Digging deeper

Lillian
Lillian Simmons
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Published on October 24, 2012

The archaeology team in Cupids has uncovered two defensive stonewalls that extend across the north end of what was John Guy’s plantation. It’s possible the two make up the inner and outer facings of a nine-foot thick wall. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

The Spracklin house, restored to its original form, is the first thing to greet visitors to Cupids Cove Plantation. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

The Spracklin house, restored to its original form, is the first thing to greet visitors to Cupids Cove Plantation. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

The Spracklin house, restored to its original form, is the first thing to greet visitors to Cupids Cove Plantation. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

One of the sawpits at the Cupids plantation was located close to the salt water, and another by the lake behind this hill where a fort was situated. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

Archeologist Bill Gilbert is wondering if the lower house at Cupids Plantation mentioned in 17th century documents might be located here. Test pits dug in July turned up a piece of Verwood earthenware from Dorset (left) and a piece of Totnes earthenware from Devon (right); an Iberian (Portuguese or Spanish) pipe stem; and a piece of burnt tin glaze. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

— Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

— Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

Alison Mercer, Judy Keating, Patricia Elford and Natasha Sparkes continue work on the cemetery. So far 10 graves have been found in this cemetery, which may be the resting place of colonists at the 17th century plantation.— Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

Aside from interpreting the building, the volumetric reconstruction of the dwelling house and storehouse also protects the ruins underneath. Before building these accommodations, John Guy and his men used a temporary shelter nearby that first fall of 1610. The archaeology crew found the pit house in 2002. “They might have improvised the roof with a sail,” Archeologist Bill Gilbert says. In 1611 Guy mentions he built a ‘far greater house.’ So there’s a possibility another, larger house existed somewhere on the site. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Published on October 24, 2012

Aside from interpreting the building, the volumetric reconstruction of the dwelling house and storehouse also protects the ruins underneath. Before building these accommodations, John Guy and his men used a temporary shelter nearby that first fall of 1610. The archaeology crew found the pit house in 2002. “They might have improvised the roof with a sail,” Archeologist Bill Gilbert says. In 1611 Guy mentions he built a ‘far greater house.’ So there’s a possibility another, larger house existed somewhere on the site. — Photo by Lillian Simmons/Special to The Telegram

Cupids team continues the search for graves and lower house

For the archeology team at Cupids, the ground must seem as giving as the sea did when Europeans first fished there.

“You can pretty much dig anywhere here and find something,” says Bill Gilbert, chief archeologist for the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corp.

For the past 17 years Gilbert and a crew have been carrying out archeological work at the site of the Cupids Cove Plantation set up by John Guy in 1610.

On an October day that seems reluctant to let go of summer, Gilbert walks around the site pointing out what’s been uncovered to date.

The crew has unearthed a dwelling house and storehouse, almost certainly built in 1610; a temporary pit house, where some of the colonists likely lived while permanent structures were being built, two small outbuildings, a portion of the defensive walls at the north of the plantation, a gun platform, a cemetery and an estimated 160,000 artifacts.

Historical documents indicate there were at least three houses, the second of them “far greater and fairer” built in 1611, and a third built for Henry Crout and Thomas Willoughby in 1612. The colony also contained a workhouse, two sawpits and a sawmill, buildings for the animals, a blacksmith’s shop, a gristmill and a brew house.

This summer work continued on the cemetery first uncovered in 2008. The graves lie at the foot of a once-fortified hill, backed by a lake, where one of the sawpits may have been situated.

Thirty-nine colonists spent the first winter in Cupids. By 1613, the number had increased to 62. During the first three years, 12 people died. The team has uncovered 10 graves; four appear to be the graves of children.

“At this point we don’t know for sure if it’s the original cemetery or a later one,” says Gilbert.

Most of the graves are only 18 inches wide, an indication that it may be the cemetery used by the original colony.

“Sixteenth- and 17th-century graves tend to be quite narrow,” he explains.

