French Shore Settlers

The First Settlers On The French Shore

by Rev. Canon J. T. Richards, O.B.E, to The Newfoundland Historical Society

(The Newfoundland Quarterly, Sept. and Dec. 1953)
Newfoundland Quarterly Sep 1953 v. LII no. 3

The march of the peoples of the world westward from the cradle of the human race was irresistible. For a while it was held up by the Atlantic Ocean… Although there are indications that Newfoundland was visited by daring adventurers – Basques and Jerseymen – as early as 1450, its real and undoubted discovery is attributed to John Cabot in 1497. West Country merchantmen found in its waters, alive with fish, a source of great profit, and naturally wished to reserve the Newfound Isle as a fishing post only… The French, too, were strong competitors for ownership… Those rights became recognized to such an extent, that the coast line from Cape Bonavista to Point Rich, was known as the French Shore. Afterwards the limits were changed and the French French shore 2016-HuguesArnaud-wikicommonsShore included all the coast from Cape John to Cape Ray,- nearly half of Newfoundland… There was a tendency, however, to favour the French fishermen to the detriment of the struggling English settlers, and we can safely say that, except for the Red Indians and the few Esquimaux who crossed the Strait of Belle Isle, not a single settler was to be found on that long dreary coast from Cape John to Cape Ray for about two hundred and forty years after Cabot’s discovery…

The First Settlers

NQ se 53 Pg_17The history of a country is the history of its people. So we ask, who were the first English settlers on the French Shore? I am convinced that one named Robert Bartlett was the very first, and that Anchor Point in St. Barbe’s Bay, was the first place permanently settled. Thomas Genge, born at Anchor Point in 1827, died in 1914, gave me the story. As Bartlett was his father’s great-uncle, if we allow only twenty-five years for each of the three generations, we can be safe in assuming that he settled at Anchor Point, St. Barbe’s Bay, not later than 1850. As a matter of fact he placed the date at 1740. Here is Thomas Genge’s story.

Robert Bartlett, on board a fishing schooner on the north side of White Bay, went ashore with a companion to get wood. They rambled a distance from the shore and were captured by a company of Red Indians, who compelled them to carry their loads all day. At night they formed a ring around a camp-fire with Bartlett and his companion in the ring, and fell into a deep sleep. The two prisoners, who were not tied, crept out of the ring and escaped. They travelled as fast as they could until the sun arose, and, hearing the Indians in pursuit, they hid in the thick underwood all day. When night came they went on again. After a few days they came to the salt water in what proved to be St. Barbe’s Bay, and saw the spars of a schooner over the low land to the north west. On travelling out around the shore, they came to an ideal little harbour about one hundred yards deep and twenty yards wide, sheltered from the wind and sea by a long low point extending a half mile to the westward.

Here, snugly moored, was an American fishing vessel, the crew of which were making their fish. In the fall Bartlett’s companion sailed away in this ship, but Bartlett, himself, having obtained provisions from the American vessel, decided to stay all alone. By his companion, he sent a letter to a nephew of his in England… Next year the nephew, Robert Genge, arrived, and there they were, a pair of Englishmen, first settlers on that historic portion of Newfoundland known as the French Shore. How long they lived there alone is unknown, but it must have been several years… Bartlett, and his nephew, hunted along the shore as far west as St. John’s Bay, where Bartlett’s Harbour is named after him…

Abram Genge

Bartlett sent to Yeovil in Somerset for another nephew, Abram Genge. He was young and enterprising and soon saw possibilities of the coast. Gradually English youngsters coming out to Labrador were attracted to the long low strand across the Strait, and employed by Abram Genge, who was now the leader of the little band…

Robert Bartlett, an old man with plenty of means, returned to England where he died. Robert Genge was a great furrier, and stayed on as head man on Anchor Point room, until he died of old age. Bartlett never married, nor did his nephews. In fact there was no woman on the coast for anyone to marry. At this point there appeared on the scene one family, by name, Watts, having two sons and two daughters. The father seems to have been employed by Abram Genge in a section of the coast near Boat Harbour, four miles west of Cape Norman, and gave his name to a river in the vicinity now called Watt’s River. About this time William Buckle with his son William came to Anchor Point, and Abram Genge sent them to St. Margaret’s Bay. The following winter the father died, and the son William went back to Labrador where Slade and Co. asked him if he would go on to Belle Isle to see if there were any furs there…

