Labrador

Labrador is often overlooked when the history of Newfoundland is considered, even though Labrador has a significant native history and was also part of the experience of the Norse, later the Basques, and more recently the British migratory and Newfoundland residential fishermen. The Norse and the Basques are dealt with elsewhere in this essay (under "Discovery and Exploration" and "The Fishery and Fish Trade" respectively). Frederick Rowe devotes a chapter of A History of Newfoundland and Labrador (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1980) to Labrador. Until recently, one of the most useful cultural surveys of Labrador was David Zimmerly, Cain's Land Revisited: Cultural Change in Central Labrador, 1775-1972 (St. John's: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1975). However, Zimmerly's chronology excluded several important early themes of Labrador history. A comprehensive though necessarily brief survey of "Human Settlement in Labrador" appears as the second chapter in The New Labrador Papers of Captain George Cartwright, edited and with an introduction by Marianne P. Stopp (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008). An excellent modern survey of the history of primarily southeastern Labrador from an anthropological perspective is John Kennedy, People of the Bays and Headlands: Anthropological History and the Fate of Communities in the Unknown Labrador (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995). Kennedy's concern with "the long-term developmental history" of Labrador communities begins with the prehistory and early modern history of the region to 1763, then continues through to 1949. Kennedy then concentrates on community development in the post-Confederation period, with particular emphasis on the rural centralization and growing dependence of southeastern Labrador communities. Another approach to revealing the character and nature of the culture that has emerged in Labrador is presented in Lynne D. Fitzhugh, The Labradorians: Voices from the Land of Cain (St. John’s: Breakwater Press, 2000). Fitzhugh has selected stories and recollections of Labradorians past and present which appeared over the years in the magazine Them Days, and then arranged them into historical profiles of the major cultural components of Labrador society. It is an idiosyncratic book, in which the organization around Labrador’s several sub-regions might frustrate the researcher accustomed to more traditional chronological approaches. Students should also be alert to a number of historical accuracies that appear in the introductory pages of each section. Yet those who make the effort will find this a worthwhile exploration into history and character of Labrador culture.

In the final analysis, however, students wishing to learn more about the history of Labrador will still need to search for essays and articles. Until the Conquest, Labrador was part of the French domain in North America, and even though the French invested a considerable amount of capital and effort to establish salmon, cod-fishing, sealing and fur trapping concessions on the coast, very little research has been devoted to those efforts. One recent exception is Les pêches au loup-marin sur la côte du Labrador, depuis la fin du XVIIe siècle jusqu’à la fin du Régime Français, a master’s dissertation by Janick Langlois (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, 2000). Several Dictionary of Canadian Biography essays are also devoted to French concession holders in Labrador. Then, in 1763, Labrador was formally transferred over from French to British control. This is examined in G.O. Rothney, "L'Annexation de la Côte du Labrador à Terre-Neuve en 1763," Revue d'histoire de l'amérique française XVII(1963): 213-243; together with subsequent territorial changes, this transfer is also given graphic treatment in Plate 7.5 of Gary McManus and Clifford Wood, Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador (St. John's: Breakwater, 1991). Curiously, the Dutch were present on the northern Labrador coast during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, drawn there by opportunities to engage not only in the fisheries and in whaling there but also in the fur trade with local native people, notwithstanding the fierce reputation of the Inuit there; see Jan Kupp and Simon Hart, “The Dutch in the Strait of Davis and Labrador During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” Man in the Northeast XI (1976): 1-20

British efforts to extend their fishing industry into the region after 1763, when the region came under British control, are the focus of R.P. Crowhurst, "The Labrador Question and the Society of Merchant Venturers, Bristol, 1763," Canadian Historical Review L: 4 (December 1969): 394-405 and G.O. Rothney, "The Case of Bayne and Brymer: An Incident in the Early History of Labrador," Canadian Historical Review XV(1934): 264-275. Some contemporary descriptions of Labrador during this period are available, including A.M. Lysaght (ed.), Joseph Banks in Newfoundland & Labrador, 1766; His Diary, Manuscripts and Collections (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971) and Sidney Richardson (ed.), "Notes & Documents: Journal of William Richardson who visited Labrador in 1771," Canadian Historical Review XVI(1935): 54-61, but arguably the most detailed and fascinating memoir of all is George Cartwright's A Journal of Transactions and Events During a Residence of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador, 3 vols. (Newark, 1792; facsimile reprint, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1980). That memoir has now been enriched considerably by the publication of The New Labrador Papers of Captain George Cartwright, edited and with an introduction by Marianne P. Stopp (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008); these are papers held by the descendants of George Cartwright and discovered by Ingeborg Marshall in 1979 during the course of her research on the Beothuks. Cartwright's life unfolds in a brief essay by George Story in the DCB, V: 165-167, and in the third chapter of Stopp’s New Labrador Papers. See also Stephen Hay’s historical ethnography of face-to-face master-servant relations in eighteenth-century Labrador, The Creative Misunderstanding of George Cartwright: A Popular Culture in Cartwright’s Labrador, 1770-1786 (MA thesis, Dalhousie University, 2008). 

