17th-century will from Cupids discovered

CanWest News Service
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A sleuthing family history buff has discovered the 17th-century will of a Newfoundland man who appears to have been part of the first English colony in Canada.

The 335-year-old document details the planned distribution of property belonging to a "Master James Hill, inhabitant of Cupits Cove" - present-day Cupids, the historic Newfound-land town where Prince Charles and Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently marked the upcoming 400th anniversary of Canada's earliest English settlement.

A sleuthing family history buff has discovered the 17th-century will of a Newfoundland man who appears to have been part of the first English colony in Canada.

The 335-year-old document details the planned distribution of property belonging to a "Master James Hill, inhabitant of Cupits Cove" - present-day Cupids, the historic Newfound-land town where Prince Charles and Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently marked the upcoming 400th anniversary of Canada's earliest English settlement.

The document dated March 4, 1674 is held in Britain's National Archives and provides "vital new information" about the trailblazing Cupids colony, says New-foundland archeologist Bill Gil-bert.

"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 10 or 15 years," he said. "Now one of those settlers has emerged from the shadows."

The document stipulates that Hill - who appears to be the same man mentioned as early as 1616 in other Cupids documents, and may have been 80 by the time the will was written - wanted to bequeath to a Thomas Butler of the nearby "Porta Grave" community "all my Goods within and about the said house of Cupits Cove."

Hill's will was discovered two years ago by Ontario genealogical researcher Susan Snelgrove, but its significance in identifying a pioneering Cupids colonist was only made clear when Gilbert was recently alerted to the find.

The settlement on the shores of Conception Bay, begun in 1610, was one of Britain's first beachheads in the New World and is the Canadian equivalent to the famous 1607 Jamestown settlement in the U.S.

An archeological team led by Gilbert has been unearthing building foundations and artifacts at the Cupids site since the remains of the original town site were discovered in the 1990s.

Another discovery

Last month, the researchers discovered what appear to be the remnants of a stone wall built to anchor a cannon to defend Cupids from potential attacks by pirates or rival French, Spanish or Portuguese fishing fleets.

Like the traces of the earliest French settlements at St. Croix Island off New Brunswick's southern coast (1604) and at Quebec City (1608), the archeological finds at Cupids represent the beginnings of a permanent Euro-pean presence in the northern half of the New World.

Prince Charles, who studied archeology as a young man, appeared enthralled while touring the Cupids site in early November.

"The story of Cupids is the story of Canada," said the future king, whose distant ancestors granted the royal charters securing Britain's claims to Newfoundl-and and other North American colonies.

"It is emblematic of the resilience and determination of those who came later to these shores in different times and in different circumstances," he said in a speech.

"The unifying factor, it seems to me, is that they all came with a purpose, a dream to create something new."

Organizations: National Archives, North American

Geographic location: Canada, Britain, Newfoundland Ontario Conception Bay Jamestown U.S. New Brunswick Quebec City

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