Ferryland Surrogate Court

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Ferryland Surrogate Court to Francis Tree - September 16, 1773

By James Howell Jones
Dty Governor or Surrogate
of Newfoundland from St.
Johns to Cape Race.
 
Whereas you having represented unto me that during the last winter you cleared a piece of Ground at the head of Caplin Bay & built thereon Stages Flakes & other Conveniences necessary for carrying on the fishery, extending from the Quay to the pond & three hundred yards square behind the same,                 I do hereby grant you Francis Tree (provided His Excellency the Governor has no objection thereto) quietly & peaceable (sic) to possess the same as long as you shall employ the said land to the advantage of the Fishery.
Given under my hand
& Seal in Court at
Ferryland this 16th
September 1773
legal seal Jas. Howell Jones

Transcriber's Notes:
1/ The LS is Latin for Locus Sigilli i.e. location of the seal, however it is often translated as Legal Seal.

Research Notes

It is not known when Francis Tree petitioned for this grant, however it appears that he and his fishing neighbours at Caplin Bay, Thomas Nash and Roger McGrath had both cleared land the previous winter and submitted their requests about the same time in 1773. Their bids to occupy shore property seems to signal a chance in the seasonal occupancy only norm, since Newfoundland was still regarded as a "fishing station" by most of the West Country fleet. Folklore says that Thomas Nash may have been at Caplin Bay as early as 1765, so if this folklore is factual, Thomas was already part of the resident Newfoundland fishery.

Research indicates that Francis Tree, unlike his migratory fishing contemporaries, was actually based out of Boston and indications are that he had been coming to Newfoundland (but not necessarily Caplin Bay) probably since the 1750s. While Francis' New England headquarters gave him a definite advantage of reaching Newfoundland before the migratory fleets arrived from England in the spring, he may have had some concerns that resident fishing enterprises could eventually preclude him from using shore space. The fact that he was successful in receiving permission to hold and expand shore property at Caplin Bay was an assurance that he could retain his Newfoundland base for years to come. On October 5, 1775, again in Ferryland Surrogate Court, but under a different Surrogate, Francis Tree was given further permission to build a fishing stage on a place recorded this time as "The Key" (i.e. The Quay) near his fishing room. The granting of shore property for use in the fishery, but not outright ownership of the land as such, was in keeping with the application of the guidelines laid down in King William's Act of 1699. This act did not find favour with most of the West Country merchants who as late as 1775 were still petitioning the English Parliment to disallow a resident fishery in Newfoundland. Their stance likely explains why in Newfoundland history books, these merchants were often portrayed as villains. They were characterized as being totally opposed to any form of permanent land ownership that would infringe on access to "their" coastal properties.

It is not known if Francis Tree was a New Englander by birth, but his two sons, Francis Jr. and Phillip, and his daughter Susannah, were all born in Boston in the 1760s/1770s. In the Boston Port Arrivals, there is a listing for the "Cha[r]m[in]g Molly from Nfld, Sloop, Captained by Francis Tree, arriving December 12, 1765". Research indicates that Francis' wife was Bridget Murphy and that her father James Murphy owned property at Ferryland. Francis Tree, Sr. died there about 1793 but Bridget was still living at Ferryland in 1800 per the Census of that year. In the book The Newfoundland Journal of AARON THOMAS - 1794, Aaron Thomas wrote of his visit to Ferryland, "In Ferryland is a kind of House of Entertainment called the London Inn. It is now kept by the Widdow of Captain Tree, an American Loyalist, who lost a considerable Property when the British Troops abandoned Boston. They came and settled here...... She related to me the History of the American War and the fatal consequences of its effects to her Family, the Terror of her mind when she heard the Cannon roar at the Battle of Bunker Hill, which produced on her understanding a continuous torpescenty that she could not get rid of untill she had made her escape from the Country which was then the Seat of War."

My initial impression from reading this journal, was that Francis Tree and his family were United Empire Loyalists. However, my research with that society failed to uncover any information related to the Tree family. Furthermore, there is no record of an application for compensation for the loss of their "considerable Property", a consideration that was extended to those who had remained loyal to Britain. It now appears that the Tree family initially had sided with the American cause, but they changed their mind and eventually fled from Boston to Newfoundland. Later in the conversation, Mrs. Tree states that one of her sons had served in the American Army under General Washington, and was an American citizen. However, while serving on an American ship from New York to London, he had been seized by a English Navy press gang, and forced into service on board an English Ship of War. The discussion of this situation raised some animosity between Mrs. Tree and Aaron Thomas. She stated that if the American Minister were to apply to the Court of St. James for her son's release that the English Government would not dare refuse. However, Aaron Thomas fired back that, England being such a powerful country, did not have to bow to anyone.

The property at Caplin Bay, although staying in possession of the Tree family, appears to have been leased to other individuals for many years. Francis Jr. and Philip Tree eventually left Ferryland and moved to St. John's. Francis, Jr. died there on January 19, 1842 at the age of 81; Philip died there about 1852, when he was about 80 years old. His will indicated that he still held property at Ferryland and Caplin Bay, but at the time of his death it is unknown which of his beneficiaries were still alive. His will was not probated until 1858. It appears that eventually his land, by attrition, came into the possession of several resident families of Caplin Bay.

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