TNA (PRO) CO 194/5, ff.379-386v, Kempthorne to Burchett, 12 October 1715 (transcript from NAC Microfilm B-208 copy). There are minor differences between this version from the CO 194 papers and another version in TNA (PRO) Adm 1/2006 [e.g., in capitalizing certain words, and other insignificant differences]
- Olaf Janzen
A Copy of a Letter from Captain
I send you a full account of all my proceedings hitherto, for the Information of their Lordships. it was the 29th of June before I made the Land, I met with a great deal of severe Weather in my Passage, and after making of the Land, not a little perplexed to secure a Port, which after Thirteen days beating off and on with the Winds blowing right on the Shoar, but the Weather so very thick, that ' twas a rarity to see two Cables length wide of Us; upon the 8th of July in the Evening we got into the Bay of Bulls; the length of which passage made me very bare of Beer and Water; so that I was obliged to stay some time there to supply that want, but a continuance of the same foggy Weather, kept me much longer there then my necessitys required, for ' twas the 18th of July, before I had an opportunity of getting out, which I made use of, and got the same day into St Johns, but 'tis necessary I acquainted you, that the day I got into the Bay of Bulls, I was apply' d [379v] to by a Messenger from Collo. Moddy, Lieutent Governour of Placentia, who arrived there the same day, and shewed me a representation of his, complaining of a great scarcity of Bread, and other Provisions in the Garrison, and desiring credit for the same, for Bills drawn upon the Governmont; I procured him amongst the Masters of the Merchant Ships 5000 Weight, at as cheap rate as the Markett would afford, which was 35 Shillings per hundred, and by the same hands dispatched it away: and had concerned myself in procuring a larger Supply, but these people acquainted me that about 3 or 4 days before my coming in, a Pink saild' thence freighted with amunition and Provisions for Placentia, so that the supply I procured was only to allow for a bad accident, that possibly might befall the Vessell, either from bad Weather, or unexperience of the Coast, from the same Messanger I was informed that they had no more then two Fishing Ships in that Port, why that Harbour is not so much used by our Fishery, as 'twas by the French, (my Information is) that our Boats are not seizable for that Service, for our Fishing Lodges, not lying above a Mile  or two, from our harbours Mouth, our Boats are built accordingly, but the Ledges of that Port, lying 8 or 10 Leagues off, the French were obliged to build a larger sort call'd shalloways, fitted with a Deck, that can keep the Sea 5 or 6 Days for a loading, and without this provision made by those who design for that side of the Island, the Fishery will turn to small account; and was this Method more in use every where else, I believe they would find their advantage in it; this has been but lately experimented, I think last year was the first of it, that the sending these small Shalloways, Sloops, and other kind of vessells to the Banks for Fish, and when loading is caught to come in and cure them, has turn'd to near Two hundred per Cont advantage, over the Shore Fishery, for the Codd are so glutted with Bait in with the Shore, that thoh you shall see the Ground covered with them, yet they'l hardly touch the bait: 'tis certain that the Shore Fishery has prodigiously faild', for boats that used to take two hundred and fifty or Three hundred Quintall per Boat, now shall think they have made a good Voyage for a hundred and fifty Quintall per Boat; whether this is occasion'd from the want [380v] of Industry, or want of some good method that would better engage the Servants bains, I can't tell; but however it may be, I can't but recommend the New England custom: the Fishery of New England has been carry'd on with very great success by paying their Servants according to the Number of Fish that is taken, that is, by giving them a certain Share, such as every sixth, every Eighth, every Tenth, according to the Value of the Servant, and obliges their diligence to the End of the Season; because Masters and Servants advantage (by this Method) is made One, but where they pay in Mony, and staled Wages, it may engage the Servants diligence till he has got enough to answer his Wages, but he will be under little concern, for what is done afterwards; besides it lays the industrious man and slothful, too much upon a levell, for the one expects his Wages, as well as the other, and shall be cunning enough to guard against a publick exception against his Sloth; The Information of a slender Fishery at Placentia, joyn'd with disorder I found here, (where lay about 30 sail) the Merchant  Ships in this Month especially (upon pretence of Debt) endeavouring who shall be the first in seizing the Planters Fish, and quarrelling amongst themselves who has the best Fish to seize, and the Planters on their side apprehensive of these designs, making their complaints to me; that if a Ship of War should be wanting at this season of the Year (which is the time of gathering in their Debts) there would be but little justice amongst them; this appearance of disorder, joyn'd with the former account of Trade at Placentia, prevailed with me to judge it most necessary for his Majesty's Service, to send only the Gibralter to Placentia, and to remain here myself (where there is by much the greater rendezvous of Trade, besides the several Ports that are imediate dependants upon this) to prevent disorder breaking in upon them to the great prejudice of the Trade and hinderance of each others Fishery, and very likely, Murder would have ensued without somebody to controul