Anglo-French Competition for Control of the Fishery
One important theme in Newfoundland history during this period concerns the competition between England and France for access to, and control over, the fishery. This competition coloured British policy towards Newfoundland and has generated a substantial literature. Dated but still useful analyses of the imperial context of eighteenth-century Newfoundland history were provided in two dissertations prepared in the 1930s; see W.L. Morton, Newfoundland in Colonial Policy 1775-1793 (B.Litt. thesis, St. John's College, Oxford, 1935) and Gordon O. Rothney, British Policy in the North American Fisheries, With Special Reference to Foreign Competition 1775-1819 (PhD thesis, University of London, 1939). Another work showing its age, yet still unsurpassed in its narrative account of the Anglo-French competition in the North Atlantic, is Gerald Graham's Empire of the North Atlantic; The Maritime Struggle for North America (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950). Both countries prized the fishery as a strategic asset by virtue of its reputation for transforming landsmen into experienced mariners who might then be available to serve in their respective national navies when needed; in the language of the day, the fishery was a "nursery for seamen." Graham wrote several assessments of the effect this perception had on British policy towards Newfoundland and of the steps taken to ensure its defence. Of these, the most succinct, and still an important starting point, is "Fisheries and Sea Power," Canadian Historical Association Annual Report 1941, pp. 24-31; reprinted in G.A. Rawlyk (ed.), Historical Essays on the Atlantic Provinces (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1967), pp. 7-16. Graham explained that Britain devised a strategy of defending the fishery and trade at Newfoundland by using its sea power in European waters to contain possible threats there; see his "Britain's Defence of Newfoundland," Canadian Historical Review XXIII: 3(September 1942): 260-79 and also "Newfoundland in British Strategy from Cabot to Napoleon," in R.A. MacKay (ed.), Newfoundland: Economic, Diplomatic, and Strategic Studies (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1946; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1979), pp. 245-264.
This emphasis by the British on using the navy to protect the fishery and trade did not preclude providing fixed defences for certain points in the fishery. St. John’s in particular was persistently defended with shore batteries and other works from the early seventeenth century on; see James E. Candow, The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill (St. John’s, NL: Creative Book Publishers, 2011) as well as William Gilbert, "‘ye strength of ye place’: Defence Works in St. John’s Narrows, 1638-1780," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies XXV: 2 (Fall 2010): 197-216. Candow's book is particularly worthy of mention for it provides not only a fine military history of St. John’s but also an excellent overview of the way in which Newfoundland’s economic and strategic importance gave both the English and the French reason to engage in naval and military competition there.
Nevertheless, shore installations and fortifications aside, British protection of the fishery and the fish trade in wartime was more typically provided by escorted convoys and station ships in Newfoundland waters as well as in the approaches to the major markets in Europe; this approach is discussed in Sari Hornstein, The Restoration Navy and English Foreign Trade 1674-1688 (Brookfield, VT: Scolar Press, 1991) and Patrick Crowhurst, The Defence of British Trade, 1689-1815 (Folkestone, England: Dawson & Sons, 1977). A recent Masters dissertation by William Miles includes a chapter which analyses the role of the Royal Navy in defending trade and exercising its defensive role while on station in Newfoundland in 1711, during the War of the Spanish Succession; see William R. Miles, The Royal Navy and Northeastern North America, 1689-1713 (MA thesis, St. Mary's University, 2000), Chapter 5, “The Newfoundland Convoy, 1711.” That chapter has been revised and published in The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du nord XVIII: 2 (April 2008), pp. 61-83. Miles later focuses in his doctoral dissertation on the delicate balance that naval commanders had to maintain between execution of instructions, expectations of local communities, and personal careers; see “Abroad on Foreign Service": The Royal Navy, New England and the Atlantic World 1685-1720 (Ph.D. dissertation, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2014). While only the third chapter specifically examines Newfoundland (“The Professionalization of the Sea Officer Corps: The Newfoundland Experience, 1660-1715”), nevertheless it provides readers with one of the few opportunities to explore how naval commanders carried out their instructions during this early period.
Apart from these more general studies, and with very few exceptions (Ternay’s raid in 1762 being one; see below), there has been little scholarly attention given to specific naval war-time operations in Newfoundland waters in defence of British interests or in offensive actions against Britain’s enemies. What little discussion is given, tends either to be incidental, as in the case of Francis Wheler’s operations in 1693 – see Olaf Janzen, "New Light on the Origins of Fort William at St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1693-1696," The Newfoundland Quarterly LXXXIII: 2 (Fall 1987): 24-31, or K.A.J. McLay, "Sir Francis Wheler’s Caribbean and North American Expedition, 1693: A Case Study in Combined Operational Command during the Reign of William III," War in History XIV: 4 (November 2007): 383-407. Or it tends to be matter-of-fact, as in accounts of Capt. John Leake’s service in Newfoundland in 1702, which included operations against the French – see Stephen Martin-Leake, The Life of Sir John Leake, Knt., Admiral of the Fleet, etc. (London, 1750), subsequently edited by Geoffrey Callender as The Life of Sir John Leake, Rear-Admiral of Great Britain (2 vols.; London: The Navy Records Society, 1920). Some of the naval operations which were carried out in Newfoundland waters were not even initiated by the senior officers serving there. More than once, operational decisions were made in Halifax. Consider for example the events in the southwestern corner of Newfoundland on the eve of the Seven Years’ War, described in Olaf U. Janzen, “Un Petit Dérangement: The Eviction of French Fishermen from Newfoundland in 1755,” in Olaf U. Janzen, War and Trade in Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland (“Research in Maritime History,” No. 52; St. John’s, NL: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2013), pp. 119-128. Or consider the British operation to seize the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, described in J. Mackay Hitsman, “The Capture of St. Pierre-et-Miquelon, 1793,” Canadian Army Journal XIII: 3 (July 1959): 77-81.
Ironically, given the perception of
the fishery as a "nursery for seamen" for the Royal Navy, it has been
suggested that the fishery did not, in fact, ever fulfill that role. Both Gerald Graham in the
aforementioned essay “Fisheries and Sea Power” and,
J. Starkey in "The West Country -- Newfoundland Fishery and the Manning of the Royal
Navy," in Robert Higham (ed.), Security and Defence in South-West England Before
1800 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1987), pp. 93-101, have argued that the
fishery provided the navy with relatively few mariners, and that its image as a
"nursery for seamen" was maintained
largely by the merchant community to justify their objections to the introduction to
Newfoundland of government and regulations. On the other hand, Keith Mercer has
challenged this conclusion, pointing out that neither Graham nor Starkey
undertook a serious in-depth analysis of impressment in the North Atlantic, nor
did they really understand the way in which the process worked, particularly in
overseas possessions like Newfoundland; see Keith Mercer, North Atlantic
Press Gangs: Impressment and Naval-Civilian Relations in Nova Scotia and
Newfoundland, 1749-1815 (PhD thesis, Dalhousie University, 2008), or
Mercer’s article, “The Murder of
Lieutenant Lawry: A Case Study of British Naval Impressment in Newfoundland,
1794,” Newfoundland and Labrador Studies XXI: 2 (Fall 2006): 255-289.
