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Richard Brothers — A Prophet Misguided

Richard Brothers — A Prophet Misguided

In the Early Years

Being born on Christmas Day in 1757 in Placentia, Newfoundland was perhaps a sign his life would follow a more than unusual path. Richard Brothers’ father was a gunner at Castle Hill, the local army post. As would be expected, he wanted more for his boy. So, at the age of fourteen, he sent him to Britain to join the navy.

In the navy, Brothers did well. Initially working as a midshipman, eleven years later, in 1783, he had progressed and was promoted to lieutenant. It was at this point when things began to radically change for Richard Brothers.

Things Began to Change

In 1786, he had married an Elizabeth Hassall. Perhaps everything was fine at first, but in time, his marital life began to fragment. To deal with it, he departed, seeking peace at sea and to the service. When he returned home, he discovered his wife had started a family with another man. He was likely unfazed, largely, as the meanings that shaped his life had begun to change.

For one thing, he’d found Christianity, a discovery that would go on to dramatically alter his life. When 1789 arrived, he left the military feeling it was incompatible with his new-found Christian beliefs.

By 1791, because of his beliefs—he had embraced the Quaker doctrines—he refused to swear an oath that would permit him to receive the half-pay he was due from the Admiralty. Thus, unable to accept his pension, he fell into debt and was soon sent to the workhouse for six months.

Becoming Gripped By Mental Illness

No doubt, it was at this time, he began to experience the onset of what, in modern terms, would’ve been understood as a mental illness. The zealousness he expressed for Christianity may have been the first step. However, now, he was overwhelmingly guided by his mental slippage. The trajectory of his life from here on in was largely in its grips.

It was likely some sort of delusional disorder, no doubt also tied to something like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But diagnosis of such an ailment would’ve been beyond the medical knowledge at the time.

Besides, even in modern times, a delusional disorder is difficult to diagnose as well as treat. The challenge is simply because the sufferer often does not realise they have a problem. This was likely the case with Richard Brothers.

Embracing Life As a Prophet

As time progressed, he also adopted the life of a prophet. He believed this was his calling. Previous to his time in the workhouse, he had to deal with the real possibility, in his eyes, that the Almighty was speaking with him. He was torn, weighed down by the godly visions thrust upon him. Still in 1791, firm in his beliefs, he had broken his sword with a solemn vow to never again use it. Apparently, he had lain on his face for three days, refusing to eat, following a vision of London’s destruction.

Joseph Moser was a member of the board of the workhouse and spoke of Richard Brothers’ odd behaviour. He referred to Brothers’ “methodical kind of madness” which resulted in various outbursts regarding religion. Very clearly, he had descended into his own world, one now thoroughly defined by predictions and visions.

Prince of the Hebrews

He grew interested in politics and continued to share his myriad visions with members of the monarchy. He was soon asked to leave the area. In his delusions, he interpreted the entire episode as a communication from his lord —“the Lord God spoke to [him] … and said — Get away, get away from this place; be under no concern, it was not you that was despised and ordered away, but me, in your person, that sent you.” (p. 106)

Brothers had been incarcerated in Newgate prison, again for refusing to swear the oath in order to obtain his pension. As before, he fell into debt. He was tormented by his visions. He found life as a prophet to be arduous. After briefly turning his back on his calling, he once again opened his arms to what would be the central force in his life.

His delusions became more intense, now, and he became convinced he was the Prince of the Hebrews and nephew of the Almighty. His mission was to lead the Jews of all nations back to the land of Israel. By 1794, he had published his ideas in A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies and Times, Book the First.

Growing Popularity

His writing met with great success. His delusions had clearly touched a nerve, with the book quickly selling in England and reprints in Ireland, France, and the United States.

But his life as a prophet was to be cut short. His writings were invariably interlaced with political beliefs, ones that naturally caught the eye of the authorities. For instance, grave of all, he challenged the authority of King George III. He insisted that when he’s revealed as the Prince of the Hebrews, his “crown must be delivered up to me, that all your power and authority may instantly cease.” (p. 201)

He was swiftly charged with treason. Although, his case soon shifted to one governed by medical concerns rather than political ones. There was no question. He was declared to be insane and confined.