them, which this time of the Year has always been subject to, for want of some regular Method of gathering in their Debts, which the Admirals of harbours [381v] are incapable of managing themselves, being party in this affair, and as much to be refrain'd as others: besides there is another great occasion of disorder, which always stores up large Stock of Complaint, to perplex us upon arrival, the neglect of deputing some body to maintain Order in the Winter, or the want of Power rater to depute somebody for their purpose; so that the Winter season is a sort of respit from all observance of Law, or Government, at that time, Theft, Murder, Rapes, or disorders of any kind whatsoever may be comitted, and most of them are comitted, without Controul, and time enough given for the Offender to make off, for should any one concern himself to secure the Party, his design would be withstood, as an usurper Authority, and most would take part with the Offender, to suppress the usurpation, without regard to what became of the Criminal, or what might be the consequence of his crime: and I have been acquainted with some cases of this kind so that there seems to be an absolute necessity, that this particular should be provided for, that people may  always have somebody to apply to for justice, that some body may always be at hand to suppress disorder and riot, and to have a law of full power to comand the assistance of his Majesties Subjects in the execution of a Duty exercised for the publick good. St John's is accounted the Metropolis of this Island, and the discipline that is kept up here, whether bad, or good, will have a great Influence upon all the rest of the harbours, for there is few Ships that Trade to Newfoundland, but either first, or last call in here; Provisions of all kind receive their Value here, as Bread, Beef, Pork, Salt, Molasses, Rum, Wine, Brandy etc, for what is given at St John's for anything, is a neccessary enquiry for other places to govern themselves by, and the same of their owne Manifactures the price of Fish, & Train in first broke here, and the whole Country enquires how the Rates go at St John's; I mention this to make it appear reasonable that if good order could once be established here, it might easily be effected in all other places, and I don't know anything that lends more to confusion, and proves more prejudiciall to the Fishery, then that Irregularity, I have already mentioned, [382v] their ill manner of Securing their Debts, which is so very unwarrantable, and riotous, that one may almost charge it with all the rest. For about the beginning of August the Planters, and By Boat keepers, that have took up credit of the Ships, either of Salt, Bread, Rum and the like, shall be stript of all their Fish, and often before they are cured, to be before hand with other Creditours, and in these Seizures little regard is had to the Quantity, or worth of what is seized, if the man can call himself a Creditour, 'tis sufficient; so that about this season, great part of their time has been misus'd in tricking and watchg each other, in Quarrells and Clubb-law, who shall bare away the Fish; from whence proceeds the following ill Consequences; the Fishery that might be carry'd on to the latter End of September, is by these means broke up in the beginning of August, and so much time lost, very much to the prejudice of many a Ships loading, for the Planters, whose Fish are seized, are imediately deserted by their Servants, because they can expect no  Wages from their Masters, who are made Bankrupt by it, the Servants to by the same means, left without Wages, without subsistance, or any ability to purchase their passage home, are glad to lay hold of the first Service that offers, to New England, or any where, rather than run the Hazard of Starving here in the Winter. From these hardships laid on Planters, & Servants, proceeds the cause of their Complaints, of the Fishery's being seduced away by the New England Ships, but 'tis rather the oppression and exaction, that they go under from the Masters of Ships, and Irish, and New England Factors here, that drive them away; and now I speak of the latter, I can't pass them by, without complaining of the prodigious exaction that these set of people use upon the Planters in the Winter, that to repressent the Planters truely, he is little better than a Slave to the other, who after getting his Two or Three hundred per Cont by them, shall complain of his being a looser since he has used this Country, and that he only stays to gather in his Debts, and then he would gladly quit the Country, and these [383v] Debts is only making up what has been paid already Three or Four hundred per Cont: more, These People are the occasion of all the Riots, and disorders that are comitted in the Winter Season, 'tis these that entice Servants left behind to get into their Debts and then sell them to the Sloops that are bound to New England, that one can't give it a better term than Kidnaping of those poor miserable People, so that what by the compulsion and Tyrany of the one, and exaction of the other, both Servant and Planter are glad to transplant themselves to any place, where Property and moderate dealing is better maintained than here, for certainly 'tis no where less regarded. This has made Servants so scarce, that the Fishery in all it's Branches is senssible of it; first, the Servants from hence makes higher demands of Wages than formerly, a Boat's Master six or seven years agoe would ask no more for the season than 12 or 14 Pounds, and now 'tis a comon demand to ask 20, 25, and sometimes 30 Pounds for the Season, and the same  of other Servants in proportion, as Fore Ships men Midshipmen, Splitters, and Salters etc, which increase in Wages has raised the price of Fish very much, so that looking back Six or Seven Years, it will be found, that 25, 26, 28 Ryalls was a large price for Fish, whereas now 35, 36 are accounted easie Rates, and the present Year will raize it to 38 or 39 Ryalls the Quintall: so that all these ill consequences hang upon the disorderly Seizures of Comandas of Ships in the Summer, in the Summer, and the Exaction of Irish, and New England Factors in the Winter, and once secure them from these grievances, I might venture to affirm, it would give a very profitable turn to the Fishery; and very much of the complaining against New England Ships carrying off their men would cease. 