Fish into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century / Edition 1

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Combining innovative archaeological analysis with historical research, Peter E. Pope examines the way of life that developed in seventeenth-century Newfoundland, where settlement was sustained by seasonal migration to North America's oldest industry, the cod fishery.

The unregulated English settlements that grew up around the exchange of fish for wine served the fishery by catering to nascent consumer demand. The English Shore became a hub of transatlantic trade, linking Newfoundland with the Chesapeake, New and old England, southern Europe, and the Atlantic islands. Pope gives special attention to Ferryland, the proprietary colony founded by Sir George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, in 1621, but later taken over by the London merchant Sir David Kirke and his remarkable family. The saga of the Kirkes provides a narrative line connecting social and economic developments on the English Shore with metropolitan merchants, proprietary rivalries, and international competition.

Employing a rich variety of evidence to place the fisheries in the context of transatlantic commerce, Pope makes Newfoundland a fresh point of view for understanding the demographic, economic, and cultural history of the expanding North Atlantic world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] penetrating . . . conjectural mixture of history, geography, economics, anthropology, and international relations."

"Impressively researched and methodologically eclectic. . . . An ambitious, complex, and thought-provoking study that should bring a lot more attention to early Newfoundland."— Itinerario

"Pope offers a distinct model of colonization and a different perspective on success and failure in the Atlantic world. . . . A fascinating socioeconomic history. . . . A must-read for any student of colonial America, a model of what the new Atlantic history should be." — American Historical Review

"Pope succeeds gloriously in bringing this critical, intermeshed Atlantic trade and industry to life." — Nicholas Canny, National University of Ireland, Galway

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Peter E. Pope teaches anthropology and history at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is director of the Newfoundland Archaeological Heritage Outreach Program. He is author of The Many Landfalls of John Cabot.

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Read an Excerpt

Fish into Wine

The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century
By Peter E. Pope

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2910-2

Chapter One

The Early Fishery

The sea there is swarming with fish.... I have heard this Messer Zoane [Cabot] state so much.... These same English, his companions, say that they could bring so many fish that this kingdom would have no further need of Iceland, from which there comes a very great quantity of the fish called stockfish. -Raimondo de Soncino to the duke of Milan, Dec. 18, 1497

The practice of catching and transforming cod into a dried food suitable for ocean transport to distant markets is much older than the Newfoundland fishery. Stockfish, as wind-dried cod and ling were called in medieval times, was the first mass-produced food commodity: a stable, light, and eminently transportable source of protein. From about 1100, Norway exported commercial quantities of stockfish to the European continent. By 1350, stockfish had become Iceland's staple export commodity. English merchants, among others, brought grain, salt, and wine to trade for stockfish, but Icelandic fishermen could not keep up with European demand. Thus, after 1400, the English developed their own migratory fishery at Iceland, carried on at seasonal fishing stations. Bristol participated in this industry, but the North Sea port of Hull became a more significant player. English customs accounts of the 1470s record imports of several kinds of Icelandic fish, including "salt fish" valued at twice the price of the unsalted wind-dried stockfish. Who developed the lightly salted dry cure for cod is now forgotten, but the same method was used by Breton fishermen to process hake, a related fish, in late-medieval times. It was such salt-dried fish that the English would later produce in Newfoundland.

The fishing industry of England's West Country expanded rapidly after about 1400. The numbers of ships fishing and carrying fish grew rapidly in the fifteenth century, so that Devon and Cornwall together exported more fish, both by volume and value, than any other English region. A growth in home demand for fish, itself an expression of late-medieval prosperity, was probably a key factor in contemporary expansion of fisheries and in technological advances in salt processing. Devon and Cornwall were able to take advantage of this potential for growth, because their merchants had capital to invest in shipping and in the fish trade and because the West Country had easy access to cheap salt in the Bay of Biscay and Iberia, regions that also proved to be lucrative markets. Cornwall and the south Devon ports of Plymouth and Dartmouth developed export fisheries prosecuted far from their home waters, although the Dorset and north Devon fisheries remained, at this time, largely local. In the second half of the fifteenth century, south Devon crews began to fish in the English Channel, building seasonal camps in Kent, Sussex, and East Anglia. Some fishers from Devon and Cornwall took part in the Icelandic fishery, but by 1500 Devon fishers were much more involved in a new seasonal fishery on the west coast of Ireland, where they produced salt fish at shore camps, as they would do a century later in Newfoundland. The southwestern industry was not highly regulated, compared to the trade on England's east coast; this situation facilitated the rapid development of these new fisheries. In brief, the merchants and fishers of the West Country were well prepared to exploit the waters of Atlantic Canada when these waters appeared on Europe's horizon.