Cartwright went bankrupt three times in his effort to make a success of his investment in Labrador. The challenges he and others faced were enormous, and the British authorities struggled to work out the most efficacious means of administering the region. Stopp briefly surveys these efforts in the second chapter of her New Labrador Papers, but more detailed accounts are given in a series of articles prepared by William Whiteley: "Governor Hugh Palliser and the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery, 1764-1768," Canadian Historical Review L: 2(June 1969): 141-163; "Newfoundland, Quebec and the Administration of the Coast of Labrador, 1774-1783," Acadiensis VI: 1(Autumn 1976): 92-112; and "Newfoundland, Quebec, and the Labrador Merchants, 1783-1809," The Newfoundland Quarterly LXXIII: 4 (December 1977): 17-26.

One of the concerns of the British authorities was friction between natives and European fishermen. Local Indians had a fairly cooperative relationship with Europeans that extended back into the early French period. Laurier Turgeon maintains that Basques drawn to the New World in the sixteenth century by the cod fishery and whaling were participating in the fur trade with local Amerindians in the St. Lawrence River estuary by the 1580s. Turgeon develops this interpretation in several recent essays: "Vers une chronologie des occupations basques du Saint-Laurent du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle; un retour à l'histoire," Recherches amérindiennes au Québec XXIV: 3 (1994): 3-15; "Français et Basques dans le golfe et l'estuaire du Saint-Laurent au XVIe siècle: de la pêche à la traite," L'Euskarien XIV: 2 (été 1992): 45-58; and "French Fishers, Fur Traders, and Amerindians During the Sixteenth Century: History and Archaeology," William & Mary Quarterly, Third Ser., LV: 4 (October 1998), 585-610; "Pêcheurs basques et indiens des côtes du Saint-Laurent au XVIe siècle," Études canadiennes/Canadian Studies #13(1982): 9-14; and, co-authored with Evelyne Picot-Bermond, "Pêcheurs basques et la traite de la fourrure dans le Saint-Laurent au XVIe siècle," in Bruce Trigger, Toby Morantz, Louise Dechêne (eds.), "Le Castor Fait Tout": Selected Papers of the Fifth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1985 (Montreal: Lake St. Louis Historical Society, 1987), pp. 14-24. See also Selma Barkham, "A Note on the Strait of Belle Isle during the period of Basque contact with Indians and Inuit," Études Inuit Studies IV: 1-2 (1980): 51-58.