Though restrictions on impressment did exist in colonial North America, it is
less clear whether those restrictions applied in Newfoundland, and in any case,
Palliser’s Act (1775) formally sanctioned the use of press gangs there. Mercer’s
analysis shows that hundreds of men were pressed into naval service by the time
of the great cycle of wars from 1793 to 1815. For more on impressment generally
as a means of dealing with the Royal Navy’s manpower shortages and recruitment
needs, see Denver Brunsman, The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in
the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Charlottesville: University of
Virginia Press, 2013) and J. Ross Dancy, The Myth of the Press Gang:
Volunteers, Impressment and the Naval Manpower (Woodbridge, Suffolk and
Rochester, NY: Boydell and Brewer, 2015). One thing is clear; whether impressment did or did not generate manpower for the Royal Navy at any given
probably mattered less than perceptions. Insofar as Newfoundland was concerned, eighteenth-century British policy
(and French policy too) was committed to the belief that the preservation of
national maritime power depended on secure access to the fishery as a “nursery
This, however, raises another question: what was the relationship between the merchant community which invested in the fisheries and government policies of preserving the fisheries as economic and strategic assets? Just how effective was the merchant community in influencing government practices and policies? There has been a regrettable tendency to assert with little question that the British merchants who invested in the Newfoundland fishery and trade were able to influence government relatively easily, in a relatively united fashion, and with reasonable hopes of success. But did they? Recent studies of the relationship between British commercial interests and the institutions and agencies of British government (whether that be Parliament, the Board of Trade, members of cabinet, the Admiralty, etc.) suggests that any such relationship was complex and unpredictable in terms of outcome; see for instance Cordelia Ann Stone, Devon and Parliament in the Early Stuart Period (Vols. I - III) (PhD thesis, Bryn Mawr College, 1986) for a specifically West Country perspective (and note how very infrequently the Newfoundland fishery and trade figured in Devonshire efforts to get the attention of Parliament) or, for a broader perspective in a slightly later period, see Perry Gauci, The Politics of Trade: The Overseas Merchant in State and Society, 1660-1720 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). In "Mr. Nisbet’s Legacy, or the Passing of King William’s Act in 1699," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies XXII: 2 (Fall 2007), 505-543, Alan Cass argues that West Country interests had far less to do in the design and passage of that legislation than is generally believed, that commercial interests in London were key in shaping the statute. In short, it should not be assumed that the efforts of fishing interests to secure protection for their investments in Newfoundland necessarily had the desired effect in peace time, or that wartime measures were constantly and consistently guided by an acceptance of the fisheries strategic significance. Graham and Starkey both cast doubt on this view, and most recently, an essay by J.D. Alsop on "The Age of the Projectors: British Imperial Strategy in the North Atlantic in the War of Spanish Succession," Acadiensis XXI: 1 (Autumn 1991): 30-53 demonstrates that Newfoundland interests, whether commercial or military, could not move government to act in their behalf unless their appeal was carefully tuned to government priorities in Europe.
Similarly, the efforts of fishing interests to shape the state policies of England’s rivals in the fishery at Newfoundland were not always rewarded with success. Spain did attempt to press for its historic rights through diplomacy, but without success; see Vera Lee Brown, "Spanish Claims to a Share in the Newfoundland Fisheries in the Eighteenth Century," Canadian Historical Association Annual Report, 1925, pp. 64-82. And as the War of the Spanish Succession drew to a close, fishing interests urged the French state to preserve a French presence in the Newfoundland fisheries; see, for instance, "Les Basques dans le golphe du Saint-Laurent se racontent" by Nicolas Landry in Acadiensis XXXVII: 2 (Summer/Autumn 2008): 117-129, in which Landry examines the lobbying efforts in 1710 of the merchants of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure.
In the end, France was more effective than Spain in using diplomacy to force the British to share the fisheries. While the French did concede British sovereignty over Newfoundland by the Treaty of Utrecht, and lost possession as well of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, they did manage to secure valuable fishing privileges on what subsequently became known as the "French" or "Treaty Shore." A brief overview of the origins, nature, and significance of the French Shore is provided by Jean-Pierre Martin in "The French Shore: A French Coast in Newfoundland," published by L’Association Fécamp Terre-Neuve in Les Annales du Patrimoine de Fécamp numéro 10 (2003): 62-67. But for more detailed analysis of fishing privileges, conditions, and operations on the French Shore, other works should be consulted. The origins and consequences of those privileges was the focus of an authoritative study by Frederic F. Thompson, The French Shore Problem in Newfoundland; An Imperial Study (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961). The importance of French access to the fisheries continued to shape French diplomatic priorities as the eighteenth century wore on. Jonathan Dull touches upon this in his study of The French Navy and the Seven Years’ War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), a book (one could argue) that is almost more about French diplomacy than it is about the French navy. Helen Dewar also touches upon the importance of the fisheries in her essay "Canada or Guadeloupe? French and British Perceptions of Empire, 1760-1763," Canadian Historical Review XCI: 4 (December 2010): 637-660. Dull and Dewar may provide students with useful contexts before they turn to more detailed studies of French diplomatic manoeuvrings to define their treaty rights as advantageously as possible during the eighteenth century. One such study is Jean-François Brière, "Pêche et politique à Terre-Neuve au XVIIIe siècle: la France véritable gagnante du traité d'Utrecht?," Canadian Historical Review LXIV: 2 (June 1983): 168-187. See also two articles by James K. Hiller: "Utrecht Revisited: The Origins of French Fishing Rights in Newfoundland Waters," Newfoundland Studies VII: 1 (Spring 1991): 23-39; and "The Newfoundland Fisheries Issue in Anglo-French Treaties, 1713-1904," The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History XXIV: 1 (January 1996): 1-23. Hiller also extends his analysis back into the seventeenth century by examining Anglo-French boundary discussions and perceptions between 1687 and the middle of the eighteenth century in "The Labrador Boundary That Never Was," Newfoundland Studies XVII: 2 (Fall 2001): 310-318. He then takes a more sweeping view of the political and diplomatic history of the French in Newfoundland with a paper that carries the subject forward into the late twentieth century and the France-Canada Maritime Boundary dispute; see James K. Hiller, "From 1713 to 3PS: The French Presence in Newfoundland," Newfoundland Quarterly XCVI: 1 (Spring 2003): 40-47. In a pair of virtually identical essays, Hiller provides a convenient summary of the relevant clauses that shaped French fishing privileges in the several Anglo-French treaties between Utrecht (1713) when the privileges were first established and the Anglo-French Entente of 1904, when the French Shore privileges came to an end; see either "The Treaties" at the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador web page on "The French Shore" <http://www.therooms.ca/ic_sites/NFLshore/default.asp#> or "Anglo-French Treaties and the French Shore," L’Association Fécamp Terre-Neuve, Les Annales du Patrimoine de Fécamp numéro 10 (2003): 18-21.
A paper on this subject that should be used with greater caution is "Français et Anglais à Terre-Neuve après le traité de Paris" by Jacques Marcadé, a paper presented at the 22nd Annual Meeting of The French Colonial Historical Society and subsequently published in France in the New World, the conference proceedings edited by David Buisseret (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998), 138-150. Marcadé’s paper offers a rather dated analysis the author seems quite unaware of any of the recent work by Brière or Hiller on the diplomacy of the French Shore, or by Turgeon or Janzen on French inhabitancy and fishing in Western Newfoundland; indeed, his most recent secondary sources on the French Shore are de la Morandière and Thompson. His paper should therefore be avoided at best, or at the very least consulted with great care. Of course, it can also be held up as a good example of how much time is needed before revisionist analysis percolates into the consciousness of the historical community.
