Chart Color Legend
Documented Settlement - Red | Probable Settlement - Blue | Seasonal Settlement - Green
At the head of Caplin Bay, the landscape drops away to sea level and the bay narrows and ends on a sandy beach and a strand of surf-worn beach-rock. Beyond this strand, which forms a natural breakwater, lies a small protected pond. This area, known as The Beach, has been for centuries the hub of fishing activities in the bay. The Beach provided easy access to the ocean and a safe area for winter storage or launching of larger boats and schooners. In the summer, the beach-rock surface of the strand provided a natural platform for drying salted codfish, the main product of the fishing industry. The small pond, known as the Gut Pond, protected from the open sea by The Beach, served as safe anchorage for smaller boats, with fresh water and wood readily available along its shoreline.
On the ocean side of The Beach in late June, the tiny fish, the capelin, that gave the bay its original name, arrived in great abundance. Rolling ashore on the sandy beach, thousands of the tiny fish ended their life cycle for the purpose of reproduction. The capelin, though small in size, were large in importance to Newfoundland fishermen. Used primarily as bait for catching codfish, they were also eaten fresh or salted, sun-dried, and stored for later use as a winter food supplement for the settlers. Tons of the small silver fish were also taken away by horse and cart to be used as fertilizer for the fishermen's potato gardens. Just a few hundred yards off The Beach, another important bait fish, the squid, could be caught in great abundance in August and September.
Because of its importance in the fishing industry, The Beach area was reserved mainly for the erection of fishing industry related structures. However, farther back from the waters edge, and around the pond, family homes were erected. One of the earliest Caplin Bay family whose homes were erected in this area was the Power family. By 1840, four Power families occupied dwellings at The Beach, the Marsh (on the southwest side of the Gut Pond) and at Pond Head. It is not known where the original Power homestead was built, but until the late 1800s most of the Power dwellings tended to be close to the northeast side of the Gut Pond. In later years, when space in that area became limited, the Powers built homes farther east on the slopes overlooking The Gut, adjoining the Gatherall property, or to the southwest of the Marsh.
Another family, that of Jeffrey Healey, settled for a number of years adjacent to the Powers on the north side of the Gut Pond. According to a Crown Land grant, the property was west of the Powers, at the head of the Gut Pond. In some official documents this area was referred to as Riverhead but local residents referred to it by its Irish name, Bawnmore. The small waterfall and river flowing into the pond are still remembered today as Jeffrey's Falls and Jeffrey's River respectively, commemorating the name of the last of the Healeys to live at Caplin Bay. Jeffrey's sister, Catherine, who had married a Dempsey, may have also lived in this area, however no records have been found to prove where the Dempseys lived. After 1881, both the Healey and Dempsey families left Caplin Bay. The Healeys resettled in St. John's, but no trace of the Dempsey family has been found to date.
It appears that the Johnston family were living at The Beach in the early 1800s. An old map of Caplin Bay shows that the Johnstons owned property on the southwest side of the Gut Pond. The early 1840s voters lists indicate James Johnston (the blacksmith) lived there before he moved to Ferryland to take over the Holdsworth forge in January 1843. Although his brother, William Johnston married and lived at Caplin Bay, he does not appear to have occupied the ancestral homestead. Part of the Johnston property may have been later sold to a member of the Morry family. Prior to emigrating to British Columbia, Peter Morry occupied a large house that he (or his father, William) had built close to the Gut Pond, on the southwest side, adjoining the Johnston property. This house subsequently became the home of Fred Costello and his family, and was used at one point as a boarding house. In later years, the house and property came back into possession of the Johnstons, through the marriage of James Johnston's grandson to a daughter of Fred Costello. In the 1950s, the old house was used as a doctor's surgery, but later fell to ruin, and was demolished in the early 1970s.
Court records and the 1840 voters list indicate that an O'Brien family lived at the head of the Gut Pond. Although recorded as Riverhead in the voters list, this area was mentioned in the 1830 court records, by its Irish name, Bawnmore, a name which has survived to this day. John O'Brien's name disappeared from the voters lists after 1840 and the O'Brien surname did not reappear again at Caplin Bay again until 1877. This time, however, the O'Brien property was on the south side, along the road leading to Ferryland. There is some speculation that this latter property may have previously belonged to the Barry family, who are believed to have been inter-married with the O'Briens.
Another family, who lived at The Beach for a period of time, was the Stephenson family. The voters lists of 1840 to 1845 show a John Stephenson living at The Beach. It appears that about 1846 John moved to Ferryland, probably when he was was promoted to Sheriff of the Southern District. It is not known where John Stephenson's home was located at The Beach. He may have lived in "official" quarters, since his death notice in 1872 indicates that he had been "a servant of the Crown for 40 years" i.e. about 1832 - 1872. An newspaper article announcing the birth of one of his daughters in June of 1845 identifies John as the Deputy Sheriff of the Southern District. This daughter appears to have been born while John was still stationed at Caplin Bay.
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© Kevin Reddigan (2002 - 2018)
Page Last Updated: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - 02:33:34 PM EST