Buckle had not forgotten St. Margaret’s Bay where his father had died, and went back to Anchor Point to see his old friends and his employer Abram Genge. Here too, he met one of the two beautiful daughters of the Watts family,- the only marriageable girls on the coast, and married her. They were the ancestors of all the Buckles on the coast of Labrador…

Alexander Duncan

About the time that Buckle married one of the Watts sisters, a Scotchman lieutenant on board the British warship patrolling the coast happened to land at Anchor Point, and saw the other sister… Embracing every opportunity of seeing her, he became so enamoured that he resolved upon the dangerous step of deserting his ship and settling on the coast. For many years, Duncan was a hunted man, and when the time came around for the warship to come back, he had to exercise the utmost vigilance to escape…

The marriage of Alexander Duncan and Mary Watts about 1795 or 1800 resulted in the birth of three sons and no less than fourteen children, who grew into beautiful girls. This seems to have been ordered by providence, for by now, more and more English and Scottish youngsters were trickling into the coast, and these girls, half Scotch and half English, became their wives.

William Genge

Abram Genge, now an old man, sent to Yeovil, England, for a brother’s son, and William Genge came and settled at Anchor Point. A sister’s son, Absalom Robbins, also came out. He was a great favourite with the settlers, and was called Rabby. He never married. William Genge met a daughter of William Buckle, whose family came to Buckle’s Point in St. Margaret’s Bay every winter. They were married and became the ancestors of all the Genges in the Strait of Belle Isle. When Bishop Feild made his first episcopal voyage to Labrador in 1848, he visited Anchor Point, and was loud in his praise of Mrs. Genge…

She was the mother of Thomas Genge, who gave me the history of the first settlers on the French Shore. On this visit Bishop Feild consecrated at Anchor Point the first cemetery to be used in northern Newfoundland.

Old Anglican Cemetery, Anchor Point 2017 Braveheart wikicommons
Old Anglican Cemetery, Anchor Point (photo Braveheart 2017 Wikicommons, click to enlarge)
Big William

The first settler in St. John’s Bay was a giant of a Highland Scotchman named William Griffis. He was always called Big William. In the employ of the North West Company, he fell out with another big Scotchman. A challenge was given and nothing could induce those two men of kindred blood, away from home in the wilds of Labrador, to shake hands and forget their quarrel…

It was found that the knockout blow had been fatal, and Big William, really a kind-hearted man, was stricken with grief over what he had done. That night he disappeared, and was never seen in those parts afterwards. He made his way south, crossed the Strait of Belle Isle, and visited Anchor Point. From there he went to the bottom of St. John ‘s Bay and settled at Castor River, where he lived alone for many years…

Big William was succeeded in Castor River by an Englishman, Jesse Humber, two of whose sons, William and Andrew, were living there when I first visited it in 1905. The other son, called after the father, Jesse, went up the coast, and there are descendants of his at Boone Bay today.

William Dredge and George Coombs

William Dredge and George Coombs were the first settlers at Black-duck Cove on the west side of St. Barbe’s Bay. They married two sisters, daughters of Lieutenant Alexander Duncan, who deserted from his ship to marry Mary Watts. He had adopted his mother’s surname “Gould” on his desertion, so that all his descendants were called Gould.

All the Dredges at Black-duck Cove are descendants of William Dredge, and are of a very kindly disposition. George Coombs moved a little further west to St. Manuel’s Bay, where he was joined by a nephew from England, whose descendants were among the first settlers of Shoal Cove West, New Ferolle.

The first settler on Current Island was William Toop, followed shortly after by James Williams and his brother William. Then, John Gibbons, a sturdy Englishman, most sterling and capable qualities. As an illustration of their mettle, the eldest son, John, went to Hamilton, Ontario, about 1900. He could neither read nor write, but secured work as a common hand in the Hamilton Steel Works. In about ten years after entering the mill he had attained the highest post, and became the manager with a secretary to do his writing. He retained this position until his death. (To be continued)