The French Shore, 1763-1783
As Brière makes abundantly clear in his CHR article, the French Shore became a diplomatic problem for France and Great Britain largely because, after 1763, friction developed and escalated between French and English fishermen in Bonavista Bay and adjacent parts of the Northeast Coast. Michael and Frances Wilkshire provide a fascinating glimpse of that friction from a French perspective in their essay, "Alliances and Conflicts on the French Shore: Captain Hamon's Journal, Written in Greenspond in 1770," Newfoundland Studies VIII: 2 (Fall 1992): 147-154. Hamon’s journal should be read in conjunction with the much more detailed memoirs of Eustache Le Pelley Fonteny, the Granville fishing captain whose activities took him to the French Shore during the same period; see Monique Le Pelley Fonteny and Gilles Désiré dit Gosset (dirs.), André Zysberg, (Intro.), Mémoires d’un Terre-Neuvas: Eustache Le Pelley Fonteny (1745-1820) (Saint Lô: Archives départementales de la Manche, 2001; Cully, France: OREP Éditions, 2011).
The French at this time also began asserting that Pointe Riche and Cape Ray were identical, and that the west coast of Newfoundland was therefore part of the original French Shore. In short, the geographical limits of the French Shore became a matter of considerable diplomatic debate in the 1760s, a debate that the British were determined not to lose. It was this that prompted the first-ever visit to Newfoundland's west coast by a serving governor in 1764; see Olaf Janzen, "Showing the Flag: Hugh Palliser in Western Newfoundland, 1764," The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord III: 3 (July 1993): 3-14,reprinted in Olaf U. Janzen, War and Trade in Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland (“Research in Maritime History,” No. 52; St. John’s, NL: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2013), pp. 155-171. It was also this that motivated the British authorities into commissioning James Cook's cartographic survey work in Newfoundland during the 1760s, including on the west coast; see William Whiteley's article on "James Cook, Hugh Palliser, and the Newfoundland Fisheries," The Newfoundland Quarterly LXIX: 2 (October 1972): 17-22. Incidentally, the choice of Cook for this massive hydrographic survey was based largely on the impressive quality of work that Cook did in charting St. Johns, Placentia and other places in Newfoundland in 1762, when he served as master of HMS Northumberland, Lord Colvills flagship during the operations taken that year to wrest St. Johns back from the French; see Andrew David, "James Cooks 1762 Survey of St Johns Harbour and Adjacent Parts of Newfoundland," Terrae Incognitae XXX (1998): 63-71. Andrew David has also written on Cooks work in charting the waters of the Northern Peninsula; see his "Further Light on James Cooks Survey of Newfoundland," International Hydrographic Review I: 2 (New series; December 2000): 6-12 and "James Cook’s 1763-4 Survey of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula," The Northern Mariner / Le Marin du nord XIX: 4 (October 2009): 393-403.
In the long term, the outcome of this diplomatic wrangle was that the limits of the French Shore were redefined in 1783. That redefinition was delayed by the American Revolution, and in fact would figure in the diplomatic negotiations which brought that conflict to an end. In "The Comte de Vergennes, The Newfoundland Fisheries, and the Peace Negotiation of 1783: A Reconsideration," Canadian Historical Review XLVI: 1 (March 1965): 32-46, Orville T. Murphy focuses on the particular role of the fisheries in the diplomacy that brought an end to the American Revolutionary war; Murphy's theme is given a wider context in Jonathan Dull, The French Navy and American Independence; A Study of Arms and Diplomacy 1774-1787 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975), while Hiller's articles, already mentioned, provide a more recent and very readable account of this complex issue. “What’s In a Name? A toponymic study of St. Lunaire Bay, Newfoundland,” is a brief but interesting commentary by Richard Neill which appeared in The Newfoundland Quarterly XCVII: 1 (Spring 2004): 43. It draws attention to Guillaume Liberge de Granchain, sent to Newfoundland by the French government in 1784 to re-establish French fishing rights on the French Shore by negotiating with Gov. John Campbell.
One of the principles ensuing from this was the notion of guardinage, designed to accommodate the needs of both French and British fishermen already established on the French Shore.The result was the emergence of a fascinating symbiotic relationship between local residents and the migratory French fishery on the French Shore which contradicts the traditional perception of constant friction during the nineteenth century between locals and French fishermen. See Michael Wilkshire, "Guardians of the French Shore," Newfoundland Quarterly CII: 1 (Summer 2009), 44-51 as well as two essays in Éric Barré (dir.), Troisièmes Journées d’Histoire de la Grande Pêche (Granville, 18-19 Mars 2005) (Saint-Lô: Société d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de La Manche, 2007) by James K. Hiller, "Les habitants du Petit Nord pendant le 19e siècle: quelques observations," pp. 22-28; and Ronald Rompkey, "Sans moyen visible: les gardiens terre-neuviens et la pêche française," pp. 57-62. Rompkey’s essay is also available in English as " Without Visible Means: The Newfoundland Guardiens on the French Shore," L’Association Fécamp Terre-Neuve, Les Annales du Patrimoine de Fécamp numéro 10 (2003), 68-73.
Both Murphy and Dull supersede the interpretation offered by Dallas Irvine, "The Newfoundland Fishery: A French Objective in the War of American Independence," Canadian Historical Review XIII (1932): 268-82, yet Irvine as well as Murphy are useful in reminding us that after 1775, the Americans joined France and England in their determination to preserve their shares of the fisheries. American efforts to secure access to the Newfoundland fisheries following their break with Great Britain were based more on their economic value than any strategic benefits; see A.M. Fraser on "The Treaty Basis of American Fishing Rights, 1783-1888" in R.A. MacKay (ed.), Newfoundland: Economic, Diplomatic, and Strategic Studies (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1946; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1979), pp. 333-358. Yet those benefits were substantial enough, and the "base region" of the American fisheries – i.e., New England – was a significant enough force in the American political system, that the Newfoundland fisheries became a major focus of contention between the United States and Great Britain in the decades that followed the conclusion of the cycle of wars that ended in 1815. One of the very few scholars to pay close attention to the way in which the fisheries featured prominently in British, French, and American diplomacy during this period is Rainer Baehre, who contributed an article on "Diplomacy, International Law, and Foreign Fishing in Newfoundland, 1814-30: Revisiting the 1815 Treaty of Paris and the 1818 Convention" to Essays in the History of Canadian Law, Vol. 10: A Tribute to Peter Oliver, edited by Jim Phillips, R. Roy McMurtry, and John T. Saywell (Toronto: University of Toronto Press for The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2008), pp. 353-387. Most historians who address the issue of French and American fishing rights during the nineteenth century have focussed instead on the period after 1850; this includes Frederic Thompson’s aforementioned The French Shore Problem in Newfoundland, A.M. Fraser’s "The French Shore," in R.A. MacKay, ed., Newfoundland ... Studies, pp. 275-332, and Peter Neary, "The French and American Shore Questions as Factors in Newfoundland History," in James K. Hiller and Peter Neary (eds.), Newfoundland in the Nineteenth & Twentieth Centuries: Essays in Interpretation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), pp. 95-122. A useful introduction which includes attention to the earlier period of that century is provided by Jean-Pierre Martin, "Le French-Shore au début du XIXe siècle," in Éric Barré (dir.), Premières Journées d’Histoire de la Grande Pêche (Granville, 24-25 septembre 1999) (Saint-Lô: Société d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de La Manche, 2003), 100-111. A survey of the nature of Anglo-French tensions over the "French Shore" during the nineteenth century, including the period from 1815 to mid-century, is provided in "The French Shore Dispute" by Olaf U. Janzen in James K. Hiller and Christopher English (eds.), Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, Occasional Papers No. 1: Newfoundland and the Entente Cordiale 1904-2004. Proceedings of a Symposium held in St. John’s and Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, 16-20 September 2004, (St. John’s: Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2007), pp. 44-55.
