Clears Cove, Newfoundland and Devon Fishermen


Thomas R Cole

A few years ago some anthropologists and archaeologists did a dig in Clears Cove in Fermeuse Bay, Newfoundland "to find evidence of the migratory fishery" - see their research announcement.

This of course refers to the fishing masters of England who came out to Newfoundland to catch and cure cod fish, take it to market in Portugal, Spain, Italy or, sometimes, the West Indies, in other words, where ever the best price could be had. Just where the word "migratory" originated in describing these our first English ancestors is unknown and is certainly not a very apt description of them. This area, by the 17th century, was the abode of the Devonians, with the occasional few coming from London. Seasonal fishermen, as a description of them, is also a misnomer since they were away from Devon from March to December, i.e. three seasons. I like to refer to them as "dual residents" and this is borne out by the wills of some left in Devon who describe themselves as "of Devon but for many years in Newfoundland".

While the anthropologists and archaeologists dig in the ground, the students of geneaology will dig through the old records and unfortunately "never the twain shall meet".

Regarding Clears Cove, more correctly Clear's Cove, the genealogist will ask the queston: "Where does the name come from?" It is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that the cove was named for the Clear family of Devon as derived from the following: the Exchequer Miscellaneous Customs (Exeter), 1563, Oct 22, ship Trenite, port - de Obsam, tonnage unknown, master Will. Clear, with Newfoundland fish. (de Obsam, more correctly Opsam, of course, is the old name of Topsham.)

We do not know if it was the bad weather, want of a crew replenishment or need of ship repairs which necessitated Clear's bringing his dry fish into England rather than the usual markets. Clear's arrival in Exeter would have been unnoticed and unrecorded, like the many others returning from their Newfoundland affairs, but for the dutiable commodity onboard. However from this we can date William Clear in Newfoundland by 1563 and likely there long before that.