His incarceration resulted in an increased fervour of his followers, a belief that much like Jesus Christ, he was being unjustly persecuted. His popularity grew by leaps and bounds. Ultimately, a follower, who happened to be a member of the House of Commons, a Nathaniel Halhed, had Brothers removed to a private asylum in Islington.

Coming to and End

While in Islington, he wrote various pamphlets in which he declared his prophecies. For a while, Brothers’ delusions were politically oriented and so, they harmonised with many of the complaints and beliefs at the time.

Again, he stated he would be revealed as prince of the Hebrews and ruler of the world on the 19th November, 1795. Obviously, when this date arrived and this failed to occur, his popularity began to fade. Of course, there was no chance it could happen. It was all in his mind.

Brothers no doubt struggled with bouts of depression, contending with visions and delusions that frayed at the edges of his reality. Then, as now, there is no way to prevent a delusional disorder. As happened with Richard Brothers, once it strikes and is not addressed—something that would’ve been impossible at the time—one’s life gradually spins out of control.

Life With Mental Illness

Of course, there was no way to even identify a delusional disorder when Richard Brothers was alive. The only way to address the issue was to take the condition into account when making decisions. In the case of Richard Brothers, it was the decision to send him to an asylum rather than a prison. Mind you, the one was likely little better than the other.

As far as treatment, even today, again, because those who have it, fail to appreciate there’s a problem, it’s a challenge. However, if an individual is successfully diagnosed, at present, there are different type of antipsychotics that may help those contending with the problem. Medicines such as antidepressants may also help, as well as things like psychotherapy.

In the End

Ultimately, the story of Richard Brothers is a sad one. Many people who suffer from some sort of delusional disorder encounter numerous difficulties fitting into life. When they examine their lives, they see nothing wrong. And so, they carry on, encountering the difficulties anyone can expect. Their reality could not even hope to integrate with those around them.

Richard Brothers died on the 25th January, 1824. He’d living for a respectable 67 years, most of which was sadly imprisoned in a world of his own. Still, one hopes there were moments of joy, periods of light that could keep at bay the darker shadows of his condition.


Brothers, Richard 1794 A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies and Times (London: np),, 7-8

Clarke Garrett 1975 Respectable Folly: Millenarians and the French Revolution in France in England (Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press), 180.

Schamber, Jon F. and Stroud, Scott R. 2000 The Prophet of Revealed Knowledge: Richard Brother, the Prince of the Hebrews and Hephew of the Almighty

Dohey, Larry 2017 “The Prophet From Placentia” Archival Moments

Richard Brothers –, Public Domain,

Unknown author –, Public Domain,

Wikipedia 2022 “Richard Brothers”

Wikisource “1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brothers, Richard”,_Richard

Make Someone’s Day

Make Someone’s Day

Choose any random car and leave a nice note on their windshield. Why not leave a note like, “You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I’m wishing you as wonderful a day as possible!! ” … or something like that? The person may already be having a great day and you’ll make it even better. Maybe they’re having a rotten day and you just brightened it!

Humility — A Time to Give of Ourselves

Humility — A Time to Give of Ourselves

Balance (Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay)

Every now and then, those moments arrive when we’re confronted with some challenge to our well being—an illness, the death of a loved one, a crumbled marriage or relationship, or the loss of a job we thought we’d have until we retire. Now what do we do?

Why me?

The words “why me?” hover in the air, desperate to be voiced. But we have enough sense to not give in. For we know well enough the very next words—however sharp they may feel—are simply, “well, why not you?”

But where now? Do we continue to rail at the inherent injustice of it all? Or do we humbly pause, step back and then take a moment to think?