Defending the Fishery
Neither British strategy nor the tendency for Newfoundland's fate to be decided at the negotiating table precluded hostilities on the island itself, as James E. Candow makes abundantly clear in The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill (St. John’s, NL: Creative Book Publishers, 2011). In both the seventeenth century and the eighteenth, sudden descents on the fisheries at Newfoundland were carried out by hostile forces, sometimes with great destruction. Dutch involvement in the seventeenth-century fish trade gave them both a considerable familiarity with the English fishery and settlements at Newfoundland, and an appreciation of their economic importance to the British state. They therefore twice launched destructive raids on Newfoundland. Admiral de Ruyter’s attack in 1665 is examined briefly but perceptively by Bert den Boggende, in "Raid on St. John’s," The Beaver LXXXIII: 5 (October/November 2003): 22-25. A second raid late in 1673 is examined in Donald G. Shomette and Robert D. Haslach, Raid on America: The Dutch Naval Campaign of 1672-1674 (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988). Not surprisingly, the French also understood the hurt they could inflict on the British by launching raids on their Newfoundland fisheries. In the summer of 1697, for instance, the English fishery was threatened not once but twice by French naval forces – the first time by the remains of a French expedition under the command of Jean-Bernard-Louis Desjean de Pointis which was on its way home from the Caribbean, having captured and looted the Spanish port of Cartagena, and the second time by an expedition under the command of the Marquis de Nesmond. In both instances, neither the British nor the French were strong enough to force the issue; see William Thomas Morgan, "The Expedition of Baron de Pointis against Cartagena," The American Historical Review, XXXVII: 2 (January 1932): 237-254, and J[ohn] J[oseph] Murray, "Anglo-French skirmishing in Newfoundland, 1697," in J.J. Murray (ed.), Essays in Modern European History: Written in memory of the late William Thomas Morgan, (Bloomington: University of Indiana, 1951), 71-84. See also James Pritchard, In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670-1730 (London & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), as well as essays in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography [hereafter cited as DCB] on John Norris (III: 488-489) and Colonel John Gibsone (II: 246). The attack half a century later by a squadron commanded by the Chevalier de Ternay in 1762 has attracted much more attention, as will be explained below in a discussion of that event. An attempt by Admiral de Richery in 1796 to duplicate Ternay’s feat has not generated nearly as much attention (which comes as something of a surprise, since this was the last ever trans-Atlantic campaign by France to North America).
De Nesmond, Ternay, and de Richery, like the Dutch, attacked by sea, but the greatest and most persistent military pressure on the British fisheries before 1713 came overland from the French colony of Plaisance. That colony was protected by fortifications and a garrison; their military history and social and economic impact are discussed in Jean-Pierre Proulx, "The Military History of Placentia: A Study of the French Fortifications" in his Placentia, Newfoundland (“History and Archaeology,” No. 26; Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1979. The British authorities resisted a similar approach, though the possibility of overland attacks on the English settlements by French forces stationed at Plaisance had inspired the citizenry at St. John's to build themselves a fort as early as 1693; see Olaf Janzen, "New Light on the Origins of Fort William at St. John's, Newfoundland, 1693-1696," The Newfoundland Quarterly LXXXIII: 2 (Fall 1987): 24-31. Those fears were well founded; during the winter of 1696-1697, Pierre Lemoyne d'Iberville launched a raid on the so-called "English Shore" which wiped out practically every settlement. This raid is analysed in considerable detail in Alan F. Williams, Father Baudoin's War: D'Iberville's Campaigns in Acadia and Newfoundland 1696, 1697 (St. John's: Department of Geography, 1987), a book which succeeds also in providing an excellent profile of Newfoundland at the end of the seventeenth century. However, no student should venture into a discussion of the events of that war without first considering the caveats about the existing literature presented by James Pritchard in his excellent article "Le Profit et La Gloire: The French Navys Alliance With Private Enterprise in the Defense of Newfoundland, 1691-1697," Newfoundland Studies XV: 2 (Fall 1999): 161-175. Pritchards careful treatment and reappraisal of the entire Nine Years War in Newfoundland (1689-1697) includes significant revisions to the existing historiography. He argues persuasively that the French state relied more heavily on private enterprise in defence of French interests in Newfoundland than on its navy. In the course of developing this argument he also shows that "the history of Placentia in wartime confirms recent assertions that absolutisms characteristics were ... flexible, decentralized, and in a state of continual negotiation with competing interests in order to pursue its interests."
It is an argument that Pritchard also projects into the next war in "Canada and the Defence of Newfoundland During the War of the Spanish Succession 1702-1713," in Yves Tremblay (ed.), Canadian Military History Since the Seventeenth Century; Proceedings of the Canadian Military History Conference, Ottawa, 5-9 May 2000 (Ottawa: Directorate of History and Heritage, National Defence, 2001), pp. 49-57. Here, Pritchard shows that French colonials in New France and Plaisance were generally successful in providing for their own defence and even in carrying the war against the English during that war, particularly in Newfoundland. Nevertheless, when the war ended, Frances strategic and diplomatic priorities in Europe ensured that any success in North America was negotiated away. Pritchard’s analysis is usefully supplemented by Nicolas Landry’s article on Plaisance and French privateering during the War of the Spanish Succession; see “Les activités de course dans un port colonial français: Plaisance, Terre-Neuve, durant la guerre de Succession d’Espagne, 1702-1713,” Acadiensis XXXIV: 1 (Autumn 2004): 56-79.
Pritchards article includes discussion of a number of French military and naval initiatives in Newfoundland during that war. Apart from Graham's Empire of the North Atlantic, see also various essays in the DCB on Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville et d'Ardillières (II: 390-401), Daniel d'Auger de Subercase (II: 35-39), Philippe Pastour de Costebelle (II: 509-513) and Joseph de Monbeton de Brouillan, dit Saint-Ovide (III: 454-457). D'Iberville's raid forced the British to fortify and garrison St. John's, ushering in nearly two centuries of military presence there which would contribute immeasurably to the demographic and economic growth of St. John's and its development into an administrative and political capital. This process is described in a very useful survey by James Candow, "The British Army in Newfoundland, 1697-1824," The Newfoundland Quarterly LXXIX: 4 (Spring 1984): 21-8, as well as in an essay on "Military Garrisons" by Olaf Janzen in the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador [hereafter cited as ENL], Vol. III: 540-548.
