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Little St. Lawrence Great history

Little St. Lawrence is located on the south-eastern side of the Burin Peninsula, on what is called the Chapeau Rouge Coast after the mountain that borders the western side of the entrance of St. Lawrence Harbour. Excavations at Turpin's Island aim to better understand the role of the region within the historic salt-cod fishery, as well as its place within the trade networks in operation throughout the French Atlantic World between the 16th to 20th centuries. 


The objective of the 2024 field season is to better document the 400 years or more of human occupation at Turpin's Island. Indeed, the earliest accounts and maps of Newfoundland mention St. Lawrence or Chapeau Rouge (the Mountain located on the west side of St. Lawrence Harbour) suggesting that the area was known since the first half of the 16th century. 


Drone shot to the South-west, Provincial Archaeology Office, 2022


The toponym St. Lorens first appears in Cosmographie universelle, selon les navigateurs tant anciens que modernes written and illustrated by the cartographer Guillaume Le Testu, published in 1555.

Detail of Cosmographie universelle, selon les navigateurs tant anciens que modernes by Guillaume Le Testu (1555) showing Saint Lorens circled in white (Source: Gallica). North is on the right side of the map. 


The French occupation of Turpin's Island, prior 1713

In the second half of the 17th century, several archival accounts testify of a French occupation in Little St. Lawrence. The 1662 Règlement établi à Saint-Malo suite aux « abus des cappitaines qui vont a la pesche de la morue a la coste du chappeau rouge et lieux circonuoisins mentions that Little St. Lawrence Harbour can accommodate a fishing crew of 60 men while Great St. Lawrence can welcome 150 men. The census written in 1676 by Lieutenant Courcelle on the back of a Newfoundland map reports one fishing vessel in St. Lawrence, and five in Great St. Lawrence.

Another account of the French presence at Little St. Lawrence is provided by William Taverner, who mentions in his second report (1718) written in the aftermath of the War of the Spanish Succession: “There ffishes one planter, who hath not taken the Oath, he caught the last year about 280 Quintls of ffish p boat, there are Two ffishg Roomes. for Ships, which is all fflakes”. The important aspect of this quote is the fact that there are two fishing rooms in Little St. Lawrence Harbour. William Taverner also mentions that the planter living in Little St. Lawrence during his visit did not take the Oath to the British crown during his visit, suggesting that this man was French and probably left for Île Royale or France soon after. Taverner visit was undertook in the aftermath of the signing of the Utrecht treaty giving the governance of Newfoundland to England. 

In June 2023, a well preserved French context was found during the excavation of a test 1meter x 1 meter unit. 


The landscape of Turpin's Island in 1786

It is in 1784 that Little St. Lawrence was established as a base for the Newman & Co. fishing enterprise. The Newman & Co. fishing settlement was captured in drawing by James S. Meres a member of the crew of the HMS Pegasus which brought Prince William Henry (future King William IV, 1830-1837) in Newfoundland. HMS Pegasus sailed along the Chapeau Rouge Coast and visited several harbours including Little St. Lawrence in 1786.


Foundations of two stages

Given the details of James S. Meres’ drawing of Little St. Lawrence, there is little doubt that this is the case. In fact, the foundations of the two stages shown to the right of James S. Meres’ drawing can be seen at low tide on Turpin’s Island. However, the stages could be older, they could be the two fishing rooms Taverner refers to in his 1713 survey.


Drone shot to the North-west, P. Whitridge, 2023

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