The First Settlers On The French Shore – Part 2

Newfoundland Quarterly Dec. 1953 v. LII no. 4

The first settler on Forrester’s Point was Bill Williams, a desperate character, one of the brothers mentioned above. He married a full-blooded Esquimaux, and many are the stories told of the vicissitudes of this union. On one occasion Bill decided to get rid of his wife Hannah. He took her out in a boat, and was putting her overboard to drown her, when another boat came to the rescue. The occupants of the other boat, before intervening to save Hannah, called out, “What are you doing with your wife, Bill?” “Be gobs, Jack, I’m goin’ to get rid of her, boy. She’s got me druv crazy.” “But who’s goin’ to cook for you, and mend your socks, and wash your clothes?” “Be gobs, Jack, I did not think of that!” said Bill, and forthwith pulled her into the boat again. Both the old Williams had died before I went to the Straits in 1903. Old Hannah still survived, and was regarded by the next generation with a certain amount of awe. Uncanny powers of witchcraft were attributed to her, and the younger folk dared not incur her displeasure…

James Chambers

James Chambers was a splendid type of Scotsman. He married Jane Buckle, daughter of old William Buckle, and settled in Bear Cove, three miles west of Flower’s Cove. In summer he moved out to Seal Island, which was also called French Island, because it had been a favourite resort of the French fishermen. What is now called Flower’s Cove, was first called French Island Harbour…

George Gaulton, first settler in Savage Cove, married one of Duncan’s daughters. White and Coles, English youngsters, each married one of the same sisters, and were the first permanent settlers of Sandy Cove. Thomas Mitchelmore’s first wife was a Duncan. She died young, and he married a daughter of the first settler of French Island Harbour – Whalen – by whom he had five sons. He was the first settler of Green Island Cove. Philip Coates, first settler of Eddy’s Cove East, married Sarah Duncan – Aunt Sally Coates – and had many children and grandchildren. Joseph Woodward, English youngster, married a Whalen, and was the first permanent settler of Boat Harbour, six miles west of Cape Norman.

James Dempster came out from England as clerk on Bird’s room, Labrador. He came of a well-to-do family, and was engaged to an English girl who left him to marry another. He… came to Labrador in a Jersey vessel.., married an Esquimaux widow and had one son named John. He died comparatively young and was buried in Doury’s Cove near Hawke’s Harbour.

John Dempster came across the Strait of Belle Isle, and was the first settler at Flower’s Cove, one mile east of French Island Harbour, which became the port of call for the mail boat. Flower’s Cove now includes both harbours.

Other English settlers were George Caines, first settler at Shoal Cove East; Charles Godfrey, who settled at Bear Cove, and was the maternal grandfather of the merchant brothers Angus, Charles and Isaac Genge; John Pittman, first settler at Seal Cove, and great grandfather of the Pittmans now living at Blue Cove, Darby’s Tickle. Blue Cove was originally called “Blue Guts Cove,” but when Dr. W. W. Blackall first visited it, he advised that “Guts” be omitted from the name, and it has been called “Blue Cove” ever since.

Henry Whalen
Flower’s Cove is pink area in middle (click to enlarge)

After the Englishmen, a few settlers from the south of Newfoundland came along. The first of these was from Brigus, named Henry Whalen in the year 1850. He was the first settler in French Island Harbour – now Flower’s Cove.

Henry Whalen was a brother of the great seal killer, Captain William Whalen, who never missed the seals. Skipper Henry was a great codfish man, but could make no hand of seal fishing. On the sealing voyages he noticed the land on the Newfoundland side of the Strait of Belle Isle, and heard that its waters abounded in cod. So he made up his mind to leave Brigus and take his family in his vessel, and make a new home near the fishing grounds. He persuaded John Carnell of Catalina to follow him in his schooner…

Elizabeth Whalen, a little girl of twelve, accompanied her father and could read. Her father could neither read nor write. Before she died in 1928, at the age of ninety, she related to me as follows:

“…We crossed Pistolet Bay to Cape Norman… until we came to Savage Cove, and I was reading the Pilot Book. So I said to father ‘There is an island off Savage Cove’… After we anchored and went ashore, father said, ‘This seems like a fine harbour. I think we will settle here.’ Shortly after this old George Gaulton came around the harbour where we were. He was the first and only settler in Savage Cove at that time, and lived in the extreme south west corner. Father said to him, ‘I think we will settle down here, Mr. Gaulton.’ The old man got very angry, and said ‘No you won’t settle here. There is no room, no room.’ Savage Cove is a good mile around, and he was not in the real harbour at all. Then father walked to Flower’s Cove, and went on a mile further to French Island Harbour. When he got back, he said, ‘We will go to French Island Harbour.’ Although Mr. Gaulton would not give consent for us to settle in Savage Cove, he was very glad to avail of the services of a mid-wife – Mrs. Noseworthy – who formed one of my party. That night a twin of boys was born to Mrs. Gaulton.”