In recent decades, military history elsewhere has begin to shift away from the emphasis on “battles and leaders” and more on the army as an institution with social and economic dimensions, yet Newfoundland military history has only begun to move in this direction. Moreover, our military past has seemingly attracted more than its share of weak and poorly researched books which attempt to cater to the public appetite for “war” history. Students should be particularly wary of such books which, for all their flaws, are found in far too many public and school libraries. Examples of this are two books by Bernard D. Fardy: Under Two Flags; The French-English Struggle for Newfoundland 1696-1796 (St. John’s: Creative, 1987) and Before Beaumont Hamel: The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1775-1815 (St. John’s, NL: Creative, 1995). Both are full of misinterpretations and factual errors, and should be avoided. Students seeking a reliable account of Newfoundland’s military experience should begin with Col. G.W.L. Nicholson’s military history of Newfoundland, The Fighting Newfoundlander; A History of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (St. John’s: Government of Newfoundland, 1964). It is well-researched, and has recently been reprinted by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2006 as Vol. 209 in its “Carleton Library” series. However, Nicholson only devotes three of his fifteen chapters to the period before World War I. Students should also understand that his book is not strong on social or economic context, with the result that the significance of the military garrisons to Newfoundland society has not been explored. For this, students should turn to James E. Candow’s The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill (St. John’s, NL: Creative Book Publishers, 2011). Yet as its title suggests, the focus of Candow's book is St. John's; for Plaisance before 1714 and Placentia after 1714, students should search out Jean-Pierre Proulx, Placentia, Newfoundland, written for Parks Canada (“History and Archaeology,” No. 26; Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1979). Proulx’s work is in fact two works within one cover. The first part, “The Military History of Placentia: A Study of the French Fortifications,” as the title suggests, is a military survey which focusses primarily on the fortifications installed at Plaisance during the French period. The second part, “Placentia: 1713-1811,” turns its attention to the military history of Placentia during the British period, after the French withdrawal from Newfoundland. Additional insight into the history of the fortifications during the British period is provided by Thomas Cromwell's dissertation, The New Fort: An Examination of the Design and Construction of an 18th-Century Fort (MA thesis, MUN Archaeology, 2011).
Proulx’s work is usefully supplemented by Caroline Ménard, who has analysed an anonymous and undated document found in the French archives that describes Plaisance at the end of the seventeenth century and includes a discussion of military affairs in the French colony as well as the French assault by Pierre Lemoyne d’Iberville on the English Shore in the winter of 1696-97; see "Documents: Un mémoire écrit par Bacqueville de la Potherie?," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies XXI: 2 (Fall 2006), 319-341. The document provides insight not only into the state of Plaisance in the 1690s but also into the hardships experienced by its military establishment at the time.
Clearly the earlier emphasis on military and naval campaigns is beginning to change. Glimpses of military service in Newfoundland occur sporadically in references found throughout J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715-1795 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981). A recent essay by Peter Way in The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, LVII: 4 (October 2000): 761-792 includes material relating to the soldiers garrisoned in Newfoundland. Way’s essay, "Rebellion of the Regulars: Working Soldiers and the Mutiny of 1763-1764," examines the series of protests by soldiers from Newfoundland to Florida to new stoppages assessed on their pay for their provisions. Way provides insight into the social and economic conditions of the soldiers as he develops the provocative argument that "regular soldiers came from laboring classes ... and that their experiences as workers ... informed their response to the changed economic relations imposed on them by the army" once the Seven Years’ War ended. Andrew Rolfson includes discussion of the conditions in which soldiers served, worked, deserted, and survived in eighteenth-century Newfoundland throughout his study of Land Tenure, Landowners, and Servitude on the Early-Eighteenth Century English Shore (M.A. research paper, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2004).
The study of civil-military (including naval) relations in early modern Newfoundland has also begun to attract scholarly attention. A useful starting point for civil-military relations at St. John’s and Placentia during the early years of the garrison is provided in Glanville Davies, "Military Leadership at Newfoundland Before 1729," Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research LIX (Winter 1981): 194-200. Davies' interpretation should be supplemented – and in some instances balanced – by the several insightful essays in the DCB on the early military officers and commanders at St. John's, see Sir John Gibsone (II: 246), Thomas Handasyde (II: 274), Michael Richards (II: 564-565), Thomas Lloyd (II: 438-439), and John Moody (II: 486-487); at Placentia, see again John Moody (II: 486-487) and Samuel Gledhill (II: 249-251). Paul O'Neill's chapter, "A Military Animal" in his The Story of St. John's, Newfoundland. Vol. I: The Oldest City (Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic, 1975), is an episodic chronicle at best. A recent exception to the traditional emphasis on military affairs is an article by Andrew Rolfson on "Lieutenant William Lilburn, Commander of the Independent Regiment of Foot at St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1698-1700," Newfoundland Quarterly XCVII: 1 (Spring 2004): 34-39. Lilburn (or Lilburne) became caught up in (and arguably victimized by) garrison politics as well as legal entanglements when he declined a duel with a prominent member of the local community. Rolfson explores "how custom and law controlled [military] behaviour, and the ways in which those who crossed paths in the town perceived themselves and each other." (p. 38). Rolfson also includes some discussion of the social and cultural significance of the garrison soldiers in his Land Tenure, Landowners, and Servitude on the Early-Eighteenth Century English Shore (M.A. research paper, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2004). And of course, essential reading lists on the subject should not fail to include James E. Candow, The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill (St. John’s, NL: Creative Book Publishers, 2011).
Interest in the significance of the navy to the social and cultural history of Newfoundland has also begun to grow. Noteworthy in this process has been the work of Jerry Bannister, whose focus has been on the role played by naval officers in the administrative and legal history of Newfoundland; discussion of his contribution is provided elsewhere in this essay, within the larger context of the administrative history of Newfoundland. Keith Mercer explores civil-naval relations in "The Murder of Lieutenant Lawry: A Case Study of British Naval Impressment in Newfoundland, 1794," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies XXI: 2 (Fall 2006): 255-289. Not only does Mercer analyse the significance of the navy’s presence in St. John’s to social, cultural and legal affairs in that town, he also provides an important corrective to the view that naval recruiting generally, and impressment in particular, was neither illegal nor unusual.
