Under the Hill

so tired…

A Fairyland in Avalon and the Power of Cod

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yonge_map_580I came across this a few days ago in my preparation of a short presentation on colonial settlements. When looking through the available literature on the matter (not much on this side of the Atlantic), I found the archaeological record of an excavation in one particular English settlement in Newfoundland, which I deemed appropriate enough for my topic to present. I could have done something like Jamestown or St. Augustine, but somehow this one looked a bit better, especially as the latter ones are “the firsts” in many cases and I wanted something more ordinary. Also there are many accounts on the history of the colony available and the whole settlement was destroyed after about 80 years in a documented attack. Sometimes I wonder how the destruction of a community can be seen as a good thing at all, but for archaeologists it is actually a godsend,  as it means there is an undisturbed record of settlement available in this area, up to a rather precisely dated point in time. In this case: from the start of the settlement in 1621 to it’s destruction in 1696

So when going through all the records on the settlement and trying to put them into a reasonable presentation I almost didn’t notice one tiny detail about it: It was called Ferryland and set in the colony of Avalon.

A Fairyland? (putting all the changes in ortography aside for a second)

In Avalon?

Of course all the researchers would point out that George Calvert, the founder of this settlement, called it like that after a place in England which should remind of the ties to early Christianity the original Avalon in England had. And of course the name Ferryland is traced back over French to a Portuguese root. But still. It is a beautyful coincidence.

The settlement exists until today by the way, it only had one winter (1696) right after an attack by the French, in which it was not occupied. It also existed before as well, as an Native American gathering place, and as a settlement of Europen fishers. And this actually is a rather fascinating point in the history of European-American contacts. Some of the first people coming over from the Old world after Columbus and Cabot were, surprisingly, fishers. Cod fishers to be exact.

As early as 1502, and maybe even a bit before, there seem to have been fishers from France, Portugal and Basque, who went there, created some settlements along the eastern shore of the New World, and fished. Those settlements were not particularily big, and the fishers always went home for the winter. But later settlements especially in nowadays Canada and New England often had a small fisher settlement there before real settlers came to stay.

Link: Colony of Avalon on heritage.ca (really nice presentation of the place and the digs performed in Ferryland, as well as historical records and sources; amazing!)

Pic: Colony of Avalon Foundation

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Written by G. Neuner

11. January 2009 at 9:56 pm

One Response

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  1. Yes, we archaeologists like when things end abruptly through warfare or catastrophes. However, there are very few undisturbed records out there, there are few Pompeii’s. Most sites have been reused later on, but perhaps not with the same intensity. Anyway, I have an interest in the colonization process (but in southern Mexico) so I add your blog to my list.

    Johan Normark

    12. June 2009 at 8:04 am


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