And perhaps that is the key—humility. It is sometimes a bitter pill to take when our self-righteousnous is in full flourish or the feeling we’ve been unjustly persecuted remains prominent in our minds. But its apparent acidity fades as we realise the true virtues of humility.

What is Humility?

One of the definitions of humility is to be “Marked by meekness or modesty in behaviour, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.” The word humility derives from the Latin humulis, meaning “lowly,” which then goes on to give us humble. On first appearance, it may seem like we’re expected to be self-deprecating, fixed and determined on our undervaluation.

Although, take another look. To be humble is not to necessarily recognise ourselves as being less than others. Rather, it is simply to say we are no greater than around us. Too often, we compare ourselves with others. In so doing, we are often instinctively pulled to assert our superiority. We give way to egotism—we’ve got a bigger home, it’s in a certain location, our vehicle’s more sophisticated, our clothes are more classy and so on.

As it states, to be humble is to emphasise the importance of being lowly. This is not to say we are less than others. The key is simply to remember we are no greater.

Finding Solutions When the Bottom Falls Out

So, when the bottom falls out of our lives, for whatever reason, we need to humbly recognise that what is occurring, albeit grave or critical, is not the only thing going on in the world—however all consuming it may seem in our lives. What is occurring in our lives is no greater a mountain to surmount than it is for others.

If we maintain the opposite, we’re claiming that all suffering taking place in the world must stand aside, for what I am experiencing is by far the worst. The emphasis is on the “I.” Rather, humility centres on quite the contrary, placing the attention on the other. What is the old adage? There’s ‘always someone worse off than I am.’

Humility will strengthen both our compassion and empathy for others because we place ourselves at the same level as others. In another set of circumstances, whatever is occurring to us could easily be occurring to another. Through our humility, we’re able to accurately appreciate our place in the world.

Again, it is a simple recipe whereby we are modest with regard to ourselves, thus permitting us to pay closer and deeper attention to others. So, despite the struggles we’ve encountered, we can find time to serve others. And there are countless things we can do—take another grocery shopping, drop by for a visit, give them a lift, but ultimately, give our time. Suddenly, whatever calamity had struck us will no doubt diminish in its potency.

When something unfortunate happens to us, we sometimes take it personally. The world is against us, we feel. By facing it with humility, we accept that none of us are special, in the sense we are above or beyond the natural dilemmas that hinder life. Life simply happens. We are defined as much by our limitations as by our strengths. For some of us, a fraction of our days will be better than others. With humility, it’s easier to appreciate the good days, at the same time as accepting the ones that are less than ideal. It’s simply a matter of appreciating ourselves truthfully.

Given the ups and downs of the challenges with which we’re contending, the one thing we must humbly recognise is we are not in total control of our lives. Something may afflict us from out of the blue. It will be completely unexpected. Unfortunately, there are going to be times when even the most well-planned and orderly life will not be able to foresee something difficult that arises. Once we acknowledge these truths, oddly we’re able to see with greater clarity the next steps we need to take.

Taking it All in Stride

We all know how lost we feel when something unforeseen assails us. Momentarily, we are rudderless. Although, when we are guided by our humility, we will be able to face whatever is before us open-heartedly. We will do so in a manner that recognises our limitations at the same time as appreciating our similarity to others. We must always remember, we are all one—no better or no less.


Plane in the Pond

Plane in the Pond

On the 9th May, 1927, the people of the Avalon in Newfoundland and Labrador were aflutter with the news. As they often do, stories began to emerge, as everyone was trying to make some sense of what they’d seen in the sky.

They were determined. They knew they’d seen something. So several, from Baccalieu Island, Harbour Grace, Brigus, Ocean Pond and on to St. Mary’s, were even willing to give witness accounts. Little did they know their stories were tied to yet another story that had begun worlds away.

Is it Possible?

It was 1927. The United States aviation industry had already ascended into the skies, not by transporting people, but something equally crucial—mail. As The First World War drew to a close, on the 15th May, 1918, the first scheduled service began between New York City and Washington, D.C. They were making strides.

