First British Settlement at Cuper’s Cove, Newfoundland
Under royal permission, John Guy colonized the island in 1610. With 39 people, he faced wilderness and pirates to build the English birthplace of Canada
Searching for riches of natural resources to supply customers in England, the London and Bristol Company financed ships to sail across the Atlantic. Leading an expedition to North America, Jean Guy chose the island of Newfoundland as a suitable place to establish a colony for farming and fishing.
Royal Charter to Claim Newfoundland
In May of 1610, King James 1 issued a royal charter. According to Marianopolis College’s Newfoundland History, the document authorized “incorporating and subsidizing the ‘Company of Adventurers and Planters of the Cities of London and Bristol’ for the purpose of colonizing the eastern and southern parts of the new found land between 46 and 52 degrees latitude.” Less than two months later, John Guy organized 39 settlers, a goodly supply of provisions and livestock, and set sail for Canada on July 5th.
“Land ho!” the watchman no doubt shouted to the passengers and crew of the ship. Anchoring at Cuper’s Cove, Newfoundland (now called Cupids) in early August 1610, Guy and his settlers scrambled ashore to begin settling the raw wilderness. Jumping into work immediately, trees were felled and a portion of the logs loaded onto the ship for the return trip to England. Cutting other logs into lumber, a storage building and a residence were completed by early December, just in time to shelter the colonists from the icy winter winds. Guy was appointed Governor of the new land by the British.
Cuper’s Cove Colony Started with 39 Men
The settlers’ first winter in North America was mild. Of the initial 39 men, four died during thewinter. The settlers were able to continue exploring, clearing the land and building without much snow to hamper their efforts. And wise men that they were, they constructed a workhouse “so they could continue working when the weather was bad,” said Cupids400, “along with a fort and a blacksmith’s shop… six small fishing boats and a 12-ton ‘bark’ (a sailing ship with at least 3 masts).” They were wise and productive men, indeed.
Leaving his brother, Phillip Guy in charge, Governor Guy sailed for England in 1611, returning in 1612 with 16 young women to make the settlement their home. More settlers arrived later that year, ready to take on the challenges of the colonial life. The colony was flourishing, producing timber and developing fishing and fur-trade industries. A brewery and saw mill provided small luxuries for the villagers. Explorations took the colonists inland and to the native lands of the Beothuk. But a problem arose for the colonists – pirates.
British Pirate Peter Easton
Sailing the same blue seas as John Guy and the colonists was Peter Easton. A British seaman, master navigator and fearless explorer, Easton was also a raider of immense renown. By the time he made contact with Guy and the Cuper’s Cove outpost, Easton was well-equipped with ships, men and wealth. Not violent or bloodthirsty, Easton was intimidating, and the colonists were forced to abandon their own second settlement plans for Renewse. In a move of extortion, Easton received two pigs from the colonists, to prevent any attack he might have had in mind. The rogue pirate built a fort at Harbour Grace in 1612, and continued to operate his business of raiding villages, attacking ships and fishermen for wealth and provisions.
The next winter was not as kind as the first for the colonists, with 22 of the 62 settlers developing scurvy. Eight people and a number of animals did not survive the harsh season; others survived the deathly vitamin deficiency by eating raw turnips. While there was much difficulty that year, there was good news in the spring of 1613, too. The first British baby was born on March 27th, a son for Nicholas Guy and his wife.
John Guy a British Member of Parliament
Appointing John Mason as the new governor of the British colony, John Guy left Newfoundland in April 1613, returning to a new career in Bristol, England, first as mayor and then alderman of the city. (There were arguments to be settled over unpaid wages and land promised by the London and Bristol Company to the settlers and Guy.) Keeping the welfare of colonial settlers in the forefront, he thrived as a Member of Parliament, initially from 1620 to 1622, then again in 1624. The exact date not known, it seems Guy died in March of 1628, survived by his wife Anne and seven children.
Cuper’s Cove, now the Town of Cupids, Newfoundland, is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the first British settlement in Canada, from August 17 to 22, 2010. Archaeological excavations have revealed buildings, artifacts and evidence of the settlers’ lives in the 1600s. John Guy and his fellow hardy colonists made dramatic history with the courageous establishment of the first British settlement in Canada.
John Guy, Newfoundland History, Marianopolis College0
Pirate Peter Easton, Dictionary of Canadian Biography
English Settlement, Heritage Newfoundland
This article was first published on Suite101 in August 2010. (c) Susanna McLeod