PORT DE GRAVE
The Port de Grave Peninsula has been used by Europeans since the 16th century. Some of the first people to have used this land was the French, who used the beaches to dry their catch as they fished off the waters nearby. They named one of the many harbours they used to dry their fish “Graves”. By the end of the 16th century the area from Carbonear to Brigus (with Port de Grave in the middle) had become a major area in the English fishery.
Taken from the Decks Awash: ISSN 0317-7076 Volume 15, Number 2
March· April 1986
Port de Grave’s name comes from the French “Port de Greve” (harbor of the beach). This name may have resulted from the French custom of drying fish on beachflakes. Legend has it that the local residents, probably members of the Daw family, directed John Guy farther up the bay, although some settlers, including Samuel Butler, certainly accompanied him in 1612.
The original settlers were from Devon and Cornwall, and included the Andrews, Anthony, Coveyduck, Porter, Taylor and Tucker families, who arrived in the mid-1600s. By 1667 there were 57 residents who fished and farmed. The Andrews plantation dates from 1658 and Thomas Butler was another of the earliest settlers mentioned by name. The small island between Ship Cove and Port de Grave is known as Butler’s Island. Thomas Butler had the best farmland on the peninsula and his was the largest of three plantations in 1675, and he reputedly built a castle in the area, although there is no visible evidence of it today. In 1675 he had 20 servants, boats, stages, 50 cattle and 20 sheep. By 1677 there were 53 servants on the local plantations, 10 boats, four stages, 10 fishing rooms, four gardens, 34 cattle, 18 sheep and 38 hogs.
This prosperity reached the ears of the French who viewed Conception Bay as one of the richest areas of Newfoundland. Port de Grave was one of many Conception Bay Communities destroyed by the French under Le Moyne D’Iberville in January 1697. In his 1697 Journal Abbe Jean Baudoin recorded 20 boats, 14 rooms and 10,000 quintals of fish. Many families left their inshore boats in Newfoundland for the winter. These bye-boat
keepers were first mentioned in 1698, when there were seven families. Port de Grave also was visited by migratory fishermen with three ships in 1675, seven in 1698 and
four in 1701.
Most residents out waited the French on Carbonear Island or elsewhere in Conception Bay and returned to their homes in the fall of 1697. The community’s highest population was in 1698 when it stood at 701 and among its most prominent families were the 21 Dawe families, 11 Warlords, 10 Butlers and 7 Mugfords. A James Campbell also claimed two plantations in Port de Grave in 1705.
Port de Grave was again destroyed by the French in 1706. All residents moved to Little Bell Island and returned to their family fisheries in 1708. After the French left, there were 18 planters and 160 residents around Port de Grave, making it the second largest community in Conception Bay after Carbonear. While there was some disagreement between planters and bye-boat keepers in the 1700s, working relations were generally good.. By 1715 there were 15 vessels and 76 men involved in the bye-boat fishery
There was an influx of Irish immigrants in the early 1700s and by 1715 there were 91 Roman Catholics. TheRoman Catholic cemetery in Port de Grave is said to be the oldest in Conception Bay and the Roman Catholic chapel was built before 1775. Many Irish farmers immigrated in the early I800s and were employed by English fishermen until they could afford to move from the rocky fishing settlements to the more fertile farmland along river valleys where they felt more at home. In the mid ‘l800s there was a large Irish community in Port de Grave and the Roman Catholic cemetery had
headstones with Irish names such as Delaney, Hennebury, Moore and Crowley. Other tombstones indicate that a local doctor, Daniel Connors, died in 1816 and the first surgeon, Richard Shea, died in 1826. Dr. Appleby-Brown who arrived from Copenhagen, Denmark, also lived in the community in the 17008, as Mary Ann Appleby· Brown’s 1760 tombstone in the old Anglican cemetery indicates.
The Wesleyan Church was also firmly established in Conception Bay by this time. Douglas Churchill found the first reference to its being started by George Vey after a visit by William Black in 1791, but Lawrence Cough. In 1765 may have been the first Wesleyan missionary in the area. The Wesleyan church was built in the valley just below Jail House Mountain, a departure from the tradition of building churches in the most conspicuous place overlooking the community. Another or the early missionaries was the Reverend John McGeary who was stationed in Carbonear with a circuit extending from Port de Grave to Old Perlican.
By 1905, there were 52 families in Port de Grave, which was fast becoming the commercial and business centre for the Peninsula. During the late 17005 and early 1800s there were between six and ten business premises. A number of businesses were started in 1815-20 when Brown, Hoyles & Co. and Peter Macpherson & Co. set
up. Another prominent merchant was John Jacobs whose wife Margaret and three children died in a house fire in 1828.
