Ferryland District was likely of the same magnitude as that which was incurred in the northern region of the District.
As a consequence of this severe weather event, many families in eastern Newfoundland required government assistance to help them to survive throughout the winter of 1846/47. The dire situation in the outports was worsened by the shortage of provisions at St. John's. Two thirds of the city had been destroyed by fire in June of 1846, and authorities there were still struggling to shelter and feed its residents when the hurricane struck. However, the government eventually did manage to procure a number of barrels of flour which were distributed to affected districts, usually under the superintendence of the local clergy and magistrates. The names of those receiving assistance at Caplin Bay (and other settlements in the southern end of Ferryland District) are listed in the Road Report "A Statement of the Distribution of Flour... etc."
From subsequent reports in the Journal of the Newfoundland House of Assembly, it appears that things were still in disarray for a couple of years after The Great Gale of 1846. The problems caused by this hurricane were further exacerbated when the potato blight, which was deepening the Great Famine in Ireland, eventually found its way across the Atlantic to Newfoundland in 1846. While the failure of the potato crop in Newfoundland was not as severe as it was in Ireland, shortages of this important food staple brought many residents to a state of near starvation. Again the government tried to provide some provisions, this time in the form of meal (oat/corn?) and molasses. As outlined in the Journal of the House of Assembly, these relief items were distributed from October 1847 to December 1848 in Ferryland District. This latter government assistance scheme differed from the first in that it was mainly a work-for-food arrangement. Men (and a few women), providing labour on the roads and at bridge building, were compensated in kind, instead of being paid cash. A Road Report for the southern end of Ferryland District "A Return... of persons given relief....etc," outlines the names of people at Caplin Bay (and other settlements) who had received assistance and the extent of their labour contribution in return for this assistance.
The first consolidated record of early family surnames at Caplin Bay is contained in the Voter’s Lists for 1840 - 1859, which were recorded in the Ferryland Court Records. The 1840 list, for example, contains the names of 38 male heads of households, along with their places of abode within the settlement. Although this list initially contained all eligible voters from headland to headland of Caplin Bay, we learn from other references that the bay was actually considered to have at least three distinct “settlements” around that time. On the north headland of the bay were the Stone Island settlers (Keough, Meany, Sullivan, Swain , and Wade,) and about a kilometre west of there were the Athlone and North Side families (Rossiter, Morry, Evoy, Walsh, Reddigan, Condon, and Ryan). All other families were considered to live within Caplin Bay proper, i.e. from The Gut area to Deep Cove.
Day to day life changed little at Caplin Bay throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. The seasonal cod fishery remained the mainstay of the economy. We know from census statistics that most families grew their own vegetables, particularly potatoes and kept a variety of domesticated animals and poultry. Various land animals, sea mammals and birds were also used as food sources. For the most part, people lived off the natural resources of the land and sea, except for having to buy goods that could not be obtained locally e.g. flour and molasses. In the last two decades of this century, secondary industries in Newfoundland e.g. railroad work, mining, etc. attracted younger men to pursue employment outside the fishery. For some, their absence from Caplin Bay was only seasonal or temporary, but for others the lure of a better life induced them to emigrate to Canada and the USA. By 1901 the population of Caplin Bay had only grown to 294, a number that was likely exceeded by the family members of former residents of Caplin Bay who had migrated or emigrated from there, especially from 1880 onward.
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© Kevin Reddigan (2002 - 2018)
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