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Early Inhabitants in the Bonavista area.


Thomas Crew Inhabitant of Bonavista, Newfoundland c1675. Thomas Crew first appears in the Bonavista records for the year 1675 wherein he is listed as Thomas Crews in the John Berry Planters Census (CO1/35 f.150 – 156), had 11 men working for him, two boats, one stage and was recorded there as single. It is uncertain whether “single” means bachelor or just being there without family. There is no telling when he first set up his plantation there which of necessity took a considerable time and capital or perhaps he was lucky enough to have inherited it from a relative or in-laws. In the following year, 1676, he is recorded there as Thomas Crew in the Wyborn Census of English Inhabitants (CO1) with a wife and two sons—it is uncertain whether his wife and two sons had joined him there in this year or he was married and had two sons in the span of one year. In William Poole’s Census of 1677 (CO1/4 ff. 157 m-166) he is again listed there as Thomas Crew. Alternatively Thomas Crew Jr may have been the single planter there in 1675; his father, mother and brother having rejoined him in 1676. In 1678 Crew was again listed as a single man!

The term plantation may conjure up visions of a mansion as in the movie “Gone With the Wind”. Such is definitely not the case with any of our 17th century planters in Newfoundland—theirs consisted of some shoreline space to land their fish onto the “stage” in which they cut and cleaned the fish, and “flakes” on which the fish were spread to dry. There was a modest wood-frame house, a second house for the servants, and sheds.

With a good fishery year even Crew’s eleven seasonal servants would have made seven times their salaries compared to income back in England as year-around agricultural labourers or any other available employment. This was especially certain for the year 1675 which saw the all time high price of the entire 17th century paid for Newfoundland salt cod. According to Sir John Berry, writing in 1675: “A poor labouringe man will gett in a summers season near ?20, their dayley food comes out of the sea; which were such a person in England, he would not get £3.”

Eventually this Crew family would leave Bonavista but never relinquish or abandon the business there. What prompted them to leave? Was it the Order-in-Council from the Home Office commanding all planters along the Newfoundland English shore to remove themselves either back home to England or to some other English colony? Was it the fact that the annual fishing masters arriving from England were legally allowed to run rough-shod over the inhabitants. The first such captain upon arrival in a particular cove in Newfoundland had the right to choose the prime spot to set up his operations often to the detriment of existing inhabitants. This first arriving sea-captain was deemed the “Admiral” and was also authorized to hear and rule on judicial disputes even though he could neither read nor write. The second and third arriving sea-captains also had a right to choose from the best shoreline. Was Crew also disturbed with the incursions of the treacherous natives? The mayor of Poole, Dorset reported for the year 1680 that the Indians at Bonavista were scavenging: “The Indians having beene so bold this last yeare, as to come into our harbor and doe mischiefe.” And, if that wasn’t enough, the fish prices dropped in the year 1676 by 10% and in 1677 down a further 13%.

Crew’s Bonavista fishery however was continuing at the time of his death in partnership with Christopher Shephard (this is the same Mr. Sheppard who was recommended to the Lords of Trade by Capt Ogle as “might be good to take office here” in 1719)—a possible relative since Crew’s sister married a Shephard. The Sheppards/Shephards were long established in the area since at least 1681 in nearby Salvage.

At his death in England in 1704 Crew was classed as a gunsmith. The Bonavista plantation was inherited by Crew’s two sons: Thomas Crew Jr & Peter Crew—undoubtedly Christopher Shephard continued to occupy Crew’s plantation in Bonavista.

To say the least, Crew was multi-talented, industrious and versatile. He was certainly a great loss to colonial Bonavista and an asset to the town of Lymington, Hants.



Contributed by Thomas Cole, Sarasota, Florida (February 2012)

Page Last Modified March 12, 2012 (Don Tate)

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