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A Letter from John Guy at Cupers Cove to John Slany and the Council of the Newfoundland Company, May 16, 1611.
In this letter Guy describes the weather at Cupers Cove from October 1610 to May 1611, the health of the colonists, the activities undertaken by them since October and his plans for the coming summer.
Master John Guy his Letter to Master Slany Treasurer, and to the Counsell of the New-found-land Plantation.
It may please you to understand that it was the tenth day of this moneth of May before the Bark of Northam, called the Consent, arrived here in New-found-land; notwithstanding that a Ship of Bristoll, called the Lionesse, came to this Countrey the second of May in a moneths space and the Trail of Dartmouth arrived here before in sixteene dayes. By reason of which [delay]...of the aforesaid Barke nothing could be done to take any of the [fishing] places desired: all being possessed before. So that the Ship that commeth [to fish], whereof yet there is no news, [has] to trust to the place here which is reserved for her which I hope will prove a good place. Some years as great a [fishing] Voyage hath bin made here as in any place in this Land. God send her hither in safetie.
I have not yet seen any of the Countrey to the Southward or Northward of this Bay of Conception since this spring because I expected daily the arrival of the Barke and thought it not fit to be absent herehence untill she were arrived and dispatched. But presently, upon her departure, no time, God willing, shall be lost.
The care that was taken to require generally the Fishermen to assist us and to supply our wants, if any [there] should be, was most joyfull and comfortable to us [and] was most willingly accomplished by the most part of those which I have yet seene. Yet, God be praised, such was the state of things with us as we were in no want of victuals but had a great remainder as you shall after understand.
The state of the Autumn and Winter was in these parts of New-found-land after this manner. In both the moneths of October and November there were scarce six dayes wherein it either freezed or snowed and that so little that presently it was thawed and melted with the strength of the Sunne. All the residue of the aforesaid two moneths being both warmer and drier then in England. In December we had sometimes faire weather, sometimes frost and snow, and sometimes open weather and rain. For in the latter end [of December] it was rainie and was open weather. All these three moneths the winde was so variable as it would every fortnight visite all the points of the Compasse.
[For] the most part of January and February unto the middle of March the frost continued: the winde being for the most part Westerly and now and then Northerly. Notwithstanding, three or four times, when the winde was at South, it began to thaw and did rain. That which fell in this season was for the most part Snow which, with the heat of the Sunne, would be consumed in the open places within a few dayes. That which abode longest was in February.
During this time many dayes the Sun shone warme and bright from morning to night. Notwithstanding the length of this frosty weather, small brookes that did run almost in level with a slow course were not the whole winter three nights over frozen so thicke as that the Ice could beare a Dogge to goe over it. ... [This] I found by good proofe for every morning I went to the brooke which runneth by our house to wash. The Snow was never above eighteene inches thicke generally out of the drift. So ... the feare of wanting wood or water never tooke hold of us. For, albeit we made no provision for them, yet at a minute of an houres warning we were furnished.
Where there were Lakes of fresh water that stood and did not run, there it remained frozen able to beare a man almost three moneths and was not dissolved untill the middle of April. But, where the ayre had entrance and issue out of them, there was no frost. When the winde in the winter time in England is at the North-east one month together, the frost is greater and the cold more sharpe then it is here at all. There was no moneth in all the winter that some of our company did not travel in, either by land or by water, and lie abroad, and drinke water in places distant two, three, foure and five leagues from our habitation. And sometimes [they] lay in the woods without fire and received no harm.
When Aprill came our Spring began and the first that did bud was the small raison or the Corinth tree. Our Company was not letted [i.e. hindered] in working abroad ... in the woods and open ayre fifteen dayes the whole winter. We never wanted the company of Ravens and small Birds. So, ... the doubts that have bin made of the extremity of the winter season in these parts of New-found-land are found by our experience causeless. .... Not only men may safely inhabit here without any neede of Stove but Navigation may be made to and fro from England to these parts at any time of the yeare.
