European fishermen were visiting Bay Roberts as early as the 1500s. Fishermen from Brittany and Normandy in what is now France fished the waters off the coast of Bay Roberts in the early 1500s and named the harbour Baie de Robert. They established onshore fishing rooms where they dried and salted (made) codfish. These fishermen came to the area because of its large harbour, and flat rock beaches that they used for curing fish.
Most likely they started building fishing rooms near the end of Bay Roberts harbour in Juggler's Cove, then moved to French's Cove and then Mercer's Cove. Evidence of these European people can be found in community place names such as Priaulx Hill and in nearby names such as Spaniard's Bay and Port de Grave.
Settlers in Juggler's Cove and French's Cove
By the late 16th century, Bay Roberts had become part of the English Shore. Some French, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen still visited the area but they were out numbered by fishermen from the English West Country. In the 1675 census, Bay Roberts is called Bay of Roberts.
Over time, some of these West Country fishermen began to settle in the area. Some people say the Frenchs arrived as long ago as 1634 and the Earles and the Badcocks in the 1660s. The Berry census of Newfoundland records only two planters in Bay Roberts. One was Anthony Varder who lived there with his wife and four children. The other one was a widow named Jane Clay. The 1677 census says between them they employed 19 servants, owned six boats and kept 34 cattle, 22 sheep and 13 hogs. Families like the Parsons, Mercers and Bishops arrived later. Settlers from the Channel Islands arrived in the 1700s.
Artifacts on Land and in the Harbour
These early settlers left behind archaeological evidence of their way of life. Clay pipes and other artifacts have been found in places like Mercer's Cove. At least one ship was lost in Bay Robert's harbour during the early days of English settlement. A large numbers of ceramic vessels have been recovered from the harbour. Many of these are complete or almost complete. They include storage jars from the West Country and olive jars from Spain and Portugal. A number of these objects are displayed in the Artifacts section of this web site.
Like many settlements in Conception Bay, Bay Roberts was destroyed by the French during King William's War (1689-1697). When the French arrived in 1697, AbbĂ© Baudoin called the town â??Baye robert â?? He says they captured 10 servants, 3 planters and 3 boats there and took 1500 codfish.Â By the time AbbĂ© Baudoin and Pierre d'Iberville arrived, many of the people who lived in Bay Roberts had probably escaped into the woods or to Carbonear Island.
Fortunately, the effects of the French attack did not last long, and Bay Roberts was built again. It became an important base for the Labrador fishery and the seal hunt.
Bay Roberts has become an important business centre in Conception Bay. With roughly 5300 people, it is one of the larger towns in Newfoundland, and one of largest on the Baccalieu Trail. Walking trails have been developed in Juggler's Cove and French's Cove to celebrate the early history of the town.