Most merchants relocated to St. John’s in the 18208 including some major businesses with origins in Port de Grave. Baine-Johnston actually started as Robert Baine & Co. in Port de Grave in 1780 and became Long, Baine & Co. when Thomas Long entered the business. Their property was sold to the Andrews in 1812, but in 1817 Walter Baine and William Johnston bought land for a fishing business between Ship Cove and Port de Grave and. Baine-Johnston operated from the new premises after 1817. Port de Grave was a Customs port as early as 1834 but the Customs soon moved to Brigus. Port de
Grave residents were among the first to fish the Labrador in the 1820s and they were also prominent in the seal fishery. In 1833, 79 sealing vessels left the harbors on the Port de Grave peninsula and in 1835 Port de Grave itself sent 18 vessels for seals, the largest beingthe Lady Anne at 115 tons. A total of 386 men were involved that year and in 1837 Bay Roberts and Port de Grave together sent 83 of the 206 sealing ships to the
Front. Twenty years later 323 men left on nine large vessels for the Front.
By 1836 there were 843 residents on the Port de Grave Peninsula and 60 boats in the inshore fishery and 80 acres of cultivated land. The first road was built to Southern
Gut in 1832, but the 25 local road builders saw the greatest activity in the 1840s. The first postal service was started by James Hodge in 1847, and the first court was held
in 1835. Port de Grave had a magistrate in residence for the next 30 years to cover the area including Bay Roberts.
The Church of England established a mission in 1818 and by 1836 the congregation was 776. The first Methodist minister was appointed in 1835, and the first chapel was
built in 1837. The Roman Catholic church had a congregation of 95 in 1836.
The Newfoundland School Society opened the first school in 1823. John Miller Maddox was one of three teachers and spent 32 years teaching there, including supervising
the first courses for adults in Newfoundland. A new school was opened by the Newfoundland and British North America Society in 1830 and. had 150 day pupils,
84 Sunday school pupils and. 54 adults, while a Roman Catholic school in Port de Grave’s Northern Gut had 43 pupils in 1840. By 1845 the Newfoundland School Society
had 90 pupils and the Wesleyan Society had a 39-pupil school incorporated by the Colonial and Government Church Society in 1852. In 1855 it had 40 pupils, the New·
foundland School Society school had 144 pupils and a Roman Catholic school had 42 pupils. The Wesleyan school was still in existence in 1869 and became the United
school in 1876.
Behind the Anglican rectory is a square buttress of rock, the remains of Jail House Mountain, much of which was used for fill for the construction of the fish plant
building in Ship Cove. A pair of handcuffs in the Fisherman’s Museum suggest the existence of a jail on Jail House Mountain. The Carbonear Star reported the execution
of Catherine Snow on July 28, 1834, explaining the six months’ delay in carrying out the sentence was because of her pregnancy. There is, however, no reference
to the birth of her baby.
Hutchinsons Newfoundland Directory 1864-65 lists nine schooner owners, a teacher, a physician, four shopkeepers, two merchants, two planters, two master mariners,
a carpenter and two ministers among the local families. During the first debate on the possibility of Contederation with Canada in 1869 an anti-Confederate candidate
was elected for Port de Grave, perhaps as a result of influence by Nova Scotian planters engaged in the Labrador fishery. Nova Scotia agreed to Confederation at this time. The reaction reflects the individuality of Port de Grave in the 1805.
Port de Grave and nearby Ship Cove were major ship–building communities. Nine vessels were built in Port de Grave from 1860 to 1882, and several local families
were involved in Wilding and buying schooners. The Butler family owned seven vessels, the Moore family two and Henry Dawe three. Other shipowners included
Patrick Kenney, a local blacksmith, merchants, traders and planters. There were three merchants listed in Urn-George Bussey, a.H. Forward, and Patrick Kenney-and a total of 13 planters-including four Butlers, three’Mugfords and two Husseys. The average
length of schooners in the community was 56 feet and the average tonnage 35 tons. Two larger brigs, the 94-ft., 131-ton Tangiers and the lOS-ft., 176-ton Estelle, were
both lost in an early October 1867 storm off Labrador.In 1857, 440 lived in Port de Grave, and the population figures over the next 30 years may be influenced by fish·
ing off Labrador. The census lists 595 in 1869, 397 in 1874 and 436 in 1884. Bishop Edward Feild thought the Church of England parish important enough to stand in for the
incumbent preacher from 1857 and the heavy workload may have hastened his death in 1875. A new church was built in 1875 for a congregation of 200 and consecrated
in November 1878. Bishop Feild was also concerned about the loss of parishioners to the growing Methodist church built in 1873. The Salvation Army arrived in the late 1800s and had 28 members by 1935. Their barracks was located opposite the Anglican rectory.