In contrast to the pattern of interaction with Amerindians, the contact between the Inuit and Europeans appears to have been characterized largely by friction during both the French and the early British period. Students venturing into the subject of Inuit-European relations should begin with a special issue of Études Inuit Studies, Vol. IV, Nos. 1-2 (1980; the entire issue was devoted to the theme Les Inuit du Québec-Labrador méridional /The Inuit of Southern Québec-Labrador. The issue opens with an introductory overview of human population history of the region, written in both French and English; see Charles A. Martijn and Norman Clermont, “The land God alloted to Caine,” pp. 5-18. The numerous maps depicting the region and its occupation history will be of particular value to students. This is followed by an article that focuses on the archaeological record of Paleo-Eskimo occupation by William W. Fitzhugh, “A review of Paleo-Eskimo culture history in Southern Québec-Labrador and Newfoundland,” pp. 21-32. Initial Inuit-European contact is examined by Richard H. Jordan and Susan A. Kaplan, “An archaeological view of the Inuit / European contact period in Central Labrador,” pp. 35-46; William C. Sturtevant, “The first Inuit depiction by Europeans,” pp. 47-50; and Selma de L. Barkham, “A note on the Strait of Belle Isle during the period of Basque contact with Indians and Inuit,” pp. 51-58. Two articles show how difficult it is to assume, with confidence, that European references to “eskimo” are truly references to Inuit; see José Mailhot, Jean-Paul Simard and Sylvie Vincent, “On est toujours l’Esquimau de quelqu'un” [“One is Always Someone Else’s Eskimo”), pp. 59-76; and Charles A. Martijn, “The ‘Esquimaux’ in the 17th and 18th century cartography of the Gulf of St. Lawrence: A preliminary discussion,” pp. 77-104. In fact, these authors argue convincingly, some of the native people to which the word is attached were almost certainly Mi’kmaq or Innu. Next, this special issue features several articles that look at historical and archaeological evidence for an Inuit presence in southern Labrador and the Gulf region during early modern French and British periods: Charles A. Martijn, “”La présence inuit sur la Côte-Nord du Golfe St-Laurent à l’époque historique,” pp. 105-125; Charles A. Martijn and Norman Clermont, “Les structures de pierres et la mandibule du site EiBk-3, Basse-Côte-Nord, Québec,” 127-134; and François Trudel, “Les relations entre les Français et les Inuit au Labrador méridional, 1660-1760,” pp. 135-146. Three articles examine the characteristics of Inuit culture during this period: see Norman Clermont, “Les Inuit du Labrador méridional avant Cartwright,” pp. 147-166; Louis-Jacques Dorais, “Les Inuit du Labrador méridional: données linguistiques,” pp. 167-174; and Franklin Auger and Norman Clermont, “Les Inuit du Labrador méridional: une brève analyse morphologique,” pp. 175-182. Finally, this special issue of Études Inuit Studies wraps up with three separate commentaries that review the evidence and nature of Inuit occupation of the region: J. Garth Taylor, “The Inuit of southern Québec-Labrador: Reviewing the evidence,” pp. 185-193; Charles A. Martijn, “Inuit of southern Québec-Labrador: A rejoinder to J. Garth Taylor,” pp. 194-198; and Barnett Richling, “Images of the “Heathen” in Northern Labrador,” pp. 233-242. All in all, any student wishing to understand the prehistorical and historical context of Inuit relations with Europeans on the Labrador coast must take care to include this issue of Études Inuit Studies with their research.

Research on the theme has, of course, continued. Susan Kaplan provides an excellent overview of six centuries of European-Inuit relations in “European Goods and Socio-Economic Change in Early Labrador Inuit Society,” in William W. Fitzhugh (ed.), Cultures in Contact: The Impact of European Contacts on Native American Cultural Institutions A.D. 1000-1800 (Washington & London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985), pp. 45-69. See also "Two Worlds of Eighteenth-Century Labrador Inuit" by John C. Kennedy in Hans Rollmann (ed.), Moravian Beginnings in Labrador. Papers from a Symposium held in Makkovik and Hopedale. Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, Occasional Papers No. 2 (St. John’s: Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2010), pp. 23-36, described below. Before he published his essay in Études Inuit Studies, François Trudel had earlier published an English version entitled “The Inuit of Southern Labrador and the Development of French Sedentary Fisheries (1700-1760),” in Richard Preston (ed.), Canadian Ethnology Society: Papers from the 4th Congress, 1977 (Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1978), pp. 99-121. See also Réginald Auger, Labrador Inuit and Europeans in the Strait of Belle Isle: From the Written Sources to the Archaeological Evidence (PhD thesis, University of Calgary, 1989), Auger’s article, "Late-18th and Early-19th-Century Inuit and Europeans in Southern Labrador," Arctic XLVI (1993): 27-34, as well as Jan Kupp and Simon Hart, “The Dutch in the Strait of Davis and Labrador During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” Man in the Northeast XI (1976): 1-20.

The British responded to Inuit friction after 1763 by encouraging  the Unitas Fratrum, more familiarly known as the Moravians, to establish a mission far to the north of the areas frequented by European fishermen, as is explained in William Whiteley, "The Establishment of the Moravian Mission in Labrador and British Policy, 1763-83," Canadian Historical Review XLV: 1 (March 1964): 29-50. The Moravian Brethren had already demonstrated their success at establishing good relations with the Inuit in Greenland, though their first attempt to extend their activities to Labrador in 1752 was unsuccessful; this is the focus of James K. Hiller's essay, "The Moravian Expedition to Labrador, 1752," The Newfoundland Quarterly LXV: 2 (November 1966): 19-22. A more comprehensive view of the early years of the Moravian mission to Labrador is provided by Hiller in his Master’s dissertation, The Foundation and the Early Years of the Moravian Mission in Labrador, 1752-1805 (MA thesis, MUN, 1967) and in two articles drawn from that dissertation, "The Moravians in Labrador, 1771-1805," The Polar Record XV: 99 (1971): 839-854 and "Early Patrons of the Labrador Eskimos: The Moravian Mission in Labrador, 1764-1805," which appeared in Robert Paine (ed.), Patrons and Brokers in the East Arctic (St. John's: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1971), pp. 74-97. Hiller also wrote the essays on Christian Drachart and Jens Haven, two Moravian missionaries, for the DCB, IV: 225 and 333-334.