At the end of the fifteenth century, the obscure Venetian navigator, Zuan Cabotto, who we remember as John Cabot, explored the eastern coast of Newfoundland, as far north as Labrador, for the English king, Henry VII, and a syndicate of Bristol merchants. Certain documents suggest obliquely that fishermen from that western port might already have been frequenting these waters for some decades, as had Native peoples since the end of the last Ice Age. There is evidence, at least, that English fishers had reached as far as Greenland. In its own terms, Cabot's voyage was nonetheless a voyage of discovery, for this expedition made a "new land" known to his European contemporaries. He was followed westward in the early 1500s by a series of exploratory voyages to Newfoundland, Labrador, and Greenland sponsored by Bristol merchants and Azorean Portuguese captains, sometimes in cooperation. These early attempts at finding a northwest passage to the Far East indicate that Europeans had realized they had not found Tartary, to be coasted southward to Japan, but something else between Europe and Asia. Cabot's voyage also had the effect of publicizing the immense marine resources of the northwest Atlantic.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence, including Newfoundland, is close to Europe, relative to the rest of North America. Geography itself implies that this region would be one of the first parts of the New World exploited by Europeans, who soon identified economically valuable commodities in fish, whale oil, and furs. By the later sixteenth century, European commercial activity in Atlantic Canada exceeded, in volume and value, European trade with the Gulf of Mexico, which is usually treated as the American center of gravity of early transatlantic commerce. The cod fishery was by far the most important component of European commercial activity in northern North America, and it would remain for centuries much more important than the trade in furs.

The dry salt cure worked well in the temperate climate of Atlantic Canada and produced a very stable product, well suited for export to Iberian and Mediterranean markets. Production of lightly salted dry fish was not, however, confined to the English. The Breton fishermen of northern France used many of the same techniques, the men of Saint-Malo, in particular, often employing the lightly salted air-dried cure on the Petit Nord, Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. The Basques, who fished in Placentia and Trinity Bays, preferred this method to a green cure, in which fish are heavily salted and left wet. The Normans used the green cure in their offshore fishery on the Grand Banks but were also familiar with the land-based dry cure and used it when fishing inshore. (Inshore fisheries are prosecuted from shore in day-to-day voyages by open boats on fishing grounds close to the coast; offshore fisheries are prosecuted from ships voyaging for weeks at a time to fishing banks, which may be days or even weeks sailing from dry land.)

Although the British Isles lacked major supplies of salt, the international market in this commodity made it easy for West Country supply ships to obtain suitable salt in southwest France or Portugal. A transatlantic itinerary via Saintonge or Setubal was not the inefficient detour it appears to the modern eye, given that vessels sailing westward across the Atlantic in midlatitudes have to set a course tending northward or southward in order to make headway into prevailing winds. In short, salt for the fishery was neither difficult to obtain nor particularly costly to ship to Newfoundland; indeed, in 1677 salt was cheaper on the English Shore than it was in France. Thus, dependence on imported salt is not a plausible explanation for West Country reliance on the dry cure, with its conveniently light requirement for salt. The technological choice was a consequence of consumer habits in England's markets: the southern ports to which the West Country shipped Newfoundland fish were not much interested in wet fish, most of which was consumed in the relatively cooler climes of northern France.

The Sixteenth-Century European Migratory Fishery

In 1502, the Gabriel of Bristol brought home the first recorded cargo of North American cod: thirty-six tons of salt fish, worth £180 to the merchant Hugh Elyot, an early and persistent transatlantic investor. By 1510, European crews were seasonally fishing the waters of Atlantic Canada, known then indiscriminately as "the new found land," "terre neuve," or "terra do bacalhau"-the land of the cod. Given that Newfoundland and its marine resources were discovered for Europe by an English expedition, the extent of early English participation in the transatlantic cod fishery historically has been easy to exaggerate. In fact, French and Iberian records of the middle decades of the sixteenth century suggest a scale of effort by Bretons, Normans, and Basques unmatched, until the 1570s, by the few English ports that occasionally took part in the early industry, notably Southampton and Plymouth. As the seventeenth-century history The English Empire in America admitted, the Newfoundland trade had been "laid aside many years." Breton, Norman, and French Basque crews dominated the nascent transatlantic cod fishery, and their activities grew dramatically in the 1540s. Crews from the Basque coast of Spain had joined the fishery by this time, and, until about 1610, the merchants of San Sebastian and the other Guipúzcoan towns also financed a shore-based whale hunt in the Strait of Belle Isle, between Newfoundland and Labrador. Despite the early Anglo-Azorean voyages, the Portuguese did not become major participants in the migratory fishery. Even in the second half of the sixteenth century, when the port of Viana, in particular, sent ships regularly to Newfoundland, they did not commit themselves as seriously as the French already had or as the English would. In the summer of 1527, an English visitor to St. John's found only two Portuguese ships among the fourteen fishing there; the rest were French. Portugal had other fish to fry-not simply in the sense that it had its own new fisheries off Madeira and the Azores but also in the sense that this relatively small nation had staked widespread claims in Brazil, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. The English in the sixteenth century had few imperial commitments beyond Ireland, so it is more difficult to explain why their intermittent efforts in Newfoundland expanded only after 1565.

