In 1784, Matthew Morry of Dartmouth, Devon, England, petitioned the Governor of Newfoundland, John Campbell, for possession of a piece of ground at Caplin Bay. He indicated in his petition that he had previously cleared this land, and had already started to build a fishing room on it. The wording of the petition also indicates that, not only was he looking to hold this property for himself, but Matthew Morry wanted the right to pass it on to later generations. Even in the 1780s, this petition was a probably considered a departure from the norm. West Country merchants still favoured the old fishing admiral's laws that allowed the captains, of the first ships to enter a bay or harbour in the spring, to claim the best fishing rooms. However, this centuries old tradition meant that property could change hands every year, with continued possession highly dependent on fair winds and good weather on the voyage across the Atlantic. Although not the norm, the petition itself was not setting a precedent. In 1773, Francis Tree, who was headquartered out of Boston, had successfully petitioned for land in the same area. We can speculate that, although Matthew Morry's petition may not have been well received by his fellow West Country merchants, he felt strongly that the time, effort, and cost of having to rebuild fishing premises year after year, did not make economical sense.
Transcript of Matthew Morry's petition to Governor Campbell - Page 1.
To his Excellency John Campbell Esq.
That your Petitioner hath cleared and begun to build a Fishing Room at the Head of Capling Bay, in the district of Ferryland, which Spot of Ground, never was cleared, or occupied by any Person whatsoever, its situation being eighty Yards South West from the Pond in Length and Eighty Yards North West in breadth with a Flake over the Pond.
Your Petitioner most humbly prays, your Excellency, will secure a Patent -- the possession of the said Premises to himself and Heirs and your petitioner as in duty bound will ever Pray.
Although Matthew Morry's petition was brief and to the point, he accompanied it with an influential plea or testimonial from long-time resident, and Justice of the Peace at Ferryland, Robert Carter. This testimonial is interesting in that it tells us that Robert Carter had been 42 years at Ferryland (since about 1742). Carter also states that a number of Caplin Bay residents were "ancient Inhabitants", who could testify that the land had never been occupied in their remembrance. Unfortunately, no names were given, but in community and family folklore, the presence of the Nash family at Caplin Bay is believed to date back to at least 1765. We can speculate that with this calibre of support, Matthew Morry must have felt fairly confident that his petition would be received favourably by the Governor.
Notation in the lower left hand corner of document - Page 2.
Mr. Justice Carter is desired to acquaint the Governor with the merits of the within petition - St. John's 31 August 17?? - A.G.
Transcript of Robert Carter's testimonial supporting Matthew Morry's petition - Page 3.
These Certifie that the spot of ground Matthew Morry now occupieth in Capling Bay for the Fishery appears by the ancient Inhabitants testimony never to have been occupieth before by any Fishing Ships, Boatmen, or Inhabitants since their Remembrance nor hath it been occuppied since mine, now 42 years but cut and cleared from the Woods, by the Petitioner who hath this year two Briggs, a shallop and a Skiff in the fishery the benefit of Air that attends the Ships-room from this Spot being cleared in the manner aforsaid is very great. In testimony to which I have set my Hand in Ferryland.
8th Sept. 1784
Robert Carter Justice Peace
Decision of the Governor's Office - Page 3
I do hereby strictly forbid any person or persons whatsoever interrupting the within mentioned Matthew Morry in the quiet and peaceable possession of the within mentioned premises so long as he shall continue to occupy the same for the use of the Fishery.
Saint John's 15th Sept. 1784
By Command of the Governor John Campbell
The Governor's decision may have been a compromise that sought to both please and appease all parties involved, since it stopped just short of outright ownership. He allowed Matthew Morry use of the "mentioned premises so long as he shall continue to occupy the same for the use of the Fishery." Court records also show that in 1786, Matthew Morry further improved the property by hiring a carpenter, John Brazell, to build a "shoreman's house" on the property.
Back to the Morry Family Papers
The information on this site may not be reproduced, in any form, for any purpose other than personal use.
© Kevin Reddigan (2002 - 2018)
Page Last Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - 02:32:36 PM EST