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New Discoveries

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Date: Jul. 13th '22
Title: Henry VII Silver Half Groat Uncovered at Cupids Cove Plantation PHS
Henry VII Silver Half Groat Found at Cupids (Obverse)

Date: Jul. 12th '22
Title: Henry VII Silver Half Groat Uncovered at Cupids Cove Plantation PHS
Henry VII Silver Half Groat Found at Cupids (Reverse)

Henry VII Silver Half Groat Uncovered at the Cupids Cove Plantation PHS

At around 12:40 PM, on Friday, 10 September, 2021, archaeologist Bill Gilbert was working at home when he received a call from long-time crew member Patricia (Tish) Elford at the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site saying that field assistant Faith Bursey had just uncovered a silver coin that looked “really old”. Tish emailed Bill some photos of the coin taken with her mobile and she clearly was right; the coin did indeed look very old, in fact it looked medieval. When Bill arrived at the Plantation later that afternoon and examined the coin up close, he guessed, based on its size and weight, that it probably was a half groat, or two-penny piece.  And, while similar coins can date back as far as the reign of Edward I (1272-1307), he figured this coin probably was minted during the reign of Henry VII, over a hundred years before the Cupids colony was established.

On Monday, 13 September, Bill emailed photographs of the coin, along with its dimensions and weight, to Paul Berry, the former curator of the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum. Over the years, Paul has identified most of the early coins recovered from Cupids, Ferryland and numerous other archaeological sites. Over the next few days Bill’s correspondence with Paul confirmed that the coin was indeed a Henry VII silver half groat and, more precisely, a “halfgroat type IIIc” minted in Canterbury sometime between 1493 and 1499. This is almost certainly the oldest English coin ever found in good archaeological context anywhere in North America. 

Understandably, when news of the discovery first reached the public, there was some speculation that the coin may have been lost long before the Cupids colony was established, perhaps by a migratory fisherman, an early explorer, or possibly even by John Cabot himself. However, such speculations simple don’t hold up to close scrutiny. Shortly after the coin was found, Evan Jones at the University of Bristol sent photographs of it to Peter Preston-Morley, Secretary of the British Numismatics Society, to get his opinion. Mr. Preston-Morley replied that, based on its wear patterns, the coin probably had been in circulation for at least thirty years. So it clearly was not lost around the time of the Cabot voyages or any of Bristol’s early exploratory voyages to North America. Nor is it likely to have been lost in the 16th century.

While it may be surprising that a coin minted around the time of the Cabot voyages was lost over one hundred years later at the site of the oldest English colony in Canada, the chances of it having been lost by a 16th century migratory fisherman seem far less likely. Prior to the 1570s, very few English vessels were involved in the Newfoundland migratory fishery and, even when the English fishery began to expand in the 1570s, Cupids was by no means a major centre of activity. In fact one of the reasons John Guy chose Cupids as the site of the first colony may be that it was somewhat removed from the major centres of the English fishery. The coin was found just outside the east wall of the 120 ft. x 90 ft. enclosure erected by Guy’s men in the fall of 1610 and about 4 ft. south of the “flanker”, or bastion, that extended northeast from the enclosure. Even if Cupids was being visited by English migratory fishermen in the late 16th century, one of them would have had to walk south from the beach for roughly 200 ft. (61m), through what at the time would have been dense forest, carrying a silver coin worth about half a day’s wages and lost it just outside what, years later, would be the east wall of John Guy’s enclosure. It seems far more likely that the coin was lost by one of the early colonists, possibly while the palisade and flanker were being erected in the autumn of 1610.

Yet the coin still presents a bit of a mystery. While its wear patterns suggest it was in circulation for thirty or more years, it probably was not in circulation for a great deal longer. As Evan Jones pointed out, a silver coin in constant circulation for at least 111 years likely would be so worn as to be almost unrecognizable. It seems our silver half groat must have been out of circulation for some time and the most likely explanation for this lies in the economic policies initiated by Henry VIII and continued by his son Edward VI. In 1542 Henry began the process of decreasing the silver content of English coins. Most of the earlier coins were recalled by the Royal Mint to be melted down and reused. However, at a time when few people had access to banks, it was not uncommon for those who could afford it to store away some silver either in coin or some other form. Since the silver content of his father’s coinage would have been considerably higher than that of the new, debased coins issued by Henry VIII, many of the earlier coins that survived probably were hoarded away.  Most likely our coin was part of one such coin hoard, kept, perhaps, somewhere in the Bristol area, that made its way back into circulation sometime before the first colonists left for Newfoundland in 1610.      