They were still living when I was there in 1904, and were called Billy and Dickey Gaulton. Neither of them ever married…

Betty Whalen’s narrative continued:

“We left Savage Cove, followed by Carnell, and entered French Island Harbour. We were in first, and father and Richard Percy and my small brother John, landed right where Whalen’s wharf is now. There was a skeleton of a whale there, and they stuck up a rib to mark their place.

“Carnell followed and stuck up another rib where his wharf is now. My mother could not come in the spring as she was about to be confined. During the summer Sarah was born. She was the youngest st barnabas anglican church of our family, and when she grew up married Matthew Coles. In the fall father went back to Brigus for mother and the baby. The Carnells left Flower’s Cove again and went further west. After a few years wandering about, they returned and settled down…” Richards lived in Flower’s Cove from 1904 to 1945. I chose only the parts of his speech that spoke of specific people. He talked at greater length about the geography and economy of the area. The complete article is  in Memorial University’s digital files. In the September 1953 issue, it is pages 17-19, 44 and in December 1953, pages 15-16 and 23. You can read about Canon Richards in a 2013 Labradorian article about Irving Letto’s book Sealskin Boots and a Printing Press (Amazon link below).

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3 thoughts on “French Shore Settlers”

  1. My mother has agreed to submit a DNA sample to McMaster Ancient DNA Centre for future 10,000,00 SNP WGS (Whole Genome Sequencing) which would take in 22 chromosomal or atDNA as well as an X chromosome study and to have the results compared to both ancient DNA reference populations (MAI, Dorset Eskimo or Paleoinuit and even now extinct Beo) and extant NL-Lab NA and Inuit ones…however one of the terms and conditions beyond the confidentiality-nondisclosure agreements, disclaimer or relinquishment of legal rights to recognition in the event that any rare and/or unknown Beo mutant markers may be found, as reiterated in a previous blog commentary thread under Fortune Bay Mi’kmaq, is that if and or when the sample is submitted to a laboratory for testing it can only be studied 7-10 years from now…likewise we are more interested in comparing the Brigus group WGS test results to Labrador Inuit, Lab-Que Innu (Mont-Nask), and not NL Mc or even Beo..,for the latter will not prove anything meaningful because NA ancestry was never a contributing source of ancient ancestral origin for the founding Brigus population….so the sample will have to be extracted and stored in cold or cryogenic storage at a secure medical laboratory holding facility at a later date to be pulled for testing when the time is right…as far as I know based on my personal experience at least after consulting with molecular geneticists on numerous occasions they are NOT interested in studying known descendants of the Brigus-Cupids, CBN extended kin group to determine the source population of origin…for some unknown reason they are ONLY interested in testing NL Mc and no peripheral or fringe groups outside of that recognized core group however convincing the reconstructed family history, genealogy, ethnohistoric evidence, oral tradition accounts and emerging targeted array partial SNP sequencing…as far as I’m concerned descendants of the Brigus “Labrador Indian” group should have already been tested or at least samples extracted for future DNA study…the sad thing is that members from this group are now in their late 60s and early 70s and time may be running out to seize a once in a lifetime opportunity to answer the research question once and for all about the ethnic origin of this group which has troubled researchers in the academic community with debate and discussion for several decades…our family finally deserves some hard science answers to the research questions so we can have closure and peace on the issue so we can put this behind us once and for all….likewise it will finally put to rest any any fear or suspicion among some researchers that members of this group may have been of partial Beo ancestry…I can assure the reader that the Brigus CBN Lab group was NOT part Beo but Inuit or Eskimo (sic)…and I will put a bet on that prediction w/ 99.0 per cent confidence…it’s time to close the book on this dramatic dance once and for all….as a final note as a direct descendant of the Peck Piper’s Hole and Brigus Bowe kin groups I will NOT give a DNA sample for either medical or WGS testing to determine any degree or reference population source of origin for the suspected Fr-Mont ancestor emanating from there…..I will wait 7-10 years before I consent to participating in any DNA testing when WGS is mainstreamed and available to the general public at an affordable rate…but my mother is now ready and we both look forward to her participating in submitting a DNA sample for future WGS testing…there is nothing to say anymore on Bowe family history, reconstructed genealogy or genomics..only wait and see what happens…time will tell…namaste

