Colour­ful re­minders of our past

Car­bon­ear Is­land’s gar­ri­son sol­diers march into 21st cen­tury


Car­bon­ear cit­i­zens and vis­i­tors to the Con­cep­tion Bay North town will soon have some colour­ful re­minders of the gar­ri­son of sol­diers who were sta­tioned on Car­bon­ear Is­land in the 18th cen­tury.

Pe­riod uni­forms of the style the ar­tillery sol­diers wore at the time have been made for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Stu­dents will sport the blue, red, gold and black uni­forms dur­ing spe­cial events in the town. They may be worn dur­ing guided walk­ing tours or re­pro­duc­tions of his­toric conflicts that took place on or around the is­land.

Cos­tumer Edith El­son cre­ated the uni­forms from a print pro­vided by Bernard Ran­som, cu­ra­tor at The Rooms in St. John’s.

Pro­ject man­ager Florence But­ton said next year they hope to re-en­act some kind of his­toric event that took place on or around Car­bon­ear Is­land.

Re­searcher Carl Pen­ney and as­sis­tant Berkley Col­bourne also worked on the pro­ject.

Spon­sored by the Car­bon­ear town coun­cil, the pro­ject was funded by a pro­vin­cial job cre­ation pro­ject called the Car­bon­ear Is­land Mili­tia Re­view.

The pro­ject ini­tia­tive in­volved re­search­ing the mil­i­tary his­tory of Car­bon­ear Is­land dur­ing the French and English conflicts of the first half of the 18th cen­tury.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­vided some $37,000 for the pro­ject, which be­gan April 26 and wraps up July 15.

Over 1,200 ar­ti­facts from the 17th and 18th cen­turies were un­cov­ered dur­ing a pre­lim­i­nary ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sur­vey on the is­land last sum­mer. A nine-week ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig will con­tinue this year be­gin­ning July 18.

The Car­bon­ear Her­itage So­ci­ety is also sup­port­ing the work be­ing car­ried out as part of the Car­bon­ear Is­land De­vel­op­ment Strat­egy.

Safe refuge

Car­bon­ear Is­land was first rec­og­nized in 1954 by the Na­tional His­toric Sites and Mon­u­ments Board of Canada, which des­ig­nated the events of 1697 and 1705 as be­ing of na­tional his­toric sig­nif­i­cance. In the 1960s the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in­stalled a num­ber of his­toric sites plaques on the is­land.

A plaque was un­veiled in the Car­bon­ear Me­mo­rial Park in 1981 rec­og­niz­ing the is­land as a site of na­tional his­toric sig­nif­i­cance for the im­por­tant role it played in the de­fence of the is­land of New­found­land against French raiders in the late 17th and early 18th cen­turies. The is­land’s his­tory is well-doc­u­mented. Dur­ing the win­ter of 1697, af­ter French raiders had laid waste most of the English set­tle­ments in New­found­land, from Fer­ry­land to Har­bour Grace, res­i­dents of Car­bon­ear and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties en­trenched them­selves on Car­bon­ear Is­land. For a brief time they be­came the only hold­out against French dom­i­na­tion of New­found­land, and the tiny is­land the only part of the east coast of New­found­land to re­main firmly un­der English con­trol.

Lo­cal in­hab­i­tants led by Wil­liam Pynn of Car­bon­ear again suc­cess­fully de­fended the is­land in 1705 against a French force from Pla­cen­tia who had pil­laged the coastal fish­eries.

Its steep cliffs made the is­land’s shore­line al­most in­ac­ces­si­ble from the sea, with only one place on its south­west cor­ner of rea­son­able ac­cess. That made it a safe refuge for set­tlers un­der siege and earned it the moniker, “Gi­bral­tar of the North.”

Car­bon­ear Is­land was main­tained for a num­ber of years as an armed gar­ri­son where peo­ple from sur­round­ing set­tle­ments could de­fend them­selves from at­tack.

The is­land re­mained an armed gar­ri­son for al­most 20 years be­tween 1743 and 1762.

The site in­cluded a bar­racks and quar­ters and a pro­vi­sion store­house and mag­a­zine, as well as two five-gun bat­ter­ies of 18-pound can­non.

In 1762, when the French rav­aged a num­ber of the prin­ci­pal fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties along the east coast of New­found­land from St. John’s to Trin­ity, the fa­cil­i­ties on Car­bon­ear Is­land were en­tirely de­stroyed, along with a num­ber of pri­vately owned build­ings, pos­si­bly used as part of a fish­ing room. That marked the end of the use of Car­bon­ear Is­land for de­fence pur­poses.

Af­ter the fall of Fort Louis­burg on Cape Bre­ton Is­land, Nova Scotia, the threat of French in­va­sion was no longer a concern.

By 1762, with the gar­ri­son build­ings hav­ing fallen into dis­re­pair and the un­sus­pect­ing fish­ing fam­i­lies of Car­bon­ear Is­land go­ing about their sum­mer’s work, a sur­prise at­tack came from France. With only a hand­ful of men, Charles Gar­land was un­able to fend off the French force un­der Com­man­der Bois­gelin, and the lit­tle is­land fell to the en­emy for the first and last time.

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