Carbonear played an important part in the migratory fishery in the 16th century. Towards the end of the 17th century, the people of the town fortified Carbonear Island and defended it against raids by the French during King William and Queen Anne's Wars.
Carbonear was named before John Guy and the other settlers arrived in Cupids in 1610. The settlers mention Carbonear in their letters and journals. The name Carbonear may be French or Spanish. Some people think that the name comes from a Spanish word, “carbonera”, which can mean either “wood prepared for burning into charcoal”, “charcoal kiln”, or “woman who makes or sells charcoal”. If Carbonear is a French name, it might come from the French word “Carbonnier”, which is a family name from Picardy and Normandy in France. It might also come from “La Carbonnière”, which is a place-name in Normandy.
In the early 1600's, much of Carbonear was part of the land granted to Sir Percival Willoughby. Letters to and from Percival's agents show his interest in settling the area. Several early attempts to settle the area failed.
By 1631, we know that Nicholas Guy and his family were settled there and doing quite well. Nicholas wrote to Sir Percival to say that he should send two men to Carbonear to help since there was so much work to do. These men would have to help with the fishery and other work. Nicholas was keeping cattle and made cheese and butter from the milk. He says that he sold some of it and gave some to his neighbors.
Sir John Berry's census of 1675, found that the Guy family was still living in Carbonear. It seems that Carbonear became a true community very early on. Cattle was raised, boats were built during the winter, the fishery was in full swing, and whole families lived there. Many women and children were living in the community while in most other Newfoundland settlements, men outnumbered the women by as much as ten to one.
William Downing and Thomas Oxford
Salt cod was an important source of food all over Europe, so controlling Newfoundland was important to both England and France. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, England and France were fighting over Newfoundland. In 1662, the French capital of Placentia was set up and soon became a threat to settlements on the English Shore such as Carbonear. In 1679, because of this threat to the English Shore, William Downing and Thomas Oxford, two St. John's merchants, said that Carbonear Island should be fortified.
King William's War - Abb√© Baudoin's Journal
In 1697, during Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville's attack on the English Shore, Abb√© Jean Baudoin, who kept a journal during the attack, referred to the town as Carbonni√®re. This suggests that the town may have been named for ‚??La Carbonni√®re‚??, in Normandy. His journal shows that Carbonear was a very important town at that time.
Abb√© Baudoin said there were 220 men, 22 planters, 50 boats, and 25 000 codfish in Carbonear. He also describes communities which are part of modern day Carbonear. He says that Croquescove (Crockers Cove) had 30 men, 4 planters, 5 boats, and 2500 codfish. Kelinscove (Clowns Cove) had 22 men, 3 planters, 4 boats, 2000 codfish. Fraische o√ľatre (Freshwater) had 20 men, 2 planters, 4 boats, and 2000 codfish.
In modern English, here is how he described what they saw on Carbonear Island as they sailed into Carbonear harbour to attack: ‚??... passing before the point of the Island of Carbonear, we saw the enemy. They were filed in large numbers and fired a few cannon shots at us. The people of Carbonear, Harbour Grace, Mosquito, other smaller harbours, and the refugees of St. John's, have all gone to the island to get away from us. There seem to be about 200 men. They are living in barracks they had made earlier, because they were afraid that we would come...‚??
He went on to say: ‚??...if this island is as the prisoners we have taken describe, I am greatly afraid that we will not be able to capture the island. It is steep on all sides, except for a little harbour which is on the west point. That harbour is within a gunshot of a group of shallops they have put together. They have four cannons and six pounds of cannonballs. Added to this, it is only possible to unload two shallops at a time at the harbour, even when the sea is calm, and the sea is not often calm at this time of year.‚??
Two days later, Abb√© Baudoin wrote, ‚??We bribed a few of the prisoners and they told us there are two other places on the island where a shallop can land. From these landing places, two men climbing side by side can get to the top of the island.‚??
They left Carbonear and went on to attack other towns such as Bay de Verde, Old Perlican and Hant's Harbour. They came back to Carbonear in February across the Heart's Content Barrens, after their attacks in Trinity Bay. At that time, Abb√© Baudoin said:
We have plenty of fresh meat here; because we eat the cows from Carbonear and Harbour Grace where they were in great numbers.
Harbour Grace has 14 inhabitants and Carbonear 22. All of these people are very well-established. Their properties are the best-built in all of Newfoundland; however, we found nothing in them but stores of cod, oil and bread. There was no furniture. These two places supply the other English settlements with everything they need, so a lot of people from other communities come and go from those two places. There are people there with as much a ¬£100 000 of goods, but they did not leave them here.
These two places are situated on the northwest coast of Conception Bay, on fairly pretty little coasts.‚??
The war between the English and French ended for a while in 1697, so Carbonear was safe for a short time.
Queen Ann's War – 1702-1713
In 1702, the English and French began fighting again, so the English and French colonists in Newfoundland knew that there would be attacks on each other's settlements.
The settlers in Carbonear submitted petitions to Queen Anne describing what had happened during King William's War. They stated they would go again to Carbonear Island and needed more arms from the Crown to defend themselves. They were also concerned they had to leave their property in Carbonear where the French could destroy it.
In March 1705, the French came to Carbonear and they found the settlers had moved to Carbonear Island.
William Pynne and George Davis
Over the course of the war, the residents sent a number of letters to St. John's asking for more help, but St. John's, which was under attack itself did not help. In 1705, William Pynne and George Davis bravely defended the area from Carbonear Island. By 1709, William Pynne was military governor of Carbonear, with his son, William, as one of his lieutenants.
End of the War
The war between England and France ended with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The British received Acadia (which they named Nova Scotia), Newfoundland and fur trading posts in the Hudson Bay area. France kept Quebec and Cape Breton Island at the northeastern end of Nova Scotia. When the war ended the citizens of Carbonear were safe from attack for a number of years.
Today, Carbonear is one of the largest towns in the region. The town offers many regional services for the Baccalieu Trail including: Trinity Conception Square Shopping Centre, a Regional Community Centre, a regional hospital, and the campuses of College of the North Atlantic and Keyin College. It addition, Carbonear is home to many regional offices including: M-RON - the Economic Development Board, Trinity- Conception Community Development Corporation, Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation, and Baccalieu Trail Tourism Association.