  2. As a parallel case study the presence of a small splinter group of Lab Inuit in Brigus, CBN (1819) brought down from Lab on a schooner by Capt Bartlett and the survival of descendants through the Bowe patriline of Brigus-Cupids, CBN confirms that some Inuit immigrants or refugees who were granted sanctuary as asylum seekers survived and passed on their DNA to living descendants…atDNA testing through GEDMATCH and DNA Tribes confirms the presence of a low-level Inuit genetic signature…before I deleted the Bowe GEDMATCH atDNA test results I had a chance to review the BGEO percentages one last time…all of the chromosome admixture heritage calculations for every test in the GEDMATCH database for a living Bowe descendant consistently showed NA percentages in the range of app 0.1-0.2, while East Asian, Northeast Asian (Siberian) and Beringian show app 1.0-1.5…the latter being diagnostic signatures of Circumpolar Inuit.. furthermore DNA Tribes shows app 1.2 per cent Northern Amerindian, but the reader must keep in mind that DNA Tribes lumps both subarctic Native Northern American tribes and Greenland Inuit together as proxies for Northern Amerindian…so the lack of any NL Mc matches going back 5-6 Gens through FTDNA Family Finder atDNA combined w/ the aforementioned GEDMATCH and DNA Tribes testing adds overwhelming and undeniable weight to the argument from a genetic genealogy perspective that the BOWE patriline was of Inuit (or probably mixed Montagnais-Inuit) ancestry…so the DNA evidence at hand combined w/ community-family history, physical features of known descendants remembered through living memory and surviving photographs going back 3 Gens, Methodist missionary parish registers, Methodist missionary ethnohisttoric journal reports all categorically point to Lab Inuit…safe to say now w/ absolute confidence that this evidence taken as a whole combined w/ the atDNA test results rules out beyond a reasonable doubt any NA origin or connection for this kin group…the confusion in the academic community and the general lay reading population derived from the lack of DNA evidence at the time, failure to link this extended kin group to any existing NA or Lab Inuit community, apparent soft tissue craniofacial features which cluster or align closer to NA kin groups…but we must keep in mind that early comparative craniofacial and craniometric studies conducted duting the 1950s-but now rendered obsolete or questionable-in the field of applied anthropology such as Birdsell consistently showed that when you mix East Asian (or by analogical extension Inuit or Siberian) w/ Caucasian you get a pseudo or quasi NA facial profile…the NA profile attested in photographs of Fanny Bowe is nothing more than 3rd Gen mixing between an Inuit paternal ancestor and local Anglo-Irish settlers…this evidence combined w/ the fact that Indian was sometimes used interchangeably for Inuit in early published missionary reports and parish registers presented some confusion….it’s now safe to say that this case study can be closed and we can now scratch off NA, whether NL Mc or Beothuk, as a source population for the Brigus-Cupids, CBN extended kin group…the question of a possible Naskapi or even Mont paternal ancestor remains an open question for the Bowe patriline because of the fact that Naskapi frequently intermarried w/ Inuit groups from Northern Lab and Quebec…future DNA testing of Lab Inuit and Mont-Nask will hopefully answer the question once and for all…but the emerging evidence now points to Lab Inuit…time will tell…namaste

  3. A very interesting article Dorothy…I think that the article touches on the level of interaction and intermarriage between early WE Anglo-Irish settlers or livyers working out of Labrador and Inuit women from SE Lab…IMHO I think that the degree of intermarriage between WE males and Inuit women has been underestimated and under appreciated by the preserved historical record…we have oral traditions in our community in TB South of young “Eskimo” girls being kidnapped and taken back to Newfoundland on schooners from Lab….there are reports preserved through oral traditions of 3 young Inuit women who died at a young age who are buried in our local RC cemetery in unmarked graves…they reportedly died from home sickness grieving their families and left behind no children…so the story goes…I would like to see more coverage of Lab Inuit and Innuat interaction and intermarriage in NL because their voice deserves legitimization and validation…and for the simple fact that published literature heretofore fails to illuminate the true extent of their presence here…I also think that coverage of early WE presence on the Old French Treaty Shore is also very important, whether that be Malouin French (Breton), Jerseyman, or Anglo-Irish…keep up the great work…namaste

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