Pirates, raids, religious and legal tussling part of Colony of Avalon story

The Colony of Avalon in Ferryland opens for the season today. One of the earliest permanent English settlements in Newfoundland, it’s recognized as the best preserved early English colony in North America.  An active archeological dig happens at the site every summer.
For those who’ve forgotten their Newfoundland history, or for those like me who moved to Newfoundland from elsewhere, here’s a little history lesson. The settlement in Ferryland known as the Colony of Avalon was established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. Other settlement attempts on the Avalon Peninsula pre-dated Calvert’s, most notably by John Guy at Cupids in Conception Bay and Sir William Vaughan up the shore on the southern end of the Avalon Peninsula. These gents and their colonists couldn’t handle the Newfoundland winters and became some of the first snow-birds from Newfoundland. 
Calvert’s colonists were a little hardier; surviving winters, pirates, fires, disease and more. Ferryland has been continuously inhabited ever since. George and his family also joined the snow-bird crowd, but his colonists persevered.
Jump forward to 1637 and King Charles I grants the whole island of Newfoundland to one of his favourite Knights, Sir David Kirke. Charles made his bud Sir David the supreme Lord and Governor of all the territories of Newfoundland, including Calvert’s Colony of Avalon. The Calvert family was a bit ticked off about this, but eventually lost in court. Eventually Sir David and his family moved to Calvert’s Governor’s Mansion at the Colony of Avalon, kicking out Calvert’s man and setting up what was essentially the capital of Newfoundland at the time. Sir David’s wife, Lady Sarah Kirke, ran the business and lived the good life in Ferryland for many years after he died; perhaps being the first woman entrepreneur in North America.
Generally, colonization of Newfoundland was all about the fish and money. However, to his credit, Sir George Calvert is thought to have also been trying to create a haven for religious tolerance outside of protestant England at the time. It is known that he brought several Catholic priest to the Colony of Avalon.  This was reinforced by the significant discovery last summer of an amazingly well-preserved copper crucifix by a MUN archeology student working the dig. The crucifix was once owned by a Catholic colonist at Avalon and served as a personal devotional item or as part of a rosary. This crucifix is one of an estimated two million artifacts recovered at the dig site – and the site has only been 30 to 40 per cent   uncovered.
You can get in touch with this history by visiting the Colony of Avalon this summer for a guided tour of the dig site, the 17th century gardens, the working 17th century kitchen and the many artifacts on display in the interpretive centre. And walk on the 17th century cobblestone street – the real thing, not a re-creation. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty, you can participate in the dig under the Archeologist for a Day program. In addition to the full-day program, you can try the Dig & Dig-In program of a half-day archeological experience. The Colony is also working to dig up capital of the dollar kind to support ambitious plans for the future operation and development of the Colony leading up to 2021, the 400th anniversary of Sir George Calvert’s first colonization in Ferryland. A fundraising drive is under way for this season and is benefitting from an anonymous donor matching up to $25,000 of donations received.
For more information on the Colony of Avalon, you can contact Maryanne Boland, the Executive Director, at info@colonyofavalon.ca or 709-432-3200.  And follow this season’s happenings at www.colonyofavalon.ca and Facebook.   

Posted on June 24, 2015 .