 

Impregnable defence

Three stone walls have been uncovered. One, an inner defensive wall built in 1610, was discovered in 2003.

“John Guy talks about enclosing an area 90 by 120 feet and building his first dwelling and storehouse inside that area. It must be the north wall of that enclosure, with the dwelling house and storehouse over here,” the archeologist concludes, pointing to an area a short distance behind the wall.

However, Gilbert doesn’t think there would have been time to build a stone defence wall in 1610. That would have come a little later. Guy says in a letter from May 1611 that his defence works had been built from wood.

But by 1612 the colonists were having trouble with pirates.

“They’d actually established the second colony at Renews on the Southern Shore, which they were forced to abandon in 1612. Because of Peter Easton and the other pirates, it wasn’t safe to be down there.”

According to a letter by colonist Henry Crout, they made a deal with Easton. They would give him two of their roasting pigs in return for a letter of safe passage back to Cupids.

“They got back to Cupids in August. We know that in the summer of 1612 they undertook a major fortification effort. Henry Crout talks about Master Guy building a fort, and we have a letter written by John Slaney, secretary treasurer of the London and Bristol Company. He says Master Guy is now building a fort and when he’s finished the place will be impregnable against the pirates,” Gilbert says.

Easton was also attacking French fishermen, and the English settlers feared if the French sought revenge, they weren’t going to distinguish between pirates and settlers.

In 2009 the team found the results of Guy’s major fortification effort, a defensive wall located closer to the harbour, about 40 feet north of the enclosure wall.

“So it seems like this stone wall, which probably measured about seven feet high, and the gun platform for mounting a cannon, were most likely built in 1612.”

The stone from the wall appears to have been scavenged for reuse in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“All that’s left of the stone is what was below ground. So what you got left is the very base of the wall and the gun platform.”

Last year the crew found another wall, five feet to the north and running parallel to that one.

“It’s either a separate defensive wall, or all of this was one wall — the outer face and the inner face of a massive wall — nine feet wide.”

It may be that only the walls facing the harbour and most vulnerable to attack from the sea were built of stone. The walls to the east, south and west were more likely wooden.

“Big posts every 10 or 12 feet and rails, like a fence. They’d have palings six or seven feet high, sharpened at the top nailed onto the rails, so it would be a solid wall. If it’s a wooden palisade, all we’re going to find are postholes — the holes dug for wooden posts.”

 

Blacksmith shop

In 2008 the team found slag  — waste from the forge directly behind the inner wall.

“So we’re trying to find out where the blacksmith shop was.”

They uncovered a drainage ditch this summer that may have been used to drain off the water from the slack tub, where the blacksmith would have cooled the hot iron.

Instead of running in a straight line, the ditch veers off for several feet going around what seems to be the remains of a small building.

 

Ghost structure

The most eye-catching feature at the site is the volumetric reconstruction of the original dwelling house and storehouse, otherwise known as a ghost structure.

Erected over the ruins in 2010, it shows the basic outline of the building without adding a lot of detail.

“The more detail you add, the more you’re imagining. But it gives you the shape of the building,” Gilbert says.

To protect the archeology beneath, the structure extends three feet outside the original house.

Gilbert points to what would have been one of the walls.

“We put the posts for the platform down and ran the rails across and then we realized this side (of the house) was built on an angle.”

 

Down to the landwash

This year the crew began work on an area closer to the harbour, in search of a “lower house.”

“Crout talks about the boards blowing off the upper house in 1613. We know by 1612 there were at least three dwellings. So the lower house may be down there,” Gilbert says, nodding towards an area behind the old Spracklin house at the entrance to Cupids Cove Plantation.

Built sometime between the 1870s and ’90s, the Spracklin house was purchased by the Dawe family in the 1930s and renovated. Since the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corp. and Provincial Historic Sites acquired the house, it has been returned it to its original form with the help of photos from the early 1900s.

At one time the existing road was beach, and salt water washed up against the house. Gilbert is trying to determine how the land looked when the colonists arrived.

