Questions about Cupids need answering, says writer
While going to high school in Cupids, we learned a little about John Guy and Sea Forest Plantation. Whenever I spoke to elders looking for more information about this subject, I almost always got an expression of doubt about John Guy choosing what is today known as Cupids for the site of his plantation.
Being realistic, they, for the most part, based their opinions on common sense and the stories of their ancestors. My curiosity about this peaked again when talk of the 400year celebrations started. After reading John Guy’s letter to Sir Percival Willoughby and “‘The Charter of Avalon,” along with other bits of information that gave insight into life around this period, I came to the conclusion that the old people from Burnt Head, Cupids, were probably correct.
I became more convinced when I obtained maps from this period showing Salmon Cove and Avondale to be the same location. In fact, the change of the name from Salmon Cove to Avondale took place in 1901. The name Salmon Cove, for that part of Port de Grave near Cupids, came into use during the 1850s.
Some maps from the 1600s show only Burnt Head and Port de Grave in Bay de Grave. None show a Salmon Cove or any of the names which have been used for Cupids. These names appear on maps in the Avondale area.
Cupids lacked advantages
Having explored Conception Bay during 1608, John Guy most likely would have known that just around the point from Colliers Bay was a better sheltered harbour with more fertile soil as well as a river offering better access to trees and furs. What is now Cupids lacked these advantages.
Because of his instructions from the company and the pattern of settlement already established, he most likely would have avoided Bay de Grave if he was familiar with it.
When Gillian Cell wrote “Newfoundland Discovered” and “English Enterprise in Newfoundland 1577-1660,” she had no knowledge of the different opinions concerning the site chosen by John Guy for his plantation. Probably this was because she was not aware of the use of Salmon Cove for different areas of Conception Bay. When informed of the fact that Salmon Cove was Avondale during the 1600s, she found it “interesting,” but could offer no thoughts on the matter.
However, in her book “Newfoundland Discovered” she did note that the Avon mentioned in “1612 John Guy’s Journal of a Voyage to Trinity Bay” probably referred to modern day Avondale. I was looking forward to seeing if Dr. Alan F. Williams would discuss this issue in his book on John Guy. While he did recognize John Guy’s knowledge of the Avondale area, he was very brief and indecisive.
He did say that there is no evidence of John Guy’s interest in this area, even though John Guy did record a knowledge of the quality of the shellfish in Colliers Bay. Mr. Williams did, however, point out that John Guy willed this land around Avondale to his four sons.
John Guy, October 1610, the grant of Avalon to Sir George Calvert, April 1623, and John Mason, 1620, directly and indirectly referred to John Guy’s site location in Conception Bay. John Guy and the Avalon grant were fairly specific in their description.
According to Gilleon Cell, John Mason offered “the only explicit reference we have to the existence of two areas of settlement in Conception Bay.”
The information from these three sources must have been a problem for Dr. Williams and his editors. They tried to explain John Guy’s description of his site location as being present day Cupids by making the erroneous statement that what was once Salmon Cove is now Port de Grave.
As stated above, only part of Port de Grave became known as Salmon Cove after the 1840s. Like Gilleon Cell’s book, this creates a problem when trying to separate the work of John Guy from the history of Cupids. Questions about the John Guy story were expressed and recorded around the time of the 1910 celebrations.
With the ease of access to documents and maps from the early 1600 period, questions are going to continue to arise. Not only questions concerning the place of John Guy’s attempt at settlement, but also about his activities.
The English company which sent John Guy out to Newfoundland wanted him to explore the possibility of trading with the Beothuck. It is interesting to compare his account of his meeting in Trinity Bay, a bay where Beothuck were known to come only to harass and steal from fishermen, and trading with the Indians in 1611, to the experiences of fishermen around Trinity Bay as recorded by Captain Richard Whitbourne in 1622.
Also, questionable is the importance of the work done by John Guy. Millions have been spent to mark his achievements while on Feb. 25, 1636, Trinity House with the words “we can say from the mouths of others that as yet none of all the adventurers which have attempted in the Newfoundland to settle there to live, and draw others to them, never thrived, the Lord Baltimore, Captain Mason, Master Guy of Bristol and other men ingenious and of excel- lent partes, yet wearied and so removed …” declared settlement in Newfoundland a failure.
Indications are that John Guy’s attempt at settlement did not prove very successful. As mentioned above, John Mason made only a brief reference to a second site other than Bristol’s Hope. The distance he provided would put it up the bay beyond Bay de Grave.
Gillian Cell noted that three years after the establishment of Cupids Cove, Samuel Purchas did not even acknowledge existence of the colony in the first edition of his “Pilgrimage.” In the two subsequent editions of 1614 and 1617 he paid it only brief notice, although he had already seen records concerning it.
Huge rock mounds
Three years after John Guy suddenly returned to Bristol, a grant was given to the company for land in the Bristol’s Hope area to which they moved operations. At the time when the attempts at settlement in Newfoundland were abandoned, only the possible faiths of settlers in Ferryland, Renews, and Bristol’s Hope were mentioned.
In John Berry’s 1675 census, the only resident of Cupids recorded is a Mr. Steph Atkins, keeper of Butler’s Castle. For some early thoughts on the location of Butler’s castle,
We can rule out any thoughts of the foundation being John Guy’s Sea Forest, since we now know that he used this title to refer to his interests in Avondale.
As a boy growing up in Burnt Head, my friends and I played around these huge rock mounds and walls thinking and talking about the reasoning and effort required to build such wonderful structures. It is a pity that with all the money spent more effort could not have gone into an attempt to discover the truth.
But if the real motive for the exercise was obscured by the motto “Prepare to make History,” and John Guy was used only as the “engine” to give it momentum, then could not the truth become an obstacle?
Philip Bishop writes from Cupids. He is a retired educator who’s long been interested in the history of Cupids, especially the area of town known as Burnt Head.