Mooseburger in paradise?

Tracing Jimmy Buffett’s Newfoundland roots

Brodie Thomas
Published on November 23, 2013
“Mr. Margaritaville,” Jimmy Buffett, can trace his roots back to Newfoundland — Rose Blanche, to be precise. — Submitted image

His 1978 album was titled “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” and you could even say he’s a Newfoundlander, twice removed.

Because Jimmy Buffett, the man who built an empire around tropical island living, can trace his roots to a much colder island.

It’s a fact that was vaguely known among the Buffetts on the southwest coast of Newfoundland.

There are three listed in the phone book for the Port aux Basques area, and another in Burgeo.

James Buffett of Port aux Basques said he’s aware of a connection, although he’s never met the distant cousin with whom he shares a name.

For answers about genealogy, James deferred to former Port aux Basques resident Dwight Anderson, who lives in Sarnia, Ont. He came across the connection while researching his own family tree.

Anderson has a copy of an obituary for Catherine Buffett in the Sydney Post from Jan. 18, 1943. It says she was born in Rose Blanche, predeceased by her husband William Buffett and survived by a son, “James in Pascogouen, Mississippi.”

It’s that son Anderson links to Jimmy. He believes “Pascogouen” is a clear misspelling of Pascagoula, Miss., which is where the singer was born.

Catherine’s son, James, would’ve been Jimmy’s grandfather. He was better known as JD, according to Anderson. He’s also found JD had a potential connection to Burgeo.

“There is a citation in Joseph Small’s ‘Diary of Burgeo’ regarding JD, but it is not definitive,” Anderson wrote in an email. “The family moved to Sydney. JD ran away from home at age 13, apparently to search for his brother, John, who was reported to be shipwrecked. He became a cabin boy on a whaling ship.”

Anderson found a 1916 record of JD at a boarding house in Pascagoula. He ended up marrying the daughter of the boarding home’s owner.

JD was certainly a sailor. He was listed as first master of the 372-foot barquentine Monfalcone in 1920.

That same year, Jimmy Buffett’s father, JD Jr., was born. Twenty-six years later, JD Jr.’s wife, Mary Peet Buffett, gave birth to the now-famous singer.

Anderson isn’t the only one to discover Jimmy’s connection to southwestern Newfoundland. Doris Buffett set out to find a connection between her family and that of the musician. Doris is the sister of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal in 2005, Doris said her investor brother and the singer had met many times and even performed together. She said she was unable to find a definitive connection between her family and Jimmy’s, and the furthest back she could trace Jimmy’s genealogy was Rose Blanche.

Scott Smith, owner of Salmon Hole Lodge on the La Poile River, said Jimmy is aware of his roots. In 1998, Smith hosted Buffett and a few of his friends at his southwest coast lodge for a few days of salmon fishing.

“He wanted to get away from it all,” recalls Smith. “He brought some friends up and they had a great time.”

Smith remembered Jimmy telling him about his family’s connection to Rose Blanche. As Smith remembers it, Jimmy told him that his grandfather had been born in Rose Blanche.

“He wanted to go into Rose Blanche,” said Smith. “He got me to take his picture outside the Rose Blanche post office.”

That branch of the Buffett family’s changes in latitude brought some changes in attitude regarding traditional Newfoundland fisheries. In 2006, at least one of Buffett’s two restaurant chains signed on to a Canadian seafood boycott in response to the Canadian seal hunt.

“Margaritaville Cafes will not be purchasing or serving Canadian seafood products until the Canadian government ends the commercial seal hunt permanently,” wrote Jimmy in an open letter posted to the U.S. Humane Society’s website.

“I do not look at this as one nation telling another how to best manage its affairs. I view it as an effort to make humans more humane in the way they manage the planet.”

The Gulf News attempted to reach Jimmy Buffett for an interview on his family roots. A spokesperson for HK Management  declined the offer, apologizing that it wouldn’t work out.


The Gulf News