England’s main competition in Newfoundland was France. In 1662, France established a settlement at Plaisance (Placentia) on the southwest coast of the Avalon Peninsula to conduct a dry fishery. Its strategic location between New France and Europe made it a useful supply base and port for French naval and merchant vessels. The imperial contest to control the valuable fishery led to several conflicts in Newfoundland, especially during King William’s and Queen Anne’s Wars. France relinquished its claim to Newfoundland in 1713, though the French continued to enjoy fishing rights between Cape Bonavista and Pointe Riche. These rights were later confirmed by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which also ceded to France the south coast islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon.
By the early eighteenth century, the island was increasingly visited by trading vessels from Ireland and New England. Ireland was the main provider of victuals to Newfoundland after 1650, though during wartime and by midcentury, the â€œcoastersâ€ from New England largely assumed this function. Although the New Englanders were criticized for spiriting away fishermen from the island, settlement increased and expanded along the south and west coasts of the island as Newfoundland received an influx of Irish laborers after 1720.
Increased trade, population growth, and ensuing tensions between English Protestants and Irish Catholics encouraged Britain to create civil institutions in Newfoundland. In 1729, Henry Osborne, a naval commodore, was appointed the island’s first governor and commander-in-chief. Possessing full civil and military authority, he divided the island into six districts and appointed justices of the peace and constables. In 1730, a jail and a courthouse were built in St. John’s, making the town the official judicial center of the island. Missionaries from the Church of England opened schools, and the island’s economy diversified to include sealing, furring, and salmon fishing. The migratory interest gradually supported settlement, as West Country merchants became concentrated on the island and operated importation and supply businesses.
The island experienced a period of prosperity between 1763 and 1775, as it was fully brought into the British trading system. A customs house was built in 1766, indicative of Newfoundland’s position at the apex of a triangular trade between New England and the West Indies. Despite initial hardships in 1775, the American Revolution ultimately assisted Newfoundland’s development. In the absence of New England traders, Newfoundland merchants looked to Bermuda and Canada for supplies and sent their own vessels to the West Indies. The drain of settlers to New England ended and the resident population was further encouraged by the war’s lengthy disruption of the migratory fishery. However, growing numbers of British and Miqmaq settlers and increased exploitation of resources had a devastating effect on the island’s remaining Beothuk, who ceased to exist as a people by 1829. Between 1750 and 1790, Newfoundland’s permanent population more than doubled, from 7,000 to close to 17,000. By the close of the eighteenth century, Newfoundland had received a new constitution, its first chief justice, and a supreme court. The economic and strategic value of the island’s fisheries and trade continued to invite settlers and traders from all over the Atlantic world. Michael F. Dove See also: Canada; Fish and Fisheries; Vikings. Bibliography Head, C. Grant. Eighteenth Century Newfoundland. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976. Major, Kevin. As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador. Toronto: Viking, 2001. Matthews, Keith. Lectures on the History of Newfoundland, 1500â€“1830. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada: Breakwater, 1988. O’Flaherty, Patrick. Old Newfoundland: A History to 1843. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada: Long Beach Press, 1999.