Through the mid-sixteenth century, England was often, in effect, a client state of Spain. In the 1550s, the English even had a Habsburg king: before Philip became king of Spain in 1556, he shared the English throne briefly with his wife, Queen Mary. Mary's death in 1558 marks an important turning point in European history, together with the treaty of Câteau-Cambrésis between France and Spain, signed the following year. Until then, England had to operate within the diplomatic reality of the struggle between Habsburg Spain and Valois France. After reconciliation of the two major Catholic powers in 1559, conflict emerged between Catholic, Mediterranean Spain and the newly Protestant north. Over the following half-century, while Portuguese and Guipúzcoan Basque participation in the transatlantic fishery collapsed under the onerous weight of the Spanish crown, the English West Country counties of Devon and Dorset became serious competitors of western France in this trade. In the late sixteenth century, the English did not merely expand their own small Newfoundland fishery; they displaced the Iberian industry there.

How did a few Devon and Dorset outports elbow their way into such a potentially lucrative economic niche? This rapid expansion might be explained, at least in part, by Spain's declining international clout. Bernard Drake, one of Elizabeth I's privateering "sea-dogs," disrupted the Spanish Basque and Portuguese fisheries with an attack on their Newfoundland ships in 1585. Philip of Spain, who had by this time ascended to the throne of Portugal as well, pressed Basque and Portuguese fishing and whaling vessels into the service of his great Armada of 1588, while others hired on as freighters. Subsequent losses must have dimmed the prospects of both fishers and whalers. Iberian decline was not, however, simply military. The Spanish crown also weakened the commercial strength of the Basque region with new taxes, and the depletion of its oak forests undercut its shipbuilding and iron industries. At a macroeconomic level, the inflationary pressure of precious metals from South and Central America drove a price-wage spiral that left the Iberian transatlantic fishery less and less competitive. Within a few years, Basque outfitting for the fishery at Bordeaux was in a serious slump. Whether cause or effect of the expansion of the English inshore fishery, this decline is unlikely to be a simple coincidence. The eclipse of the Iberian ports involved in the early transatlantic fishery was part of a long-term trend that saw an initially diffuse industry, spread over many European ports, increasingly concentrated in a few.

Although European crises affected migratory fisheries at Newfoundland and elsewhere, the industry was rarely used as an effective instrument of foreign policy, for its lack of centralization made it hard to control. In 1580, the Danes began to tax English ships at Iceland, but this maneuver probably had little impact on the nascent West Country fishery at Newfoundland. It was primarily England's east coast ports that were involved in Iceland; besides, England's fishery there, far from collapsing, flourished well into the second half of the seventeenth century. The late-sixteenth-century expansion of England's cod fishery at Newfoundland was part of a general rise in English maritime activity at this time, which was, in turn, an aspect of a shift in the economic center of the European world economy from the Mediterranean to the North Sea. France, preoccupied with a religious civil war, maintained a share in the New World fisheries but was not as successful as England in opening new markets in southern Europe. In the second half of the sixteenth century, the French developed an offshore banks fishery, which must have reduced competition on the traditional inshore fishing grounds. Perhaps the expansion in West Country trade awaited the appropriate political climate, following the end of the alliance with Spain in 1559; perhaps it simply required the spread of new navigational skills among northern fishing masters. English shipmasters were better prepared to pilot their own vessels across the Atlantic and back in Drake's day than they were in Cabot's. Fishermen would go where they were able to fill their holds, and, for West Country crews, Newfoundland was a natural extension of the Irish fishery.

Although the English were well established within the Newfoundland industry by the end of the sixteenth century, France's transatlantic fishery was still at least twice its size and would remain so through the following century. In 1578, Anthony Parkhurst estimated about 50 English, 50 Portuguese, 100 Basque, and 150 Norman or Breton vessels engaged in the transatlantic cod fishery. If we trust Parkhurst's rough figures, reading him as a participant and not as a lobbyist, we might suppose that these 350 European ships imported salt cod processed from a transatlantic live catch of about 75,000 tonnes. (The metric ton is used here for estimates of biomass.)


Excerpted from Fish into Wine by Peter E. Pope Copyright © 2004 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : the Newfoundland plantation 1
Ch. 1 The early fishery 11
Ch. 2 Early settlement 45
Ch. 3 Adventures in the sack trade 79
Ch. 4 Planting countries 122
Ch. 5 Service in the fishery 161
Ch. 6 Residents 194
Ch. 7 Transients 234
Ch. 8 Planters and gentry 255
Ch. 9 Outport economics 306
Ch. 10 Fish into wine 349
Ch. 11 The end of a century 407
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