Date: May. 30th '19
Title: Documents Trace Landownership in Cupids from the 17th Century to the Present
A document has come to light that reveals a direct link between the Cupids Cove colony, established in 1610, and landownership in Cupids from the 18th to the 21st century. It’s a land grant signed by Mary Pynn on 11 February 1737 (above). At the time Mary was “living with Cap[tai]n John Davis in Muskitta Cove in the Bay of Conception in Newfoundland”. In the grant Mary leaves “to my well beloved son Henry Pynn of the city of Bristol, Mariner … the Fishing Room and Meddow Gardens and Meddow Ground being on the South side of Portograve, commonly called Cupits formerly being in the possession of Mr. James Hill, which said Mr. James Hill lawfully gave to me Mary Pynn Senior”. This is not a new discovery. Like James Hill’s will, written in Cupids Cove on 4 March 1674, this document was found, transcribed, and posted on a Newfoundland genealogical website by Susan Snelgrove where it remained, unnoticed by researchers, for a number of years. I first learned of it in early February 2019 when Lloyd Kane found a transcription online and contacted me.

In his will James Hill left, “all my Goods within and without the said house of Cupits Cove … to Thomas Butler now of Porta Grave to him or his assignees and do appoint him to be my lawful Executor … [and] to be my lawful attorney to ask demand and sue for all such debt or debts as shall be due to me.” It appears Butler not only inherited James Hill’s possessions; he also took control of his estate. For Mary to claim to have inherited Hill’s possessions in Cupids directly from Hill, she must have been one of Butler’s assignees, most likely one of his children, and we know Butler had a daughter, born sometime between 1675 and 1677. (For more on the James Hill will see the entry for 4 December, 2009 below.)

Exciting as this is, it’s only the beginning. Henry Pynn died in 1750 and his second wife Ann inherited his estate. Five months after Henry’s death Ann married his clerk, Michael Stretch and on 12 October, 1774 she sold her Cupids property to Harbour Grace merchant John Clements for £10. Clements died in 1802 and by 1806 St. John’s notary public, auctioneer, and conveyancer, George Lilly had been appointed trusty for his estate. A year later, on 22 September 1807, Lilly entered into an indenture with George Smith of Cupids to sell Smith, “All that piece of ground or plantation and fishing room situated lying and being at Cupids Cove aforesaid and known by the name or appellation of Cupids Plain and bounded or extending from the Western Brook to Dicks Mead as the same was heretofore held occupied and enjoyed by the said late John Clements”. The indenture was for £100, to be paid in five annual installments of £20. Less than six years later, on 22 May, 1813, Smith sold most of his property to Samuel Spracklin Jr. of Brigus for £70; retaining just a small section, “Smith’s Room”, at the eastern end.

The boundaries of the Cupids Plain can be determined using information contained in “The Conception Bay Plantations Book” compiled between 1804 and 1806. From it we know that the eastern boundary of the Plain was located 601 yards (549.5 m) west of Keating’s Road and that the Plain extended west from this point for 218 yards (199.5m). This places the property Mary Pynn inherited from James Hill and which, by the first decade of the 19th century, had come to be known as the Cupids Plain, on the south side of the Salt Water Pond extending west from the road leading out to Pointe Beach to the eastern side of the West Brook (see map below).

By 1842 the eastern half of the Plain had been acquired by the Norman family and the land remained divided between Spracklins to the west and Normans to the east until the early 20th century. Later much of the Plain was divided into smaller lots and sold. The Spracklins sold their last piece of property, at the western end of the Plain, in the 1920s. Two properties farther east still belong to members of the Norman family: Rodney Norman to the east of the Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site and Roger Norman just south of the southeast corner of the Plantation. A narrow strip, just west of the Normans, passed from the Spracklins to the Fords when Samuel Spracklin’s granddaughter, Mary Charlotte, married Elias Ford. Later the property passed to the Whalen family when Mary Charlotte and Elias’s daughter Pricilla married Caleb Whalen. Pricilla and Caleb’s granddaughter, Ruth married Garland Baker and Ruth and Garland still owned that piece of land when we arrived in Cupids in 1995.  It was on that narrow strip of land, now part of the Cupids Cove Plantation PHS, that we made our first major discoveries, uncovering the 1610 dwelling house and storehouse, a section of the enclosure wall, and a number of other important features. Ruth Baker, Samuel Spracklin’s great-great-great-granddaughter, still uses the trailer she and Garland erected on the property in the 1970s as a summer home.

Date: May. 29th '19
Title: Map
Map showing the location of the Cupids Plain based on
information in the "Conception Bay Plantations Book",

Date: Aug. 30th '16
Time: 13:40
Title: Structure 9 Extends Farther North!

Image Above: Digging in Operation 132, August 29, 2016.


August 30, 2016 

Structure 9 does extend farther north! On 9 August we established a 1m x 6m unit (Operation 132), running from east to west, immediately north of our previous excavation (photo below). Digging in this unit over the past three weeks has revealed more of the structure (photo above). The section of Structure 9 exposed to date measures 4.57m (15 feet) wide from east to west and 7.92m (26 feet) long from north to south. However, it is clear that the structure continues farther north.

Unfortunately, we are now on the edge of the gravel roadbed and just 3m south of the paved road. And we have been informed by the town that the water and sewer line runs parallel to the road just a short distance to the north of our current excavation. Obviously, this must have destroyed part of the structure.

Over the next few days we will continue our excavations to the east and west of Structure 9. 

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