But hotel owner Raymond Orteig had his sights on something bigger. In the effervescence of Paris and New York, Orteig was buoyed by the promise of flight. And he meant business. He put up a prize for $25,000 for the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris. This time, they’d cross the ocean.

The Atlantic had been crossed already, and the stipulation had simply been to cross from somewhere in North America to somewhere in Great Britain or Ireland. Just get across. With none of the technological distinctions that would help later aviators, Captain John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown flew from Newfoundland over the Atlantic, landing unceremoniously in a bog in Ireland. Not so this time.

Some Noteworthy Contenders

Anyone who was anyone in aviation eyed the prize. Charles Lindbergh, an airmail pilot was determined to step up to the plate. He had found some backers from St. Louis, Missouri and so his plane was named in their honour—the “Spirit of St. Louis.” Contenders made their first attempts to get off the ground in New York, some of them fatal.

However, it was in Paris where two First World War aviation heroes took to the stage. The plan was for François Coli to make an attempt with flying ace Paul Tarascon. Unfortunately, after a dreadful accident in late 1926 left Tarascon with severe burns, he’d have to be replaced. It was an equally skilled Charles Nungusser who took his place.

L’Oiseau Blanc or The White Bird taking flight.

At 5:17 am, 8th May, 1927, flying a newly designed Levasseur PL.8 biplane named L’Oiseau Blanc or The White Bird, Coli and Nungesser took to the air. It was a gala event, escorted by four military aircraft and then spotted from the Isle of Wight, Dungarvon, and then finally over the village of Carrigholt in Ireland. They were off.

Hopes were high. There were rumours they’d been sighted over Newfoundland, along their route and so the crowds who gathered in New York awaiting their arrival were buoyed. La Presse in France had even gone so far as to print false reports of their arrival. However, time passed. And when it exceeded the projected 42 hour or so flight time they had, given their fuel load, with heavy hearts, Coli and Nungesser were considered lost.

The Search Begins

A monumental search was mounted. From around the world, governments and private organisations banded together to look for Nungesser and Coli. But it was to no avail. Meanwhile, Charles Lindbergh seized the opportunity and in his Spirit of St. Louis flew from New York, landing in Paris to boisterous crowds and a hero’s welcome.

Photograph of The Spirit of St. Louis.

While many were overflowing with joy, the search continued. The Guggenheim Foundation employed an Australian pilot by the name of Sidney Cotton to do an aerial survey. Using a newly purchased Fawker Universal, a single engine float plane, one month after the disappearance, he undertook an aerial survey. Again, to no avail.

But on the Avalon, people were sure they’d seen something. Witness accounts, officially reported to the magistrate, came from different locales on the island—Baccalieu Island down through Harbour Grace, Brigus and Ocean Pond, and then on to St. Mary’s. At least one witness account had spotted something in the sky heading west across St. Mary’s Bay, trailing what was either steam from a failing colant system or smoke from a fire.

And then on an average Monday, the 9th of May to be exact, Nicholas McGrath was doing what he normally did, trapping muskrat on Branch. He reported being startled by three rapid explosions. No doubt, looking all around, there was nothing.

Piecing it Together

The next winter found Nicholas McGrath again out hunting—caribou this time—when he found himself traversing the ice on Gull Pond. He was astonished to find pieces of light weight metal painted blue scattered around on the ground. By then the stories of the ill-fated plane had reached every corner of the globe. So began the first stories of the plane in the pond.

Anthony McGrath, then 27 was hunting caribou with Ronald McGrath, 14 years of age. They too saw a large metal piece of metal emerging out of the ice. The metal was lightweight and riveted, painted a lovely robin’s egg blue on both sides. It was attached to wood framing, something that was suggestive of The White Bird, as it was a single-bay, wood and fabric covered biplane.

They had twisted the metal until it’d broken free. Although having been hunting, they were already carrying too large a load. So, they stashed it in a tuckamore near the southwest end of the pond, hoping to return. However, when they did return the next day to retrieve it, it was no longer there.