In 2002 a symposium was held in Makkovik and Hopedale to mark the 250th anniversary of the initial (and unsuccessful) 1752 effort by the Moravians to establish a foothold in Labrador. A number of papers were presented, and subsequently edited by Hans Rollmann published under the title Moravian Beginnings in Labrador. Papers from a Symposium held in Makkovik and Hopedale as Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, Occasional Papers No. 2 (St. John’s: Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2010). The collection begins with a paper titled "Two Worlds of Eighteenth-Century Labrador Inuit" (pp. 23-36) in which John C. Kennedy examines the early European contact with the Labrador Inuit, and in which he maintains that, based on that contact, a distinction must be made between the Inuit of the Labrador coast and those of the far north. The follows a paper by James K. Hiller on Eighteenth-Century Labrador: the European Perspective" (pp. 37-52) which focuses on French and English competition in Labrador and how this shaped subsequent Moravian initiatives. A paper by Hans Rollmann on "Johann Christian Erhardt and the First Moravian Exploration of Labrador in 1752" (pp. 53-68) analyses the first Moravian effort to establish a presence in Labrador and links that effort to earlier Moravian efforts in Greenland. The archaeological analysis of that 1752 attempt is presented by Henry Cary in "Hoffnungsthal: The Archaeology and Architecture of Labrador’s First Moravian Mission, 1752" (pp. 69-86). This is followed by J. Garth Taylor’s paper, "In the Wake of the Hope: Jens Haven’s 1764 Reconnaissance Journey in Northern Newfoundland and Southern Labrador" (pp. 87-103); that voyage was key to the subsequent success of the Moravians in securing the land grants and administrative support that were so essential to their later efforts in Labrador. Hans Rollmann then offers an evaluation of "The Labrador Land Grants of 1769 and 1774" (pp. 104-131), stressing not only the interests of the British in allowing the land grants but also the objectives of the Moravians leadership. Linda Sabathy-Judd offers an assessment of the religious mission of the Moravians in "Winning Souls for Jesus: Moravians in Nain, Labrador, 1771-1781" (pp. 132-142). David A. Schattschneider explores the tensions between missionary ideals and the practical needs of mission in "Moravians Approach the Inuit: Theories and Realities" (pp. 143-151). Finally, Paul Peucker provides readers with a brief but fascinating history of the "Labrador Records at the Unity Archives in Herrnhut, Germany" (pp. 152-161).

Clearly the relationship between the Moravians and the Inuit remains an important focus of scholars today, as it has been for some time. Indeed, the impact of that relationship been the focus of several earlier works. H. Anthony Williamson develops a general approach in "The Moravian Mission and its impact on the Labrador Eskimo," Arctic Anthropology II: 2 (1964): 32-36, while J. Garth Taylor focuses on "Moravian Mission Influence on Labrador Inuit Subsistence: 1776-1830" in D.A. Muise (ed.), Approaches to Native History: Papers of a Conference Held at the National Museum of Man, October 1975 (Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1977), pp. 16-29. In “Hopedale: Inuit Gateway to the South and Moravian Settlement,” Newfoundland & Labrador Studies XXVIII: 2 (Fall 2013): 153-192, Hans Rollmann analyses “the tenuous nature of early Moravian settlement and trade in light of Inuit mobility and competitive European traders in southern Labrador.” Carol Brice-Bennett made Inuit-Moravian interaction the focus of her Master’s dissertation; see Two Opinions: Inuit and Moravian Missionaries in Labrador, 1804-1860 (MA thesis, MUN, 1981). Another dissertation, by David Scheffel, analyses The Demographic Consequences of European Contact With Labrador Inuit, 1800-1919 (MA thesis, MUN, 1981). Our best opportunity to examine the Inuit encounter with the Moravians in particular and Europeans in general is through the life of the Inuit woman Mikak; see the essay by William Whiteley in the DCB (IV: 536-537) and the two-part essay by J. Garth Taylor, "The Two Worlds of Mikak," in The Beaver 314: 3 (Winter 1983): 4-13 and 314: 4 (Spring 1984): 18-25. In "`Very Serious Reflections': Inuit Dreams about Salvation and Loss in Eighteenth-Century Labrador," Ethnohistory XXXVI: 2 (Spring 1989): 148-169, Barnett Richling uses missionary accounts of Inuit dreams to interpret Inuit responses to their circumstances in the late eighteenth century and to missionaries efforts to convert them to Christianity.

