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New Discoveries

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Date: Nov. 18th '11
Title: More Defensive Wall Uncovered at Cupids
November 18 , 2011, 10:15 am

More of the Defensive Wall Uncovered at Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site

Excavations at the Cupids site ended this year on November 4. By the time we had finished digging, we had uncovered a 26 ft ( 7.9m) long section of the newly-discovered defensive wall located north of the gun battery. The wall is 2ft 2 inches (0.66m) wide at its base and, although we won’t know for sure until next season, appears to extend farther east beyond our current excavation. This makes a total of three stone defensive walls uncovered at the site to date.

The first wall, located roughly 43ft (13.1m) to the south of this one, and running parallel to it, was first discovered in 2003 and mostly excavated in 2008. Measuring 2ft 8 inches (0.81m) thick, this first wall is the most substantial of the three and appears to be the north wall of the enclosure erected by the colonists in 1610. Roughly 21ft (6.5m) north of this first wall, and closer to the harbour, is the 13 ½ ft (4.11m) long stone gun platform first identified last year. Two feet (0.60m) north of the platform and attached to it by a short north-south wall is a second wall, 16 inches (0.41m) thick, running from east to west, parallel with the other two. Our newly-discovered wall is 5ft (1.52m ) north of this second wall.

As we have previously speculated (see entry for Oct 11, 2010 below)), it seems most likely that these defense works are part of the major fortification effort undertaken by the colonists under the direction of John Guy in the summer of 1612 in an attempt to defend the colony from the threat posed by piracy. Although excavations ended two weeks ago, we hope to have the section of this third wall that was uncovered this year mapped before Christmas. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Photo Above: Looking west along the second and third defensive walls. The stone gun platform can be seen in the distance to the left.

Date: Oct. 31st '11
Title: New Discovery at Cupids Site
October 31 , 2011, 4:00pm

New Discoveries at the Gun Battery, Cupids

Excavations at Cupids this year began in late May and will continue until November 4. One of the areas we’ve been concentrating on this season is the gun battery located in the northwest corner of the site (see entries for Nov 19, 2009 and Oct 11, 2010 below). Excavations here in 2009 and 2010 revealed the remains of a stone gun platform running from north to south and attached to a stone defensive wall running from west to east just north of the platform and roughly parallel to the south side of the harbour.

When the gun platform was first uncovered, it appeared to measure 8 ½ ft x 6 ½ ft (2.6m x 1.98m). However, when we dug deeper down this season, we found that the platform originally extended south for an additional 5ft (1.52m) and was actually 13 ½ ft (4.11m) long . Much of the southernmost section of the platform had been dismantled at some time in the past but enough of it remained to allow us to determine its original dimensions.

North of the defensive wall we uncovered a deposit of rubble that seems to have been laid down in the 19th century to level off this area. This year we extended the excavation north into this rubble deposit to better expose the north face of the wall, properly record it, and draw a profile. Much to our surprise, roughly 5ft (1.5 m) north of this wall, at the edge of the rubble deposit, we uncovered a second stone wall. When we first uncovered it, we thought that it might be the remains of a crude wall erected in the 19th century to hold back the rubble. However, as more of it was exposed, we realized that we had uncovered the remains of a second, well-constructed wall dating to the 17th century. This second wall runs parallel to the first and appears originally to have been attached to the western end of it by a short north-south wall the traces of which can still be seen. We are currently extending the excavation east to uncover more of this wall.

Date: Nov. 9th '10
Title: Another Grave Found at Cupids
November 9 , 2010, 4:35pm

Another Grave uncovered at the Cupids Cove Plantation Site

Most of our work in the cemetery at the Cupids Cove Plantation this year has focused on recording what has already been uncovered. First the cemetery was photographed and mapped with the gravestones in place. Then, because many of the stones had fallen over and were obscuring the grave pits, they were removed and the cemetery was photographed and mapped a second time to record the location and dimensions of each pit. The only stone that wasn’t removed is a late-18th -century, grey-Lias stone, from Dorset or Somerset, that, at some point in the past, fell on another grave marker and shattered into hundreds of pieces. This stone will remain where it fell, at least for now.