The Raid of 1762
Nevertheless, the attention given by historians to the military history of eighteenth-century Newfoundland continues to be biased in favour of specific campaigns or by particular military or strategic problems. The French descent on the fisheries in 1762 under the command of Charles-Henri-Louis d’Arsac, Chevalier de Ternay – see DCB (IV: 30-32) – has received particular treatment. In his study of England in the Seven Years’ War: A Study in Combined Strategy (2 vols.; London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1918), Sir Julian Corbett describes it as “an idle raid” albeit one that was “very brilliantly conducted,” for it “successfully diverted a force more than double its own” (II: 323). Others share Corbett’s view that the attack was planned as a hit-and-run raid; see Maurice Linÿer de la Barbée’s biography of Le chevalier de Ternay; vie de Charles Henry Louis d’Arsac de Ternay, chef d’escadre des armées navales, 1723-1780 (2 vols.; Grenoble, Éditions des 4 Seigneurs, 1972), Olaf Janzen, “The French Raid Upon the Newfoundland Fishery in 1762 – A Study in the Nature and Limits of Eighteenth-Century Sea Power,” in William B. Cogar (gen. ed.), Naval History; the Seventh Symposium of the U.S. Naval Academy (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 1988), pp. 35-54, reprinted in Olaf U. Janzen, War and Trade in Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland (“Research in Maritime History,” No. 52; St. John’s, NL: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2013), pp. 129-153, and, most recently, by André de Visme in Terre-Neuve 1762: Dernier combat aux portes de la Nouvelle-France (Les Editions André de Visme, 2005). Others – from D.W. Prowse in A History of Newfoundland from the English Colonial and Foreign Records (2nd ed.; London: Macmillan, 1896) to Gordon O. Rothney in The History of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1754-1783 (MA thesis, University of London, 1934) to Gerald Graham, Empire of the North Atlantic; The Maritime Struggle for North America (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950) to David Webber in “The Recapture of St. John's, 1762,” Newfoundland Quarterly LXI: 3 (Fall 1962), pp. 15-26 to Glanville Davies in England and Newfoundland: Policy and Trade, 1660-1783 (PhD dissertation, University of Southampton, 1980) – argue that the 1762 attack was an attempt by the French to secure a substantial bargaining chip to pressure Great Britain into ending a war that had gone disastrously for the French. Even the most recent treatment of the event defines the operation as an “invasion”; see Mark Osborne Humphries, “‘A Calamity From Which No Relief Can be Expected’: Empire, Authority, and Civilian Responses to the French Occupation of Newfoundland, June-September 1762,” Acadiensis XLIII: 1 (Winter-Spring 2014): 35-64. In a recent self-published work, R.G. Dingwall hedges his bets and refers to it as both a raid and an invasion; see The Last Campaign: the Battle for St. John's, Newfoundland and Control of the Grand Banks Fisheries, 1762 (Calgary, AB: Dingwall Resources Ltd, 2011). In short, the 1762 capture of St. John’s a fascinating episode which students can investigate and use the available evidence to arrive at their own conclusions.
The actual events of 1762 have attracted sufficient attention that the details are readily available. An article by Maj. Evan Fyers on "The Loss and Recapture of St. John's, Newfoundland in 1762," Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research XI (1932): 179-215 is an excellent narrative, though it offers little strategic analysis. Georges Cerbelaud Salagnac wrote the DCB essay on Ternay and he is also the author of "La reprise de Terre-Neuve par les Français en 1762," Revue française d'histoire d'outre-mer LXIII (1976): 211-221. This is an extremely thorough article, as are the articles by Janzen and by Humphries, and the book by de Visme. The capture of St. John’s was quickly followed by French military operations against the fishing settlements of Conception and Trinity Bay. Gordon Handcock, who has made the eighteenth-century history of Trinity his particular area of expertise, provides a fine study of the French military occupation of that town in “Trinity Invaded: The Historical Significance of the French Occupation, July-August 1762.” This is an unpublished paper originally presented to the Trinity Historical Society in 1996 but students with access to the Memorial University library in St. John’s will find a copy in the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. Dingwall’s aforementioned little book Dingwall’s little book is not a scholarly treatment (the author relied heavily on Wikipedia and various on-line resources), and his understanding of the context is limited (note the suggestion in the title that the purpose of the raid was to secure control of the “Grand Banks Fisheries,” which is quite incorrect). On the plus side, the fold-out map which Dingwall provides with his book is one of the best I’ve seen in describing the events leading to the British recapture of St. John’s in September 1762.
That recapture owes much to the energy
and resourcefulness of
Amherst (see DCB, IV: 20-26), who quickly put a military force
together which he sent to Newfoundland under the command of his younger brother,
William. But there is also little doubt that the British success also owed a
great deal to the effective exercise of sea power, a point made by Corbett,
Janzen, and Graham. A fine essay by W.A.B. Douglas on
Lord Colvill, the man who commanded the naval force which carried the
British military expedition to Newfoundland, is available in the DCB,
III: 131-133. Another useful entry, in DCB, V: 380-382, by William
Whiteley examines the actions of
the governor and commander-in-chief at Newfoundland in 1762.
The events of that year are also well covered by documents that are available in print form and on-line. A collection of original documents that reflect the British side of the campaign was collected and self-published in 1928 by John Clarence Webster under the title The Re-capture of St. John's in 1762 as Described in the Journal of Lieut.-Colonel William Amherst, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force (self-published, 1928); this is now available on-line at http://ngb.chebucto.org/Articles/amherst-1762.shtml. Another out-of-print collection of documents, edited by C.H. Little, provides the account of those same events by the ranking naval officer; see C.H. Little (ed.,) The Recapture of Saint John's, Newfoundland; Despatches of Rear-Admiral, Lord Colville 1761-1762. It too is now available on-line at http://ngb.chebucto.org/Articles/colville-1762.shtml. The memoirs of Captain David Perry (1741-1826), a colonial soldier who served in the campaign to re-take St. John’s, are also available on-line at: <http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~dagjones/captdavidperry/index.html>; see in particular Chapter 5 (warning: the website can be slow to load).
One of the warships in the French squadron was La Licorne. A
useful article on the French frigate is Harold M. Hahn's "La Licorne: 32-Gun
French Frigate", Nautical Research Journal XXXVII: 1 (March 1992): 26-43.
The article is primarily about the author's efforts to draught plans for a model of La
Licorne, with the result that little is said about the events of 1762. But for those
who would like to know more about the appearance, structure, and nature of one of the
warships involved in the 1762 episode, this article can be helpful.
Cartography, Hydrography, and James Cook
The events of 1762 provide researchers with a classic “window into the past,” by which is meant the idea that the event generated an abundance of documentation which can be used to gain insight into the social and cultural nature of Newfoundland at the time. The article by Mark Humphries mentioned above, for example, looks at the ways in which the disruptions caused by the French attack to the social and economic relationships of the residents of Newfoundland are revealed with outstanding clarity, and provide us with a better understanding of the social, class, and cultural diversities of Newfoundland at the time. Another serendipitous result of the events of that summer was that the French made detailed charts of Trinity during their brief occupation, thereby adding substantially to our knowledge of what was already one of the best documented communities in eighteenth century Newfoundland. W. Gordon Handcock describes both the raid and the charts in "State-of-the-Art French Cartography in Eighteenth Century Newfoundland: The Work of Marc Antoine Sicre de Cinq-Mars," Newfoundland Studies IV: 2 (Fall 1988): 145-162. The French were ahead of the British in supporting cartographic exploration of the waters in and around Newfoundland, as Edward Tompkins shows in his article "French mapping of Newfoundland," ACML Bulletin No. 64 (September 1987), pp. 10-12, though James Pritchard reveals that French efforts were not without their own set of difficulties; see his article, "The Problem of North America in French Nautical Science During the 17th and 18th Centuries," in Martine Acerra, José Merino, Jean Meyer (eds.), Les Marines de Guerre Européennes XVII-XVIIIe siècles (Paris: Presses de lUniversité de Paris-Sorbonne, 1985), pp. 331-344. Nicolas Landry also touches upon eighteenth-century French hydrography and navigational science in his essay “Les dangers de la navigation et de la pêche dans l’Atlantique Français au 18e siècle,” The Northern Mariner / Le Marin du nord XXV: 1 & 2 (January-April): 43-64. Nevertheless, as British sovereignty over Newfoundland was extended after 1713, the British also made an effort to learn more about those parts of the island hitherto unknown to them; see Olaf U. Janzen, "Of consequence to the Service: The Rationale Behind Cartographic Surveys in Early Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland," The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du nord XI: 1 (January 2001): 1-10, reprinted in Olaf U. Janzen, War and Trade in Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland (“Research in Maritime History,” No. 52; St. John’s, NL: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2013), pp. 17-29.