“Where was the landwash in 1610?” he wonders, glancing around the front yard of the Spracklin house.

“This area would have been usable for wharves and stages, but how much of it was dry land that they could use?”

He walks towards several test pits the crew dug in July, located a few yards behind the house. One of them offered up 17th-century artifacts — ceramics, pottery, pieces of clay pipes, window glass. There’s a refurbished well a few yards away, with a gentle slope of earth between.

Uncertain whether the well is 17th-century, Gilbert shrugs.

“It’s made of huge square stones; it could be a 17th-century well that just kept being reused. We don’t know.”

In his journal for Feb. 14, 1613, Crout mentions a “great storme of wind at south,” that blew off one-quarter of the boards from the upper house.

“The fact that Crout mentions an upper house implies the existence of a lower house. The dwelling house that we have already discovered is located on a terrace about four metres above the low ground to the west,” Gilbert says. “If this is Crout’s upper house, that would imply the lower house was on the low ground to the west of the terrace.

“See how the ground rises up and drops away just before you get to the well? If you look at the lay of the land, this might not be a bad place to put a house. You’re back on dry ground and the river is just over there, so I’m wondering if this may be the lower house.”

Gilbert hopes to answer that question before the season ends sometime in December, weather permitting.

Organizations: Baccalieu Trail Heritage, Spracklin house, London and Bristol Company Provincial Historic Sites

Geographic location: Cupids

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  • DON II
    October 25, 2012 - 09:33

    In response to Larry. Whether you care to admit it or not, there are serious questions which will require investigation and answers regarding the creation of a dubious Provincial Historic Site in Cupids. Any claim that Henry Crout would build his dwelling house OUTSIDE of the Palisade which John Guy constructed to protect the Cupers Cove Plantation from attack by hostile forces is simply not plausible and defies logic. There is a photograph of the site in Cupids taken in 1910 that was used in a series of Post Cards during the 300th Anniversary celebrations of Cupids which identified the site as the "Sea Forest Plantation". Historians know that the Sea Forest Plantation was NEVER located in Cupids. It appears that despite being aware of such historical inaccuracies, the Government of Newfoundland chose to promote a fictional version of the history of Cupids! The question to be answered is WHY? The remains of dwelling houses, root cellars and people have been found at a site in Cupids but there is NO PROOF that these remains and artifacts are connected in any way to John Guy and his colonists. The Government of Newfoundland expropriated private property to create a Provincial Historic Site to commemorate a fictional place called the "Cupids Cove Plantation" which NEVER existed in Newfoundland history. It appears that the Government of Newfoundland provided Millions of tax payer dollars in order to promote a fictional version of Newfoundland history in Cupids. It is apparent that the real location of Cupers Cove has not been found in Cupids. It also appears that the Government of Newfoundland undertook without due diligence to spend Millions of tax payer dollars to promote a fictionalized version of history in Cupids. Instead of insisting that the real location of Cupers Cove and the Cupers Cove Plantation be found and authenticated, the Government of Newfoundland simply capitalized on a well known myth regarding Cupids for tourism promotion and political ribbon cutting opportunities. It appears, based on historic documents, that the Cupers Cove Plantation was actually situated within the boundaries of the Colony of Avalon. Instead of promoting and funding the history of the Colony of Avalon which apparently acquired the Cupers Cove Plantation situated within its boundaries near Avondale, the Government of Newfoundland chose to promote and fund the fictional history of the town of Cupids which had absolutely no connection with John Guy, the Sea Forest Plantation or the Cupers Cove Plantation!

  • Larry
    October 24, 2012 - 20:30

    Don, why don't you give it a rest. The ship has sailed on your limp arguments.

  • Ross DAWE
    October 24, 2012 - 14:10

    I congratulate Lillian Simmons and the Telegram on the very informative article. Also hats off to Bill Gilbert who continues to make history come alive in Newfoundland.Cupids is becoming a tourist destination and many local businesses in the area and other tourist sites are reaping the benefits.

