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New Discoveries

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Date: Nov. 19th '09
Title: Defensive Wall Found at Cupids
November 19, 2009. 4:30 pm.

Seventeenth Century Structure Found North of the 1610 Enclosure at Cupids

Excavations in an area approximately 38ft (11.58m) north of the north wall of the 1610 enclosure at Cupids have uncovered the remains of a 17th century structure on a piece of property acquired by the Province in September 2008. Prior to acquisition the area had been covered by a stand of small-to-medium-sized aspen trees. Most of these trees were removed last fall and during this past summer the low brush was removed and the area cleaned up revealing a low mound measuring roughly 25 ½ ft (7.8m) from east to west by 31 ft (10.4m) from north to south. When we probed this area with a chaining pin we discovered that the mound consisted of a thin layer of silt over a rubble deposit.

Excavations began at the north end of the mound on September 17 and, although site development work took us away from digging for an extended period of time, by the end of last week (November 13) we had uncovered the base of an 18 inch (46cm) wide stone wall. The eastern-most portion of this wall has yet to be exposed but the section that is exposed runs across the site from east to west for 21ft (6.4m). Another wall has been found adjoining the western end of the east-west wall and extending south from it for an as yet unknown distance. This is the first 17th century structure to be uncovered at the site that is outside the enclosure built by John Guy's party in 1610.

The rubble accumulation that formed the mound clearly dates from the early 19th century but the deposits that accumulated beneath the rubble and against the base of the wall are obviously of 17th century origin indicating that this is a 17th century structure that either collapsed or was dismantled sometime in the early 19th century. At this point it is too early to say what the structure was used for. However, its location outside the enclosure and overlooking the harbour with a clear view to the west, north and east suggests that it may have played a role in the defense of the settlement. In his letter dated May 16, 1611, John Guy reported that the colonists had erected three cannons upon a platform “to command the Harboroughs”. Perhaps this is the place where Guy's party mounted their cannons. Certainly, it seems unlikely that anything other than some sort of defense works would have been placed in such a strategic and exposed position.

Photo Above: The base of the 17th century structure north of the enclosure being uncovered on November 13, 2009. The base of the north wall of the enclosure can be seen in the distance to the right. The dwelling house and storehouse are beneath the sand beyond the north wall.

Date: Dec. 1st '08
Title: Evidence of Iron Working at Cupids Site
December 1, 2008. 3:00 pm.

Evidence of Iron Working Uncovered at the Cupids Site

Excavations conducted at the Cupids site in late October and early November have uncovered evidence of iron working in the form of blacksmith’s slag. A deposit of slag and charcoal measuring about 1.5 m (5 ft) across has been found just inside the north wall of the enclosure in good seventeenth-century context. So far a total of 64 lb (29 kilos) of slag has been recovered and we are nowhere near the bottom. Scattered pieces of slag have also been found extending south of the pile. Since the area is only partially excavated, we don’t know what we will uncovered deeper down: it may be that this slag pile is inside what was once a blacksmiths’ shop or it may be that it was dumped here from a smithy located somewhere nearby. In either case, this is clear evidence that a forge was located inside the enclosure.

A smithy would have been an essential part of any seventeenth-century settlement. Blacksmiths made and repaired many of the iron tools and other items necessary for everyday life. We know that a smithy was one of the first things set up at the Cupids site. In his second letter, written on May 16, 1611, John Guy recorded that during the previous winter some of the colonists had been busy “in working at the Smiths Forge iron works for all needful uses”, and that they were making charcoal from birch, pine, spruce and fir which “is used by our Smith”. A list of provisions left at Cupids at the end of August 1611 includes, among other things, “the tools belonging to a smyth, paire of bloomer’s bellows, ...half a ton of iron & one C [hundredweight] of steel.” At this point we can’t say whether the slag we have uncovered was produced by the colony’s first blacksmith but this may well be the case.

Excavations this year ended on November 14. However, we are still busy mapping the north wall of the enclosure. If the weather cooperates, we should have our mapping finished by the end of this week (December 5).

Photos Above Top: Slag and charcoal deposit south of the north wall; Bottom: A sample of the slag from the deposit.

Date: Sep. 20th '08
Title: North Wall of Enclosure Uncovered at Cupids
October 20, 2008, 5pm
North Wall of Enclosure Exposed at Cupids

In his second letter, written back to England on May 16, 1611, John Guy states that by December 1, 1610 he had enclosed an area measuring 120 ft by 90 ft (36.6m x 27.4m) and built a dwelling house and storehouse inside that enclosure. Over the past five weeks the crew at Cupids has been conducting excavations in the northwest corner of the site and during this time we have uncovered a 36 ft (11 metres) long section of the base of the north wall of the enclosure erected by John Guy. Fifteen feet (4.6 metres) of this wall had already been exposed in 2003 (see the entry for March 10, 2006 below) so the total area uncovered so far is 51 ft (15.6 metres) long.

This part of the wall was built of stone and is 2 ft 8 inch (81cm) wide at its base. It originally extended farther east but a large section was destroyed when a substantial stone-walled cellar was constructed in this area by the Spracklin family sometime around 1800. An 8 inch (20cm) wide, seventeenth-century builders’ trench that runs from east to west just east of the Spracklin cellar pit indicates that at some point the stone construction ended and that the easternmost part of the wall was probably a wooden palisade.