Of course it is James Cook who is invariably associated with cartographic surveys of eighteenth-century Newfoundland, and with good reason, as we shall see in a moment. Students of Newfoundland history who are interested in Cook’s work here between 1762 and 1767 should probably begin with some good biographies. This may be easier said than done. For one thing, biographies of Cook are difficult to write because the man left behind very few private journals or letters that provide clues as to his personality and character. One of the best to explore the "inner Cook" is Dan O’Sullivan’s In Search of Captain Cook: Exploring the Man through His Own Words (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008). The most thorough biography continues to be the exceptional study by J.C. Beaglehole, The Life of Captain James Cook (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974). More accessible, and still a fine essay, is Glyndwr Williams’ contribution on Cook in the DCB, IV. One problem with biographies of the great cartographer is that they tend to focus on his Pacific voyages; North America generally and Newfoundland in particular too often receive cursory treatment. See for example Vanessa Collingridge, Captain Cook: A Legacy Under Fire (Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press of The Globe Pequot Press, 2002). Fortunately, this has begun to change in recent years, as scholars begin to recognize that Cook’s Pacific career might well not have been possible without the North American prelude. New Zealand native John Robson has played a key role in giving proper recognition to Cook’s North American experience; see his Captain Cook's War & Peace: The Royal Navy Years 1755-1768 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press; Barnsley, South Yorks.: Seaforth Publishing; Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2009), and as a ready reference, Robson’s The Captain Cook Encyclopaedia (London: Chatham and Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2004) cannot be beat. A new biography of Cook by Frank McLynn offers a finely nuanced treatment of Cook’s critical Newfoundland career. McLynn correctly concludes that the years spent in Newfoundland meant that, "Even without the Pacific, Cook would have been a great historical figure"; see Frank McLynn, Captain Cook: Master of the Seas (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2011). Another useful survey (though one that relies on a limited range of fairly traditional sources) which focuses on Cook’s early career in North America and includes a full chapter on his work in Newfoundland is To Go Upon Discovery: James Cook and Canada, from 1758 to 1779 by Victor Suthren, (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2000). In a similar vein, James Lockett examines Cook's North American experience as a crucial one in his development as a skilled cartographer; see Captain James Cook in Atlantic Canada: The Adventurer and Map Maker's Formative Years (Halifax: Formac, 2010). Both Suthren and Lockett give full recognition to the role that army surveyor Samuel Holland played as Cook’s mentor as a chart-maker, and students wishing to understand Cook’s development and emergence as a skilled cartographer in Newfoundland really need to consult Fred Thorpe’s biographical essay on Holland in the DCB, V, and then Stephen J. Hornsby’s Surveyors of Empire: Samuel Holland, J.F.W. Des Barres, and the Making of The Atlantic Neptune (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2011). This last is more than a comprehensive examination of Cook’s contemporaries in the development of a cartography of British Atlantic North America just after the middle of the eighteenth century; it also places the need for that cartography firmly within the context of North Atlantic imperial rivalries and policies.
However, for really detailed examinations of Cook’s work in Newfoundland, students must turn to more specialized literature. The hydrographic work that he undertook between 1763 and 1767 affirmed British sovereignty over areas of Newfoundland where British control was tenuous or relatively new. This work is examined in William Whiteley’s previously mentioned article in Newfoundland Quarterly, as well as in James Cook in Newfoundland 1762-1767 (St. John’s: Newfoundland Historical Society, 1975). Yet it was his work with the British relief expedition to St. John’s in 1762 which was of such outstanding quality that he was immediately commissioned to chart the south, north, and west coasts of the island; see Andrew David, "James Cook’s 1762 Survey of St John’s Harbour and Adjacent Parts of Newfoundland," Terrae Incognitae XXX (1998): 63-71. Andrew David also examines Cook’s work at the tip of the Northern Peninsula in "Further Light on James Cook’s Survey of Newfoundland," International Hydrographic Review I: 2, New series (December 2000): 6-12 and "James Cook’s 1763-4 Survey of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula," The Northern Mariner / Le Marin du nord XIX: 4 (October 2009): 393-403.
The American and French Revolutionary Eras
The next great cycle of wars to affect Newfoundland began just a few years after Cook's final departure from the island with the War of American Independence. The defence of the fisheries during that war would be profoundly influenced by the capture of St. John’s by the French in the previous war. Throughout the 1760s, the British government put considerable effort into reevaluating the defensive needs of Newfoundland and its fisheries, with the result that construction of a major new complex of fixed defences had begun by the time the American war began; these efforts, under the directions of Hugh Debbieg and his successor, Robert Pringle, both of the Royal Engineers, are given considerable attention in Olaf Janzen’s doctoral dissertation, Newfoundland and British Maritime Strategy During the American Revolution (PhD thesis, Queen's University, 1983). Pringle, but not (alas!) Debbieg is featured with an essay in the DCB (IV: 647-648). Much of what we knew about the fortifications established during this time, as well as in the decades to come, also emerged out of the considerable work done by Parks Canada on the military structures associated with Signal Hill. James Candow, who was involved in that research, has recently published a fine summary of the military history of Signal Hill in James E. Candow, The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill (St. John’s, NL: Creative Book Publishers, 2011). Many of the fishing centres outside of St. John’s also acquired some measure of fixed defences, a clear indication that the British authorities were increasingly aware that the well-being of the fisheries at Newfoundland was dependent on the safety and security of the resident population.
Nevertheless, the Royal Navy continued to provide the fisheries with its primary defence during the wars that closed out the eighteenth century. Out of his aforementioned doctoral dissertation, Newfoundland and British Maritime Strategy During the American Revolution (PhD thesis, Queen's University, 1983), Olaf Janzen has published two articles which address the role played by the Royal Navy in the defence of the Newfoundland fisheries during the American war; see "The Royal Navy and the Defence of Newfoundland During the American Revolution," Acadiensis XIV: 1 (Autumn 1984): 28-48; and "The American Threat to the Newfoundland Fisheries, 1776-1777," The American Neptune XLVIII: 3 (Summer 1988): 154-164; both of these papers were subsequently reprinted in Olaf U. Janzen, War and Trade in Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland (“Research in Maritime History,” No. 52; St. John’s, NL: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2013), pp. 193-214 and 215-235. In the second of these two papers, Janzen argues that American privateers operating in Newfoundland waters were primarily interested in intercepting trans-Atlantic commercial shipping. Fishing vessels were little more than targets of convenience; plundering them of their men, provisions, rigging, and sails enabled privateers to extend their cruising time and improve their chances of capturing a rich prize. Indeed, as Michael J. Crawford reveals, the greater risk to the Newfoundland and other British trades during the War of American Independence came from American privateers cruising in European waters; see "The Hawke and the Dove, a Cautionary Tale: Neutral Ports and Prizes of War During the American Revolution, The Northern Mariner / le Marin du nord XVIII: 3-4 (July-October 2008): 49-66. An important source for this kind of research is Naval Documents of the American Revolution, first edited by W.B. Clark and W.J. Morgan and most recently by Michael J. Crawford (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1964- ). Twelve volumes of operational documents taken primarily from American and British archives and collections have been published to date, and as each volume's index makes clear, every one of them includes material relevant to military and naval activities relating to the Newfoundland fishery and trade.