  • DON II
    October 24, 2012 - 11:57

    I wish to respond to the comments attributed to Bill Gilbert that: "John Guy talks about enclosing an area 90 by 120 feet and building his first dwelling and storehouse inside that area" and "If this is Crout's upper house, that would imply the lower house was on the low ground to the west of terrace." It appears that the archaeologists are searching for the "lower house" purportedly built by John Guy at Cupids in an area of land situated behind the"Spracklin House". It is highly improbable that John Guy would have built a "lower house" near the seashore if it was his intent to protect his dwelling house from hostile and armed attack from armed pirates or foreign ships armed with long range cannons. John Guy built a Palisade and constructed his dwelling house and storehouse INSIDE the Palisade at Cupers Cove which Mr. Gilbert claims is located at the site in Cupids. It appears that the 'Spracklin House" which was expropriated from the Dawe family is not located inside of the area of land which was the purported site of the Palisade built by John Guy. If the remains of a building are unearthed behind the "Spracklin House" those building remains would certainly have nothing to do with John Guy and his colonists. Why would John Guy or anyone else build their dwelling house OUTSIDE the walls of their Palisade fort in an area controlled by hostile Pirates and foreign ships armed with heavy cannons? The flawed logic, unproven claims, myths, folklore, implied conclusions, disclaimers, caveats and pure speculation relied on by the promoters of the purported history of Cupids should have raised serious concerns in the Government as to the historic accuracy, veracity and authenticity of claims regarding the purported history of Cupids prior to the expenditure of Millions of tax payer dollars to promote the Town of Cupids as an historic site connected to John Guy.

  • fyi
    October 24, 2012 - 10:28

    Well Don ll after all that maybe you should be out assisting the professionals and once again tell them how to do their job and what is wrong with the information in their findings since you be somewhat of a historian. Maybe you should have written your own article.