Concerning the healthfulness of these Countries, we having bin now more then ten moneths upon this Voyage, of nine and thirty persons, which was all our number which wintered here, there are wanting [i.e.dead] onely foure. ...one, Thomas Percy [a] sawyer, died the eleventh of December of thought having slaine a man in Rochester which was the cause, being unknowne unto mee untill a day before he died, that he came on this voyage. And one other, call John Morris [a] Tyler, miscarried the first of February by reason of a bruse. The third, called Marmaduke Whittington, was never perfectly well after he had the small Poxe which he brought out of Bristoll with him, ... [and] died the fifteenth of February. And the fourth, called Thomas Stone, having at the first onely a stiffnesse in one of his knees, kept [to] his bed ten weekes and would never stirre his body, which lasinesses brought him to his end ... [and he] died the thirteenth of Aprill. Of the rest, foure or five have bin sicke, some three moneths and some foure moneths, who now are better then they were except one. All of them, if they had as good [a] will to worke as they had good stomachs to their victuals, would long since have bin recovered.
One Richard Fletcher, that is Master Pilot here and a director of the Fishing, reported unto me that he was one of the company, consisting of forty persons, that went in a drumbler of Ipswich, called the Amitie, to the North part of Ireland about eleven yeeres ago from London in the late Queenes service under the charge of one Captaine Fleminge and continued there the space of two years. In which time two and thirty died of the Scurvie and ... only eighte of them returned home, whereof the said Fletcher was one. So that the accident of death or sicknesse of any persons in these our parts of New-found-land is not to argue any unhealthfulness of this Country no more then Ireland is to be discredited by the losse of those two and thirty men: notwithstanding that there were to be had many other helpes [in Ireland] which this Country as yet hath not but in good time may have.
From the sixt of October untill the sixteenth of May our Company had bin imployed in making of a Storehouse to hold our provisions and a dwelling house for our habitation, which was finished about the first of December, with a square inclosure of one hundred and twenty foot long and ninety foot broad compassing these two houses, and a worke house to worke dry in [and] to make Boates or any other worke out of the raine. And three peeces of Ordnance are planted there to command the Harboroughs upon a platforme made of great posts and rails and great Poles sixteene foot long set upright around about with two Flankers to secure the quarters. A Boat about twelve tuns big with a decke is almost finished to saile and row about the headlands.
[And we have been employed in building] six fishing Boates and Pinnesses; a second saw-pit at the fresh Lake of two miles in length and the sixt part of a mile broad, standing within twelue score of our habitation, to saw the timber to be had out of the fresh lake; in keeping two paire of Sawyers to saw plankers for the said buildings; in ridding of some grounds to sow Corne and garden seed; in cutting of wood for the Collier; in coling of it; in working at the Smiths Forge iron works for all needful uses; in coasting both by Land and Sea to many places within this Bay of Conception; in making the frame of timber of a farre greater and fairer house then that which as yet we dwell in, which is almost finished; and divers other things.
We have sowed all sorts of graine this Spring, which prosper well hitherto. Our Goates have lived here all this winter and there is one lustie Kidde which was weaned in the dead of winter. Our Swine prosper. Pidgins and Conies will endure exceeding well. Our Poultrie have not onely laid Egges plentifully but there are eighteen young Chickens that are a week old besides others that are a hatching. The feare of wilde Beasts we have found to be almost needless. Our great Ram-Goate was missing fifteene dayes in October and came home well again and is yet with us. If the industry of men and presence of domestical Cattle were applied to the good of this Countrey of New-found-land, there would shortly arise just cause of contentment to the inhabitants thereof.
Many of our Masters and Sea-faring men, seeing our safetie and hearing what a milde winter we had and that no Ice had bin seene fleeting in any of the Bayes of This Countrey all this yeare (notwithstanding that then met one hundred and fifty leagues off in the Sea - great store of Ilands of Ice), doe begin to be in love with the Countrey and doe talke of cominge to take land here to inhabit: falling in the reckoning as well of the commoditie that they may make by the banke fishing, as by the husbandry of the Land, besides the ordinary fishing.
