Merchants

From Abbe Baudoin's journal entries of 1696, we learn that there were many Irish settlers in the country even then. By 1713 the Irish from the "Harbour" (Placentia) were settling in the Arms and along the Cape Shore. After the French left Placentia, there was a flood of Irish immigration. By 1729 the ethnic majority at Placentia were Irish. The Irish provided the cheapest available labour and met the needs of the Planters who were unable to recruit sufficient English youngsters to satisfy the growing needs of the fishery.

Between 1797-1836 (first census) the Irish population of the Island quintupled. Some of the large scale immigration can be linked to rebellions and wars in the homeland. The economic ramifications of the wars in combination with severe hardships which arose in the aftermath led many to forsake the homeland. The literature on Irish migration and settlement abroad focuses on the poor and disadvantaged. Certainly many emigrants were poor; but not all. Some were artisans with varying degrees of skill, others strong and middling farmers or, more frequest their surplus sons. These people brought with them expertise, and sometimes captial, to continue careers in new settings. The prospects of making a living at the fishery coupled with British Legislation of 1803 which required more stringent conditions for passenger vessels attracted many Irish to Placentia. Fares, applied to all vessels trafficing between the British Isles and North America, increased drastically with the exception of those bound for Newfoundland.

It is interesting to note that the first soldiers sent by England to provide protection for Placentia were four companies of Irish Soldiers raised in Ireland by Colonel Moody.

In 1676, an Irish merchant from Waterford was reported to have visited the French Colony at Placentia.

Irish Catholics were not free from religious oppression in Newfoundland during the 1700's. It should be noted however, the presence of the Catholic faith was to some degree tolerated at Placentia. This was due to an understanding made at the time of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The degree of toleration did not allow for the presence of Catholic priests in the town although several managed to avoid detection by English authorities. Prior to 1781, it was unlawful for more than two Catholics to live in the same house unless it was owned by a Protestant.

The establishment of an Irish merchant at Placentia led to a constant flow of Irish immigration through Placentia. The establishment of an Irish mercantile house in Placentia was a significant factor in the immigration. Most of the merchants established were English West Country merchants.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of mercantile control and the Irish migration is revealed by the firm of Saunders and Sweetman . This firm started by Richard Welsh in Placentia lasted for more than one hundred years. Saunders and Sweetman prospered and carried on a extensive business at Placentia which included a fishing operation, shipyard, general store, farming and woods operations. At its peak this house owned a dozen ocean going vessels, employed or supplied several hundred men and shipped cod to markets around the North Atlantic. A large business such as this required many labourers and the need for young men and women continued for many years. Many young men came out from Ireland on the merchants'ships, and worked for the merchants to pay their passage. After they had their passage paid for, some continued to work for the merchants, while others moved to other parts of Newfoundland and North America. After the 18th century, the company was responsible for the settlement of scores of Irish immigrants throughout its trading territory in Placentia Bay including the Cape Shore Area.

(From Schoolnet) (See also:Irish Merchants Abroad)