  • DON II
    October 24, 2012 - 09:12

    I must respectfully criticize the content of this article in the public interest and I trust that the Editor of The Telegram will publish my remarks. The Federal and Provincial Governments have poured Millions of tax payer dollars into promoting the purported history of Cupids that is based on unfounded and unproven claims.There are serious questions which must be asked and answered regarding the claims being promoted about the purported history of Cupids.The purported historical significance of Cupids is based on unproven claims that Cupids is the location of Cupers Cove where John Guy and his colonists landed in 1610. The Telegram regularly publishes articles designed to promote the purported history of Cupids and the archaeological site located there. The Telegram erroneously continues to refer to the site in Cupids as being established by John Guy in 1610. It appears that the Government has been promoting and funding Cupids history propaganda without engaging in due diligence, fact checking, obtaining independent research or challenging the accuracy of the claims being made about the purported history of Cupids. The unproven claims about Cupids have been promoted for over 100 years and are deeply ingrained as an established historical fact. This ingrained belief makes it a simple matter for anyone who wants to promote the myths about Cupids history and difficult for anyone to challenge the accuracy or veracity of those myths and unproven claims. It appears that the promoters of Cupids history intend to repeat and publish the unproven claims over and over until the media and the public accepts them as settled historical fact. I have researched the historical documents, letters and maps, some of which were suppressed from public view or improperly interpreted and have discovered that the documents show beyond a doubt that Cupids is NOT the place where John Guy landed in 1610! The article quotes Archaeologist Bill Gilbert as stating that: "You can pretty much dig anywhere here and find something." That is not surprising as the site in Cupids is an early homestead not unlike many other similar homesteads in Conception Bay that are recorded in The Plantation Books. You can dig on practically any property in early established communities in Conception Bay and find 17th century artifacts. The article also states: "The crew has unearthed a dwelling house and storehouse, almost certainly built in 1610." Why use the caveat disclaimer: "almost certainly"? Were the buildings actually constructed in 1610 or not? Were the buildings actually constructed by John Guy or not? There appears to be a liberal use of "imagination" to support these so called historical findings. It appears that the use of disclaimers such as "very likely", "there is little doubt" or "what else could it be?" have been used in the past to support the unfounded claims being made about the site in Cupids. As for the so called defensive wall, I have reviewed photographs taken of Cupids in the late 1800's and early 1900's which clearly show that early land owners in the town built rock walls about 3 or 4 feet high with wooden fence posts and rails positioned on top of the rock wall base. That does not make those walls "defensive walls". These rock and wooden fences were used to delineate property boundaries and to keep livestock inside the fenced area. These rock walls and fences would be useless as a defense against a powerful cannon barrage or an armed attack. The site in Cupids which is purported to be where John Guy built his colony is located so near to the harbor as to be totally indefensible against cannon fire or armed attack. In the violent early 1600's the site in Cupids would be an improbable location to establish a colony safe from attack by ships at sea. The letters and journals written by John Guy and Henry Crout never mention a place called Cupids and both Guy and Crout stated they were writing their letters in Cupers Cove NOT in Cupids. As for the graves that are mentioned, there is absolutely no forensic or physical evidence offered to conclusively prove that the people who are buried on the site are the colonists who accompanied John Guy to Cupers Cove. It is probable that the graves contain the remains of the early owners of the homestead site in Cupids. It appears that the gravestones on at least two of the graves were manufactured in the 18th century around 1720 to 1780 and NOT in the 17th century and certainly not in1610! All of the talk, media promotion and claims about John Guy and Cupids are a moot point as the historic records, letters and maps show that Cupids is NOT Cupers Cove! On October 6, 1610 John Guy wrote a letter in which he stated that Cupers Cove where he made landfall was a branch of or near to a place called Salmon Cove. The historic documents, letters and maps show that the Salmon Cove to which John Guy referred was located near where the town of AVONDALE is located now. The historic records and maps do not show any place called Salmon Cove being located near Cupids in the 1600's. If proper research had been conducted by those promoting Cupids history they would have discovered that the Salmon Cove which existed when John Guy arrived at Cupers Cove in 1610 was NOT located anywhere near Cupids. Accordingly, it is not possible that Cupids is the location of Cupers Cove. The Salmon Cove located near AVONDALE was also used as boundary for the Charter of the Colony of Avalon. Historic documents and letters show that in addition to the Plantation at Ferryland, another plantation referred to as "our northern plantation" was contained within the boundary of the Colony of Avalon in 1622 which could only have been the Cupers Cove Plantation. The boundaries of the Colony of Avalon did not extend anywhere near to Cupids. The Colony of Avalon boundaries included the land where AVONDALE is located now and accordingly, the "northern plantation" at Cupers Cove must have been located somewhere between AVONDALE and Holyrood. The historic documents, letters and maps, properly researched and interpreted show that the colony established by John Guy in 1610 at Cupers Cove was located somewhere between Avondale and Holyrood. The Government of Newfoundland designated the site in Cupids as the "Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site" despite the fact that a place called the "Cupids Cove Plantation" is NEVER mentioned in the historic record of Newfoundland. For unexplained reasons, the Government of Newfoundland created a Provincial Historic Site in Cupids to commemorate a place that NEVER existed in Newfoundland history! It appears that the Government of Newfoundland has no evidence to conclusively prove that the archaeological site in Cupids is the authentic site of the Cupers Cove Plantation established by John Guy in 1610. Accordingly, the Government of Newfoundland chose not to designate the site in Cupids as the authentic site of the Cupers Cove Plantation! The continual promotion of the purported history of Cupids will not change the historical documents, letters and maps that show that Cupids is NOT Cupers Cove. Despite unfounded claims about the purported history of Cupids and the Millions of tax payer dollars spent to promote it, the historic documents, letters and maps show that Cupids is NOT Cupers Cove and that John Guy did NOT build a Plantation at Cupids in 1610!