Newfoundland's British Nomads

Newfoundland was England’s first overseas colony, but its settlement did not follow the usual patterns: its communities were nomadic, moving around the island with the seasons.

A sailing ship at the entrance to St John’s Harbour, Newfoundland, 1798, Edward Pelham Brenton. (British Library Board/Bridgeman Images)John Lewis, a Methodist missionary in North America, wrote to his superiors in London in December 1817 about the difficulties of serving his flock in the winter months.

They go from 25 to 35 Leagues in to Soletary & unfrequented Bays for the sake of Killing as much Venson and other Game as supplyes their familyes all the winter ... they in general return in the later end of April or the beginning of May so you see they are but the Summer here and then immurged [immersed] in the fishery ...

This lifestyle might lead us to suppose that the young Welshman was depicting a group of aboriginal hunters and fishers. But in fact he was describing a wholly European population of British descent on the island of Newfoundland. Lewis seemed puzzled to find himself in such a situation. So were other missionaries and travellers over the centuries.

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