Back in June, the massive back-dirt pile that had prevented us from expanding the cemetery excavations to the north was remove and this past Friday, November 5, we decided to open a 1 ½ m x 2m unit in this area to see if we could find any more graves. It wasn’t long before the distinctive outline of a grave pit began to emerge 15 inches (40cm) north of and parallel to the grave marked by the grey-Lias stone (Burial 3). Initially, we only exposed the eastern half of the pit but in the afternoon we expanded the excavation west for 1 ½ metres and uncovered the rest of it. Measuring 6ft 3in (190cm) long and 19in (48cm) wide at its widest point, this is one of the larger grave pits uncover to date and suggests that more graves may await discovery in this area. No marker stones were found in association with this new grave but a displaced marker stone located a short distance to the west originally may have marked the head.

To date ten grave pits have been uncovered in the cemetery at Cupids. Of these, four, ranging in length from 47 ½ inches (1.21 m) to just 27 inches (68.5cm), are almost certainly the graves of children. Another, measuring only 4ft 4 inches (1.32 m), must be either the grave of an adolescent or an unusually short adult. At this point, we cannot say exactly how old all of these graves are. The grey-Lias stone clearly dates to the late 18th century and another, carved from Portland Stone, appears to date to the early 18th century. However, some of the other graves may well be 17th century. Indeed, given it’s location, just a short distance south of the 1610 enclosure, it seems highly likely that this is the cemetery first established by the colonists in that year. If it is, it must have continued to be used for roughly 180 years and the high proportion of children’s graves clearly indicates the presence of families at the site.

So far none of the graves have been excavated. Instead we are uncovering and recording the location of the grave pits and marker stones. Over the next few weeks the grave pits will be covered in sand to protect and better define them and the marker stones will be put back in place. Graves that were unmarked will be marked with white crosses and the cemetery will be landscaped. In 2011 we will extend the excavation to the north in an attempt to determine the total number of graves in the cemetery.

(For more on the Cupids Cove Plantation Cemetery see the entries for Dec. 11, 2007 & Aug. 26, 2008 below)

Photo Above: Uncovering another grave pit at Cupids, November 5, 2010. The shattered grey-Lias headstone and the grave pit (Grave3) associated with it can be seen on the left.

Date: Oct. 11th '10
Title: Gun Platform Discovered at Cupid's
October 11, 2010, 12:30pm

Early 17th Century Gun Platform found at Cupids

Excavations conducted since late August on the stone structure (Structure 7) located north of the northern defensive wall at Cupids have confirmed that it is a gun battery (see the entry for November 19, 2009 below). Digging on the western side of this structure has uncovered a small, stone gun platform built to mount a cannon.

The main part of Structure 7 uncovered to date consists of a stone wall located about 38ft north of the main defensive wall and running parallel to it (see entry for October 20, 2008). To date 21ft (6.4m) of this wall has been exposed but it extends farther east for an as-yet-unknown distance. The gun platform, which measures 8½ ft x 6½ ft (2.6m x 1.98m), is connected to this wall by a 2 ft (61cm) long wall that extends south from the western end of the main wall. The land drops away to the west and north of the platform providing a commanding view of the river valley and harbour.

While the artifacts found in association with Structure 7 are not as plentiful as those found inside the enclosure, those that have been recovered indicate that it was probably erected early in the 17th century. These include fragments of ceramics such as Raeren Stoneware (circa 1580-1620) and Werra Slipware (circa 1590-1630) along with a number of clay pipe bowl fragments dating to the early decades of the 17th century.

From John Guy's second letter, written on May 16, 1611, we know that when they arrived at Cupids the colonists erected "three pieces of Ordnance command the harbours upon a platform made of greate posts and rails and great Poles sixteen foot long set upright around about with two flankers to secure the quarters." We also know that the threat posed by piracy in 1612 led the colonists to upgrading the defenses of the colony. In a letter dated September 3, 1612 John Slany, the Treasure for the colony, reported that when these defenses are finished the colony "will be impregnable ...against the next yeare if the pirotts return." It seems likely that Structure 7 and the main stone defensive wall to the south of it were both part of this 1612 fortification effort.