Moravian involvement in trade with the Inuit, and the effects of that trade on Inuit culture, has generated considerable literature. The fur trade is the focus of Barnett Richling, "Not By Seals Alone: the Moravians in the fur trade – souls and skins," The Beaver LXVIII: 1 (February/ March 1988): 29-35. In another essay, Richling shows how Moravian involvement in the fur trade caused their relationship with the Hudson's Bay Company to one of competition, not of cooperation as was usually the case elsewhere between the Company and missionaries; see Richling's "Without Compromise: Hudson's Bay Company and Moravian Mission Trade Rivalry in Nineteenth Century Labrador," in Bruce Trigger, Toby Morantz, Louise Dechêne (eds.), "Le Castor Fait Tout": Selected Papers of the Fifth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1985 (Montreal: Lake St. Louis Historical Society, 1987), pp. 456-84. Carol Brice-Bennett examines not only the ethical dilemma faced by the Moravians because of the way they combined evangelism and trade but also the way in which Moravian merchant credit greatly contributed to the erosion of the Inuit way of life; see "Missionaries as Traders: Moravians and the Inuit, 1771-1860," in Rosemary E. Ommer (ed.), Merchant Credit and Labour Strategies in Historical Perspective, pp. 223-246. See also Hans Rollmann’s article, "‘So fond of the pleasure to shoot’: The Sale of Firearms to Inuit on Labrador’s North Coast in the Late Eighteenth Century," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies XXVI: 1 (Spring 2011): 5-24.

Significant European settlement in Labrador did not develop until the early nineteenth century, about a century after the resident population in Newfoundland began to show sustained growth. Yet the two experiences are quite similar, both in terms of the limiting factors and in terms of the role of merchants. The settlement history of Labrador is therefore of interest both in its own right and as the basis for comparisons with Newfoundland. In an important contribution to John Mannion (ed.), The Peopling of Newfoundland: Essays in Historical Geography (St. John's: Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1977), pp. 152-233, Patricia Thornton showed how Labrador settlement grew out of the commercial fisheries there, rather than despite those fisheries; see "The Demographic and Mercantile Bases of Initial Permanent Settlement in the Strait of Belle Isle." Subsequent work by Thornton builds on this pioneering study; see "Newfoundland's Frontier Demographic Experience: The World We Have Not Lost," Newfoundland Studies I: 2 (Fall 1985: 141-162 and "The Transition from the Migratory to the Resident Fishery in the Strait of Belle Isle," Acadiensis XIX: 2 (Spring 1990): 92-120 and also published with commentary and discussion in Rosemary E. Ommer (ed.), Merchant Credit and Labour Strategies in Historical Perspective, pp. 138-166. David Anderson provides a study of Labrador settlement through the examination of one community, from its eighteenth century origins to the twentieth century, in "The development of settlement in southern Labrador with particular reference to Sandwich Bay," Bulletin of Canadian Studies VIII (Spring 1984): 23-49. John C. Kennedy shows how changing gender balances contributed to "The Changing Significance of Labrador Settler Ethnicity," Canadian Ethnic Studies XX: 3 (1988): 42-62, while Nina Jane Goudie has made an important contribution to the legal and administrative history of the Labrador coast in the early nineteenth century with Down North on the Labrador Circuit: The Court of Civil Jurisdiction 1826 to 1833 (St. John’s: Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2005). Sean Cadigan and Jeffrey A. Hutchings suggest that the northward expansion of the Newfoundland cod fishery into Labrador waters was related to problems that developed in the inshore cod fishery of Newfoundland during the nineteenth century; see "Nineteenth-Century Expansion of the Newfoundland Fishery for Atlantic Cod: An Exploration of Underlying Causes," in Poul Holm, Tim D. Smith, David J. Starkey (eds.), The Exploited Seas: New Directions for Marine Environmental History (Research in Maritime History, No. 21; St. John’s, NF: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2002), pp. 31-65.  Finally, Nina Jane Goudie has provided a valuable examination of the development of a system of jurisprudence in Labrador in Down North on the Labrador Circuit: The Court of Civil Jurisdiction 1826 to 1833 (St. John’s: Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2005).

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