There were 52 Roman Catholics in 1857 but just two in 1891 perhaps as a result of the type of occurrence reported in the Terra Nova Advocate of April 6, 1884:
A quiet inoffensive man, a Catholic named Pierce Power, proceeded to Port de Grave to
sell beef which he had done many times before. But this time he was met by angry residents….they threatened him “that he would be severely handled and made to leave
without a sound skin”. The residents were duly reported to the Magistrate by Constable
Turner of Port de Grave, and were subsequently summoned to appear before the Brigus
Stipendiary. They contemptuously treated and altogether ignored it. The simple fact remains that the Reverend Dr. Harvey, Rural Dean of Conception Bay, is prevented by the
force of his “enlightened” congregation from having beef for his Sunday dinner-and the
law is powerless in the matter.
During the last two decades of the 1800s the seal fishery brought prosperity to the peninsula. Captain Charles Dawe of the SS Greenland brought in 318,790 seals from
187’H8 while serving as the member for Harbour Grace. He later became Leader of the Opposition in 1906 after A.B. Morine resigned. Captain Henry Dawe of the SS
Leopard brought in 106,685 seals in 1878-95 and began a general store in 1909 that now is the main business in Port de Grave. In 1884 only the Meteor with 25 men aboard left port and got 560 seals but 89 men fished the Labrador and one banking vessel was listed for 1891. The increased activity brought a lighthouse, built at Green Point in 1883.
Port de Grave (and adjoining Sandy Cove) had a population of 441 in 1891 when Port de Grave itself listed 95 fishermen and 36 fishermen·farmers. Among the Port de Grave families, most heads of household were listed as inshore or Labrador fishermen, but there were two miners and a clerk, merchant, government employee and sealing captain. Sandy Cove also had a carpenter and a mail carrier. The Labrador and seal fisheries, which attracted 56 men, fanning, the coastal fishery and mining were all important in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
William Coaker was actively supported as far south as Port de Grave in 1911, which is when people in St. John’s became aware of the extent of his appeal. Port de Grave fell to a Union candidate in 1913 and this helped to ensure the survival of the Conservative Morris administration and the eventual resignation of Sir Robert Bond as leader of the Liberal party. The constituency also showed its political fickleness in the ejection of 1919
when it returned a Liberal Reform candidate and in 1924 when it elected Gordon Bradley, the grand master of the Orange Lodge, who left the government party because
he was not included in the Cabinet.
There were four vessels and 63 men still sealing by 1921 but the Labrador fishery had ended for Port de Grave captains, although residents continued to join crews
leaving from other ports up until the 1950s. Port de Grave’s population was 292 in 1935, and declined to 213 by 1968. Salmon fishng was important in May and June in the 1930s with cod in July and August. The local fish·plant was built by George Dawe in the 1930s and operated by his family.
By 1921. Port de Grave had only Methodist and Church of England schools. The United church school closed in 1966 and three Church of England schools remained until
the 1950s when a new (our-room school was built at Ship Cove.
Cod provided most income prior to 1950 with boats under 35 feet and cod traps the normal method. After Confederation subsidies encouraged the building of vessels
up to 50 feet. In the 1960s Port de Grave fishermen were among the most technically advanced in the province. In 1968 Port de Grave had 12 fishermen who owned 10
boats, employed 21 men and set 30 cod traps and 129 gill nets. Most fishermen operated between Port de Grave and Kelligrews from mid-April to July. Some 4,850 quintals
of cod were landed from traps and 350 quintals were added from the fall fishery. After 1976 gill-netting was more popular and there was more interest in the turbot
and crab fisheries. The snow crab fishery, which started in the 1970s, was a major fishery in the early 1980s, but catches have declined in recent years. A total of 17 longliners up to 65 feet were involved in 1980.
The community and other settlements on the Port de Grave Peninsula were honored by R.A. Parsons, a native-born son who wrote about the area in the 1950s:
I tell of Port de Grave, an ancient place,
The birth of which the archives have no trace,
For it was old when Guy of Bristol strove
To plant his colony in Cuper’s Cove.
-from Salute to Port de Grave by R.A. Parsons, published in 1975, used with permission.