This Week in History


The First Permanent Settlement on Newfoundland

For the week of Monday July 4, 2005

On July 5, 1610, Sir John Guy and 38 British colonists set sail from Bristol, England, for the coast of Newfoundland. They landed in August and the home they created there would be known as the first official European colony in Newfoundland and the second British Colony in North America.

Sir John Guy
Sir John Guy
© Newfoundland Collection MF-231, Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University
In 1608, Guy visited Newfoundland and was convinced it would be a good location for settlement. In 1610, he submitted a proposal to the British Privy Council and in May, a charter was drawn up giving rights to essentially the entire island to the London and Bristol Company, of which Guy was a member. He was appointed governor of the new colony located at Cupids Cove, 35 kilometres west of present-day St. John’s.

It was thought that establishing a permanent settlement in the New World would give fishermen located there an advantage over those who had to sail there first. The first winter was spent fortifying buildings and exploring the surrounding area. In 1611, Guy returned to England where he wintered and in 1612, he returned with more colonists, including 16 women. During the summer of 1612, the colony suffered raids by the pirate Peter Easton. Guy met with him for 14 days and attained immunity by promising to abandon plans to expand the colony to nearby Renewes.

In October 1612, some colonists launched a mission to explore neighbouring Trinity Bay in search of a passage to Placentia Bay. No direct passage was discovered, but the group of explorers had a friendly encounter with members of the Beothuk tribe.

In 1613, Guy returned to England permanently. He was discontented with the London and Bristol Company’s treatment of himself and his colonists. Additional factors worked against the colony’s successes including opposition from migratory fishing interests, poor soil for agriculture and hesitant investors who kept the company cash-strapped. By 1620, interest in the Cupids settlement had waned, but its limited success encouraged others to establish settlements elsewhere on the island. 

Avalon Peninsula
Avalon Peninsula
© Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site / Dulepa Wijayawardhana, 1998.

For his efforts to establish permanent settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador, Sir John Guy was designated a National Historic Person in 1952. A monument in his honour exists at Cupids, Newfoundland.

In 1995, archeological excavations began at the site of the original Cupids compound. Summer visitors to the area can observe the ongoing excavation.

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