In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Ferryland was a judicial district and the seat of law and order for the area south of St. John's. There survives from that era, a number of court documents that detail, in varying degrees, court actions involving land petitions, land grants, land dispute settlements, etc. The following information, mainly pertaining to court judgements and granting of property rights has been extracted from these old documents. Unfortunately, not all of the court documents for this era have survived. However, some other references have surfaced in private collections passed down through generations of certain families. These private papers, in some cases, have been donated to the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador for research purposes.
Some of the documents generated as a result of the court actions and judgments may also be included in other collections. Cross-references are noted whenever, and wherever, this situation arises.
Ferryland Court Records.
Documented land transactions at, or pertaining to residents of, Caplin Bay.
Ferryland Surrogate Court - 1773, Land Grant to Francis Tree
On September 16, 1773, the Surrogate Court at Ferryland recorded one of the earliest land grants at Caplin Bay. On that date, the naval Surrogate at Ferryland, James Howell Jones, granted Francis Tree possession of land at the head of Caplin Bay described as " extending from the Quay to the pond & three hundred yards square behind the same". Although not a detailed description, it appears this property was located near the southern end of The Beach (considered a prime fishing room location) and also included the area known locally as The Cross.
Ferryland Surrogate Court - 1798, Public Auction and Sale of the property of James Shortall to Revd Thomas Ewer. (Miscellaneous Deeds and Wills 1744 - 1859, Volume 3 - Page 372).
On November 8, 1798, the Surrogate Court recorded that a group of individuals and companies at Ferryland sued James Shortall, a dealer, for money owed them. James Shortall obviously lost this case since the following week, on November 17, 1798, his plantation was sold at public auction. The sale by Francis Tree, the Deputy Sheriff, was recorded as having being made to Mr. Thomas Ewer, for the sum of 10 pounds sterling. The plantation, identified as Scongings, is usually identified, in other documents, as Scroggings/Scroggin's/Scoggin's Farm. This is the area, at the southern headland (Scoggin's Head) of Caplin Bay, which today lies within the boundaries of the town of Ferryland. The new owner, identified as Mr. Thomas Ewer, was actually Father Thomas Ewer, the Roman Catholic parish priest of Ferryland at that time. Although Father Ewer was transferred to Harbour Grace about 1806, he considered this farm part of his own personal property and gave specific directions regarding the sale of the property in his 1833 will.
Ferryland Surrogate Court - 1805, Lease of Audley's Plantation from David Sweetland to James Walsh
On April 10, 1805, the Surrogate Court at Ferryland recorded the lease of Audley's Plantation on the north side of Caplin Bay to James Walsh. The lease was signed by John Baker, agent for the owner David Sweetland. Although there is no detailed description of the extent of this property, it is obvious from later documents that the core of the plantation was the land running west of the river (which became known as Walshes River) to at least the boundary of property later owned by James Walsh's son-in-law Richard Reddigan. The first portion of the indenture was witnessed by James Walsh's stepson, Patrick Evoy and the amendment at the bottom appears to indicate that James' other stepson, John Evoy, was slated to become the eventual heir of the property.
Ferryland Surrogate Court - 1817, Statement of Debt owed to David Clueny by James Walsh
After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, a major climatic event coupled with subsequent local disasters, growing unemployment, and poverty played havoc with the lives of Newfoundlanders. In mid April 1815, a horrendous volcano eruption in Indonesia caused great climate changes that for three years afterwards were the coldest ever recorded in North America. Even during the summer months, the cold overcast weather conditions led to poor, or completely failed crops along the eastern seaboard of North America. The econonic situation in Newfoundland, which saw unemployment and poverty increase as trade collapsed, was further exasperated by the influx of an estimated 11,000 Irish immigrants who arrived in Newfoundland in 1815. Finding no ready employment, they were essentually homeless and this added to the woes of those who had previously settled here. The first winter (1815-16) saw many residents of St. John’s and outport communities in a state of starvation as a result of business and crop failures. The situation grew worse, when in February 1816, a major fire at St. John's left 1000 people homeless there, and two more fires in November 1817 left another 2000 in the same situation. The most severe conditions occurred in 1817-18 during what was dubbed the Winter of the Rals (i.e. rowdies) as desperation amongst both the resident and homeless populations led to large increases in riots, thefts and violence.
Merchants desperate to survive the economic downturn tried to collect on outstanding debts, and as a result, this generated a large number of court actions. On November 3, 1817, the Surrogate Court at Ferryland recorded a statement by James Walsh of Caplin Bay acknowledging that he was indeed indebted to David Clueny to the sum of £62. The document doesn't mention who David Clueny was, or where he was located, but it was likely he was at St. John's. James managed to negotiate a reprevieve of complete repayment until October 1819, but he was forced to use his entire plantation as collateral in order to reach that compromise. Again John Evoy, signed as witness to his step-father's transaction.
Ferryland Surrogate Court - 1817, Settlement of Debt owed to Shannon Livingston &Co. by John Evoy on behalf of James Walsh
On November 20, 1917, another transaction took place at St. John's (and was subsequently recorded at Ferryland) involving John Evoy, but on behalf of his step-father, James Walsh. It appears that even though two weeks previous, James had signed over his plantation as collateral for a debt owed to David Clueny, part of it was already being used as collateral for another debt of £20 owed to Shannon Livingston &Co. of St. John's. On this date John repaid this outstanding debt and had their attorney, George Lilly, issue a document to show that the debt was paid and that there was no further lien on the property (at least by the firm of Shannon Livingston).
Ferryland Supreme Court - 1830, Writ of Fieri Facias - Ewen Stabb Deputy Sheriff to Elizabeth Finn - Judgment against John O'Brien of Caplin Bay. (Southern District 1825 - 1888, Volume 1 - Page 175).
According to the Ferryland Supreme Court Records, on November 4, 1830, Elizabeth Finn sued John O'Brien to obtain payment for an outstanding debt. John O'Brien lost the case, and the court issued a Writ of Fieri Facias commanding the Deputy Sheriff to sell off sufficient property, owned by O'Brien, to settle the outstanding debt. This transcript records the execution of the Writ of Fieri Facias by the Deputy Sheriff, Ewan Stabb, on November 9, 1830, to sell off John O'Brien's property " in a certain Plantation situated at the head of Caplin Bay commonly called Bawn More" to satisfy the debt. It appears that Elizabeth Finn actually bought O'Brien's entire property, paying him £15.10.0 difference, above what was owed to her in the debt. From what I can determine Elizabeth Finn was the daughter of Henry Coryear, a merchant living at Cape Broyle. Old records show that Elizabeth Coryear married John Finn, of Trepassey, at St. John's in 1828.