John McGrath, who was Anthony’s older brother had also found a piece of light metal, about 18 inches, that looked like it had been torn apart, either from an explosion or having been hit very hard. He’d done an interview with The Telegram regarding The White Bird which helped to further fuel the mystery.

Later, a Patrick “Patsy” Judge from Gooseberry, a great storyteller and musician in his own right, had also found several pieces of metal in the pond. This had been back in 1948. While Patsy was determined to get to the bottom of things, he lacked the resources needed to really dig in. Luckily, he had some well-connected friends in St. John’s. By that time, many had questioned whether the pieces of metal were indeed part of The White Bird.

So, Patsy Judge asked his connections if he could discover if there were any planes that had gone missing. But there was nothing. The Bureau of Aviation for Newfoundland had no records of missing planes and Argentia told him what he had seemed to be part of the plane’s undercarriage. Although, this couldn’t be strictly true as The White Bird had jettisoned its undercarriage in France to lighten its weight.

However, there is a good description of the piece that Patsy found and later conclusions determined it had very likely been one of the steel braces on the hull of the airplane to which the undercarriage attached. It also seemed that part of the fuel tank and shattered hull crashing into the island exploding in the manner that coincided with the three sounds Nicholas McGrath heard at the time. The pieces were coming together.

The Story at Present

Ric Gillespie is the Executive Director of TIGHAR—The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery and their goal is to find some conclusive answers. They searched the pond in 1993 and 1994 and found three artefacts that might be from the plane crash. However, none were diagnostic.

Still, the sentiment is that the people decades ago who made affidavits actually did see something. And the gut feeling is that the plane is indeed in the pond. In the 1990s, they’d been using remote sensing to find some evidence of the plane. They’d received large anomalies such as what one would get from a large mass of metal. Everything seemed to be pointing in the right direction.

After asking the Department of Mines and Energy if there was anything significant in the pond, they were told no. TIGHAR was still getting signals. The following spring, they sent divers out after the ice had melted to check it out.

As it happens, that anomalous signal turned out to be rock. TIGHAR felt they really needed to conduct a good magnetic survey of the pond. Although, the cost was prohibitive. Enter the Discovery Channel.

The Discovery Channel produces Expedition Unknown and were interested in exploring the idea of the plane in the pond for an episode. Luckily, they were willing to pay for a magnetic survey of the pond using a drone. This would form the heart of the episode.

During the filming, they actually found a short length of copper wire, as well as a small metal disc. Again there was nothing definitive. But both the wire and disc were circumstantial, pointing to an airplane. It was promising.

Plans for the Future

When they received the results of the drone survey, they realised why it was so active magnetically. Dykes had formed millions of years ago. These are igneous1 rocks that intruded into preexisting rocks. And igneous rock is highly magnetic.

Consequently, they now realise it is pointless to do a search magnetically on account of the background noise generated by the large number of dykes. However, the alternative will be to use hand-held metal detectors (pulse induction metal detector). So, instead of measuring the magnetic field to detect the plane, they will now be detecting the presence of metal.

Another line of analysis will again take advantage of the physical characteristics of the environment, this time the sediment. A laboratory at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador intends to take a core sediment sample from the pond. The idea will be to look for any material such as high levels of lead, charcoal, tiny bits of linen2 and so on that would point to the presence of the plane.

The plan is to set things in motion in the next few months. While TIGHAR has its work cut out for it, all those involved have a sense they’re on the right track.

A promising sign actually appeared on the doorstep of St. Luke’s Cultural Centre the day Ric Gillespie was doing his presentation. A copy of the song “The French Flyers: Nungesser and Coli” was left at the door.

The French Flyers — Nungesser and Coli

In the pages of history are written,

The names of two men, brave and true,

Two heroes who fought for their country as only true heroes can do.

They fought till the world war was over,

For their homes and freedom of men.

And the world’s highest honour was paid them,

For they helped bring that war to an end.

But then on a fine summer morning,

They climbed in their airship so grand.