Excavations at Cupids this year will continue until 5 November. During the time remaining we will uncover more of Structure 7 and do some more digging in the cemetery (see August 26, 2008 below) in an effort to locate more burials.

Photo Above: The gun platform at Cupids when it was first uncovered on September 27, 2010

Date: Dec. 4th '09
Title: A 17th Century Will From Cupids
December 4, 2009. 10:30 am.

Ontario Genealogist Discovers 17th Century Will From Cupids

An Ontario Genealogist with a keen interest in Newfoundland history has discovered a very important document for both the early history of Cupids and the early history of Newfoundland. While searching the British National Archives website for documents related to Newfoundland about two years ago, Susan Snelgrove came across an interesting document dated 1674 which she transcribed and posted on several genealogical websites including the Newfoundland Grand Banks site and the Newfoundland Genweb site along with numerous other documents that she has found and transcribed over the last ten or so years. I only found out about the document a few days ago and was amazed that I hadn’t heard about it before. When I emailed Ms. Snelgrove yesterday about the discovery she replied that she didn’t “think to mention it because one assumes that historians already have this kind of information.”

The document in question is the last will and testament of “Master James Hill inhabitant of Cupits Cove” dated March 4, 1674. It is brief but at the same time provides us with some vital new information about Cupids in the seventeenth century. In it Hill designates “Thomas Butler now of Porta Grave” his executer and bequeaths to Butler “All my Goods within and about the said house of Cupits Cove”.

This is not the first time the name Hill appears in relation to Cupids. For almost twenty years now I’ve been wondering who the Master Hill was that is mentioned by both Henry Crout and Thomas Rowley. I first came across him in early 1991 when I read Thomas Rowley’s letter from September 1619 in which he says that he and Master Hill were planning to go from Cupids to Trinity Bay in fifteen days' time to trade with the Beothuk. In another letter, dated October 16, 1619, Rowley states that Master Hill is leaving next week for Trinity Bay. Also, in a letter dated February 2, 1620, Rowley states that if he can not hire a carpenter to help in building his house in New Perlican, “we shall make means without with master hills carpenters”. The earliest reference to a Master Hill being at Cupids that I am aware of comes from 1616 when Henry Crout reported that between May 10 and June 4 of that year he acquired “ ½ hundred of dry fish” from Master Hill.

For the past fifteen years we have been digging the site established by John Guy at Cupids in 1610 and the more we dig the more obvious it becomes that the site was occupied throughout most of the seventeenth century. However, although we know the names of quite a few of the earliest settlers, we could not say with any degree of certainty who the people were who continued to live there after the first ten or fifteen years of settlement. Now one of those settlers has emerged from the shadows: “Master James Hill inhabitant of Cupits Cove”.

It is possible that the James Hill who had his last will and testament drawn up at Cupids on March 4, 1674 was the same Master Hill who provided salt fish to Crout and made plans with Rowley to trade with the Beothuk. If so he would probably have been nearly 80 years of age when the will was drawn up. If this is not the same man, then chances are very good that he is a descendent of the original Master Hill.

The connection with Thomas Butler is also very interesting. We know from the first Newfoundland census, conducted in 1675, that Butler was living in Port de Grave at the time but had land and kept cattle in Cupids. The fact that Hill refers to Butler as being “now of Porta Grave” appoints him his executor, and leaves him all his possessions implies a close relationship and suggests that Butler may have formerly lived in Cupids. I have wondered for a long time how far back Thomas Butler’s links with Cupids go and if he may have been a descendant of the Samuel Butler who was living in Cupids in 1612.

It is also interesting that Hill bequeaths Butler “all my Goods within and without the said house of Cupits Cove” but not the house itself indicating that Hill probably did not own the house. If he didn’t, then who did? Did it belong to Thomas Butler or did it still belonging to one or more of the early investors in the Newfoundland Company or their descendants? As always in the case of discoveries such as this, some questions are answered and more are raised.

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