'Tis likewise necessary I acquaint their Lordships, that thoh it is reasonable for them to believe that the Authority, that by Act of Parliamt is given to the Admirals of Harbours, is Sufficient to secure them peace, and quietness, and to prevent any disturbance that may happen to the detriment of the Fishery, yet the experience of any one that has but once known this trade, will affirm, that was it not for the Yearly expectation [384v] of a Ship of War coming among them, the Power of their Admirals would be of little regard, so that one may modestly affirm, they only comence regulation, upon the arrival of any of his Majesty's Ships, and lay it down the moment they are gone, upon which account several go and come with the Trade, which charge I believe they would gladly be freed from, could they be secure of good order in the Winter; besides there are other things that plead the necessity of a civil Magistrate to reside amongst them, the New England Ships, that lye here till our Trade is saild', and then under no restraint, and carry away what men they please, who hide in the Woods and wait that opportunity of being carry'd off, for the preventing of which, I have obliged (and shall continue to do the same, during my stay here) every Master of a New England Vessell to enter into Bond with me, that he carrys no men out of the Country, unless in the case of Death, that then he be allowed to make up his Complement for the Working of his Ship, but otherwise under the penalty of Ten Pounds forfiture to his Majty for every man carry'd off the Island, and the Bond to be of no effect, upon his making  Oath at any Custom house in New England, that he has complyed with the Obligations, of which I give him a Copy. This expedient of securing the Fishery, I have presumed upon, and hope it will be approved by their Lordships for the present, till a better is established; the Ships contribute very little to this ill practice, and should they attempt it, We can in a good degree prevent and discover them, but this Fault is intirely from another Quarter, from Planters, Servts, and By Boat keepers Crews, who when their Masters make a bad Voyage, are left unpaid, and so can't purchase a passage home, and how to make enquiry into it here, is impossible, for Ships may be answerable for their Company, but when they shall carry about 150 or 200 Passengers each Ship, belonging to By Boats, and land them (by agreement between them) in one place, and the Ship frequently design'd to fish in another, 'tis then impossible the Ship can be answerable to carry the same Passengers back again; but were good Order once settled (as I have affirmed before) twould soon ease our thoughts, and trouble, for preventing things of this kind, [385v] for (I can't think but) 'twould so much engage the People to settle, that, 'twould rather draw People from New England, then New England from them: 'tis for want of this (I believe) for I know no other cause it can be so reasonably by charged upon, their Trade here of late has vastly sunk, as it is very obvious from this, and last Year's account of Trade. Last Year there was 70 sack Ships in the Country, and this Year not above 10 or 20 at most, and how much more from the same occasions it may continue to fall, their Lordships can best judge, and prevent; as I have been upon the spot and have made some observations of their ill practices, and the rises of them, 'tis my Duty to offer to their Lordships what I think necessary for preventing them; which makes me presume to recommend to their consideration such an Officer likewise as a Register, for vouching Debts, and Contract, and looking the same, to be a Moderator between the Buyer and the Seller, and a Checque on monopolizers, and extortioners, to be apply'd to, for understanding what engagements any person lyes under, so that the Merchant may know who is, and who  is not worthy of Trust; and poor People then would want opportunity of runing themselves deeper in Debt, then their Labours can discharge, to the ruin of themselves, and Servants, and even to an entire dispair of ever freeing themselves, which has made many a laborious man desperately resolve upon Lazyness, to the Publick detriment as well as his own: Sir, if I have been tedious in my Account, 'tis occasion'd from my good wishes to do so valuable a Branch of the Trade, for tho' Corruption of late (since the New England Factors (or rather Suttlers) have settled amongst them) has pretty much sunk the Value of Trade, and People; were I to enumerate to their Lordships what tricking baseness, and Knavery, these people were guilty off, it would make a large Volumn; yet it may be easyly recover'd by good order & Discipline if soon apply'd, I thought proper to give their Lordships this early Information, that if some expedient is not thought of, by next Season, to prevent what I have here complain'd of, this Trade [386v] will be of very little value by that time; the next Letter I have to Honour of writing to you I shall be oblig= d to be more particular in my Complaints.