Since it faces the harbour, it makes sense that the north wall of John Guy’s enclosure would have been of substantial construction. However, one obvious question that arises is, why was not the entire north wall built of stone? We may never know the answer but it could be that the original wall constructed in 1610 was built entirely of wood and that the stonework was an improvement undertaken sometime over the next few years that was never completed. We know that in 1612 the colonists were involved in upgrading the defences of the colony and this may have included rebuilding a portion of the north wall of the enclosure in stone.

Since September came in the weather has been great and we’ve only missed half a day because of rain. If the weather continues to cooperate, we will be digging until at least October 31 and perhaps until November 7.

Date: Aug. 26th '08
Title: Cemetery Discovered at Cupids Site
August 26, 2008. 10:00 a.m.

Cemetery Discovered South of 1610 Plantation at Cupids

Excavations at Cupids began this year on July 15. Over the past six weeks we have focused our efforts on the area roughly 50ft (15m) south of the 1610 enclosure where we discovered an early 18th century headstone last November (see below).

Initially this year we opened two 2m x 3m units. The first was established just east of the headstone in an attempt to locate the grave marked by that stone and the second was located two metres farther west to see if there were any graves in that area. We soon discovered that we were not dealing with a solitary grave. The western unit revealed a single, unmarked grave pit and in the eastern unit we uncovered not only the grave associated with the first headstone but a second headstone just north of the first and three stone grave markers.

Our progress has been slow due to the fact that much of this area is beneath thirteen years accumulation of back dirt. However, so far we have opened up 51 square metres and uncovered eight graves. Two of these are marked by the headstones mentioned above and the other six by crude, stone grave markers. The second headstone is carved from slate and, although it is badly shattered, the distinctive urn and willow design is clearly visible suggesting a date of sometime around 1800. At this point it is impossible to determine the date of the other six graves. However, three of them are extremely narrow, measuring only 19 inches (48cm) or less across. Narrow graves such as these are often found in early 17th century cemeteries.

Although it is too early to say for sure, this may be the cemetery first established by John Guy’s party in 1610. If so, it is the oldest English cemetery in Canada. The first colonist to be buried at Cupids was Thomas Percy who died, according to John Guy, “of thought having slaine a man in Rochester” before coming to Newfoundland. He was buried on December 11, 1610. Although we do not have a complete list, we know of eleven other colonists who were buried at Cupids between December 1610 and March 1613. It would only make sense that these people would have been buried near the original plantation and that, once establish, the cemetery would have continued to be used.

We don’t know when the first Anglican priest arrived in Cupids but John Slany, the colony’s treasurer, states in a letter dated July 17, 1612 that a service was held there on June 14 of that year, “to the great rejoicing of the people”, according to Slany, “200 persons being present.” If the graves of the colonists had not been consecrated before this, they almost certain would have been by the priest who performed this service. If this is the oldest English cemetery in Canada, the presence of the urn and willow headstone indicates that it continued in use for roughly 180 years.

Photo Above: Uncovering the cemetery at the Cupids site, August 22, 2008. Note the back dirt pile to the left.

Date: Dec. 11th '07
Title: Headstone Found at Cupids Site
December 11, 2007. 4:40 p.m.

Headstone Uncovered at the Cupids Site

November 15 was a beautiful autumn day and we decided to take advantage of the good weather by getting some last minute work done at the site in Cupids. A few weeks earlier some of the crew had raked up the leaves and laid them in a pile about fifty feet (15.24m) south of the site. We decided to move these leaves over next to the back dirt pile and shovel some earth over them. Some wood was piled in the area where we wanted to stack the leaves. We removed the wood and found beneath it an old, wooden gate half buried in the ground. One of the crew members, Linda Saunders, grabbed the gate and began to haul it up. With it came about four inches (10 cm) of sod and top soil beneath which was the uppermost part of a headstone.

We spent several hours uncovering the stone and when it was fully exposed it turned out to be six feet (1.83m) long and 27 ½ inches (69.8cm) wide. It is carved from a light grey sandstone and at least two lines of a well-weathered inscription can be seen although it has yet to be deciphered. According to Dr. Jerry Pocius at Memorial University’s Centre for Material Culture Studies, the stone likely dates from the early 18th century and was probably carved in Dorset, England. Although stones of a similar type were made in the late 17th century, they were usually smaller than the one found at Cupids.

The discovery of this stone roughly 50 feet south of the 1610 enclosure raises some interesting questions. The stone almost certainly marks the location of a grave and where there is one grave there may well be more. We know that a number of colonists died during the early years of the colony and no doubt there were other deaths for which we have no record. Could this be the location of the cemetery used by the colonists in the 17th century? It is certainly possible that a 17th-century cemetery could have continued to be used until the early years of the 18th century.

On the other hand, if this turns out to be a solitary grave, one has to wonder why just one person would have been buried so close to the plantation site. Could this be someone who had a close association with the colony? Certainly whoever was buried here must have been fairly well to do: it is unlikely that many people in early 18th-century Newfoundland could afford to have a large gravestone carved in England and shipped across the Atlantic. Next season we will open up more of this area to see if we can uncover any other evidence of burials.

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