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Attack at Ferryland

For the week of Monday September 1, 2003

On September 4, 1673, Dutch privateers – pirates authorized by their government – targetted Ferryland, Newfoundland. Although brief, this attack left scars along this region’s landscape.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Newfoundland was a popular destination for many seasoned cod fishermen from a number of European countries. The English, who dried rather than salted the cod, needed to establish temporary settlements on Newfoundland’s shores. As a result, beginning in the early 17th century English companies planned to establish permanent colonies there.

Ferryland, from Fitzburgh's map, 1693
© Library and Archives Canada / C-004374
Most of the earliest attempts to colonize Newfoundland were unsuccessful. It was under George Calvert, a Secretary of State who would later become Lord Baltimore, that the first great English achievement was accomplished, with the founding of the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland in 1621. When Lord Baltimore abandoned his colony in 1629, there was a period of instability until it passed into the hands of David Kirke in 1637. Under the direction of this English adventurer, who became the first governor of Newfoundland, the colonization and development of Ferryland progressed well. Kirke was recalled to England in 1651, however, to answer to certain charges and the colony suffered instability once again.

Both Baltimore and Kirke tried to establish a fortification in Ferryland, but it proved to be neither adequate nor permanent. Consequently, the Dutch had an open field when they attacked the colony in 1673. They were motivated by vengeance against the English who had seized their colony, located where the New York city now stands. After this offensive, the Dutch led a series of invasions along the American coast. The 1673 conflict was just one part of the overall Anglo-Dutch hostilities.

View overlooking the Colony of Avalon in Ferryland
© 1998, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
Ferryland, in was to be the hit, Newfoundland region first attacked by four Dutch boats led by Captain Nicholas Boes. The attackers took over the colony without a fight, and did not hesitate to loot and destroy everything in their way. Although no one seemed to have died and the dwelling houses were spared in this conflict, plantations, boats, equipment and food supplies were destroyed, affecting the region’s economy.

The oldest English settlement in Canada, the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland was designated a national historic site in 1953. Archaeological digs there revealed much about this colony’s history. Through their marks of destruction, some remains also provide valuable information about the Dutch invasion.

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