The story of Cupers Cove (modern day Cupids) is not only the story of a proud little community that has stood the test of time, it is also a rich tale of huge historic relevance to the Newfoundland and Labrador and the Canada we know today. It is a story of vision and determination, of intrepid adventure and bloody disputes. But most of all, it is a story of survival over adversity.
It all began several hundred years ago, 1610 to be exact. At this time, across the ocean in England, a group of prominent traders and merchants came together to form what is most commonly known at the London and Bristol Company. Top of their agenda was to colonize the island of Newfoundland for the purposes of farming and fishing. In August of 1610, the company was issued charter rights by then reigning British monarch, King James I.
Without further ado, a party of thirty-nine men, led by Bristol merchant John Guy (widely regarded as the father of Cupids) set off across the Atlantic with just some basic supplies and livestock in tow. Their mission was to settle in Cupers Cove, living off the land, fortifying the settlement, and farming, fishing and trading in order to make a living. Without many of the luxuries and conveniences that they were used to back in their more advanced homeland, and amid often challenging weather conditions, this would be no easy task.
The work began the moment the would-be settlers set foot on their newly acquired land. Trees had to be cut and cleared, with a load of logs sent back to England on the ship that brought them the first fruits of their early labour. With the rest of the lumber, they would construct their first buildings. By December 1, they had completed their first dwelling and a second building for storage. These were the humble beginnings of the new community.
Fortune favoured the new settlers that first winter, which was a mild one by Newfoundland standards, without too much snow. This allowed them to keep working outside, clearing, exploring, and especially building. Indeed, they made great strides in the construction of buildings and boats, as detailed in a letter sent back to England by Guy just nine months after the colony had started out. By this time, they had already built a workhouse so they could continue working when the weather was bad, along with a fort and a blacksmith’s shop. Amazingly, they had also found time to throw together six small fishing boats and a 12-ton “bark” (a sailing ship with at least three masts) for further exploration of the island, which they called the Indeavour.
In 1611, Guy issued eight laws for his settlers to live by, as he left again for England, to return the following spring with sixteen female settlers. Still more settlers followed that spring and summer, and construction work continued apace, with a saw mill, a grist mill and other buildings all completed by the summer of 1612. In fine English, and Newfoundland tradition, they even built themselves a brew house so they could make their own beer!
But it wasn’t all building and brew, for danger lurked and further adventure beckoned for the first settlers of Cupers Cove. Danger came in the form of pirates, and in particular the infamous plunderer Peter Easton. Easton first ventured to Newfoundland in 1612, building a fort in Harbour Grace, and he soon set about attacking numerous ships and taking provisions from the fishermen, forcing some among them to join his callous cause. In an attempt to resist Easton’s threat, the Cupers Cove settlers, who had by this time began to set up a second settlement at Renews, were forced to offer up precious livestock as a means of protection payment.
When Easton set sail for other shores to conquer, the settlers set out on adventures of their own, namely to meet with the native Beothuk in an attempt to establish a fur trade. In November 1612, the settlers made first contact with the Beothuk somewhere in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay. In a historic encounter, the settlers and the Beothuk exchanged gifts and shared a meal.
By the winter if 1613, the Cupers Cove colony was thriving. Sixty-two people now called the settlement home, but they were not without their problems. This was a harsh winter and about half the colony had been struck down with scurvy. The ever-resourceful settlers eventually discovered they could cure the scurvy by eating the raw turnip left in the ground, but not until the disease had claimed eight of their numbers. And the deaths weren’t only limited to the human contingent, with many animals losing their lives to the adverse weather conditions that year.
There was some good news, however, with the first child born on March 27. A son to Nicholas Guy and his wife, the boy became the first English child born in Canada.
In April 1613, John Guy left Newfoundland indefinitely. He would go on to enjoy great success as a Member of Parliament back in his native England, and campaigned vehemently for the rights of settlers back in Newfoundland throughout his political career. In 1615, John Mason assumed the role of governor of the Newfoundland colony. In a highly successful 6-year reign, Mason chased out the pirate threat and would later go on to establish new colonies in Maine and New Hampshire. It is not clear who, if anyone, succeeded Mason as governor; however, the settlement at Cupers Cove carried on, growing and flourishing into the vibrant and proud community we today call Cupids.