And started to fly o’er the ocean,

To bring greater fame to their land.

The eyes of the world were upon them,

As they sailed proudly on through the night.

But the thought never came for a moment,

That this was to be their last flight.

A great crowd was waiting to greet them

In old New York town far away.

For they hoped every moment to greet them,

But they waited in vain all the day.

And then o’er the waves flashed the message,

Our brave heroes cannot be found.

And great crowns went forth to the rescue,

For they knew that the airship was down.

There’s a lesson to learn from this story,

Each life is a ship on its way.

And we must be ready to answer,

When the master shall call us some day.

It was a clear harbinger of the future. This song is sung by some on the Cape Shore, evidence the story is still vibrant and alive, all these decades on. So, let that light your path Ric Gillespie and other members of TIGHAR as you take your next step.


1These are rocks derived from the solidification of magma or molten lava.

2Linen was a fabric commonly used to cover planes when they were being constructed.

Vieux Fort — Seeking the Riches of the New World

Vieux Fort — Seeking the Riches of the New World

In the Early Years

Located on Mount Pleasant, Vieux Fort or “Old Fort” was built by France in 1662 to help fortify the colony in Plaisance or Placentia. The colony was one of the steps France had taken to establish itself as a player in pursuit of resource riches in the New World.

The above map was an indication of these initiatives. While giving a general estimation of the fort’s location, the map below may be more a toast to the cartographer’s creativity and artistic license than anything akin to reality.

Early map of Vieux Fort

Across the Cultures

Although the French staked their claim to Plaisance in 1662, there were fishermen arriving on the shores long before. Snippets of a burgeoning cod fishery emerged as early as 1508 and so, the French were already making fishing forays in the 16th century to places like Plaisance (Crompton 2012, 59).

The Basque were also major players in Plaisance at the time. In 1562, a Domingo de Luca had arrived in Plaisance on a ship from the Basque country. It was his misfortune to lose his life. In his Last Will and Testament, he requested he be buried in Plaisance, the indication being there was no doubt a place of worship there in addition to a burial site.

So, clearly Vieux Fort overlooked the busy work of fisherman processing their prior to it being shipped to market. Its location established a reminder of presence and control to the settlers on the beach below.

Life in Plaisance

The people of Plaisance lived a life controlled by the daily challenges of the fishery and its ups and downs. The complex web of commerce with Europe also shaped their lives. They would trade for goods of all sorts, including ceramics and other wares.

Much of what occurred at Vieux Fort has relied on archaeology to piece it together. The life of soldiers were the least documented historically. Thus, it was left to archaeology to construct the life they led. Judging from the finds in the barracks, by the time Vieux Fort was abandoned, the officers had already living in accommodations outside the fort.

It was a hard life, though, for your average soldier. Faced with below par food supplies, not to mention everything else, they were forced to hire themselves out as fishing servants. Based on shipping quantities identified from documentary sources, much of their foods arrived in barrells, the evidence of which hand sine long disappeared.

Materials Used By Soldiers

Most of the artefacts are to be expected, such as components of their weoponry such as gunflints.1Other items revolved around food and beverages with various sherds of ceramic bowls, plates and pots (cooking vessels) (Crompton 2012, 345). Many of the French coarse earthenwares were referred to as Saintonge. One such find from Vieux Fort was four-handed large cruche or jug. Others included Portuguese Redware, North Devon gravel-tempered coarse earthenware, Normandy stoneware, Rhenish Brown stonewares (Crompton 2012, 409-19).

Image of archaeological excavation at Vieux Fort (Source: Christopher Newhook).

Then as now, there was some indication of individuals seeking to identify their status. They did this using items of a more expensive variety. Several of these were unearthed at Vieux Fort (Crompton 2012, 356-8). These would’ve included tin-glazed earthenware (faïence), Chinese export porcelain and a decorative polychrome vessel. The porcelain is particularly indicative of an individual of high rank.