At the Greene Bay [Bay de Verde], where some of our Company were a fishing in November, they report there is great store of good grounds without woods and there is a thousand acres together which they say may be mowed this yere. There is great store of Deere whereof they saw some divers times and twice they came within shot of them. And the Greyhound, who is lustie, had a course but could not get upon them. But nearer unto Cape Razo, Revonse and Trepasse there is great quantitie of open ground and Stagges.
It is most likely that all the Sackes [i.e. sack ships] will be departed out of England before the returne of this our Barke, which shall not make any matter because I am now of opinion that nothing should be sent hither before the returne of the Ships from fishing. For, as concerning sending of Cattle, it will be best that it be deferred untill next Spring. And concerning Victuals, in regard of the quantity, we have of it remaining of old together with that that is come now, as with the dry fish that here we may be stored with, [that] I am in good hope there will not want[ed] any to last till this time twelve moneths. And, according to the victuals which shall be found at the end of the fishing, the number of persons that shall remain here all the next winter shall be fitted, that there shall [not] be want. Notwithstanding about Alholaltide or the beginning of December, a Ship may be sent, such a one as our Fleming was with Salt from Rochel [i.e. La Rochelle]. For at any time of the winter Ships may as well goe and come hither as when they [normally] do, especially before January.
This Summer I propose to see most places betweene Cape Rase, Placentia, and Bona vista. And, at the returne of the fishing Ships, to entertaine a fit number of men to maintaine here the winter and to set over them and to take care of all things here, with your patience, one Master William Colton, a discreete young man, and my brother, Phillip Guy, who have wintered with me and have promised me to undertake this charge until my returne the next Spring or till it shall be otherwise disposed of by you. And then, together with such of the company as are willing to goe home and such others as are not fit longer to entertain here, I intend to take passage in the fishing Ships and so return home.
And then, between that and the Spring [I intend] to be present to give you more ample satisfaction in all things and to take such further resolution as the importance of the enterprise shall require. Wherein you shall finde me alwayes as ready as ever I have bin to proceede and goe forward, God willing. And, because at my comming home it will be time enough for mee to lay before you mine opinion touching what is to be undertaken the next year, I will forbeare now to write of it.
Because you should be the sooner advertised of our welfare and because such of the company as are sent home both for their owne good and that the unprofitable expense of vituals and wages may cease, I have laden little or nothing backe [so] that the said Company might the better be at ease in the hold. Only there is sent three hogheads of charcoals: Where Numero 1 is they are [made] of birch; number 2 is of Pine and Spruce; [and] number 3 is of Firre. [The last] being the lightest wood, yet it maketh good coals and is used by our Smith. I send them because you shall see the goodness of each kinde of Coal. Also, I send you an Hogshead of Skinnes and Furres of such beasts as have bin taken here, the particulars whereof appeare in the Bill of lading.
While I was writing I had newes of the Vineyard, the Ship which you send to [go] fishing, to have bin in company with another Ship that is arrived on this side of the Banke and [learned] that the Master intended to goe to Farillon or Fer-land. God send her in safety.
So, praying God for the prosperity of your Worships and the whole Company with hope that his divine Majestie, which hath given us so good a beginning, will always blesse our proceedings: my dutie most humbly remembered, I take my leave.
Dated in Cupers Cove the sixteenth of May, 1611.
From Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus (XIX , 110 -116)
This letter was first published by Samuel Purchas in his Hakluytus Posthumus; or Purchas his Pilgrims: Contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells by Englishmen and Others in 1625. Purchas his Pilgrims was reprinted by James MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow in 1907. The letter was also published by D.W. Prowse in 1895 in his A History of Newfoundland from the English, Colonial and Foreign Records (London and New York: Macmillan and Company Ltd) pp.125-127 and by D.B. Quinn in 1979 in Newfoundland from Fishery to Colony. Northwest Passages Searches. Vol 4 of New American World: A Documentary History of North America to 1612 (New York: Arno Press and Hector Bye) pp. 146-149. While every attempt has been made to present this document as originally written, certain changes have been made to render it more comprehensible to present day readers. In some cases the original punctuation has been altered and the spellings modernized. The text has also been broken down into paragraphs and, where deemed necessary, a word or two has been inserted within square brackets to clarify what is being said.