During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the British once again felt concern for the security of the fishery. The writings of Gerald Graham, previously mentioned, remain a very useful source for assessment of the strategic situation and of the naval and military measures that ensued, but a more accessible and up-to-date study is James E. Candow’s The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill (St. John’s, NL: Creative Book Publishers, 2011). The military engineer who was serving in Newfoundland when the war with France erupted in 1793 was Thomas Skinner, To improve the defences at St. John's, he did more than maintain the fortifications there, he also raised four companies of volunteers at his own expense. It was a measure very similar to one implemented by Robert Pringle during the previous war, and it is perhaps no wonder, for Skinner served under Pringle when both were stationed in Gibraltar during the 1780s; see essay on Thomas Skinner in DCB (V: 762-763) and on Skinner's son, Robert Pringle Skinner, also in DCB (V: 762). Yet one of the more intriguing initiatives to improve regional security came not from the naval and military authorities in St. John’s but from those stationed in Halifax. This was the seizure of the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, an event described in J. Mackay Hitsman, "The Capture of St. Pierre-et-Miquelon, 1793," Canadian Army Journal XIII: 3 (July 1959): 77-81. Such measures did not completely preclude a French threat to Newfoundland. An expedition under the command of Admiral de Richery appeared in 1796 and though, in the end, they did not attack St. John's, they did cause considerable damage on the off-shore fishing banks, the ports adjacent to St. John’s, the fishery at St. Pierre, and even the Labrador coast. The event provides the backdrop to Ged Martin’s examination of "Newfoundland at the Time of the French Attack of 1796," Newfoundland Quarterly LXXI: 1 (Christmas 1974): 17-20; a thorough treatment of de Richery’s expedition itself – the last ever military effort by France against the Newfoundland fisheries – can be found in the fourth chapter of James Candow’s The Lookout.
Ironically, the greatest threat to British control over Newfoundland during this period came not from enemy action but from its defenders. A mutinous plot developed at St. Johns among sailors of HMS Latona, evidently influenced by the Great Mutiny that occurred within the Royal Navy back in England in 1797. The mutiny threatened to spread to garrison soldiers before it could be nipped in the bud. A. Fisk gives the incident cursory treatment in "Mutiny in Newfoundland, August 1797," Canadian Defence Quarterly XVI: 1 (Summer 1986): 58-62, but for a more through analysis – and notwithstanding the title of the essay – see Martin Hubley and Thomas Malcomson, "‘The People, from Being Tyrannically Treated, Would Rejoice in Being Captured by the Americans’: Mutiny and the Royal Navy During the War of 1812," in Craig Leslie Mantle (ed.), The Apathetic and the Defiant: Case Studies of Canadian Mutiny and Disobedience, 1812 to 1919 (Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2007), pp. 31-83; see especially pp. 36-51.
A more serious mutiny planned by garrison soldiers in 1800 is discussed in most general sources, but has received detailed, academic treatment in only one source. This is an essay by John Mannion which examines how Newfoundlands connections with Ireland served as a vector for the revolutionary sentiment that was at the bottom of the 1800 plot; see "Transatlantic Disaffection: Wexford and Newfoundland, 1798-1800," Journal of the Wexford Historical Society 17 (1998-1999): 30-60. Mannion provides a broader context for this incident in "...Notoriously disaffected to the Government...: British allegations of Irish disloyalty in eighteenth-century Newfoundland," Newfoundland Studies. XVI: 1 (Spring 2000): 1-29. In contrast, Aidan O’Hara provides a narrower focus in his essay on the conspiracy among the Irish serving in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencibles in 1800; see “‘The entire island is United...’: the attempted United Irish rising in Newfoundland, 1800,” History Ireland, VIII: 1 (2000), 18-21. O’Hara’s essay is a convenient albeit derivative account, based on existing secondary literature, which endorses David Webber’s view that much of the blame for the conspiracy rests on the shoulders of the decidedly anti-Irish commandant of the military garrison at the time, General John Skerret; see David A. Webber, Skinner's Fencibles: The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 1795-1802 (St. John’s: Newfoundland Naval & Military Museum, vol. 2, No. 1). See also the essay on Skerret by G.W.L. Nicholson in the DCB, V: 761-762.
Of greater significance than the tactical or strategic problems that they present, the late-eighteenth-century wars had a profound effect on the development of Newfoundland society. Though the wars that broke out in 1793 proved quite disruptive initially, by the closing years of the first decade of the nineteenth century, the state of war had eliminated British rivals in the fish trade and gave British a virtual monopoly in the markets. The result was an unprecedented degree of prosperity in Newfoundland by the time the War of 1812 with the United States broke out, a prosperity reflected in buoyant prices and surging immigration. This is one of the fundamental points made in Shannon Ryan, "Fishery to Colony: A Newfoundland Watershed, 1793-1815," Acadiensis XII: 2 (Spring 1983): 34-52, and reprinted in all three editions of Acadiensis Reader: Volume One, Atlantic Canada Before Confederation (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1985, 1990, 1998), edited by P.A. Buckner, David Frank, and (the third edition) Gail G. Campbell (pp. 130-148, 138-156 and 177-195 respectively). The point is reiterated for a more general audience, and therefore in broader terms, in an essay by Olaf Janzen on "The Napoleonic War" in the fourth volume of the ENL. Indeed, so great was the prosperity of the commercial element in Newfoundland that, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the British Atlantic colonies, Newfoundland merchants saw no reason to invest in the risks of privateering, choosing instead to plough their profits back into the fishery and trade; see Glenn John Keough, Economic Factors and Privateering at Newfoundland During the War of 1812 (MA thesis, University of New Brunswick, 1995).
By the time those wars finally drew to a close in 1815, the fishery had become almost entirely residential, and the return of peace brought a dramatic decline in the migration of English and Irish labourers to Newfoundland. The end of the artificial prosperity of wartime and the return of peacetime competition was as sudden as it was traumatic; see James Flynn, "The effects of the War of 1812 on the Newfoundland economy, with an additional comment on post-war depression," The Newfoundland Quarterly LXXVII (Summer/Fall 1981): 67-72 as well as Ryan's aforementioned article, "Fishery to Colony." The seeming recovery of the fishing economy in the decades that followed would not last; profound structural changes occurred in both the fishing industry and the trade which Newfound land's infant political system was ill-equipped to handle, despite the decision in 1824 to grant Newfoundland colonial status and, eight years later, to grant it representative government.
Return to "Reader's Guide" Home Page
Proceed to "Nineteenth-Century Newfoundland"