Beverage containers stood as the most prevalent in Vieux Fort. There were drinking jars, jugs, bottles, goblets and mugs. They drank a lot. Alcohol consumption was commonplace and one can only imagine a welcome pastime on cold winter’s nights or after a hard day of work. Alcohol helped to soothe spirits and enhance camaraderie. It likely also helped ensure the conviviality of a situation—grown men sharing a restricted space—that often held the tinder for lost tempers and irritation.

Both wine and brandy were on the list as purchases in Plaisance with wine arriving in large bulk containers and the brandy in smaller ones. The latter was sold in smaller quantities. Stemmed glasses were also recovered at Vieux Fort, evidence that the officers most likely continued to enjoy the pleasantries of the good life.

Relaxing and Recreating

There were also locales where individuals could gather to enjoy a shared tipple. Referred to as cabarets or tippling houses, they welcomed fishing servants and soldiers alike (Crompton 2012, 366).

Along with cabarets, people could also take advantage of a cantine. These locales were places that could provide an assortment of supplies with alcohol being one of them. As a result, the cantines naturally offered officers an opportunity to leverage some control over the soldiers. Who could say no to a promise of liquor?

Much like alcohol, smoking also acted as means by which the men could maintain a sense of peace in circumstances that could no doubt be trying. The archaeologists recovered a host of pipe fragments which would amount to 53 tobacco pipes. And that’s just the ones surviving the test of time.

Tobacco pipe discovered at Vieux Fort (Source: Crompton, Amanda 2012 “The Historical Archaeology of a French Fortification in the Colony of Plaisance” Unpublished Dissertation Memorial University, Department of Anthropology

Keen to ensure the life of their pipes, some sported signs of maintenance—whittling marks indicating the stems had been replaced. Smoking, much like drinking, was a relatively inexpensive pastime that brought comfort in sometimes frigid conditions. No doubt, it also helped to alleviate any sentiments of agitation or irritation that might arise amongst the soldiers. Generally, smoking also provided a source of cohesion that could only help to strengthen the bonds amongst the men (Crompton 2012, 368-72).

Plight of Vieux Fort

Regardless of the apparent lives being led at Vieux Fort, by 1685, it seemed to be in a rather dilapidated state (Everts 2016, 48). In this same year, the settlers of Plaisance were also expected to restore the cabins of the fort which suggests they were in poor condition (Crompton 2012, 215). Another comment stated how in 1688 and 1689, buildings at the fort required repair.

But the fortunes of Vieux Fort were destined to still deteriorate further. On the 25th February, 1690, attackers from Ferryland, on behalf of the English, stole into the colony unawares. They certainly meant business. After killing two soldiers, wounding Governor Costebelle, and then locking everyone else in the church, they set about their destruction.

They either damaged the four cannons or threw them into the sea. In any case, it was job done. While no known record exists stating when Vieux Fort was abandoned, it’s likely this occurred in 1690. As would be expected, the English would wish to ensure there was very little of nothing left and been thorough in their destruction of the fort.

In fact, later archaeological work by Amanda Crompton, suggested the English intentionally destroyed at least one of the main buildings (Crompton 2012, 232).

Taking It All Into Account

Vieux Fort experienced a relatively short, but colourful life. Built with intention of securing the French hold in Newfoundland, time would show it to be dreadfully inadequate. Following its fateful end, the French were forced to meet the challenges of the English by building several fortifications. These would play a significant role in the years to come.

Vieux Fort is yet another structure that helps to animate the history of the Placentia area. Moreover, it cements in our minds the role that Placentia played in the world. It was a world characterised by powers who sought control over the assets of what eventually became Newfoundland and Labrador.


Crompton, Amanda 2012 “The Historical Archaeology of a French Fortification in the Colony of Plaisance” Unpublished Dissertation Memorial University, Department of Anthropology

Everts, Lee 2016 The Placentia Area—A Cultural Mosaic (n.p.)

1The piece of flint used to strike the igniting spark in a flintlock that is a part of the firearm.