Chart Color Legend
Documented Settlement - Red | Probable Settlement - Blue | Seasonal Settlement - Green
As mentioned in the description of The Gut, at the head of Caplin Bay the landscape drops away to sea level, and the inner bay narrows and ends on a strand of sandy beach and surf-worn beach-rock. Beyond this strand, which forms a natural breakwater, lies a small sheltered body of water known locally as the Gut Pond. Based on some surviving documents, for centuries this beach has been the hub of fishing activities in this 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 drying platform for salted codfish, the main product of the fishing industry.
On the ocean side of The Beach in late June or early July, the tiny fish, the capelin, which likely gave the bay its original name, arrived in great abundance. Rolling ashore on the sandy beach, thousands of the tiny fish completed their life cycle by spawning, then dying. The capelin, though small in size, were of great 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 baitfish, the squid, could be caught in great abundance in August and September.
Because of its importance to the fishing industry, The Beach area was reserved mainly for the erection of fishery-related structures and fishing crafts, however, farther back from the water's edge, and around the Gut Pond, family homes were eventually erected. Although some folklore suggests that settlement at Caplin Bay began at the north headland, early documents and sketches show dwellings and fishing premises at The Beach area. In 1663, James Yonge, a junior surgeon on a ship out of Plymouth, England, sketched a map of "Ferriland" and "Caplen Bay". His sketch showed that there were fishing premises at both ends of The Beach, and at the north end, there was also a building that appears to be a dwelling. On the 1752 Scott Hylton navaigational map, there appear to be some structures on the north side of the Gut Pond.
Although we know that there were earlier fishery activities at The Beach, in 1784 Matthew Morry &Co. of Devon, England was granted use of some vacant property on the southwest side of the Gut Pond. There Matthew established his fledgling Newfoundland fishing enterprise. Surviving documents indicate that Morry had partnered with Thomas Gibbs &Co., another Devon merchant by 1786. In a court case at Ferryland in that year, Thomas Gibbs - alone - was directed to pay damages to the Holdsworth family because he had authorized the demolition of "an old house" belonging to them, which was located on or near The Beach at Caplin Bay. Court records revealed that before Gibbs left for England in the autumn of 1785, he had left orders that the old house was to be torn down. Apparently, Gibbs had signed leases for two pieces of Holdsworth property there, and in turn, he had agreed to build a new 'shoreman's house' in place of the old house. However, Holdworth's agent, Caleb Hodge, had not signed the leases by the time Gibbs left Newfoundland. In court, it also came to light that Gibbs' partner, Matthew Morry, likely being apprehensive about those the lease circumstances, had overruled Gibbs's orders, ordering over-wintering servants of Gibbs to wait until the following spring before proceeding with any demolition or new construction. From the court records, we learn that despite Morry's directive, an unnamed Master of the Voyage ignored Matthew's directive and went ahead with the demolition at Caplin Bay over the winter of 1785/1786. However, by the following spring of 1786, Gibbs had changed his mind about leasing the properties at Caplin Bay. He argued in court that Holdsworth's agent had not signed the lease agreements, therefore the leases he had signed the previous year were not binding. Although these leases were lost in a fire at Ferryland over that winter, Caleb Hodge truthfully acknowledged that he had not signed the documents, so the jury agreed with Gibbs that the lease agreements were null and void. However, the same jury ruled that since Gibbs was liable for the destruction of the old Holdsworth house, he should pay £30.10.0compensation to the Holdsworths enterprise. It seems likely this debachale created a rift between Matthew Morry &Co. and Thomas Gibbs &Co. and they appear to have gone their separate ways after that. Later in 1786, Matthew Morry hired John Brazell to build the intended 'shoreman's house' on his property on the southwest side of the Gut Pond.
Although there is evidence of other early settlers at Caplin Bay in the 1700s, one of the earliest and still surviving Caplin Bay family, whose homestead was erected in The Beach/The Gut area, was that of the Power family. In an 1802 survey document of the Morry fishing property on the north side of the Gut Pond, Michael Power's property was noted as abutting it on the western boundary. By 1840, four Power families occupied dwellings at The Beach, The Marsh (on the southwest side of the Gut Pond) and Pond Head. 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 northeast on the slopes overlooking The Gut, adjoining the Gatherall property, or to the southwest of the Marsh. Another branch of the Power family also lived on the South Side along the road leading to/from Ferryland.
Another family, that of Jeffrey Healey, settled for some 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 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 that 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. Before 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 that 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 until 1877. This time, however, this O'Brien property was on the south side, along the road leading to Ferryland.
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. John who was the Deputy Sheriff for Ferryland who came there in the 1830s. However, in 1846 he moved to Harbour Grace for a year or so before returning to Ferryland, when he 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. A newspaper article announcing the birth of one of his daughters in June of 1845 identifies John as the Deputy Sheriff of the Southern District. While John was stationed in at least three different locations, it appears that most of his children were born at Caplin Bay.
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© Kevin Reddigan (2002 - 2023)
Page Last Updated: Sunday, December 20, 2020 - 04:48:18 PM - EST